The Mind-Body Connection

The connection between our minds–our thoughts and emotions–and our bodies–the physical manifestations of thoughts, as well as our avenue for performing actions, is amazing.  In many cases, we think of this connection as moving in one-direction–and this can vary from person to person.  Someone with a head cold, body aches and chills will have thoughts of feeling sick and emotional responses of tiredness and stress, and usually think that because they are physically unwell, that causes how they are feeling and thinking.  In another instance, someone could be really pumped up about a new opportunity, with thoughts and feelings of excitement, possibility and adventure, which relates to body sensations of having lots of energy, maybe pushing adrenaline through the system, and not needing as much sleep.

It seems like one causes the other–but which way does the connection flow?  I would argue that the connection is a two-way channel of communication.  Our thoughts and feelings can manifest in physical responses in energy level, wellness or sickness, likelihood of injury and more.  And the physical state of our bodies can shift our thoughts and emotions in a moment.

Try this–notice how your body is right now–your posture, any aches or pain, your energy level.  Now think about something that makes you sad and feel the emotions that come with that.  What changes came over your body as you shifted your thought?  Did you shoulders slump, did you notice a decrease in energy, did back pain or knee pain suddenly make itself known?  Now, I want to you grin the biggest, silliest grin you’ve ever grinned, maybe push out a laugh or two.  What thoughts are you thinking now?  Are you feeling better, happier, even though you’re hoping nobody is looking at your ridiculous behavior?  So, in the first case, our thoughts shifted our physiology.  In the second exercise, our change to our physiology shifted our thoughts and emotions.

You can apply this principle at any time.  If you’re feeling sick or tired, take a look at the thoughts and emotions that are predominant, and pay attention to the messages from your body.  If you want to change, do something that promotes your energy, like laughing, dancing, exercising, calling a friend, watching a comedy.  And work on shifting your thought patterns, and concentrating on feeling happy, content, love, gratitude and joy.  As you open the mind-body connection, you will have more control over your physical body and your thoughts.  You decide how you want to feel, both emotionally and physically.

Facing Fear

Fear can be paralyzing, when you’re staring that thing that you are afraid of in the face.  Sometimes you want to turn and run the other way, or hide out and hope it goes away, or worst of all, get stuck where you are unable to move at all.  As we know, none of those options work very well.

So, what are some options that do work?  The first step is to face the fear, and get clear on what it actually is.  Sometimes we make it so much bigger, or we stay confused and terrified because we refuse to really look at it.  Facing the fear is your launching point for action.  Once you know what you are really dealing with, you can then begin to make some decisions.

The next step is to decide on, and then take, action.  The biggest fear-buster is action.  The reality is that the fear probably isn’t going to go away, but if you see it, feel it, and still get into action anyway, you’re so much better off than before!  Determine what about your goal is bigger and more important than your fear–think about that when you are experiencing the fear, and then take the next action you see to take.

When we get into action, momentum begins to build and we see the next action to take, and the next.  And as we continue to follow that guidance, the fear diminishes, or even gets left behind entirely.  And it all starts with being willing to face your fear.

Healthy Living

Who is responsible for your health and well-being?  Are you taking that responsibility?  If you’ve been on an airplane any time recently, you’ve heard the spiel about the oxygen masks.  You know–Put your own mask on first before helping others.

This advice holds true in every area of our lives–you need to take care of yourself before you can give yourself fully to helping others.  Taking care of yourself begins and ends with caring for your physical body and your emotional well-being.  We don’t usually think much about the importance of our health until something happens to threaten it.  But why wait for a threat to rear up, when we have all the tools and knowledge we need to be proactive rather than reactive?

Here are some basic tips for living as healthy as possible:

1. Drink plenty of water.  Most experts recommend 8 cups of water per day.  The more accurate number I’ve heard is that you should aim for drinking in ounces half your body weight in pounds.  So, if you weigh 160 pounds, you would be aiming for 80 ounces of water per day, or 10 cups of water.  Our bodies are mostly made of water, and our brains need the water in our systems to properly transmit the electrical signals through our nervous system.

2. Move more.  Get in motion.  Whether you are a gym rat, prefer outdoor sports, or just like to dance in your living room like I do, spend some time each day in movement that gets your heart rate up.  Recommendations suggest a minimum target of walking at least 30 minutes three times a week as a starting point.  Take breaks during long periods of sitting to stretch, take a short walk or do some other form of physical activity.

3. Eat less.  The average western meal serves up 2-3 times the actual amount of food you need at one sitting, and a lot of it is processed and filled with salt, fat and/or sugar.  Choose foods in as close to their natural state as possible, fill at least half your plate at each meal with fruits and vegetables, and pay attention to your body’s signals when it tells you to stop eating.

4. Get some sleep.  Many of us go through our lives chronically sleep-deprived.  If you are not waking up naturally, feeling well rested, you are probably not getting enough sleep.  Aim for at least 7 hours of high-quality sleep each night.  Try darkening your room and removing electronics from the bedroom, avoiding screen time with TV and computers for an hour before bedtime, and dimming the lights in the evening so your body begins to produce sleep chemicals to aid you in getting your rest.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish–it is your responsibility.  Only when you are in top shape can you fully show up for others.

The Myth of Multitasking

Multitasking is something that has been sold to us as a great thing, a way to be more productive and get more done in less time.  The truth, however, is something quite different.  Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time, so when you think you are multitasking, you are actually switching your attention between the multiple tasks over and over.  The first problem is that this makes your brain tired and uses more energy over the same period of time as doing a single task.  This creates fatigue at a quicker pace, leaving you with less brainpower later in the day when you want to still be going strong.

The second problem is that multitasking, or task switching as it should more accurately be called, doesn’t save you time.  It takes on average 50% more time to do a task when switching attention back and forth than if you focused on a single task to completion.  And the time it takes to complete a task continues to increase as you add more distractions that can cause you to switch your focus, such as your phone lighting up with a text, your email dinging as a new message arrives, or a coworker stops by for a quick chat or question.

This is compounded by the third problem of multitasking–the amount of time it takes for you to refocus on the primary task and get back to where you left off after an interruption or task switch.  Every time you shift your attention off the task at hand, it takes longer and longer to get back to the place in your work on the primary task from where you left off, if you can get back there at all.  With all these problems racking up time and energy, why would we want to multitask?

The key to real productivity is focus.  Research indicates that the optimal focused work period is 90 minutes.  As in, you spend 90 minutes focused on a key task, or finish the task to completion, whichever comes first.  If you are like me, you might wonder how in the world you are going to get 90 minutes of uninterrupted focus time once in a day, let alone multiple blocks of this focus time!  There are some simple fixes you can initiate, such as turning off your phone and email alerts, closing out all distracting programs on your computer, indicating on your office or cubicle entry that you are focusing and are not to be disturbed, and communicating to the other people in your environment what you are doing.

You may also start with a 15 minute block of focus time on a single task, working up to the larger time blocks.  The key is to give up the idea that multitasking is helpful, and to work on focusing your attention on a single task at a time.  What are you going to focus on next?

What If…?

What if you had a magic wand that could give you anything you wished for?  What would you create?  Our imagination can act like this magic wand!  Once you know of something you would like to create in your life, use your imagination to develop a vivid movie of you having that right now.  What would you be feeling?  What would you see, what sounds would you hear?  What would you feel, taste and smell if you had this creation?  Make your movie as realistic and detailed as possible.

Once you’ve created your movie, start playing it in your imagination when you wake up in the morning and right before you go to sleep at night.  This process of daily visualization creates tension in your subconscious mind between what your current reality is and what you are vividly imagining for yourself morning and night.  As new ideas occur to you on how to achieve this wish, take action on those ideas whenever possible.  As you vividly imagine and take related, inspired action, you draw this new reality closer and closer to you, until eventually your wish comes true!

Don’t believe it?  We actually do this all the time, day after day.  It is called worrying!  We vividly imagine something we don’t want to have happen, with all the senses engaged and lots of emotional reaction.  And, if we spend time over and over worrying about something, it usually does happen.  So why wouldn’t it work for something you DO want just as well?  Set aside your skepticism and try it out for a month.  See what happens.  What if it does work?

Rewiring

Did you know that 90% of our brains are developed by age 5?  That is great news for kids, but what about those of us who’ve missed our early opportunity?  According to recent brain science, our brains don’t finish developing until our mid-twenties, and we can continually learn and rewire our brains throughout life.  Which means that we really can teach “old dogs” new tricks, and train ourselves to develop new habits and thinking patterns.

Our brains wire through synaptic connections that fire in the same sequence over and over.  Essentially, when you encounter new learning, you create a new connection in the brain, kind of like blazing a trail for the first time.  As you reinforce this new learning through repeated and similar experiences, you strengthen the connections as the neurons fire across the same synapses again and again.  This is like taking that same trail through a field over and over until a track is worn.  As the connections are used continuously, you continue to reinforce the path, like a track turning into a paved road, and then into a two-lane highway and finally a superhighway.  That is how learning occurs in your brain.

If you discontinue the use of a neural pathway, it begins to fade back into the weeds, and eventually gets “pruned” as unnecessary and lost if it is never used.  However, even if you infrequently revisit that neural pathway, you will keep it, or create a new trail that can be turned into a superhighway.

So, as you’re looking at habits of thought and behavior that you would like to create, begin doing the activities that will strengthen and build on your neural pathway day after day.  Consistent application of a behavior turns it into a habit, and makes that superhighway connection in your brain so that eventually it becomes nearly, if not fully, automatic.  Behavior researchers have indicated that it takes a minimum of 21 days to create a habit, and for many of us, more like 45-60 days of consistent practice, especially if we’re rewiring a former undesirable habit.  Decide what you want to create, and get busy rewiring with daily commitment!  You’re on your way to superhighway connections!

Science vs. Belief

I just finished reading The Believing Brain by self-described skeptic and scientist, Michael Shermer.  The book was a very interesting examination of beliefs from a science perspective, as in what is provable and measurable.  It gave me a lot to think about, in terms of what is happening biologically when beliefs are created to how we justify and find evidence for the beliefs we hold, as well as the social and cultural influences that help us decide what to believe.

For me, a firm dualist (I believe I have a mind that generated thought and is separate from my brain which does the mechanical processes of running my body), I had to really set aside my own beliefs and bias to read the book and take in another perspective.  This was good practice, as I’m always preaching about how we need to be able to do exactly this in order to understand where others are coming from.

The book created strong arguments for the author’s point of view, and I definitely can see the case for the brain being what allows us to think and the mind not existing apart from the brain.  But I have to admit, I prefer the idea that my mind or soul or whatever you want to call it goes on beyond the death of my physical body.  Can I prove that scientifically?  No.  But I can’t disprove it either.  Whether all our beliefs can be biologically and scientifically explained away or not, I think we are fortunate to be able to decide for ourselves what we believe.  Even if we can’t back it up with science and logical reasoning.  That is what makes us uniquely human, and interesting!  What do you believe about all of this?

Leadership vs. Management

A lot of people in leadership positions have confusion about their role.  When you are a positional leader, one who has the title of leader in an organization, that doesn’t automatically make you a true leader.  Often times, we are trained to be managers, at best.  Not leaders.

There are several differences between management and leadership, and this is not to say that one is better than the other.  Both roles are important.  Managers focus on task management, getting things done right.  On the other hand, leaders focus on people development, and getting the right things done.  Leaders are the ones who cast a vision for the followers, and through that vision, get the commitment to follow and help build it.

If you are in a leadership position, whether it is through your work, in your family, or in a volunteer community position, it is important to become aware of where your skills naturally lie, and where you may need to strengthen yourself.  If you tend to focus on the details of how to get things done, streamlining for efficiency and focusing on the daily duties of the work, you are strong in management.  If you are able to build people up and help them see their part in the bigger goals of the work, then you may lean more toward strengths in leadership.

As I mentioned before, both of these are important.  You don’t necessarily have to be both, but if the work is to get done and to achieve a bigger vision than is currently happening, the team needs to include leaders, managers and followers.  Notice where you are, and who is around you.  Do you have all the positions covered?  If not, start looking for others who can complement your weaknesses with their strengths, and also consider pursuing some ways to strengthen your limiting characteristics to perform at a higher level.

Journaling Your Journey

When you think of journaling, are you taken back to grade school and documenting your secret thoughts in a diary?  Or stealing your sister’s diary to read her secret thoughts?  While journaling as an adult may include those same secret thoughts, they can also be a great organizing tool for your to collect your thoughts, work out problems, brainstorm solutions and express yourself.

Writing by hand has specific benefits through the brain-body connection that happens with your writing movements.  However, you can journal online or on your technology devices.  The idea is that you can benefit from spending structured time processing thoughts and doing a brain dump each day.  Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommends a daily practice of writing three pages each morning.  These “Morning Pages” allow you to dump onto paper whatever rambling thoughts, to-do list items, or anxieties that can keep you from being your most productive, creative self.

Journaling provides a regular way to express yourself and record the little important items that happen to you through your life journey, and gives you something to notice and acknowledge your growth over time.  The process also allows you to see what you consistently complain about or have as regular issues.  Once you gain this awareness, you can decide whether you want your experience of life to be different, and start thinking about making changes in those recurring theme areas.

When you begin journaling, you may find it challenging to come up with things to write about, or worry about recording something in case someone sees it.  Or you may not know who to write to or for.  How you handle these different concerns is really up to you.  Here are some recommendations to get you started:

1. Commit to a daily practice–when and how long will you journal for?  What format will you use?

2. Keep writing, even if it is line after line of “I don’t know what to write about.”  Eventually you will get bored of that and think of something else to include.

3. Don’t censor yourself.  Allow whatever thoughts come up to be recorded.  You are the only one who will see this, unless you decide to share it.

4. Let the others who share your life know what you’re doing and how they can support you.

5. Look up some journal idea starters on the internet to help you with specific topic ideas if you get stuck.

6. Keep it up!  If you miss a day, or a few, just go back to your commitment when you can.  Applaud yourself for getting back on the horse after your time away.

7. Enjoy the new focus, creativity and mental clarity you are allowing into your life, and the documentation of your life’s journey!

Exploring Unconditional Positive Regard

5441612-she-knows-right-answer-real-lesson-in-the-classromUnconditional Positive Regard sets a basis for our respectful communication with and about children and youth.  Let’s break this down.  “Unconditional” means that is happens all the time, not under a set of circumstances or conditions that only exist some of the time.  “Positive” is just that—focused on what is going right, what the desired behaviors and characteristics are, and shifting away from negativity or criticism.  “Regard” is having a sense of respect or consideration for another, to hold them in high esteem.

Essentially this concept is like the “golden rule” of old, that we treat others the way we want to be treated.  Where we sometimes fail at this is when adults treat children and youth as though they are somehow less than a full person because of their youth.  Adult conversation about children and especially teenagers is full of disrespect and assumption, lumping all children and youth into the same category and expecting poor behavior and bad choices.  On the other hand, adults also have a tendency to expect children to know all the things that adults know and to make decisions from a similar level of life experience as adults have.  This sets the child up for failure, and we then disparage children for making “bad” choices in their behavior or response because they are coming from their limited experience, skills and knowledge.

I believe that language is creative.  What I mean by that is that when we say something often enough or with enough emotional intensity, the idea we expressed becomes more likely to develop in reality.  In Special Education, this is called the self-fulfilling prophecy.  When a child who has a specific diagnosis is told often enough or by people he holds in very high esteem (like a parent or doctor) that he will be a certain way, or will never be able to do a certain activity, in most cases the child begins to act in the predicted way or is unable to participate in the activity regardless of the physical and mental evidence to the contrary.

I believe that what children really need is supportive, thoughtful and emotionally healthy adults who can speak to and about children with respect and encouragement.  When we speak to children as though they are fully capable, and we show them respect in our words, tone and body language, we build trust and positive relationships.  When we make the effort to find the good in every interaction and every person, no matter what their behavior is, we demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard.  When we engage in conversations in the community and with other adults, speaking about children and teens from respect and acknowledging that most of them are doing the best they can and just want to be accepted, we demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard.

Children and youth learn how to respect others from the adults in their lives first modeling respect and trust in every relationship.  If we want our children to show respect for their elders, their community and their world, we need to demonstrate that in our words and daily actions.  We all are their teachers, no matter what our actual role is in a child’s life.  How are you modeling Unconditional Positive Regard, and how will you commit to use it more fully in your interactions?