Identify it and set the Intention

“You can use your mind  – To change your brain  – To change your mind for the better!”

- Rick Hanson

Last week I wrote a post about Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits.

The first step is to identify the habit you want to change and set the intention to break it.  That sounds so simple.  But the reality is that bad habits are hard to break, that’s why we call them habits!

Dr. Rick Hanson talks about self-directed neuroplasticity to break habits, or indeed just to change your mind for the better! Dr. Hanson explains that neuroplasticity is ongoing. Our brains are changing all the time. He says that

Neurons that fire together, wire together

So we can create good habits of the mind or bad habits.  The secret lies in focus – do things with clarity, skillfulness and intention.

If we rest our attention routinely on what we resent and what we are dissatisfied with, or our bad habits – that is where we build our neural pathways.
When we change attention – to positive things, blessings, what we are grateful for – we build up a different neural pathway.

Have an intention – to redirect your attention! Attention is like a vacuum cleaner – it sucks whatever it rests up into the brain. New neural pathways are turbo charged when done with attention. So by mindfully internalizing positive experiences, you are consciously creating neural pathways. This is Self-Directed Neuroplasticity.

So by first identifying what the habit is that you want to break, setting the intention to break that habit, and then redirecting your attention from that negative habit to a something else, something positive, you begin to create a new neural pathway. New synaptic pathways can form in as little as 5 – 10 minutes!
It’s only the first step, but it’s an incredibly powerful one.
I want to close with another clip by Dr. Hanson, also on Neuroplasticity.  This one called Take in the Good. Enjoy!
I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Paying Attention to the Coincidences

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133182.html#cRzVZOHjpM8tGpjB.99

- Alice Walker


Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous! (God, Goddess, The Source, Higher Power – use whatever word evokes power for you.) It’s my connection to that higher self or higher power that helps me when,  as Alice Walker reminds me,  I start thinking I don’t have any power.
One of  the ways I know I’m connected to that power is when I am paying attention to the coincidences. And one of those lovely coincidences has been happening in the last few days.
On Saturday,  I got together with my friends to do a fun, informal goal setting night where we had a lovely dinner and discussed what we anticipated our lives would be like in 2019.  During the evening, one of the things we talked about was finding new streams of money through Social Entrepreneurship,  or creative fund raising.
On Sunday, I attended an amazing event in Auckland called The Auckland Writers Festival (Thank you Trudi!)  During one of the events, I heard four amazing women speak: Eleanor Catton, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Sandi Toksvig and Jessica Jackley. As Jackley spoke, I got chills as she elaborated on Social Entrepreneurship and what great ‘givers’ New Zealanders are.  I sat up and paid attention.  And then on Monday morning, while reading the NZ Herald online, an article jumped out at me, again about New Zealanders and their generosity, with a link to an incredible website called Give a Little.
Givealittle is the free, safe and easy way to receive online donations for charities of all types and sizes.
In three days I had heard about the amazing generosity of many people in New Zealand and the wonderful giving being done, often anonymously, through various ways of giving, micro-financing, social entrepreneurship, etc. I was paying attention.
So on Tuesday, I went to our office at Figjam Workshops and my business partner and I set up an account at Give a Little.  We published the information on our page on Facebook, and we are getting the information out there.
When I pay attention to the little coincidences around me, and when I remember to act on those little nudges, then I am connected to my power.
Although I enjoyed every aspect of the Auckland Writers Festival, the highlight for me was hearing Alice Walker.  What an amazing woman!
So I’d like to finish with a video clip of Alice Walker speaking at Google.  Please take the time to watch and be inspired!
Please let me know what you thought of the video. And I’d love to hear of any ‘coincidences’ that you’ve experienced lately.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Thriving with Gratitude

“I’ve come to believe that living in a state of gratitude is the gateway to grace.”

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133182.html#cRzVZOHjpM8tGpjB.99

- Arianna Huffington


Can Gratitude help you thrive?

Arianna Huffington believes so.  In her new book Thrive, Huffington redefines success and describes how to create a life of well-being, wisdom and wonder.

Huffington explains that:

“Grace and gratitude have the same Latin root, gratus. Whenever we find ourselves in a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off mindset, we can remember that there is another way and open ourselves to grace. And it often starts with taking a moment to be grateful for this day, for being alive, for anything.”

Personally, when I find myself stuck in a negative mind loop, where I am focused on something negative, causing me to stress out and stay stuck in fear, the best way out for me is by going through my gratitude list. In my 7 Tools for Transformation, Tool 6 is: Gratitude for what you have NOW.

I personally start with my relationships, focusing on my wonderful sons always cheers me up! And the love of my husband, my sister and my friends.  Then I move on to my health, there is so much to be grateful for when contemplating one’s health: feeling vibrantly fit and healthy, having a sharp mind, limbs that work, eyes that can see a gorgeous sunset, a sense of smell to enjoy freshly baked bread. Then I move on to my home, my job, my lifestyle.  Everyone’s list will be different.  But one thing is for sure, when I am focused on what I am grateful for, my mood lifts every time! When I start focusing on my gratitude list, I cannot stay stuck in a negative mind masturbation loop, anxiously focusing on fear, it just isn’t possible.  Even if it starts out feeling a bit forced or ‘by rote’ – the shift in my head space by the end of the exercise is amazing.  I urge you to try it next time you “find yourself in a stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off mindset.”

I have attached two interviews with Arianna Huffington about her new book.

The first one is a “Talk at Google” and is relatively long and in depth.

 

For those of you with less time, the second interview is with Ellen DeGeneres and is only 6 minutes.

 

Please let me know what you thought of these videos, and if you’ve read Thrive,  I’d love to hear what you thought of the book.  Or if you’d like to share what you are grateful for today, that always makes me happy! And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brain on Meditation Again

“To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

- Thích Nhất Hạnh


I love how the universe works!  After posting my last post, Your Brain on Meditation, I vowed to meditate everyday for at least 10 minutes a day through the month of March.  Less than 15 minutes later I randomly found this amazing site:

Headspace

Find out how to meditate, feel happier, sleep better and beat stress. It’s as easy as signing up, sitting down, and pressing play. Then just sit back and relax as Andy guides you through a simple process making it easy to learn how to meditate. Research has shown that brain activity begins to change within just a few days of learning to meditate decreasing stress and improving your mood.  Log in online or through  Headspace-on-the-go App  and get your Headspace how you like it – anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

So I downloaded this app onto my phone, and Voila, it not only reminds me to meditate for 10 minutes everyday, but it leads me through a slow, relaxing exercise using my breath.  And it’s Andy Puddicombe leading the meditation – he has a lovely voice.

Wow!  Just like that.  Ask and it is given.  I love it.  But I  have to remember to Pay Attention.  As I mention in the 7 Tools - I can send out the information I want to attract to me, but I have to be open and remember to pay attention to the inspiration and information that comes back to me.  And it often comes back in very random ways.  

Headspace is a great site and a great app.  Do try it – it’s free and it’s incredibly helpful if you’re looking for ways to be more mindful.

I’ll close with Andy Puddicombe explaining Headspace on another very cool site called Do Lectures.

 

 

Let me know what you think of Headspace, and thank you for taking the time to stop by, I appreciate it.

 

 

Your Brain on Meditation

“People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing – and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy.”

- Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert – Research psychologists from Harvard University


There is a website I enjoy a lot, a website that “exercises the brain.”  Lumiosity is a great website that “challenges your brain with scientifically designed training.”  I like to think of it as wasting time playing games that are somewhat useful and not just a total of a waste of time.  Recently they published an article that explains “Meditation’s Effects on Alpha Brain Waves.

“A new study out of Brown University has found that a form of mindfulness meditation known as MBSR may act as a “volume knob” for attention, changing brain wave patterns.  Originally developed by a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is based on mindfulness meditation techniques that have been practiced in some form or another for over two millennia.”

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.  And is a central tenet of the work being done at The University of Wisconsin by Dr. Richard Davidson that I have talked about a lot on my blog.

In the recent study discussed in the article on Luminosity, researchers examined how meditation affects Alpha Brain Waves, and how Alpha Waves affect cognition.

Alpha rhythms help filter irrelevant sensory inputs in the brain. Without proper filtering, the ability to carry out many basic cognitive operations can be crippled. This Brown University study is in line with other research on meditation, confirming previous findings that link enhanced attentional performance and fewer errors in tests of visual attention with meditation.

Yet another reason to meditate.  If I know it’s so good for me, then why is it so damned hard to sit down and sit quietly for only 10 minutes a day?!  I mean really!  Why is it so hard to commit to a such a simple discipline? A discipline that is simply asking me to sit down and not do anything for such a short time each day when I know for a fact it is so good for me?

For Christmas, I gave my sister Karin and I identical date books for 2014:  Live With Intention.  And Karin and I decided that we would set an individual intention together at the beginning of each month for the year.  So I have decided that my intention for March, 2014 is to meditate for at least 10 minutes everyday.  There, it’s in writing. (*My brain immediately said “Damn – March has 31 days too, why couldn’t you have made that your intention for February!)

I want to close with a great 10 minute TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe about meditation.  It comes from a fantastic TED Talk series:  4 scientific studies on how meditation can affect your heart, brain and creativity

Enjoy!

 

I promise to let you know how I’m doing meditating everyday – And I’d love to hear about how any of you have the discipline to keep meditating.

 

Science Backed Happiness

“Contrary to what most of us believe, happiness does not simply happen to us. It’s something that we make happen, and it results from doing our best. Feeling fulfilled when we live up to our potentialities is what motivates differentiation and leads to evolution.”

- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 


Anyone who knows me well –  knows that I am passionate about happiness and it’s benefits. I talk so much about the benefits of happiness, that I’m sure I begin to sound like a broken record.  But as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow and co-founder of the Positive Psychology movement points out “happiness doesn’t just happen.”

Positive Psychology points out the many benefits to happiness.

    • Happiness brings large social rewards and interactions, superior work outcomes including higher income, more energy and activity, greater self-control and coping abilities, a bolstered immune system, and longevity.
    • Happy people demonstrate a self-serving bias, believing they are healthier, able to get along better with others, are more fun, have good ideas, are more intelligent, and are more ethical than others.
    • People who are positive about aging live 7.5 years longer than those with less positive perceptions. Interestingly, this benefit surpasses the results for smoking cessation, exercise, and obesity control.
    • People with increased SWB (subjective well-being) demonstrate high personal confidence, self-esteem, personal mastery, and control.
    • Happy people feel like they are in control and are empowered.
    • Characteristics related to positive affect include confidence, optimism, self-efficacy, likability, prosocial behavior, activity, energy, physical well-being, flexibility, creativity, and the ability to cope with stress.
    • People who experience positive emotions, namely joy and contentment, right after experiencing negative emotions recover faster cardiovascularly than ones who have no positive emotional experience.  This suggests that positive emotions may fuel psychological resilience.
    • In a longitudinal study of older Mexican Americans, individuals with higher reported positive affect versus lower positive affect were half as likely to have become disabled or dead during a two-year follow-up.

So I often say, Choose Happiness! As I pointed out in an earlier post, 40% of happiness  is up to you.

But what can you do to be happier?  In a recent article in Business Insider, writer Dina Spector listed 25 things that will make you happier.

Some of them made sense:

In a survey of 350 people, researchers found that those who felt more powerful were more satisfied with their lives, especially in their jobs.

But some of them were surprising:

Studies have shown that eating high-calorie comfort foods can make your happier. The downside is this will also make you fat.  As an alternative, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science in May 2013 found that simply drawing pictures of foods high in fat, like cupcakes or pizza, and foods that taste sweet, like strawberries, can also boost your mood.

The study showed that these 25 things will make you happier:

  • Draw pictures of healthy foods

  • Be both an optimist and a realist.

  • Get your hands dirty.

  • Become a florist or a gardener.

  • Have sex — with one partner.

  • Spend money on many small pleasures rather than a few big ones.

  • Eat lunch on the beach.

  • Make your bed.

  • Focus on what you’re doing right now.

  • Move to Australia . . . (not sure about that one! *a New Zealand joke!)

  • Eat seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day.

  • Maintain a position of power.

  • Master a skill.

  • Seal your worries in an envelope, literally

  • Surround yourself with happy people

  • Volunteer.

  • Play with puppies

  • Smile more (even if it’s fake)

  • Live in relatively cool temperatures.

  • List three good things that happened today.

  • Spend money to free up more time.

  • Stop comparing yourself to others

  • Shorten your commute to work

  • Exercise

  • Listen to upbeat music

It’s well worth looking at the article to understand the reasoning behind each of these suggestions.

I want to close with a great short video that describes positive psychology in less than five minutes.  A fun and succinct explanation.

 

 

Let me know if you read the article in Business Insider,  I’d love to hear what you think of it. And as always, thank you for stopping by.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Happiness – At least 40% is up to YOU!

“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.  I can choose which it shall be.  Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet.  I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

― Groucho Marx


HAPPY – The Movie tells us in no uncertain terms that Happiness is within our grasp.

While 50% of our level of happiness is genetic, only 10% is attributed to circumstances (like income, health or the number of shoes in our closet).  The other 40% is up to us:  what we do, how we think and our intentions to be happy.

HAPPY is uplifting and insightful.  It asserts that we can actually re-wire our brains, altering its structure and function, by engaging in some simple activities.  And that happiness is a choice that everyone can make, everyday.  The movie outlines several ways to be happier:

  • Simple Meditation Practices (*see info below about the Compassion Meditation)
  • Physical activity, especially that which gets us “in the flow” and unaware of our surroundings, can contribute to chronic happiness
  • Other activities which get us “in the flow” – like playing music, doing something we love
  • Being of service
  • Community, being with friends, and of course, Love

This information is consistent with Martin Seligman’s findings:

Seligman’s Five Elements of Well-Being (PERMA):

  • Positive Emotions (P) – Feeling positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.
  • Engagement (E) – Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills and challenge you. (Flow)
  • Relationships (R) – Having positive relationships is a universal requirement to well-being. (Community)
  • Meaning (M) – Belonging to and serving something you believe is bigger than yourself. (Service and Helping others)
  • Accomplishment (A) – Pursuing success, winning, achievement and mastery for their own sake. (Gratitude)

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) is doing ground-breaking work on the subject of Meditation and Happiness.  One of the people interviewed in the movie is Dr. Richard Davidson:

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of contemplative practices, such as meditation, on the brain. He is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in studying emotion and the brain. A friend and confidante of the Dalai Lama, he is a highly sought after expert and speaker internationally. Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world.

The same meditation practice used in these studies is offered by CIHM online, free of charge. So it’s even easier to choose happiness!

If you haven’t seen the movie, please take the time to watch it. In my opinion, it is nothing less than life-altering!

 


 

Please let me know if you’ve seen HAPPY, and if so, what you thought of it.  And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Creating Creative Confidence

“Everybody has creative potential and from the moment you can express this creative potential, you can start changing the world.”

― Paulo Coelho


Why are so many people so afraid of the idea of creativity?

In our Creative Empowerment workshops, one of the most common things we hear from people is that they are not creative, not one of “those” creative types. And this is often said with a look of terror in their eyes. What is it about creativity that is so frightening?

Perhaps it’s the idea that to be creative is to relinquish control.
I agree with Matisse – Creativity takes courage. 
As Pablo Picasso points out – The chief enemy of creativity is good sense. We are all told consistently to hold on to our good sense. To allow oneself to put aside that part of us that is in control, that is logical and rational is a scary thought.  But Einstein explained:
“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”

For those of us who have worked so hard to keep everything ordered and in control, the thought of relinquishing this control is scary.  But I love the image created by Lady Gaga about letting go to access one’s creative spark.

“When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time. ”

The reality is that we are ALL born creative!  Yes some of us are more artistic than others, or more talented in certain areas.  But all of us are creative.  The sad truth is that many of us have been shamed out of even trying to access our creative spark.  Some of us have even been taught out of our creativity. Sir Ken Robinson explains this beautifully in his numerous TED Talks!

One man has made it his life’s work to help others build their creative confidence.  David Kelly, of IDEO, explains how people lose their creative confidence and how he and others are working to help people regain that confidence.  Please take ten minutes to watch this inspiring TED Talk. It helps to reminds us that we are all creative, every one of us.

 

 

Please let me know what you think David Kelley’s talk.  And I’d love to hear how you build your creative confidence.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

 

The Glass Ceiling and other things that need to be broken

“It’s difficult to see the glass ceiling because it’s made of glass.  Virtually invisible.  What we need is for more birds to fly above it, and shit all over it, so we can see it properly.”

- Caitlin Moran


At the moment, I am reading one of the best books I have ever read.  How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is described by The Independent as: ‘Engaging, brave and consistently, cleverly, naughtily funny.’ Some reviewers have said that this is a book that EVERY woman should read; I’ll go one step further, I believe every woman AND man should read this book.

The book isn’t just about Moran’s opinion on what it means to be a woman, it is a searing social commentary. It addresses women’s weight and body image; modern feminism; love, marriage, children and family; abortion; fashion; role models and so much more.  Moran’s syle of writing is funny and achingly honest.  It’s painful to read, but you can’t help yourself from laughing.

The entire book deserves attention and praise, but for this post, I want to focus on her chapter on Sexism and The Glass Ceiling. Moran describes sexism and The Glass Ceiling in a way that is not very PC; funny but uncomfortable:

Most sexism is down to men being accustomed to us being the losers.  That’s what the problem is.  We just have bad status. For men born pre-feminism, this is what they were raised on: second-class citizen mothers; sisters who need to be married off; female schoolmates going to secretarial school, then becoming housewives. Women who disengaged. Disappeared.

These men are the CEOs of our big companies, the big guys on the stock markets, the advisors to governments.  They dictate working hours and maternity leave, economic priorities and societal mores. And, of course, they don’t feel equality in their bones – sexism runs deep in their generation. Their automatic reaction is to regard women as ‘other.’

Even those men born post-feminism, raised on textbooks and marches and their own mothers leaving each morning for the office, however much they might believe in the theoretical equality of women, and respect those around them . . . have a quiet voice inside them that says ‘If women are the true equals of men, where’s the proof?’ And it is not just a voice inside men.  It’s inside women too . . . Creativity, we silently fretted should really have begun the moment legislation changed.  All manner of female incredibleness – pent up for centuries – should have been unleashed; flattening trees for thousands of miles around, like a pyroclastic blast.  But it wasn’t.  Because simply being able to vote isn’t the same as true equality.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook gives her opinion of why we have too few women leaders. She explains that as a general rule the data shows that women systematically underestimate their own abilities, while men generally overestimate their own. Men tend to attribute their success to themselves and women attribute it to external factors. Men tend to think they did a good job because they themselves are good at their job, whereas women will often say they had to work extra hard or that someone helped them. Sanderberg stresses that women need to start believing they deserve their own success.

An important factor that Sandberg describes as vitally important is that success and likability are positively correlated for men, but negatively correlated for women. In the following TED Talk, Sandberg talks about a study that strikingly illustrates this.

Both Caitlin Moran’s book and Sheryl Sandberg’s talk caused discomfort in a way, yet were incredibly eye-opening for me. It’s easy to blame men for “keeping us down” – but the reality is that we, as women, have a responsibility to make the changes ourselves.  We have to not only believe that we are equal and deserve to be treated as such, but to get out there and do what needs to be done.  That doesn’t mean that we have to act like men, and if our brains are wired differently, maybe that’s not even possible.  And considering the state of politics and the environment, I for one am not convinced that the present mode of leadership is the best way anyway.  But if women want a chance to make a difference and to take the lead, then we have to do it for ourselves.  We have to step up. And a good way to start is to read How To Be a Woman and watch Why we have too few women leaders.

Please take the time to comment, I’d love to hear your opinion on this topic. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

Are Men and Women Wired Differently?

“Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other.  Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

- Katherine Hepburn


I just had the most delicious conversation with my dear friend Tam.  She and I have been friends for over 30 years.  When we talk, we go straight to heart level, which I value so much and crave so deeply.  As a woman, this need for deep heart connection is so important to me. And this brings me to the essence of this post,  yet another layer of stuff my husband and I are working through. 

I won’t go into the full background of the latest turmoil, it’s more than a argument or disagreement – it feels like a deep mis-understanding of the sexes.  Our communication feels like he’s trying to connect from the head and me from the heart, and I end up feeling like a bleeding mess in a puddle in the corner and he is trying to analize why and how it happened and what exactly was said to get there and what words can deal with it. 

After talking to Tam and to my sister and a couple of other friends, I noticed once again, not surprisingly that men and women really communicate differently. So I decided to do some research, and I found that it’s not surprising that we communicate so differently because research shows that men’s brains don’t work the same way that women’s brains work.   There is so much new research out there showing us beyond a shadow of a doubt that men and women are wired differently.

According to psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, the female brain is wired to empathize and the male brain is characterized by its tendency to systemize. The male brain seeks to develop a set of logical rules that guide another person’s behavior. When a man can’t understand someone else’s behavior through logic, he tends to become confused about how to proceed.  Women, on the other hand, may be more empathetic because their brains’ mirror neurons are more sensitive than men’s. Mirror neurons cause us to imitate emotions and actions that we’re exposed to. One theory is that women’s mirror neurons allow them to more easily hone in on another person’s emotional cues.

This quote just made so much sense to me!  I get so frustrated because it feels like my husband is trying to understand me “logically” – and does not understand emotional cues.  But if he’s not wired to do so, can I hold this against him?  Ah there’s the rub.  So I guess we just keep trying to find the common ground, and to work through this morass called relationship.

This video clip is a long one, well over an hour, but if you are interested in this subject, please do take the time to watch it, it offers some fascinating information on the brain differences between men and women.

 

 

I’d love to hear what helps you communicate better and how you make your relationships work. And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.