The Thought Awareness Tool

Here is something we all need to know: Peace is neurological power; a dynamic state of peace literally builds a powerful brain.  Stress, on the other hand, shrinks and damages higher brain networks, inhibiting our potential to succeed at life.

Peace is clearly an internal matter, and so is stress. Both must begin with your own thoughts, and then extend outward. It is from an anxious, worried mind that a stressful perception of the world arises. Equally, it is from your peace of mind that a stress-free experience of life arises.

Here is  a proven tool that starts the process of building the dynamically peaceful attitude that builds a great brain:

Practice this throughout the day, until your pattern of stress changes:

1. Be aware of stressful, fearful thoughts, anxiety-provoking situations, “offending” personalities or events, or anything else that provokes in you stressful, unkind, hostile, or pessimistic thoughts. Note them all casually, whenever they occur. Notice the way these thoughts morph into negative emotions that produce a perception of threat.

Initially, as you look at a negative thought or feeling, don’t try to change it. Simply observe it. If you criticize, blame, or condemn yourself for thinking and feeling negatively, simply observe this as another negative thought.

2. Tell yourself: This thought or feeling is in me, not in reality. Take a moment and see the truth in this. Let it sink in.

3. Don’t believe a stressful thought: If you don’t believe an anxious, stressful, pessimistic thought it has no power. It’s just a thought that comes and goes. When you don’t believe a negative thought, it doesn’t turn into stress, anxiety, or depression.

4. Tell yourself: I could see peace instead of this.  Repeat this idea to yourself in an unhurried manner, as you watch your perception of the world change.

5. Conclude by remembering that although negative thoughts and feelings are in you, they are not you. They come and go like clouds. But the essence of your being is like the blue sky these clouds travel through and sometimes cover. Let your mind go completely and become the blue sky for a moment.

Here is a Shorter Applications as Needed

Shorter applications of the idea should also be made throughout the day, whenever a fearful thought begins to make inroads on your peace of mind in the form of depression, anxiety or worry, intervene by stating: I can replace my feelings of depression, anxiety, or worry with peace. Repeat the idea until you feel some sense of relief.

 

 

 

 

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Take Your Vacation. It Will Rebuild Your Brain.

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More than one in three of us are forfeiting our vacation time.  Instead of taking time to renew, most of us are working harder than ever, an average 49 hours a week. We are putting in 100-200 more hours per year than our parents.  We sleep less than our parents did; one to two hours less.  Those are averages; you might be working more and sleeping less than that.

Two million years of lost vacation time

We talk about vacations, plan them, dream about them and then fail to take one. As much as a half billion vacation days will go unused this year.  Surveys reveal that we don’t take vacations because we fear an adversary will get ahead of us, or that work will pile up while we’re gone.  If we do take a vacation, we take work with us.  A survey found that 92% of those away on vacation frequently check in with the office.  That’s really not a vacation.

The Reward for Taking Vacation Time

A proper vacation can repair and expand higher order brain function that a stressful year has debilitated and even damaged. The reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, emotional balance, and physical energy that sustains you at the top of your game. When you return from vacation, neurologically you will be ahead of the person you worried would get ahead of you.

Here’s How to Take Your Vacation

Think of your vacation as an intensive care unit for your brain, where no one from the outside is allowed to enter your personal space who might stress you. That means that before you leave for your trip, put your email account on auto-responder.

When you arrive at your destination, put your Blackberry in a drawer. If you have to use it, be disciplined about letting non-urgent business calls go to voice mail.

Here’s a simple approach to making your vacation rejuvenate your brain.

(1)  Start your day in quiet in a place where you won’t be disturbed and follow the process below:

  • Close your eyes or take a downward gaze.
  • Tilt your head toward your heart. Follow your breathing. Imagine each breath softening your heart and opening it wider.
  • Take a few minutes to frame the day in a positive light.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life.
  • Feel appreciation for another day to be with the ones you love.
  • Set the intention to have a relaxing, happy day.
  • Make your goal to succeed at love, peace and joy.

(2) During the day,

  • Practice being present, right here, right now.
  • Practice letting go of worries and judgments.
  • Commit to tuning into your loved ones. Rediscover them all over again.
  • Hold the intention to listen better, judge less, and forgive more. In fact, practice judging nothing that happens while on vacation, from traffic jams to unpleasant people.

 

 

 

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The “solution to stress” not only works in a science lab; it works with real people

Over the last three years, I’ve presented in my monthly newsletters the research that continues to mount on the neurology and genetics involved in stress. This research has gradually defined a solution to stress that is now well established (see description below the table).

In 2006, I co-founded a training firm called ProAttitude that facilitates this solution. In January, 2013, my firm facilitated a live webinar training series with Wells Fargo Bank, involving 1,300 employees nationwide.

The results from a randomized evaluation conducted by Wells Fargo indicates that that this “solution to stress” not only works in a science lab; it works with real people in real companies coping with a high level of work stress.

Perceived Benefits

Training Experience

From what I learned in this training, I expect …

Overall Experience

4.8/5.0

My level of stress to decrease

92%

Effectiveness of Learning Process

4.7/5.0

My health and well-being to increase

89%

Quality of the Courseware

4.7/5.0

My quality of work to increase

74%

The Instructor

4.8/5.0

My productivity to increase

65%

The Ease and Quality of the Webinar

4.8/5.0

My level of creativity to increase

74%

My life-work balance to improve

69%

I would recommend this training

99%

 The “solution” to stress involves a specific change in mindset that literally changes the gene expression and brain structure that produces a hyperactive stress response system. This change not only produces the brain chemistry that extinguishes stress reactions, it also repairs and expands higher brain networks to raise the odds for higher performance, creative insight and emotional intelligence.

The technical term for this remarkable shift in brain function is called positive neuroplasticity. Translated into personal terms, it means more joy in your work, more peace in your life, more success in your endeavors, more love in your relationships, and more spring in your step.

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Generation Stress

Stress research is sounding a wake-up call for the Millennial generation (the 18 to 33 year-olds) and Generation X (the 34 t0 46 year-olds).

The American Psychological Association’s new stress study [1] found that Millennials are currently the most stressed demographic in America. 

And  Generation X is very close behind. On some stress indicators, Gen X is actually doing worse than Millennials.

As a result, Millennials and Gen X have been dubbed Generation Stress. Not a happy nickname and not a happy finding for companies in the throes of developing talent.

There’s a Solution: There’s no need to lament. There’s a solution for Generation Stress, which I’ll get to in a moment, but first let’s look the problem square in the eye.

  • Millennials and Gen Xers report almost twice the level of stress that’s considered safe from serious health risk.
  • 52 percent of Millennials and 45 percent of Gen Xers say their stress has continued to increase over the last five years.
  • Over 40 percent of both generations say they’re having problems with anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression.
  • Over 70 percent of Millennials say they are not getting enough sleep.

Both generations cite work as their primary stressor (76 percent of Millennials, 65 percent of Gen Xers) and here is where the news gets worse: 71 percent report that they are not doing a good job of managing their stress.  Worse, they are significantly more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as drinking alcohol and smoking. The problem is not entirely their fault. Chronic stress travels a vicious cycle. Negative behaviors become habitual faster in chronically stressed people and the brain becomes cognitively predisposed to doing the same self-defeating things over and over. It’s a kind of neurological rut that digs a deeper and deeper hole.

There’s bad news for business as well. Unabated stress equates with low employee engagement (Gallup, 2010) and low employee engagement equates with declining revenue (Towers Perrin, 2008). The decline is largely a matter of declining brain function. Chronic stress shrinks the brain’s executive functions that enable human beings to be goal directed, creative, and to sustain high levels of performance.

Clearly, Millennials and Gen Xers need a path to a better brain for a better life. In trying to alleviate stress we often look for it in all the wrong places.  Work stress has more to do with genes than the job, according to research at the University of Notre Dame (Judge, Ilies, Zhang, 2012). If we have a problem with stress it has a lot do with the way genetics and a troubled past has wired the brain for hyperactive stress response system. The good news is we can change the way the stress gene is expressing.

In the case of the stress gene, its expression can be changed to enable the brain to regulate the stress response system more effectively. In one study, researchers found that a three-month program involving a healthy diet, moderate exercise and daily stress management had the effect of turning up 48 genes and turning down 483 genes (Ornish, Magbanua, et al 2008).

Therein lies the solution to stress.  How does one do it? Turning off the stress gene involves a specific and sustain change in mindset that literally changes gene expression to change the brain’s auto-pilot from one that habituates stress and anxiety to one that generates a calm state of engagement that’s much more creative.

A Tool to Get Started: Here’s a tool to get your brain moving toward the good life. It’s called the Mindset Tool.

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[1]Stress in America commissioned by the American Psychological Association and conducted by Harris Interactive (2011, 2012)

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Transforming Type-A (the Heart Attack Personality)

As you may know, the term Type-A is shorthand for the highly driven, win-at-all-costs individual, who often feels oppressed by time and impatient with people he or she perceives as slowing things down.  The upside is that Type-A personalities can make a lot happen fast.

But there is an enormous downside.  When  researchers took a closer look they found this personality type was essentially driven by fear that often led to a chronic condition of extreme stress.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that chronic stress is a very bad condition.  It can kill you.

Type-A, as a definable personality type, comes out of the landmark research of cardiologist Meyer Friedman of the University of California, San Francisco.  Friedman found that a Type-A personality has the highest risk for developing serious heart disease.

Dr. Friedman developed and tested a series of exercises that teach Type A’s how to be more at peace in order to avoid an early grave.  If you’ve been reading my blog you also know that developing your capacity to be at peace builds the neuro-circuitry that delivers the brain power for a healthier, more successful, more intrinsically rewarding life.

Neurologically, ‘peace’ represents neural networks wiring and firing together to sustain the proverbial calm under siege that enables you to see a problem fearlessly, analyze it intelligently, engage it creatively, and make the best decision.  A dynamic attitude of peace builds a brain that can extinguish stress reactions and, at the same time, expand the brain structure that can sustain peak performance and the creative intelligence that enables you to hit the bull’s eye.

Friedman found that attaining peace was actually simpler than one might think.  You don’t have to renounce the world and check into a monastery; peace arises from changing the way you relate to the day-to-day world you’re already in.  And, you don’t have to be Type-A to benefit from this approach.  It not only improves your heart function; it strengthens your higher brain function.

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Standing In the Longest Line

My favorite but most challenging task that Meyer Freidman prescribes is to stand in the longest line at a store.  The challenge is to use the time to practice choosing to be at peace.  As you stand in line, notice the resistance in you to doing this task. Become aware of the strong pattern of thinking that says you have to hurry up to get to the next thing you have to do. Become aware of the judgments your brain is making about how long the clerk is taking or judgments about how somebody is dressed or the junk you think they are buying. Just be aware of all the noise in your head and practice reminding yourself that you could see peace instead of it.

Here are several other steps Dr. Meyer Friedman developed.

  • Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind go. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall.
  • Do one special thing for yourself today.
  • Drive home in the slow lane.
  • Smile more today.
  • Listen to calming music instead of the news on the drive home.
  • Practice listening without interrupting.
  • Buy a small gift for a friend or family member.
  • Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Look for the best in someone you know.
  • Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.
  • Practice forgiving trivial errors.
  • Use a measuring stick other than business to measure your accomplishments, such as your talents, creative abilities, human qualities, or close relationships.
  • Quietly do good deeds and acts of kindness.
  • Practice receiving compliments graciously.
  • Accept that life is unfinished business.
  • Take five minutes today to recall times when you were happy.
  • Commit to stop judging yourself for your lack of perfection.
  • Consider the notion that perfection is in the imperfections.
  • When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”
  • Today, feel more and think less. Become skillful at knowing how you feel by making I feel statements, such as I feel anxious or I feel confident.

Some of you might judge these simple practices as “touchy-feely.”  Make no mistake; the research definitively shows that these steps can generate the higher brain function to succeed and at the same time protect your cardio-vascular system from failing.  Put it to the test yourself.  Check off several that you are willing to practice and do one a day.

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