Thursday, December 24, 2009

The One Thing That Builds A Great Brain For A Great Life

Did you know that stress reduces the real estate in your higher brain? It shrinks the neural networks that light you up with creativity and problem-solving. It switches on negative emotion, debilitating the emotional intelligence for personal happiness and interpersonal strength. And it creates a physiological state called allostasis which make us sick and eventually can threaten our life. Simultaneously, stress increases the real estate in the lower, more primitive parts of the brain, which make you anxious, reactive, and compulsive.

In the last ten years, neuroscience has discovered that the polar opposite of stress reverses the damage, resprouting higher brain networks and shrinking the lower regions. Once the brain is rolling in this direction, a process takes over called neuroplasticity, expanding higher brain function to take you from stressed to good and from good to great, all in a matter of weeks.

What is the polar opposite of stress? The answer, of course, is peace. Being at peace is the most important thing you can do every day to restore your brain to its absolute best.

Fortunately, this dynamic state of calm and clarity that we call peace couldn’t be simpler to attain. Below is a list of its basic attributes and simple approaches that can help build the experience of peace in your daily life.

1. Peace is quiet, so start each day this season in quiet. First thing each morning, practice setting a peaceful day in motion. Close your eyes or take a downward gaze. Tilt your head toward your heart. Follow your breathing. Feel each breath softening your heart and opening it wider. Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achieving things, feeling peaceful inside, regardless of what is happening outside.

2. Peace is spiritual, so take spiritual breaks. During the day, every couple of hours look out the window for a minute or so and let your mind go completely. Observe what the sky is doing. Watch the wind blow, the sun shine, or the snow fall. Allow yourself to feel connected to life.

3. Peace is grateful. So, once a week, before going to sleep, count your blessings. Name three things that happened this week for which you are grateful. Then name three aspects of your life, generally, for which you feel blessed.

4. Peace is spacious. Every now and then, take a time-out, close your eyes and talk to your mind like this: Please, mind, go a little slower. Don’t be so nervous. Open a little wider. Think less, love more and believe this: Everything is going to be alright.  Then go out into the world and smell the roses (or the holly). Hug the people you love. Watch children play. Play closer attention to this moment, right here, right now and let life surprise you.

5. Peace is forgiving. 100 per cent. So forgive everyone and every bad thing that has happened, is happening now, and is sure to happen again. Forgive the past so completely that you hardly see the past any more.

6. Peace is intelligent. It finds the middle path, the place of balance, where you don’t eat too much or spend too much or withhold too much. Where you don’t overdo much of anything.
Also, peace is not a doormat. Equally, it is smart enough not to stand in harm’s way. So if someone or some situation is abusive or stupid or dangerous, remove yourself.

7. Peace is secure within. So don’t worry about anything. Make it a pledge that during the holidays you will practice not worrying.

8. Peace does not judge, so judge nothing that occurs. Don't judge yourself when you slip up, become stressed and maybe even behave badly. Let it go and choose peace all over again. The same goes for other people's nonsense. Enjoy the dance of life on Earth and don’t judge any of it. Life isn’t supposed to make sense; neither is love. It’s all a mystery. Just listen and feel and see with such empathy that it no longer occurs to you to condemn any part of what you are hearing or feeling or seeing.

9. Peace is adaptable. If you are not at peace and peace of mind feels a thousand miles away, use the back door. Be at peace with your non-peace.

10. Peace is faith. Have faith. There is no degree of stress in any situation that faith cannot remove. Often the problem in life is not the situation we face but the lack of faith with which we face it

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Question That Transcends Stress

Click to download PDF of this blogClick to download PDF of this blogClick to download PDF of this blogFear is the trigger for a stress reaction. If you are stressed, biologically you are in some form of fear.

So, whenever you feel stressed on the inside:

The relevant question to ask yourself is:

What am I afraid of?

Ask what am I afraid of five or six times and let the answers come straight from the brain's primitive fear center, called the amygdala. The amygdala is in charge of fight or flight. It is a highly paranoid feature, designed to see potential calamities but often it mistakes sticks for snakes. Its language is raw, edgy and negative. During the exercise, don't edit or sugar-coat what it tells you. Allow the amygdala to forecast all the fearful things it tends to predict. Exposing these illusions to the light of day nullifies its power to torment you.

For example, your credit card bill is larger than you expected and the fact scares you. The amygdala is likely to start predicting outcomes that gradually paint the mental picture of you being thrown into poverty. Of course, it's not true. However, this thought, when operating unconsciously, can form an emotional cloud that darkens your mood and makes you vulnerable to misperceiving events and overreacting.

Once I conducted the What Am I Afraid Of? exercise, one on one, with a prominent corporate lawyer. The lawyer was in litigation, about to go to court, and he was immobilized by stress. So, I asked him, in this legal situation, what are you afraid of?

Losing the case, was his answer.
What are you afraid of if you lose the case? I asked. I will lose my reputation, he answered.
And what are you afraid of if you lose your reputation? Losing my clients.
What's the fear in losing your clients? Being asked to leave the firm.
And what's the fear under this? With eyes wide, he answered. I'll end up pushing a shopping cart down Main Street

Afterwards, I asked him if there was a chance he could still win the case. He answered yes. I asked if he would lose his reputation if he lost. No, not really, he said. Everyone knows you win some, you lose some. I then asked if it was realistic that he could lose all his clients. He answered, no, saying his clients were loyal because he had served them well for many years.
At this point the lawyer saw through his anxious thought process and the disaster it was fabricating. It's all in my head, isn't it, he said and he began to laugh.  Fear's illusions are comic, but they can become tragic if they go unchecked.

During the holidays, there are family members who can also send our mind into a tail spin, through a condescending remark about our weight or some such thing. If we let it insult us, our primitive brain is going to dig into its emotional memory bank and flash back to all the times family and others hurt us in some way. When that happens, fight or flight is sure to follow.

On the other hand, if we can intercede by investigating the fear behind the reaction, we might find a voice at the bottom that says: I am worthless. Of course, it is not true. We can refute it, simply by not believing it. We can ask ourselves, who would I be without that thought? Invariably, the answer is we would be larger than the box fear was about to squeeze us into.

Whenever we exercise the power of not believing fearful thoughts, a spaciousness of mind opens up inside of us. We become larger than a challenging situation. The self-confidence fear erodes is suddenly restored.

The spaciousness that leads to
this larger sense of self is peace.

Letting go of fear by not believing what it says provides a dependable entry way to peace. Finding peace can be that simple. Try it. When you are in the throes of a burgeoning stress reaction, take a time-out and ask yourself what am I afraid of. Bring into the light of day all the terrible calamities the amygdala predicts. In the clear light, these brain-made calamities are exposed for what they are: ridiculous.
Laugh at them instead of believing them, and your life will move forward again into being happy and at peace, empowered to create a great day in which you achieve something amazing with your stress-free brain.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Your Attitude Builds Your Child’s Brain

Children model everything, especially a parent’s attitude, and attitude is extremely neuroplastic. Neuroplasticity is the capacity of the brain to shape brain structure and set brain chemistry. A positive or negative attitude literally wires the brain for success or failure, health or disease, confidence or insecurity, happiness or anxiety. When it comes to the brain -- as with most things in life -- attitude is everything.

First the bad news: If a parent's attitude is chronically stressed and anxious, as it is with four in ten Americans, it is likely the child’s attitude will be as well. Their little brains will be dominated by the amygdala, the fear center located deep in the primitive brain, and unhealthy amounts of stress hormones will enter their bloodstream.  This can cause higher brain networks to shrink and more primitive networks to expand. Cognitive functions will dampen and the emotional set point will default to negative. As a result, their performance in school is likely to suffer.  Additionally,  they are more likely to get sick and for colds and flu to hit them harder. That’s because stress reactions dampen the immune system. Stress also inhibits the production of growth hormones.  This is a picture we can change.

Now to the good news: The profoundly happy news about neuroplasticity is that, if our brain is wired for stress, we can rewire it at any point along our life span. The algorithm for rewiring, simply put, is this:  A change of attitude that changes your experience changes your brain. It’s a change that can change your life. Here is what science has discovered:  A dynamically peaceful attitude builds a great brain, not just for your child but for you too.  It stops the flow of stress hormones and shifts control from the primitive brain to the prefrontal cortex. The brain lights up with creative problem solving and the emotional meter resets to positive. The absence of stress hormones allow the immune and growth systems to function at optimum. In short, your shift in attitude grows and strengthens neural networks that can make both you and your child healthier, happier and smarter, all through a little inner work on your part.

Stress-Free Is What Kids Want Most
Children seem to understand the importance of a stress free attitude better than parents. It is what they want most for their parents, according to a national study of over a thousand children. In the study, interviewers gave children one wish to make for a change in their parents. Their parents were then asked to guess what their child wished for. More than half of parents guessed it was for more quality time together. It was the wrong answer. Most of the children wished for their parents to be free of stress. The research found that kids are very good at reading signs of stress. They are good at detecting subtle cues about a parent’s mood, such as their down-turned expression or heavy footsteps.

If our parents were less tired and stressed, said one of the children interviewed, I think that the kids would be less tired and stressed.

I know when my mom has a bad day because when she picks me up from after school she doesn’t smile, one young girl told interviewers. She has a really frustrated look on her face.

Every good parent wants their children to be happy. Every good parent also wants to empower their child to excel. The most effective thing a parent can do in achieving both is to teach kids to transcend stress by making the shift themselves.

It’s Simpler Than You Might Think. Here’s How You Do It
There are four things parents can do right now to shift their attitude in ways that, neurologically, can wire their child’s brain for success. All four are so simple you might think they could not possibly produce a dramatic shift in your attitude, let alone your child’s brain function. They can and results are profound, accruing rapidly. Put it to the test for two weeks and see what changes in you and your child.

Here is all you have to practice:

1. Make Time For A Little Physical Activity. You don’t have to go to the gym and spend an hour on the tread mill and another hour pumping iron to change brain chemistry. A mellow thirty-minute walk around the neighborhood, five days a week, goes a long way toward flushing stress hormones from your system. These hormones build up to put the emotional brain in charge of your experience, making you chronically anxious and reactive. Your children will model your behavior. A walking routine helps mitigate the problem. After a particularly stressful event, it also helps to take a walk around the block to de-stress. As you walk, quiet your thoughts.

2. Bust Negative, Stressful Thinking: The mind makes up emergencies that the brain believes are real. The vast majority of these are false alarms, but the brain’s fear center, the amygdala, can’t tell the difference between a real and imagined threat. We can’t always stop ourselves from thinking this way. But we can stop ourselves from believing these thoughts. You can have ten thousand stressful thoughts a minute and if you don’t believe them, your heart remains at peace.

Let your negative thinking come into awareness and each time tell yourself, this thought is in me, not in reality. Then follow three breaths, and in the space that opens, choose to be at peace.

3. Inspire Yourself Regularly: This too does not require a major effort. Starting each day in quiet, affirming the power and beauty of a peaceful attitude can set a positive day in motion. During the day, every couple of hours, take a spiritual break. Look out the window for a minute and let your mind go completely. Watch the wind blow, the sun shine, or the rain fall. End the day in gratitude, counting your blessings.

4. Master The Small Stuff: You don’t have to be Gandhi to find peace. Peace is in the small stuff. A brain under stress wants to elbow its way to the head of every line or pass the car in front. It always feels late, pressured and victimized. You can actually rewire those brain reactions away. How? Assert peace. Choose the longest line at a store and stand in it. Use the time to slow your motor and quiet your mind until you are at peace. In a traffic jam, listen to soft music or an interesting interview. Tell yourself, my peace does not depend on my car moving faster.

Do these every day and your children will begin to model your new attitude. As they do, their prefrontal cortex will light up with intelligence, and so will yours.

Use Peace To Facilitate Brain Power During Homework. Given the mountain of research that has established the role of a peaceful attitude in building a powerful brain, it makes sense to build peace into homework time. Make a ritual that commences homework time by evoking a peaceful feeling in your child. An easy way to do this is to gather together and use a bell, gong or Tibetan singing bowl to chime in homework time. Sit quietly for one minute. If the kids giggle, let them, and then motion them back to being peaceful. You can signal this by simply putting your hands together, prayer fashion. Do it with a smile, not disapproval. At the end of the minute remind the children that there is nothing the brain cannot do when it's peaceful. Tell them if they become agitated by an assignment during homework time to come and talk to you.

Keep practicing and never give up on peace. Peace is our most powerful human asset. "No matter what is going on, never give up," counsels His Holiness the Dalai Lama. "Work for peace, in your heart and in the world. And I say again, never give up.”

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Magnificent Ascent Of Which You Are A Part

I once spent a glorious week in the Dordogne Valley in France, a place of pastoral splendor that is also one of the archaeological wonders of the world. As I drove into town, I passed a team of paleontologists digging in the ground, searching for the remains of our ancestors’ miraculous rise from near extinction to preeminence. Incredibly, 60,000 years ago, the total number of human beings on the planet had shrunk to less than 2,000. Half of that number traveled north across arid African savannahs and deserts into the bitter cold landscape of Europe. A small splinter group settled in the Dordogne and made one of the last stands for the human race. Against all odds, these people flourished.

Their descendant went on to create the first art we know, painting bison and deer on cave walls. They discovered the principles of farming, learned to forge steel, chisel rock, and generations later erected castles on hillsides along the river. Today, the quaint little village where I dined on wonderful French cuisine is surrounded by a patchwork quilt of farms. Adjacent to the town square is a museum of Impressionist art and a Romanesque church. The building of the villages are all made of stones, expertly fitted together, merging practicality with elegance. There is also a garden hotel, where the affluent spend their holiday, arriving in beautiful hi-tech, luxury automobiles.

Everything in Dordogne proclaims the will, love and ingenuity of our species. One cannot be in the embrace of its aura without feeling the magnificence of human spirit. The Dordogne is a monument of the climb we have made, through trial and error, as we developed the genius that would eventually decode genetics, split the atom, map the brain, and take us to the moon and back.

Our brain’s capacity to generate genius is personified throughout history, from Mozart to Beethoven, Copernicus to Einstein, Shakespeare to Picasso, Lincoln to Mandela. Their feats were not entirely or even largely individual. Their achievements are a synthesis of the contributions of other people, most of whom live ordinary lives. The story of human history is like a cathedral built stone by stone, carried and set in place by far too many hands for history to record. Instead, history represents each stone with the name of someone who stood above the crowd. In a very real sense, however, these feats belong to the whole of humanity. They belong to you and me as much as to Einstein and Shakespeare. Each of our lives carries a stone right now, representing our small contribution to the wing our generation has added to humanity’s cathedral. This spirit of legacy is captured in the lyrics of Gene Scheer: “Each generation from the plains to distant shores, with the gifts that they were given were determined to leave more.”

In these precarious times, we should honor our ancestors by focusing on the magnificence of what we are, the miracles we have achieved, and what we are capable of becoming.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Brain At The Top Of Your Game

1. Take a moment and recall the last time you were at "the top of your game." A time when you were in the flow, in the zone, running on all cylinders, making it happen. 2. Then on a piece of paper, write down one or two words or short phrases that describe your internal experience whenever you are at the top of your game. Make a list of five to ten qualities or more if you discover more. But five will be sufficient. Post it where you can see.

3. Now download the guided process and listen to it before starting an important task, especially one that stretches you. It will put in The Zone. The more you perform this simple exercise, the more you will be rewiring your brain to generate the higher brain function that can keep you at the top of your game. It is called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows the mind and brain to work together to provide the brain power to attain what we want from life, which for most of us is success, health and love.

The New Competitive Edge
Neuroplasticity can rewire you, your team and your company from brains that are stressed, dampened and generating limited success to brains that flow with the creative intelligence and positive emotion, turning effort into the joy of excelling. Businesses that tap the power of neuroplasticity will eventually overwhelm the competition. It is the new competitive edge.

It Is Simpler Than You Might Think
Generating this change is simpler than you might think and results accrue faster than you might imagine. It only took eight weeks for researchers at the University of Wisconsin to rewire the beleaguered brains of a project team that was stressed and failing. A simple mindfulness-based approach practiced for those eight-weeks produced brain scans indicating the level of higher brain function that can sustain peak performance(Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
  • Ten weeks of mindfulness practice can rewire the brain to free people from obsessive compulsive disorder (Schwartz, 1995).
  • Eight weeks of a cognitive behavior program can rewire depression away (Segal, Mayberg, 2002). These are serious brain disorders.
If it can solve these disorders, just think how effective it can be in ridding the brain of toxic stress hormones that derail higher brain function. Neuroplasticity is not mere stress reduction; it is the stress solution.

A neuroscientist at Harvard found neuroplasticity can even teach you to play the piano without using a piano. He had people simply think about practicing a five-finger piano exercise. They played the simple piece over and over in their minds, keeping their fingers still, simply imagining how their fingers would move if actually playing the piano. The subjects practiced two hours every day for five days. At the end of five days he measured the motor cortex of these people. The results were astonishing. The area of motor cortex had expanded in the imaginary players in the same way it had in subjects who had actually played a real piano.

The mind can change the brain and that very fact can change a life or an entire company in every way that matters.

Monday, August 3, 2009

There's a Peaceful Genius Inside Our Brain We All Should Get to Know

We think we hate work. There is a very funny and popular blog called WorkHate that is intended for (and I quote): Anyone who's ever thought "I hate work, my job, my boss, oh god; I think I'm gonna cry." The blog calls "mental health days" an American tradition and offers a guide to Great Sick Day Getaways. Yet research suggests that it's not leisurely getaways we want.

In a series of books on the optimal experience defined as Flow, the ground breaking psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago presents his research on tens of thousands of people. His research found that people do not regard leisure time as all that satisfying. We wind up feeling "bored and empty." At work, however, most people report that they feel engaged and content. The irony is we think we want to dump work for leisure. When researchers ask what we would rather be doing, we typically say we want more time to relax, despite reporting that it bores us.
We're Just Confused
It's stress, not work, that we really hate. It's the stress at work that we want to get away from. Stress is the polar opposite of being relaxed. Stress represents a brain in dysfunction producing a highly dissatisfying and debilitating experience of life. No one wants that. The problem is 78% of us struggle with stress, and half of those experience extreme stress on a regular basis.

The Genius Peace Awakens
The key is to be relaxed at work. To a stressed mind the idea of relaxing at work can sound impossible. You may even think it could get you fired. By "relaxed" I mean cultivating a dynamically peaceful state of flow as you work. Peace is the polar opposite of stress and the research shows that this state of flow rewards us in every way that counts.

  • Being at peace as you approach a task is how you slip into that zone called The Top of Your Game. Neurologically, it's how you light up the 30 billion higher order brain cells that can turn you into a genius for a few hours.

    Psychologically, it's how you coax the brain into a flow of positive emotion which, in turn, produces the fearless self-confidence and optimism that can move mountains.

    Physiologically, being at peace as you work is how you maintain the high level of energy it takes to stretch yourself and go the distance.
Who among us doesn't want this level of personal power available all day long. It's attaining your best day, every day. Combined, these neurological outcomes not only make you a peak performer, they also generate an intrinsically rewarding work experience. Inevitably, this dynamically peaceful and positive way of being attracts other great minds to work with you to do what you can't do alone. The icing on the cake is that, at the end of the day, you return home with more to give your family.

Cultivating this brain state is simpler than you might think.

Try It Yourself
Devote a few weeks to cultivating a dynamically peaceful attitude by using the guided process called the Genius Tool. After two weeks of practice, your brain will start to wire for this powerful experience. This attitude will become second-nature, giving you a kind of immunity to stress. It increases your capacity to sustain peak performance by restoring joy to the experience of working.

The chronic absence of joy in our work is really what we hate. You can begin to fix the problem today by using this simple guided process to develop a dynamically peaceful state of flow.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Live Long and Prosper .... How?

The medical prescription for a long and successful life is simple:
  • Listen better,
  • Judge less,
  • Forgive more, and
  • Love unconditionally.
How can this be? The fact is the quality of our connection to others is the #1 determinant of how long and how well we live. How do we know this? Through the people of Roseto, Pennsylvania, who scientists stumbled across back in the early 1960's. It's an amazing, inspiring story.
Forty years ago, medical researchers were drawn to Roseto, Pennsylvania by a bewildering statistic that defied medical logic. Rosetans were nearly immune to the primary stress-related disease that is the number one cause of death in America - heart disease. Over a seven year period, no Roseto men under 47 had died of a heart attack and the community had half the national death rate. This made no sense, given that most of the men smoked, drank heavily, eat a high fat diet, were poor and did back breaking work in the rock quarry.

The researchers could find not biological, genetic or environment reason for their happy prognosis. Then the researchers stumbled across social factors that illuminated something about the character of the people. First, they discovered that there was zero crime rate in Roseto and no one on public welfare, even though the community was poor.

The researchers also found that the people were unusually vivacious. "These people," the report stated, are "happy, boisterous and unpretentious. They are simple, warm and very hospitable." Most striking to the researchers was the genuinely positive regard they held for one another: "When the researchers took a closer look, they found that Rosetans took pride in taking care of their families. Nearly all the homes contained three generations and elders were held in high regard. Mealtimes were much more than a matter of eating. It was a time for the family to gather and to strengthen intergenerational ties. Community events were also common in Roseto. In warm weather, villagers took evening strolls and dropped in to visit one another.

As they became more affluent, children went off to college or moved away and the community lost its cohesion. In 1971, the village recorded its first death from coronary disease of a person under the age of 45. The traditional communal experience that enabled people to live longer, healthier lives had eroded. One of the young people who left the village for the big city stated, "I'm sorry we moved; everything is modern here and we have everything we need, except people.

Study after study in the last forty years has corroborated what the researchers found in Roseto. It is now a fact. We thrive or fail to thrive based on our quality of connection to others. 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 hormone in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down his growth system, threatening his life.

He was hospitalized, and over the next two months he developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital-undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had. To everyone's amazement, his growth hormone levels zoomed back to normal. When his friend, the nurse, went on vacation the boy 's levels dropped back to zero, rising once more immediately after her return."

"Think about it," Sapolsky commented. "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."

We are neurally constructed to connect with one another. The neural network most responsible for achieving our state of connectedness is the mirror neuron system. This mirroring is the neural mechanism by which we can read the minds of other people and empathize with them. "Mirror neurons suggest that we pretend to be in another person's mental shoes," stated Marco Iacoboni of UCLA School of Medicine. "In fact, with mirror neurons we do not have to pretend; we practically are in another person's mind.

Neurons track the emotional flow, body language, tone of voice, and even the intentions of the person we are with. It explains emotional contagion, instant rapport, instant dislike, and how we play off of one anther. It is why my hostility bumps up your blood pressure and your show of respect lowers mine. It is why biologically, friends are healing, enemies are toxic.

The Gallup Organization surveyed hundred of companies and found that seven factors determined sustainability; meaning how long a company would exist. Four of the seven factors related to interpersonal strength.

So, to repeat: Listen better, judge less, forgive more, and love unconditionally. You will live a long and successful life.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This is the Story of How We Begin to Remember

I saw Jobie at the far end of the restaurant as I pushed through the crowd waiting to be seated. He was staring in my direction and I smiled and waved as I approached him. But he didn’t see me. His mind was somewhere else and from the look on his face, it appeared to be a desolate place. Jobie had suffered a series of difficult losses, all occurring in close proximity to one another. It involved a loss of money, the loss of his job, and foreclosure on his home. But the most painful for him was the end of his marriage

“You OK?” I asked when I reached the table. “No,” he replied absently.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. “What for,” he replied. “What difference would talking make.” Then he laughed, at himself I suppose, and the absurdity of his situation. But the light the laughter brought to his face quickly faded into an expression that looked lost.

We sat there in silence until the waitress arrived to take our order. When she was gone, Jobie and I turned at the same time and looked at each other, neither of us shying away. The torment on his face was palpable and I felt I had to say something. So I took a full breath and ventured to address the pain I saw on his face, in a way that might make him feel hopeful.

“Grief takes it out of you, Jobie,” I began. “It’s like winter when everything dies and the days are gray. But a new love raises-up everything that grief buries. It’ll come around again for you, I’m sure of it.”

These were good words, I thought, but Jobie was far from impressed. It was naive of me to think words could soften his pain this soon into his calamity. He shot me the look of disgust a person in crisis gives someone for the temerity of offering advice about a pain they’ve never felt. It was unfair of him. I’d been down a hard road before and he knew it. But I managed to let go of feeling insulted and sat there through the long silence that ensued and loved him. It wasn’t comfortable. Seeing him suffer made me restless with wanting to help but he was right. There was nothing I could say to change what he was going through.

I didn’t see him again for more than a year. I should have called and checked-in but I got busy and maybe the disgusted look he shot me got under my skin more than I was aware. As the amount of lapsed time grew longer I became too embarrassed to call. Calling him began to feel awkward and even disingenuous because the impulse seemed more about ridding me of guilt than helping him. It was stupid since I really did care. Stupidity is what usually happens when guilt makes a nest in my mind.

Then one rainy day I literally bumped into him in front of the Museum of Modern Art. I was coming out of the building, spell-bound by the works of Marc Chagall, and ran right into Jobie. He laughed when he recognized it was me and this time his face was lit by a happier heart. He even apologized for not connecting with me sooner, which let me off the hook. We went back inside the museum, to the café. We had a glass of wine and he told me of how he “crossed the great water,” which is the way he put it.

“I tried everything,” he said. “I went to a therapist for a time … a good one, but it didn’t help. I used alcohol but it just turned me into a bigger victim. Two drinks and I’d spew arrogant and angry. For months I walked around with a dead heart and not a spark of inspiration; just this weak, hollow feeling in my gut that was like a hole that sucked the strength out of me.”

“I moved to Tahoe,” he said, “and got a job working for a shop that builds boats. Then one day something simple took hold of me. It was the beginning of fall and I came home from work, poured myself a beer and sat at the dining room table. There’s a big picture window there that looks out on the open field at the back of the place. I looked out the window at the stand of aspens and pines that a gentle breeze was blowing through. And the trees ... honest to God … they hypnotized me.”

“How,” I asked.

“Well,” he answered, “aspens have an oval shaped leaf and when the wind kicks up they quiver, catching the soft light at that time of day, making a silver shimmer of it. Every leaf on every tree starts shimmering together. It’s beautiful.”

“Wow,” I said, trying to imagine it. There are no aspens where I live.

“The pines are different,” Jobie said. “The wind catches the boughs and makes them sway in a graceful way. It was the swaying of the boughs and the shimmering of the leaves that carried me away. I sat there until dark, caught in the beauty of it. I was captured by the rustling sound of the leaves when the wind kicked up and by the stillness that followed. My whole being was one with the rhythm that the trees and wind made together. It was like the trees were a mother rocking me in her arms. And I could feel my grief, but without words, without the story. I could feel it without me or someone else being right or wrong; without me being angry. The grief in my heart hurt but it felt real. It didn’t negate me. I could feel my way through it.”

There was the sound of a sudden down pour and Jobie looked out the café window at the people on the street running for cover and he smiled peacefully. When he looked back at me, his smile broadened and he laughed. “It’s hard to explain,” he said.

You’re doing fine by me,” I responded. “So what came of it?”

“Well, I did that every day. Every day I came home and sat in that spot and looked out at the trees until the sun went down. I fell into the silver shimmering and the boughs swaying and every day it turned into the same reverie. Every day it was the same mother to me. It was the same space where I could heal the grief. After the sun went down, I would light a candle and ask for this wonderful space to be there the next day. And it was. It is the one thing that didn’t fail. Gradually my grief got quieter; it seemed able to take care of itself. About a month into it, grief stepped aside and peace began to take its place. After that I began to feel joy again.”

“How long did you do this, all together?” I asked.

“I’m still doing it,” he answered. “I can’t get along without peace anymore.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Peace On The Inside Makes Us Larger Than What's Happening Outside, Even In This Economy

A Dialogue between Don and "Joey"

Joey: You said in one of your blog posts that stress is mostly “fearful thinking that stirs up a perception of threat, often where no real threat exists.” Right?

Don Joseph Goewey: Right.

Joey: Well, that’s all fine and good, but I am barely making it in the world. I have lost my job and don't know if I will be able to keep my house. I don't even know in this economy if I will ever be able to find work. Isn't that a REAL threat, a REAL danger? And if so, then this book or work won't really help me. Right?

Don: The approach in the book can help you, especially with the situation you described. But first let me say that my heart goes out to you. I understand how you feel. I’ve been there. Years ago, I had a high powered job at Stanford Medical School. I had worked hard, climbing the career ladder and thought I was headed for even greater things. Then one day the world came crashing down on me. My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye and I got fired. Nine days later I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was married with four children and I had a high mortgage payment that unemployment insurance or disability couldn’t possibly cover.

Joey: Really?

Don: Yes. The doctors told me to prepare for a paralyzed face, being half deaf, and using a walker to navigate across the room. I thought at that time: Who is going to hire an executive who staggers into the interview on a walker, speaks out of a half frozen face that drools, and has to ask “What?” a lot because he can’t hear that well. Especially, a guy who had just been fired. All the signs said “You and your family are doomed. You’re all headed for the poor house.”

To make matters worse, my marriage, which was already in trouble, was falling apart. All the stress and fear just widened the cracks that were already there. I have never felt more lost and more alone and more afraid and more stressed than at that time of my life.

Joey: So how did this thing you call Mystic Cool help?

Don: I had a kind of awakening. It was a moment of epiphany at that dark hour of my life. I described the event in my book. The short version is that I saw with clarity that the extreme stress I was experiencing had more to do with the way I was seeing things through fearful eyes than anything happening to me. It was like my eyes were wired back to some part of my brain that was locked into fight of flight. It made fearful eyes that saw a threatening world. And I felt the damage this way of seeing was doing to me: to my brain, my body, my career, my relationships -- to my entire existence.

Joey: I think I know what you mean. It's the trouble caused by a troubled mind.

Don: Yes, well put. I think it's how a troubled past and probably some bad genes wire the brain for fear. Because of it, I couldn't perform well, I couldn't see opportunities that were there or make the moves I should have been making, or even face the handwriting that was on the wall. I was too afraid to look. I felt lousy physically. I was fatigued and lackluster. I couldn't sleep. It seemed that when I wasn't angry, I was depressed. My relationships were strained because I was hard to be around. I felt like a victim and victims are not good company.

All these negatives were indications that stress and fear had taken control of my brain. Then, in the middle of a kind of breakdown, I saw it all with penetrating clarity. I saw that the cause of my stress and fear was internal not external. It was something that was happening in me, far more than something that was happening to me. As I said, I saw that the stress and fear I was experiencing was a choice.

Joey: How did seeing all that help you?

Don: Because I also saw with absolute clarity that peace was also a choice. It was the choice I was not making. I discovered that I could actually choose to be at peace even in the middle of all these hard circumstances. As I did, I discovered that peace made me powerful. It made me larger than what was happening to me. Peace gave me that "calm under siege." It also opened the door to that mystical zone that athletes, artists and scientists talk about, where we gained the clarity, insight and joy that enables us to excel. I saw that peace was the polar opposite of stress. Time disappears. Intelligence flows. It's like the dots connect themselves. Peace gave me that power, and I began to think that peace was powerful enough to change all the dire circumstances I faced.

Joey: Did you?

Don: Yes, it was the change that changed everything in my life. I was finding out, in real life terms, that what Plutarch said two thousand years ago was 100% correct: Plutrach said that what we achieve inwardly changes outer reality. The surgery was a huge success with none of the disability that was predicted. I got my job back or actually I was offered a better job in the medical school. My wife and I divorced but it was for the best. These outcomes were all related to my shift in attitude.

Joey: Do you think attitude makes a difference in what actually happens? I find that hard to believe.

Don: It's more than an opinion, Joey. Science has laid to rest any doubts about the power of attitude. The motivational posters are right: attitude is everything. In my book I lay out the research that supports that statement. Eventually, I left Stanford and started to work with people facing some of the most stressful situations any of us will ever face --- from people faced with life threatening illnesses, to parents who had lost children, to inmates at San Quentin, to refugees of the Bosnian War who had lost everything. Together, we taught each other how to transcend stress by letting go of fear and to live from the powerful heart and mind that builds a dynamic attitude. It’s the attitude all the saints and entrepreneurs tell us about … the attitude that can achieve the miraculous in this world, even in the face of dire circumstances.

Joey: Well, maybe you just got lucky.

Don: My experience tells me that looking at life through the fearless self-confidence of peace, instead of the stressful self-doubt of fear is what brings you “luck.” The great American psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, said “Attitude is more important than facts.” Viktor Frankl, the father of Existential Psychology, is living proof of that. He was a Holocaust survivor. It doesn’t get worse than Auschwitz. He said it was attitude that often determined who survived that horror and who didn’t. “The last of human freedoms,” he said, “is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” Frankl said that attitude gives us the power to make a victory of difficult circumstances, turning life into an inner triumph. He said that even in the face of the Nazi's brutality and deprivation it was possible for one's spiritual life to deepen.

Frankl scolded people who viewed him and other Holocaust survivors as special. He wanted us to understand his life as a demonstration of what is potential in all of us. He understood that we're all capable of living an attitude that makes us larger than what’s happening to us.

Joey: Yes, but isn't it hard to be peaceful in the middle of things falling apart?

Don: Sometimes it is. At times, life seems to go to hell in a hand basket. We can restore our peace of mind at those times with compassion for ourselves and maybe a little humor. It’s not about being perfect. Perfectionism is Type-A behavior after all. It can give you a heart attack. We need to keep remembering that a bad day doesn't change the fact that a dynamically peaceful attitude makes us powerful.
If we have a bad day we can remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said this:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

If everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day we are expressing more life, we are going in the right direction. That's all we need to know.

Joey: You make it sound so simple.

Don: Mercifully, growing inner peace couldn't be simpler. We just got to want it enough to practice it enough to show us how sweet peace makes our life. Then the motivation to build on it grows exponentially. Nothing is more motivating than positive results and there is no more positive result than inner peace. It's pure power, we just don't get it. But we can. When you find that freedom, you become the most powerful person on Earth.

Joey: So that is what Mystic Cool delivers?

Don: Yes. It provides the proof that neurologically, biologically, psychologically and spiritually what’s in you is much larger than the problem that’s happening to you. The aim of my book is to give the reader a way to experience and then live from that powerful attitude.

Mystic Cool is about going through a difficult time without fear, without torturing yourself with fearful brain storms. It’s even downsizing your life if you have to, and still have peace in your heart and joy in your attitude. It’s learning, from experience, how peace lights up the brain to release the genius that only you possess so it can flow into the joy of excelling. When it does, you can move mountains. Mystic Cool is about bringing on that ordinary genius to serve you, not just now and then, but every day. Not just when times are good but also when times are tough.

Joey: And you think I'm capable of that.

Don: You are capable of that, Joey. Everyone is. No question about it, except when we're afraid and stressed.

Click on to return to the Mystic Cool website.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Love Is The Most Powerful Healing Force In The World / 1

Part 1: The Science Behind This Statement Is Extensive

Robert Sapolsky of Stanford relates a story about a boy from a psychologically abusive setting, who was hospitalized with zero growth hormones in his bloodstream. Chronic stress had completely shut down the body’s growth system, threatening his life. Over the next two months the boy developed a close relationship with the nurse at the hospital—undoubtedly the first normal relationship he had ever had—and soon, amazingly enough, his growth hormone level zoomed back to normal. However, when the nurse went on vacation, the boy’s blood level dropped again. Then, immediately on her return, his blood level bounced back to normal. “Think about it,” Sapolsky commented. “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.”

The research of Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers into the biochemical, neurological, and social foundations of love has led her to conclude that love is not an emotion; it is a drive more powerful than the sex drive, emanating from the engine of the brain.

Mirror Neurons
The neural network most responsible for achieving our state of connectedness is the mirror neuron system. This cluster of nerve cells was discovered in 1996 in an experiment conducted on macaque monkeys. Researchers observed on brain scans that a specific cluster of brain cells fired in the frontal lobe of a monkey when it grabbed a peanut. The curious thing was that in another monkey, who was watching the first monkey grab the peanut, the same cluster of cells fired. The cells seemed to reflect the actions of the other monkey almost like a mirror reflects one’s image. As the researchers investigated further, it became easy for them to predict which specific neurons would fire based on the activity performed by one monkey and observed by another. The scientists dubbed this cluster of cells mirror neurons.

In humans, the mirror neuron system is highly developed. It provides the neural mechanism by which we are able to read each other and feel empathy. “With mirror neurons [we are] practically in another person’s mind,” states Dr. Marco Iacoboni of UCLA. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, writes, “Mirror neurons track the emotional flow, movement, and even intentions of the person we are with, and replicate this sensed state in our own brain by stirring in our brain the same areas active in the other person. Mirror neurons offer a neural mechanism that explains emotional contagion, the tendency of one person to catch the feelings of another, particularly if strongly expressed. This brain-to-brain link may also account for feelings of rapport, which research finds depend in part on extremely rapid synchronization of people’s posture, vocal pacing, and movements as they interact.” Goleman points out that mirror neurons work both ways. My hostility bumps up your blood pressure; your nurturing love lowers mine. Biologically, friends are healing, enemies are toxic. This explains why the research of Fred Luskin at Stanford has shown, over and over, that a willingness to forgive reduces serious health risks.

A Person-Centered Approach
The psychological approach that maps to the way mirror neurons achieve interpersonal resonance is the person-centered approach, formulated by Carl R. Rogers, Ph.D. Rogers’ approach is one of the most scientifically validated approaches in psychology, earning him a nomination for the Nobel Prize. The three essential conditions he estabilshed are now at the core of nearly every form of psychotherapy, communication, conflict resolution, community building, and education. I present these conditions in the blog below.

Click on to return to the Mystic Cool website.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Neurology of Success: Attitude Is Everything … For Real!

Remember those motivational posters at the gym or office that assert attitude is everything. Well, it actually tests out. Science has found that attitude literally generates the brain structure that wires us for success or failure. Attitude is highly neuroplastic, meaning a shift in attitude changes our brain. It boils down to positive vs. negative emotions operating as forces that either expands higher brain function to elevate innate talent to greatness or reduces brain performance to not much more than mediocre. Attitude fortifies networks that generate self-confidence and happiness or plague us with self-doubt and anxiety. It immunizes us from stress or causes it. It secures the mind–body connection for optimal health or for disease. In short, quality of attitude determines the quality of brain function that leads to the quality of life we ultimately experience. Attitude not only shapes our reality; it is our reality.

This is what Karl Menninger meant when he said “attitude is more important than facts.” It is more important than genetics, past traumas, our level of education, our social standing, and even IQ. A dynamic shift in attitude can rewire a brain and change everything, even when our so-called “background” appears to be lacking. Attitude is the only thing in life we completely control and, happily, it turns out that it is all we need. It can change the very structure and chemistry of our brain -- at any point along the life span – in ways that light us up with the creative and emotional intelligence to overcome whatever blocks our success, well-being and happiness.

In 2000, neuroscience discovered the part of our brain that generates attitude. Our attitude emerges from within the prefrontal cortex, formed through a mix of negative and positive emotion. Negative emotional states are indicated by activity on the right side of the prefrontal cortex; positive emotional states are indicated by activity on the left side. It works like this:

  • If readings on the right side of the prefrontal cortex indicate an extreme level of activity, meaning a lot of negative and dark emotions, then that person is likely to be hospitalized for severe clinical depression or in jail for a violent crime.

  • If readings on the left side of the prefrontal cortex indicate an extreme level of activity, meaning a lot of positive emotion, then that person’s life will work at every level that matters. They are likely to be happily married, a good and involved parent, and successful in their careers. They will have realized much of their innate potential. Emotionally they will be dynamically peaceful, enabling them to be positive, clear-minded and resilient.
Most human beings are neither extreme. Our attitude is built from a synthesis of negative and positive emotion (right and left prefrontal activity). It is a matter of which way our emotions are leaning. The more our attitude leans to the right, the harder our lives will be. The more our attitude leans to the left, the better our lives work. About 40% of Americans are leaning hard to the right. They are extremely stressed. Another 40% of Americans are borderline. Increase the pressure and they begin to tilt to the right. Only 20% are leaning strong to the left. Science wanted to know if we can coax the brain to move our attitude to the left.

Researchers were interested in studying people who theoretically would produced a high degree of left prefrontal activity – people whose profession involved mastering the art of being at peace. They studied monks and contemplatives to see if their spiritual practice changed their brains.
What they found astounded science. The monk’s spiritual practice had generated the most extreme value in left prefrontal cortex activity of anyone previously tested. Positive emotion swamped negative emotions, something never before seen from purely mental activity. In lay terms, this meant emotional negativity or chronic stress did not stand a chance in the monks' brains.

Researchers also found that the usual networks that generate higher order brain function were expanded, more integrated and receiving greater blood flow. The monk had much greater activation in brain regions called the right insula and caudate, a network that underlies empathy and maternal love. This is a really loving, understanding brain. It’s the brain you want for a parent, a lover, a boss and a best friend. The readings on Gamma Wave activity was also elevated, signaling higher mental acuity for problem solving, decision-making, creativity and error detection. This is the brain of a peak performer.

The highly developed neural circuitry generated a flow of intelligence that was emotionally peaceful and positive, producing a fearlessly self-confident attitude, all of which made the monk immune to stress.

What did the monks do during the study to produce such great brain function? The qualities the monks practiced boil down to four essential ways of being. As you will see, these are qualities could not be simpler. I call these four qualities, Mystic Cool. They represent a way of being that we are all capable of strengthening.

The first quality the monks mastered is engaging life with a quiet mind that is fully present. We drop the incessant thinking that produces a pointless preoccupation with the past or endless worries about the future. We practice being present, right here, right now, engaging whatever is before us with an open, alert mind. Consider this: you cannot be stressed if you are fully present.

This first quality is the cure for the attention deficit stress causes. As we practice this quality, we flex a brain muscle that strengthens our ability to focus.

The second quality the monks mastered is remaining calm inside, regardless of what is happening on the outside. We are not afraid or threatened by the outside. Thus, we can face a challenge confidently and feel our way to the best possible response to the situation. As we practice this quality the brain builds the GABA fibers that extinguish fear. Extinguish fear and you eliminate stress.

The next time you are in a traffic jam that threatens to make you late for a meeting, tell yourself, “My peace does not depend on this car going faster.“ You’ll arrive at the meeting with greater brain power and resilience.

The third quality deepens our sense of connection. Our hearts are open and empathic, with the intention of creating an atmosphere of interpersonal resonance. We consciously connect with our own internal center, with the people we happen to be with, and to that which we conceive of as greater than ourselves. We practice listening better, judging less, and forgiving more.

People who have strong social networks outlive those who do not. They also develop fewer life threatening diseases. New research also suggests that a strong social network coupled with a peaceful attitude provides immunity to dementia as we grow older.

The fourth quality the monks mastered keeps us in touch with the big picture instead of getting trapped in the narrow perspective stress engenders. It is as simple as taking a short break every 90-minutes or so, vacating work for a few moments to simply look out the window to watch the sun shine, the rain fall or the wind blow. Relax into the scene outside and, for just a moment, let go of work completely. Let the natural world touch you.

When you return to your desk, before re-engaging, look at your work and recall the big picture toward which this current effort is building.

When evoked consistently, through a simple practice, these qualities shift control of the brain from the deep neural circuits of fear that flood the brain with stress hormones and trigger fight or flight to the higher brain, where positive emotion and intelligence can flow. Who does not want that?
The Clear Button
Here is a tool that you can start using right away to generate the first quality of Mystic Cool. It is called the clear button. It inhibits the incessant, fearful thinking that provokes right side prefrontal cortex activity (negative emotion). Interrupt fearful thinking before it turns into a stress reaction, and you avoid flooding the higher brain with toxic stress hormones.

Imagine there is a button at the center of your palm that functions as a biofeedback mechanism. When pushed, it sends a signal to the brain to stop negative, fearful or pessimistic thinking.

Now imagine you are becoming stressed about something that’s been bothering you. Perhaps it’s has to do with your health or a money problem or a conflict in an important relationship. You start thinking a lot of fearful, worried, edgy thoughts about this issue and this thinking is beginning to escalate into a stress reaction.

Instead of allowing things to escalate further, you remember your clear button. You press it, holding your button down and stop thinking. Next you practice what your grandmother told you to do whenever you are getting "worked-up.". You count to three, and to further distract negative thinking, you see each number as a color, like so:

  1. Take a breath and count “1,” seeing it as red.

  2. Take a second breath and count “2,” seeing it as blue.

  3. Take a third breath and count “3,” seeing it as green.

  4. On the exhale, come into the present moment, right here, right now, and relax, letting fear go completely.
Most of us won’t be able to remember all the stressful thoughts we were thinking that were about to catapult us into a stress reaction. As our brain switches on higher neural networks, it defaults to creative problem solving. We begin seeing solutions instead of the problems that a anxious, stressed brain multiplies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Genie, The Lamp and Your Brain

You can transcend stress and transform work into the joy of excelling. Beginning today. Starting right here, right now. It's all about learning to work with your brain.

The Genie in the lamp is really the archetype for the unique genius encoded in your brain cells that's the blueprint for the gift you are here to give the world. You can start to coax that genius to come out and make your dreams come true. By dreams I mean the full expression of your strengths, talent and ability. The research is clear that the dream we want to realize most is the full use of our natural gifts toward an effort that makes a difference in the world.

Is it hard to believe that you have this power in you or, if lost, that you could recover it at any point along the life span? You can, if you can transcend stress. The problem of being born in modern times is that most brains get wired for stress. Stress and the fear that drives all of our fight or flight stress reactions fragment the brain to the point we can't see this higher purpose or feel the joy that is a natural part of following it.

Take heart. A simple approach brings it back to life. It’s called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity could not be simpler. It means: train your mind to produce a new experience and your brain will rewire to sustain that experience. Your life is all about your brain and your brain is all about your attitude. A shift in attitude is the way you coax your brain to start giving you what you want, which is the polar opposite of stress – which is peace.

A dynamically peaceful attitude produces everything you need in emotional, social, creative and analytical brain power to release the Genie from the lamp so you can extend its light to the world.

This blog outlines the simple approach to building the attitude that turns your brain into the joy of excelling.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Love Is The Most Powerful Healing Force In The World - Part 2: The Three Indispensable Conditions for Positive Relationships

Part 2: The Three Indispensable Conditions for Positive Relationships

Carl Rogers formulated three indispensable conditions that must be present to create a climate of growth and resonance in a relationship. These conditions apply in any and all relationships, whether it is lover or friend, therapist and client, parent and child, leader and group, teacher and student, or management and staff. The conditions apply, in fact, in any situation in which the development of the person is a goal.

1. Genuineness
The first condition is genuineness, realness, or congruence. The more a person is him or herself in the relationship, presenting no professional front or personal facade, the greater the likelihood for resonance and connection. This requires that we be aware of and open to the feelings and attitudes flowing within us as we relate to another. The term transparent catches the essence of this condition: we are willing to make ourselves transparent to the other person so the other person can clearly see what we are in the relationship. There is no holding back. There is a close matching, or congruence, between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed.

2. Acceptance
The second attitude of importance in creating a climate for connection is acceptance and caring, or what Rogers called unconditional positive regard. He refrained from using the word love to define this condition, but love is what it is. By love, I mean a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the other person is at that moment. We are willing for the other person to be whatever he or she is experiencing, whether confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, pride, kindness, or compassion. We value the other in a total rather than a conditional way.

3. Empathic Understanding
The third facilitative quality of the relationship is empathic understanding. Being empathic is to perceive the point of view of another with accuracy, along with the emotional components and meanings. It means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he or she senses it and to perceive the causes of the feelings as he or she perceives them. It is to enter another’s private world so completely that we lose all desire to evaluate and judge it. “This kind of sensitive, active listening is exceedingly rare in our lives,” Rogers stated. “We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change [in a relationship] that I know.”

Resonance proceeds from an accepting, empathic, and honest way of being in a relationship. This way of relating arises naturally in the absence of judging, advising, admonishing, ordering, or directing. It helps us to get in touch with our actual feelings and experience so we can become more real, less distorted, and ultimately achieve a close match between the person we strive to be and the person we are. Resonance means we are alive in the present moment, attuned to its ebbs and flows, open to a state of becoming; rather than being fixed on who or what we think we should be, or how another person should be.

How Mirror Neurons Come Into Play
The more a person feels accepted and prized, the more they tend to develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. Our acceptance literally mirrors in their brain as self-acceptance.
As a person is empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more accurately to the flow of their own inner experience. Our listening mirrors as self-understanding.

As a person understands and prizes him or herself, he or she becomes more congruent, in ways that feel real, grounded and genuine. Our willingness to be authentic with another mirrors within them as the courage to be authentically who they are.

When all three attitudes are present in a relationship, resonance is inevitable. This is because inevitably, it shifts the question from how can I change or fix this person to how can I provide a relationship which this person might use for personal growth?

Who doesn’t want a relationship with a person like that?

Click on to return to the Mystic Cool website.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Good Life

We all want to live a good life. And it is just as true that most of us want the life we live to open the way for an even better life for the next generation. It is an ideal that has been with us for more than 2,000 years. The ideal of the Good Life was originally formulated by Aristotle around 400 BC in the Nichomachean Ethics. It served as the vision and aspiration that sustained the Greeks for hundreds of years in advancing one of the greatest civilizations in human history. Ironically, Aristotle's ideal does not define a life situation, such as material wealth. Rather, it defines an attitude toward life.

The Good Life is a state of flourishing at every level that matters.

  • It’s a sense of prosperity, internally, that manifests externally.

  • It’s living fully; being joyful and at peace: Meaning we enjoy our work and our life.

  • We are at peace within, comfortable in our own skin; comfortable with people, and calm under siege.

  • It is also fulfilling our innate potential.

  • It is the joy of excelling at whatever we do, along with the sense of making a contribution.
The ancient Greeks actually defined joy as “the full use of our powers along lines of excellence.” Who wouldn't want to live a life that fit the profile above. It is the description of an intrinscially rewarding existence.

A Stressful Life
If we want to attain the good life, which we have the inherent right to live, the primary condition we need to overcome is stress. A stressful life is the polar opposite of the good life. It is an anxious life incapable of sustaining the joy and peace that engenders creative intelligence. Stress is fear. Biologically, it takes some form of fear to activate a stress reaction, and when stress becomes chronic, we pay a heavy price

Stress makes us sick, prematurely ages us, and ultimately shortens our life. There are a million people out of work everyday due to stress (American Institute of Stress). Nearly 80% of serious illness is preceded by high stress in the previous year (AMA, 2004). A hundred years ago, the #1 killer of human beings was bacteria and viruses. Stress now holds that distinction.
It shortens our careers. Nearly 2 in 3 people no longer enjoy their work because of stress (Conference Board, 2007). It is also having a severe impact on people in leadership (Center for Leadership, 2007).

Stress shortens our fuse which, in turn, shortens our relationships. Chronic stress activates a primitive survival mechanism that locks the brain into threat mode and emotional negativity.

Stress hormones debilitate higher order brain function that generates creativity and produces everything we think of as intelligence. Obviously, this is not the expansive life sustained by the joy of excelling.

Shifting Stress: A Tool To Get You Started

Fear, and the stress it can generate, is living our life in the storm of circumstances. The good life means we know how to shift fear and the stress it generates to become larger than circumstances. The proven approach is so simple that most of my clients don't believe it possibly work. Two weeks later they are amazed. Click-on here to download a tool that can get you started in shifting the stress you experience.

Click on to return to the Mystic Cool website.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Neuroplastic Fantastic

The Power Of The Mind To Change The Brain

Back in the 1980’s the Dalai Lama asked a group of world class neuroscientists if the mind could change the brain. It is a critical question. Does the brain direct us, or do we direct the brain? Are we genuinely free? Or are we stuck with the way genetics and early childhood wired our brains, with no real potential in our make-up for personal growth and spiritual transformation. The latter is the answer the scientists gave the Dalai Lama. They said, the mind cannot change the brain. Nothing can.

Science Was Wrong
Happily, the scientists were wrong. Breakthroughs in research have now proved that the brain responds to the mind. Mental practice can take a small village of high level neurons and build it into a humming metropolis, providing you with the brain power to produce optimal results in whatever you pursue. The term given to this wonderful neurological property is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity just might be a human being’s most powerful asset. It's analogous to the mustard seed Jesus spoke of, “the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter." Neuroplasticity is the mechanism that builds the brain structure for something as simple as the dexterity for a monkey to retrieve food from a tight spot to something as advanced as our capacity to master an art form.

It Even Works Through Imagination
Neuroplasticity even works through imagination to learn, build, and strengthen difficult skill-sets, such as playing the piano. In 1995, a neuroscientist at Harvard instructed subjects to play a five-finger piano exercise two hours every day for five days. At the end of each practice session, he measured the motor cortex of the brain that controls precise finger movement. Within five days, the amount of motor cortex devoted to the finger movements had spread, taking over surrounding areas of the brain. At the same time, the researcher had another group simply think about practicing the five-finger piano exercise. They played the simple piece over and over in their minds, keeping their fingers still and simply imagining how their fingers would move if actually playing the piano. The results were astonishing. The area of motor cortex had expanded in the imaginary players in the same way it had in subjects who had actually played the piano. The finding: the mind can change the brain.

You Can Teach Old Dogs New Tricks
The adage that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks does not apply to the brain. The brain is quick to organize around changes we want to effect, when we practice consistently. When we do, neuroplasticity makes changes quickly. As just discussed, it takes less than one week of mentally practicing a five-finger piano exercise for the motor cortex to expand in support of the new skill. It takes:
  • Ten days of constraint induced therapy to rebuild the motor cortex in stroke victims and restore significant use of an arm that physicians once thought was irrevocably damaged. (Pidikiti, Taub, and Uswatte, 1999)

  • Ten weeks for mindfulness therapy to change the brain in obsessive compulsive disorder (Schwartz, 1995)

  • Eight weeks of cognitive therapy to change the brain in depression (Segal, Mayberg, 2002)

  • Eight weeks of mindfulness-based stress reduction to shift the prefrontal corical activity from right to left (shifting the dominant attitude from negative to positive) in highly stressed workers in a biotech firm (Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, 2003)

Some of these problems, such as stroke damage and obsessive-compulsive disorder, were once considered incurable. Yet the power of neuroplasticity generated significant change in these cases and in a relatively short period of time. If neuroplasticity is this effective in extreme situations, how much more can it do to transform a brain wired for stress? It all comes back to practice. Through practice, we can construct a new autopilot that is wired for a calmer, clearer, more fiercely alive intelligence that can do anything we set our mind to.

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