From Stressed to Inner Peace to Flourishing

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Neuroscience has become quite adept at mapping the brain and they can actually measure your level of inner peace. And here’s what they found. We are at our creative cognitive and emotional best when we are at peace. By simply accentuating qualities of a positive peaceful attitude you produce positive changes in your brain that enable you to flourish.

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As a result of all the above, you are more likely to succeed at life, with greater subjective well-being.  A mind at peace generates the brain power to achieve the Good Life, which is  a state of flourishing, achieving the health, wealth and love we all desire.

So what does it mean to be at peace?

Let me start by defining what it doesn’t mean. Peace doesn’t mean to be in a place where there is no noise or hard work or problems. There is a Buddhist parable about a farmer who goes to the Buddha in hopes that the saint can miraculously remove all of his problems.

“I cannot help you with that,” the Buddha said. “Everyone has problems. In fact, everyone has eighty-three problems. You may solve one now and then, but another is sure to take its place.”

“How is that supposed to help me?” the farmer retorted in frustration.

“Perhaps,” the Buddha said, “this understanding will help you with the 84th problem, which is the problem of not wanting any problems.”

Peace is not about taking away our problems; it’s about engaging problems and stressors fearlessly, with the calm, creativity, and optimism that generates the brain power to solve them.

Some people think that a peaceful attitude makes us complacent, but inner peace is a vibrant, dynamic state of mind. It fosters in us an open, curious vitality that is fully present and able to engage life exactly as it is.

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Inner peace is having a calm clear sense of our own power in any situation without the need to overpower others.

By definition, being at peace means we are unafraid, unhurried, kind, and resilient.

Inner peace is an end to worry.

It’s a disinterest in judging ourselves or others or events.

It’s an end to the need to change anyone.

It’s a compassionate understanding that is not codependent, and a willingness to forgive.

It’s a heartfelt connection with others and with life itself that engenders a sense of the sacred.

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Inner peace is a dynamic choice that leads to a dynamic way of being in the world that literally changes the brain to tap its full potential. But peace of mind doesn’t happen all by itself; not in our fast paced modern world. Peace develops out of that voluntary state of mindfulness called choice. The more mindful we are about choosing to be at peace, the more we experience it.  The more we experience it, the more we come to treasure it.  The more we treasure our peace of mind, the more expansive it becomes.

Peace takes practice and practice takes discipline, which is simply knowing what you want to experience, and then choosing it consistently.  The core choice is basic; it’s between fear and peace. It begins with mindfully asking ourselves, what do I want to experience as I face people and events each day.

Mindfulness asks: What do I want to experience?

Do I want to be stressed or calm and clear … Afraid of failing or creative … Critical or empathic … Think negative or positive … Worry or have faith … Remain stuck or let go … Angry or composed … Condemning or forgiving … Self-righteous or happy.

Byron Katie, author of Loving the Way It Is, says this about the way practice works. She says once a stressful, anxious perception is understood for what it is and met with the feeling of understanding, the next time it appears you may find it interesting. What used to be a nightmare is now just interesting. The next time after that you may find it funny and after that you may not even notice it.

The stressful fearful perception has left your mind making room for you to be peace, and your brain will reward you with the higher brain function that enables you to sustain your best self, achieving your best day, every day.

If peace has alluded you, here’s a tool that can help establish it in your daily life. It’s called the 30-Second Time Out for PeaceUse it for a couple of weeks and then add taking walks in nature two or three times a week, leaving all your troubles and problems behind you as you take the first step.  A walk in the park quiets the mind and gradually rewires your brain to raise your IQ and generate great mental health. The experience from taking both of these simple steps will prove to you the power of inner peace. How could that not motivate you to move forward to develop a mindfulness practice that deepens your peace of mind. In my book The End of Stress, I present a simple step by step process that helps you build such a practice.

 30-Second Time Out for Peace

  • Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  • Let go of what you were thinking and allow yourself to relax a little.
  • Now allow yourself to relax a little more.
  • Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  • No worries, no problems, no goals. Just let them all go for a moment.
  • Take a slow, deep breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide.
  • Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.  

You can do this short exercise just about anywhere: standing in line, walking to a meeting, or looking out a window. Try it a few times throughout today and see what happens to your day.

images: canstockphoto.com

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Thought Attacks That Cause Heart Attacks

from Don’s Huffington Post article

Five hundred years ago, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been full of terrible misfortunes most of which never happened.”  This quote made people laugh back then and it still makes us laugh today because our species hasn’t made much progress in transcending the mind’s capacity to catastrophize. But the consequences a fearful mind bring-on aren’t so funny.  Worry and fear activates the brain’s stress response system, dumping toxic stress hormones into the system that debilitates higher brain function that makes us smart, happy, and loving.

Studies suggest that high levels of stress hormones from chronic stress reactions can increase the risk of heart disease. At its worse, fight or flight stress reactions can take over and generate the hostile, impatient, controlling competitiveness that leads to the extreme stress condition called Type-A.  Type-A behavior increases the likelihood of a fatal heart attack.

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford, one of the world’s top stress researcher, states: “We human beings … generate all sorts of stressful events purely in our heads. We can experience wildly strong emotions, provoking our bodies into an accompanying uproar, and it’s all linked to mere thought.”

The technical term for it is psychological fear. It’s fearful, worried, pessimistic thoughts and attitudes that, when believed, produce a perception of threat, when none actually exist. Research has found that 85 percent of what people worried about never happened, and of the 15 percent that did, 79 percent solved the problem better than they thought they would. That means when we imagine some “terrible misfortune”, 97 percent of the time there was nothing to get worked up about.

Psychological Fear

We can wire our brain for the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts the health, success, and love that defines the “Good Life”. It takes a change in mindset that accentuates the positive.  Making this change is simpler than you might think and change can happen faster than you might imagine, within a few weeks if you practice.

Rx Build Positive Mindset copyBelow is a prescription for wiring your brain for the Good Life by building a positive mindset (←click this link to download it). Do one of these lessons every day for the next three weeks.  You can do any one of these more than once if you like, but be consistent.  It takes an everyday practice to change the brain.

Day / Prescription

 1.   Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it, letting go of your mind’s sense of hurry and choosing to be at peace.

2.   Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind go. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall.

3.   Do one special thing for yourself today.

4.   Drive home in the slow lane.

5.   Listen to calming music instead of the news on the drive home.

6.   Smile more today.

7.   Practice listening without interrupting.

8.   Buy a small gift for a friend or family member.

9.   Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

10.  Look for the best in someone you know.

11.  Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.

12.  Practice forgiving trivial errors, yours and others.

13.  Use a measuring stick other than business to measure your accomplishments, such as your talents, creative abilities, human qualities, or close relationships.

14.  Quietly do a good deed or an act of kindness.

15.  Practice receiving compliments graciously.

16.  Accept that life is unfinished business.

17.  Take five minutes today to recall times when you were happy.

18.  Commit to stop judging yourself for your lack of perfection.

19.  Reflect for five minutes how in your life perfection has tended to emerge from the imperfections.

20.  When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”

21.  Today,  feel more and think less. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to what you feel without your thoughts turning into a story.

 

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The Biological Key to a Long, Healthy, and Rewarding Life

If you’re interested in living a long, healthy, and rewarding life, take note of this: There is a direct correlation between how long and how well you will live and the quality of your connection to other people. The Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard, the longest running study on health, found that the more friends people have, the less likely they will become physically impaired as they age, and the more likely they will be leading happy, successful lives.

A study in Science Magazine reported that the health risk associated with neglecting our social relationships is equal to cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure and blood lipids, [and] obesity. Social isolation also increases emotional reactivity to stress dumping toxic stress hormones into our system that, when chronic, damage our heart, impair our immune system, alter our DNA, predispose us to depression, and prematurely age us. And, the greater the stress the greater the likelihood of marital problems and family dysfunction.

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The sense of belonging that positive relationships instill has a great deal to do with how we thrive and succeed. Yet many of us don’t get the biological and psychological importance of our connection to one another. Surveys show we are becoming more and more disengaged from friends and family, and we don’t join clubs, volunteer, or interact with neighbors as much as previous generations.

Our stressful careers have taken over to the point that people routinely miss family events, and we tend to think we’re too busy, too stressed, or too tired to spend time with a friend, forgetting the way friendship revitalizes us. Our friends actually have an even bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.

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It would do you enormous good if you took this moment to reflect on a friend or family member who you’ve been meaning to connect with, and followed through in doing so. Calendar it and hold yourself accountable to following through. Make this as important to your health as going to the gym or eating healthy foods or not smoking… because it is that important.

Here’s the story that led science to come to this conclusion.

The first study to reveal the biological connection between interpersonal connection and health was the Roseto Study. It has come to be called the Roseto Effect. Fifty years ago, medical researchers were stumped by a bewildering statistic in Roseto, Pennsylvania, a village populated mostly by descendants of Italian immigrants. The local health officer discovered that Rosetans were nearly immune to the number-one cause of death in America–heart disease. Cardiac mortality rises with age, but not in Roseto. It dropped to near zero for men aged fifty-five to sixty-four.

Moreover, the local death rate for men over sixty-five was half the national average. This made no medical sense, given that most of the men smoked, drank lots of wine, ate a high-fat diet, and made their living at backbreaking work in a rock quarry.

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A team of medical researchers from Oklahoma University descended on the village to try to find out why. They pulled death certificates, performed physical exams, and conducted extensive interviews with villagers. But they could find no biological, genetic, environmental, or any other physical reason to explain the people’s resistance to heart disease–until one of the researchers stumbled across two telling social factor.

  • First, the crime rate in the village was zero.
  • Second, between 1945-1966 none of the Italian families were on public welfare, even though a number of families fell below the poverty line.

When researchers dug deeper, they found that the community took care of their poor. They also found that family structure in Roseto was close-knit. Nearly all the homes contained three generations, and elders were held in high regard. Mealtimes were much more than a matter of eating; they were family time. Community events were also common in Roseto. In warm weather, neighbors took evening strolls and dropped in to visit one another.

Sociologist John Bruhn of the University of Texas said that Rosetans “radiated a kind of joyous team spirit as they celebrated religious festivals and family landmarks. Their social focus was on the family . . .”

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The researchers finally concluded that the village’s immunity to heart disease and an early grave was the result of the strong sense of belonging that people felt.

But sadly, the effect didn’t last. The children of Roseto went off to college in pursuit of the American dream, and after graduation most of them moved to the big city, where the high-paying jobs were. As a result, the community gradually lost its cohesion, and in 1971 the village recorded its first death of a person under the age of forty-five from coronary disease. It went downhill from there.

In his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (p. 107) Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University relates a story about a boy who was severely abused, emotionally and physically. After he became a ward of the court, it was discovered that he had zero growth hormones in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, threatening his life. He was hospitalized but didn’t improve.

During his hospital stay, he developed a close relationship with one of the nurses, undoubtedly the first loving relationship he had ever experienced. To everyone’s amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. But no one could explain it at first.

The medical staff got its first clue when his friend the nurse went on vacation. As soon as she was gone, the boy’s blood level dropped back to zero. The second clue came when the nurse returned from vacation and his blood level shot up again.

Think about it. The rate at which this child was depositing calcium in his bones could be explained entirely by how safe and loved he was feeling in the world.

Genes

Scores of other studies have corroborated the Roseto Effect. In a recent review of 148 separate studies involving a combined 308,849 participants, it was found that people who cultivate strong relationships with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers improve their odds of survival by 50 percent. More and more, the evidence shows that who we become is not determined by genes alone. Love has a lot to do with turning up the intensity in genes that strengthen us and turning down genes that weaken us.

So, how do you reconnect and stay connected? The formula for sustaining positive relationships is simple but not always easy. Here it is:

Rx for Connection 570 Smaller wth heart copyIt means listening better, with empathy. It’s judging less and accepting people exactly as they are, and it requires a willingness to forgive. No relationship can last long without forgiveness. It also means asking yourself, Do I want to be right or do I want to be connected, when you’re about to dig in your heels during an argument with a loved one.

 

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Why Dreams Don’t Come True

2016-02-10-1455135173-7716651-RobertoWeigandwithattributecopy.jpgfrom the Huffington Post article

Shame sucks the life out of your dreams and aspirations. It punishes you for getting something wrong and drains the joy out of your triumphs. Shame is why you lose faith in yourself and end up thinking you’re not good enough and never will be. It can reach the point where you’re not even sure about your strengths and talent. Eventually, its false voice that says You’re not good enough and never will be becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy preventing your dreams from coming true.

How do we end up this way?

Shame is largely the result of criticisms and judgments inflicted by parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and bosses, some of who were well meaning, some not, that steadily programmed your brain for shame reactions. But don’t fret, those faulty neural circuits can be pruned back so that they no longer run your life. I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first let’s briefly look at the problem.

Freud defined shame as the fear of losing people’s respect, which leads to being controlled by the fear of what others think of you. “[It’s] the fear of disconnection,” says Dr. Brené Brown, “of being perceived as flawed and unworthy of acceptance or belonging.”

It’s extremely stressful. Research at the University of California found that “stress caused by how others view you is extremely powerful, as much or more so than [that] caused from . . . working too hard.” Researchers found that “acute threats to our social self increase stress hormones and proinflammatory cytokine activity occurring in concert with shame.” That adds-up to poor brain function and disease.

Albert Ellis, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, found that there are two shame-based sentences that people tell themselves.

(1) The first sentence is I made a mistake; I made an error, and I got it wrong. This may invoke feelings of guilt or frustration, but if we were to stop here, the crisis would only represent an error to correct or a lesson to learn, extending the opportunity to grow or advance.

(2) The second sentence is This mistake I made . . . This event that turned out badly . . . This thing I got wrong . . . This way I behaved . . . it means that there’s something wrong with me. This is guilt or frustration becoming shame. It has us saying to ourselves I’m not good enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not worthy enough; all of which calcify into the belief that I deserve whatever punishment is coming. And it’s this sentence – this belief – that does the damage.”

Shame is psychologically painful, which makes us afraid to make a mistake, more because of the emotional punishment we inflict on ourselves than for anything the world might do to us. Eventually, a shame-based mind represses its mistakes to avoid feeling bad, preventing the possibility of learning from a mistake, which only increases the likelihood of repeating the blunder. We become afraid to take risks, which limits our growth.

The problem with repression is that it isn’t selective. We can’t numb ourselves to difficult feelings, such as shame, without numbing ourselves to empowering feelings, like joy, passion, and peace, and this lessens our sense of self. We form facades and pretenses to compensate, which of course makes us feel even more inauthentic. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. As a result, we can’t see what’s right or true about us, and a narrow view of our strengths, talents, and contributions take hold. Research shows that people struggle at naming a few good points about themselves, but easily fill two pages of things they perceive as faults.

The cure is found in the words of Carl Rogers, arguably one of America’s greatest psychologists. Rogers said, “What you are is good enough if you would only be it openly.” Does that sound too simple and too small to effect something as large as shame.

Becoming good enough begins with the simple step of accepting yourself exactly as you are, which is not easy, at least at first. It entails closing the gap between “I am” and “I should be;” which is the gap between the authentic you that’s true and realizable, and the ideal self that’s illusion. The ideal self is the image of the person you think you should be that is always out of reach, imposing an unrealistic standard you can never meet. It becomes a measuring stick that says you’re failing in some way, even when you’re doing well.

Transcending the ideal self begins with awareness. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses your ideal self fabricates, so you can let them go. It’s being mindful of facades and pretenses, so you can let them go. It’s understanding that it doesn’t help to act one way on the outside when you actually feel another way inside. It doesn’t help to pretend to know the answer when you don’t. It’s accepting that you make mistakes, that you don’t always function in the best way or always achieve the best result. No one does. It’s learning that the more you’re able to experience all of your feelings, the less you’re afraid of any of your feelings, including shame.

Ironically, the courage to be imperfect quiets the shaming voice in your head, and opens the way to a greater sense of wholeness, in which your experience gradually becomes your authority and your guide. Shame no longer negates the better angels of your nature, mistakes no longer stop you, and other people’s judgments no longer control you. Your way is now cleared.

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The Simple Cure to Fatigue and Burnout

from the Huffington Post ~ posted:

Believing we have drained our brain is what drains our brain.

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Can we sustain a high level of energy, regardless of circumstances? The answer is yes.

Most people think that the exhaustion they feel at day’s end is caused by a hard day at work. Yet, if we look at it closely, for most of us the only physically taxing thing we probably did at work that day was walk in and out of the building from the parking lot and type on our keyboards. The rest of our exertion was primarily mental.

Is it possible that the two-pound wonder called the brain is able to expend most of our physical energy simply through thinking?

The answer is no. Sitting at your desk performing cognitive functions doesn’t take much energy. Our brain only needs 12 watts of energy to operate smoothly, which is one-fifth the energy it takes to light up your desk lamp. On top of that, the brain burns only 11 calories an hour, which is the equivalent of one minute of modest exertion on an exercise bike. Clearly, this is not enough to cause exhaustion.

Is it the difficulty of a mental task or the amount of time we concentrate on the task that leaves us exhausted?

Again, the answer is no. Mental fatigue is really not about the task. For example, millions of neurons connecting through a multitude of neural circuits are active when we follow a movie with a plot as complex as The Matrix, or read a book as intricate as War and Peace, or pondering our opponents next move in a chess or card game while planning our own. Yet we can focus on these complex activities for two hours straight and at the end feel stimulated by it.

So what exactly is causing the fatigue that can lead to burnout?

2015-11-10-1447199836-4022960-AmazonLookInsideSmall.jpg It’s our mental attitude. Research has found that if you believe a task is going to be difficult, it will be. If you expect a meeting to drain your energy, it will. If the fear of failure overwhelms you, it’s likely to result in bad decisions that lead to failure. In short, we get what we expect to get. A chronically anxious, negative attitude repeatedly activates the stress response system. Stress hormones flood your system with adrenaline and cortisol, elevating heart rate, raising blood pressure, and debilitating the higher order brain function that generates the savvy, creative insight and optimism that solves problems. You’re more prone to emotional upsets, memory lapses, and mistakes. We human being generate all sorts of stress reactions purely in our heads, exciting wild emotions that send the mind and body into an uproar and leave us physically exhausted. More often than not, the driving force behind it isn’t our job or the task or even our boss. It is our attitude towards  people, tasks, and events.

Type A personalities, for example, are the highly competitive workaholics who tend to be overly-reactive and aggressive. Type-A’s face a much greater risk of cardiac death than the more peaceful Type-B’s. But it’s not hard work, a difficult challenge, or even long hours to blame for Type-A’s heart problems. It’s the stress from the hostile struggle their aggressive attitude generates.

Attitude is everything, even in those moments when you feel stressed and anxious. Shifting your perspective when you are afraid of failing to feeling excited in the challenge can make you less likely to burn out in a demanding job. A study in Germany found that professionals who were skilled at shifting their anxiety in this way were less likely to be  frustrated or drained by their work. In another study, students who viewed their stress as excitement reported less emotional exhaustion, did better on exams, and earned higher grades. A positive mindset provides an immunity to emotional exhaustion and predicts greater success with all our goals. A positive shift in attitude, when sustained over a few weeks, can literally rewire our brains for the Good Life.
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The technical term for the way a change of mindset rewires our brain for greater success is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity has huge implications for business. Results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people (APA 2005) have found that every key business outcome improves when people are emotionally positive.

  • People are 31% more productive, three times more creative, and a positive mindset increases sales by 37% (Lyubomirsky, 2005).
  • We are ten times more engaged with work (Achor, 2012), and prosocial in ways that achieve superior customer service (George, 1991), and facilitate teamwork that is highly collaborative. (Barsade, 2002).
  • In addition, a positive mindset fosters supportive relationships, which in turn predicts a longer and healthier life (Danner,2001), and lowers health care costs for companies (APA,2002).

The brain scans on the right show the difference in brain function when we’re positive and well-adjusted compared to when we’re stressed and depressed. Multiply the difference by 1000 and you have the loss in brain power in a company doing nothing to alleviate stress.

jumper-cables-resizedA Kit to Jump Start Your Mindset

It takes a specific practice to change our mindset. But if you build a practice and every day apply the simple steps are proven to change our attitude, with 4 to 6 weeks your brain’s emotional set point will reset to positive. My book The End of Stress helps you build the practice.  In the mean, click here for a starter kit that helps move in this direction.

 

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