Posted By Dr. Lana M. Saal, EdD, MCHES, CWP, CTTS,
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Perhaps one of the strongest expressions of want hails from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, when Veruca Salt bellows out, “I WANT IT NOW!” Whereas she had her rich parents to buy or get her anything in an instant, most of us don’t have that privilege. Ah, but like Veruca, we do have our “wants” in life.
We want cars, clothes, nice homes, and a multitude of other tangibles. We want to lose weight, become healthy, or get more organized. We want people in our lives and our kids to be safe and successful. We want to start a new career (or retire), travel, be in places, to accomplish, or to be happy.
Want, by definition, is a verb and kick-starts thoughts of potential action. When we think or speak that very word, meaning to have a desire to possess or do, in essence, what we are saying to ourselves, or out loud, is, “Yes, this is something I yearn for.”
We think of our wants as something we could achieve, maybe, down the road—eventually perhaps. From the spark of the thought of a want, what happens next in our mind is a mental conversation. Within a matter of a few seconds, the human brain adeptly and quite comfortably goes to a litany of reasons why that want is not possible. We quickly create a mental list of all of the excuses (let’s call them choices) as to why our wants seem unobtainable. Impossibility reigns over possibility.
Did you know humans are actually wired to be more comfortable with the negative? There is actually an increased surge in electrical activity from thoughts that are negative that occur within the brain. This stems back to the fight or flight response, whereas danger (negative) would prepare the human body for what may possibly threaten life and living. The mind and body are more on guard, ensuring survival. The brain has learned to be more comfortable in this state. In modern day life, our attitudes are more heavily influenced by the downbeat, rather than the good.
Understanding the why behind how we react or respond is essential to understanding human nature and creating change.
It’s not that we are unable or incapable of achieving our wants. Not at all. Rather, we need to first start with an awareness of patterning that has occurred throughout life experiences. The “I can’t rant” is a louder voice than the one that compels us to believe in ourselves. We often stay stuck in doubt and fear rather than move sure-footedly toward achieving our wants.
There is a brain-based ability called neuroplasticity, which is an adaptive patterning by the mind. This has historically worked against us through repetitive, old, negative thought patterns. The more we act or behave in a certain way, the more those pathways become imprinted in the brain. Researchers, practitioners, and adapters are finding this brain malleability can actually work in our favor if we simply change the thought processes.
The human mind can change its physical structure and mode of thought processing, based upon our own input of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Gone now is the decades-old belief that the brain was fixed and not capable of learning, changing, or growing past a certain age.
In seeking the hearts’ desire, work toward shifting the thought processes of the mind. Within those first few moments, shift the internal dialogue to replace the tendency toward negatives with more positive and affirming thoughts and statements. It’s akin to flipping a light switch (which provides an excellent visual reminder for all of us). Though this incredibly powerful step starts with small achievables, know you are rewiring the brain. This how we start to go beyond the want.
Lana Saal holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership, Master’s in Health, and Bachelor’s in Nutrition; Certified Wellness Practitioner (CWP) through the National Wellness Institute and certifications as Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES) through the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing; and Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS).
Posted By Samantha Diedrich,
Friday, June 21, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Don't miss Samantha Diedrich's one-minute video on the importance of "practicing what we preach"!
Samantha Diedrich, MS, CWP, is a Certified Wellness Practitioner and Health Coach with Aspirus Business Health - Wellness. She is passionate about engaging business partners and clients to improve their lives through health and happiness. She is a member of the National Wellness Institute's Emerging Wellness Professional task force.
In honor of March, I decided that rather than searching fields of green for four-leaf clover I would turn inward to identify my own lucky charms. We all know that acknowledging what is good in life is helpful and healthful. Sometimes, though, it’s just hard to muster up the effort to put our full attention on it. This is especially true as we careen through our daily routine, checking off tasks and dealing with the mundane.
To liven up my gratitude practice, I decided to try a new approach and I shared it with my women’s mindfulness circle. I encourage you to give it a try. (This was practiced at the end of the day.)
Feeling lucky can be a part of any experience. It’s a frame of mind that acknowledges the gift of each moment of each day, no matter the circumstance. It’s a path to feeling comfort, joy, gratitude, or resolve in what is. Tonight we will practice this.
Without explanation, simply state something you feel lucky about. Take whatever comes to mind, without overthinking it. Complete the statement, “I feel lucky that _____.” or “I am lucky to have ______.” Say it out loud. Notice how that makes you feel. (We were in a group, but if you want to do this alone, I still encourage you to say it out loud. It makes it more real.)
We are going to do a ten-minute meditation with a focus. Imagine you are replaying your day as if it were a movie. As you revisit different aspects of the day in your mind’s memory, stop and acknowledge people or things along the way you may have taken for granted, but in observing them from this vantage point, you feel gratitude. Take a moment to silently say, “I’m lucky that ______.”
Remember not to force the feeling of gratitude; simply allow yourself to relive the moments and see what naturally bubbles up and gives you joy or appreciation. If you encounter something that was negative, consider if it might have been a gift. Perhaps there is something you’ve learned from the experience that will help you along your life path.
Whatever comes up, go with it — let it flow through you. If your mind starts to wander, notice and bring it back to the place you left off or go to the breath until you can step back onto the path.
(Set timer for 10 minutes)
After the meditation, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that this exercise worked well for the women in my group. Several of them shared that when they had arrived that evening they were not feeling particularly uplifted; they were experiencing the residuals of a pretty crummy day. Most admitted that they had not noticed a single “good” thing about their day. To their delight, the practice completely changed their outlook. Upon review, they realized many gold nuggets of life that they were taking for granted.
Another takeaway from the meditation was that it has a more profound impact on the rest of the evening. The level of relaxation in the faces and bodies of the attendees was noticeable. The coherence of the group was more solid. The women commented on how much better they felt about their day and their life. It was that simple, a pivot in their point of view.
Image courtesy of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) [Public domain]
The Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley conducted a study to see how gratitude affected people who were undergoing counseling. They had some participants write gratitude letters for three weeks while others documented their negative experiences or did not write at all. The findings, using an fMRI scanner, showed that those who wrote gratitude letters showed more activation in the medial prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for human social cognition and behavior. Even more exciting was that there was still evidence of its effect three months later.
From my experience, the positive mental shift that comes from a gratitude practice does not necessarily require writing one's thoughts or sharing them in with others (though these are both perfectly fine options). All that is required is a few minutes of quiet and a positive lens. This month, we called our lens “lucky.” I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if everyone could take some time at the end of the day to sit with their family, colleagues, friends, or whomever and notice that their day was one filled with lucky charms.
Sabrina Walasek has twenty years of learning and program design expertise that has covered multiple subjects for learners of all ages. Her love of travel and adventure led her to Colombia where she built an English language fluency and literacy program for Colegio Canadiense, a private k-12 school with 1,200 students.
As a veteran meditator, Sabrina spends her free time as a mindfulness practitioner and delves into all things related to mind-body wellness. She has led a women’s mindfulness group for over a year and recently designed 16 social-emotional mindfulness workshops for 250 middle school students in Toronto under her brand HumanKindClub. Her website is www.mindfulspaces.org.
Posted By Sabrina Walasek,
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Some people are steady-as-they-go types. I’m prone to trying new things. And the power of making my own choices somehow made it all feel less risky—until the day it didn’t.
Twice, my husband and I left our jobs and home to spend a year traversing the globe. In 2010, we moved to Colombia and ended up spending four amazing years there. And when we returned to the States, I jumped right back into the flow, working on a creative project with awesome people. Life was good!
Then, that company suddenly closed shop.
I decided to pursue a personal passion instead. I tried several strategies to gain entry into my desired industry, but I was met with obstacles each time. My previously sure-footed faith failed me. Life didn’t flow; it wobbled. I became tentative, questioning every decision I made.
According to the Cleveland Clinic experiencing big changes or too many within a brief time period can create a perception that we are not in control of important events. This perception contributes to low self-esteem and even the development of anxiety or depression.
When a single change throws us off kilter, it often doesn’t take us long to regain “control.” But when we’re knocked off our foundation, it takes patience and self-compassion to truly right ourselves.
Balance can be restored. Here are the steps I took.
Changing Thoughts Changes Reality
First, I paid attention to my thoughts and words. Yep, I was brooding on my “failed” career pivot and being really hard on myself. There is a saying, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” I was succumbing to negativity and dismissing the greatness in my life.
I noticed one word in particular was warping my reality: “should.” The negative power of that word was subversively affecting my sense of self:
I should be making more money (I’m a loser).
I should have a larger network (I’m unimportant).
I should be more dedicated (I’m lazy).
I should be more skilled (I’m irrelevant).
I should stick to what I know (I’m foolish).
According to Psychology Today, the word “should” undermines our ability to do what we want to do and causes a host of negative feelings: blame, guilt, anxiety, stress.
Using “should” with ourselves is disempowering.
Using “should” toward others provokes anger and resentment.
Once I realized all this, I vowed to stop using the word “should” — which was harder than I thought. It’s surprising how often “should” is used in conversation.
To break this “bad” habit, I started replacing “should” with “could” or “want to.” For example, “I should network more” feels obligatory. If I don’t, I fail. (Plus, it goads me into rebellion.) Changing to, “I could network more” means it’s my choice. This small adjustment helped me realize I was in control of much of my daily experience.
Notice how often you use “should.” What reaction does it conjure? Would it feel different if you tried “could” or “want to” instead?
Another strategy was to stop taking things personally and instead get curious. Instead of jumping to conclusions, I took the time to sit with my life’s roadblocks to gain perspective. I got quiet, took deep breaths, and asked myself: “What if this struggle is critical to my journey and my personal growth?”
To be less judgmental and more curious, I contemplate these questions:
What would my compassionate self say to my critical self?
Could any positives develop from this experience?
How does the struggle make me a better person?
Struggles are essential. They provide us with new perspective. Often, that “wrong turn” steers us to new and positive possibilities. Obstacles remind us to let go of the urge to control everything.
The next time you find yourself in a tug-o-war with life, stop and consider the underlying gift. Be kind to yourself and see if you can identify the value the experience may bring, even if it’s simply how to avoid something similar in the future.
Six Dimensions of Wellness
Lastly, instead of obsessing on my profession pathos, my course reset involved taking on a well-rounded approach to assessing my life. I selected The Six Dimensions of Wellness, developed by Dr. Bill Hettler of the National Wellness Institute. The six dimensions of life examined in this tool are:
In my assessment, I acknowledged the positives I experience in each area. Turns out, I am flourishing in many dimensions of life. Who knew?
Discovering this has helped me build energy and motivation to take on the areas of my life that score lower. It helped me see how I can weave my passion into the different dimensions of wellness. I realized I could enjoy life until the universe is ready to open the right door for me, which it did about a week after I “let go.” Out of the blue, a paid opportunity came to me with more ease than I could have imagined.
When we dwell on negativity, everything in and around us is impacted. By looking for the positives, we embody more balance and strength. We are able to see how rich and multi-dimensional our lives are. Seeing these bountiful parts helps to offset the struggling parts.
Review the six dimensions and list all the positives that make up your reality. Embrace the abundance. If you feel there is an area that could use a boost to keep life more balanced, explore steps you “could” take to fill in gaps.
Find Your Flow
Through awareness, mindful speech (to ourselves and others), contemplation, and self-compassion, we can steady ourselves when the unexpected hits. The “bad” stuff will always still happen — but when we get clear, curious, and positive, we keep on flowing.
Sabrina Walasek is a long-time educator and lover of exploration and learning. She has traveled to more than 50 countries, embracing humanity and nurturing her sense of curiosity. She facilitates a monthly mindful women's circle and is a contributor to Whole Life Challenge's blog. Her website is www.mindfulspaces.org
Posted By Rich Morris,
Thursday, January 17, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, May 7, 2019
My academic background is in exercise physiology, and I have taught Health continuously at the college level since 1979 at four different institutions. My primary title during those years, however, was NCAA swimming coach. Coaching swimming is an extremely technical endeavor. Biomechanical analysis of technique, combined with a thorough understanding of anatomy, kinesiology, and physiology help a coach prepare athletes for amazing feats. But no matter how well trained an athlete is, the mind can help or hurt their performance. One of the all-time great coaches, Dr. James Councilman, said:
“Give similar top swimmers to three different coaches. One, an expert in the physiology of training, another in the biomechanics of stroke, and the last one an expert in sport psychology, the third coach’s athlete will win every time.”
And so, coaches such as myself schooled in the physical, studied even harder how to motivate and sustain an athlete’s spirit. What kept me in the sport for so long was the ever-changing science of performance. Years ago, we all learned that yoga and mindfulness can help an athlete. Some coaches ignored the studies, some embraced them, but most of us tried to work it into our schedule like so much weight lifting.
Here is a picture of my team practicing yoga and mindfulness techniques before practice. The yoga instructor was thrilled by the response, all the athletes seemed to love it. But let’s dig into that a bit. Some of the athletes loved the fact that yoga was taking away pool time. Others appreciated the opportunity to center themselves and relieve the day’s stress. Out of the nearly 40 athletes, maybe 3 or 4 actually improved as an athlete by really using the skills they were learning.
And so my journey continued. From a physiologist’s standpoint, I understood clearly how increasing circulation cleared the stress hormones and benefited any training. From a fledgling psychological standpoint, I could see and feel the benefits of self-monitoring emotions and accepting them, moving into seeking alternative perspectives without judgment, allowing for changing attitudes. But I couldn’t teach it by sticking to the curriculum or practice schedule, there seemed to be a big piece missing.
For over twenty years I have given a clinical survey on Locus of Control as a pre-test to all of my classes. Julian Rotter’s research into how we perceive the control in our lives, be it external such as fate, divine intervention or luck, vs internal through mindful choices, understanding and accepting the consequences before deciding, intrigued me, so I studied it further. The fascinating thing about this was no matter where you fall in the continuum, you truly accept that as reality. If you are worried about a test or project next week, there can be a huge paradigm change caused by a very subtle shift in perception. A more external person gives the test power and control over their life. The date of the test, the professor’s demeanor, the amount of material covered, all are cause for concern. The more internal person sees the test as a thing and is more concerned with their own attitude towards that thing. Studying the material, of course, is paramount, but the truly internal person has been studying all along, talking to the professor after class when clarification was needed, doing the readings and participating in class. For them, the control comes from personal preparation. Not just the material covered, but also eating correctly, taking study breaks to clear their mind, getting rest and exercise to keep circulation going, a holistic approach to success.
From a physiological perspective, stress is the release of hormones causing predictable changes in the body as a result of reacting to a stressor. For the more external person, the test is stress. It causes the release of the hormones, therefore the reaction is predictable. To the more internal person, mindful of alternative perspectives, the test is a stressor. Assess the difficulty, plan your response, control the level of hormones released. Take time and effort to clear the hormones as you prepare. As Viktor Frankl wrote,
“Between stimulus and response, there lies a space. In that space is a choice. In that choice lies our growth and our freedom.”
Does the test represent stress or a stressor to you? That, to me, is where mindfulness training has to start. Behavioral psychology has always reinforced the behavior after the action. And the fact is it works, people can be manipulated by reinforcing desired behavior. In my classes, I try to get students to experience that moment of clarity brought on by a mindful decision. Take that extra beat before reacting, breath, seek alternatives without judgment. Then make a decision understanding the reinforcement will come as a result of your choice; not luck, chance or powerful others. You chose the consequence. Subtle, but so powerful.
Richard Morris has a degree in Exercise Physiology from UCF and a Masters from UTC in health and Physical Education. Richard has served as a floor exercise leader and adult fitness director at private clubs. In 1990 he served as Orange County, Florida's first wellness coordinator and developed "Wellworks" wellness programming for over 7,000 employees. He currently serves as Director of Health Education at Rollins College, where he has taught and coached for nearly 30 years. He and his wife Lisa have two children and three grandchildren.
Here is an easy exercise to help remind you to give thanks and appreciate the simple things, or people, which support our existence but rarely get a second thought.
Think of 5 things, events, or people you are grateful for while making your morning coffee or eating breakfast. Try to challenge yourself and think of different things each day. This challenge helps us remember all of the good things that happen rather than ruminating on negative emotions.
Bonus Exercise: Gratitude Board
Whenever a co-worker/family member/friend does something that you are especially grateful for (doesn’t have to be something big) put it on a note and add it to a grateful board. If you’re ever feeling stressed, take some time to look at a couple of the notes or try to think of one to add yourself. Showing gratitude towards others has been proven to relieve stress in similar ways as receiving gratitude.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally; It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
– Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is a practice that has been around for centuries and can trace its roots back to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Yoga. Although it was popularized in the East mainly through spiritual or religious practice, it is known in the West largely as a stress reduction and cognitive therapy technique. In 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic in the University of Massachusetts Medical School and created a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. He was able to use his techniques to help patients who were struggling with both physical and mental difficulties such as, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, chronic pain, stress, and sleep issues. These techniques have become more popular in the West as individual practice; however, mindfulness based wellness programs are becoming much more commonplace in workplace and community settings to help improve employee productivity and retention.
Mindfulness is ideal because it can be done by anyone anywhere and doesn’t require a large time commitment. The programs are generally inexpensive, if not free, and can be modified to be performed in groups or individually. If you are looking to implement mindfulness in your everyday life, or at your workplace, check out some activity examples below:
This exercise is simply looking at your surroundings and really noticing them. Find an object that usually goes unnoticed throughout your day such as a mug, poster, or even a desk. Take a few moments to really look at it and try to notice something about it you haven’t before, simply take time to appreciate its features. Are there interesting colors or shapes? Does it have a nice texture? How does it contrast with its surroundings? For a quick mindful observation guide, click the link below.
For this exercise all you need is a chair and a relatively quiet spot. Start with 3-5 minutes by breathing deeply through your nostrils for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 2 seconds, exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds, and repeat. If your mind starts to wander during the exercise, try and refocus back on your breathing. If you prefer a guide, see the video below.
Too often we aren’t thinking about what we are eating or even perform other tasks while eating. Mindful eating is simply taking the time to pay attention to your senses while you eat. How does your food smell? What’s the texture like? How do the different flavors combine? Instead of lunch being a time to refuel while working, take the time to savor your food. For more tips on mindful eating, check out the video below.
These are just a few examples of many different mindfulness exercises. If you are interested in additional mindfulness techniques which you can implement at home or at work, please visit PositivePsychologyProgram.com
Stories of violence and hate fill our social media feeds and we may feel overwhelmed with fear, guilt, or inspiration to take action. What can the Dalai Lama, Lady Gaga, and mindfulness meditation teach us about how to end violence and create wellness in our communities? Simply put: create more kindness and compassion. Mindfulness is increasingly popular in the West as science uncovers the benefits of the practice that teaches us how to pay attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. We often hear about mindfulness helping us to reduce our stress levels on an individual level, but a consistent mindfulness practice also generates feelings, attitudes, and actions of kindness and compassion. Imagine a community or a workplace in which every individual communicated and acted with kindness and compassion. How could violence or hate exist in such an environment? In this article by CNN, experts provide inspiring examples for how to include more mindful moments into your day.
Eat until you are satisfied. There is a big difference between being full and being satisfied. Mindful eaters notice when they are no longer hungry and stop eating before they perceive themselves to be “full.” Rather than counting calories, listen to your body’s internal cues.
Pace yourself. You don’t need to take eating slowly to the extreme, but it is a good idea to take the time to enjoy your food and notice when you are satisfied. Try it out by making a game of eating with your non-dominant hand or using chopsticks as a way to slow it down.
Give gratitude. Before you start to eat, pause and take a moment to acknowledge the labor that went into providing your meal-be it thanks to the farmers, the factory workers, the animals, mother Earth, the chefs, or even your companions at the table.
Have self-compassion. Mindful eaters do overeat on occasion, but recognize that tomorrow is another day. Give yourself permission to be flexible and forgiving because it is not an all or nothing affair.
Gauge your hunger before taking your first bite. Start a new habit and take a brief moment to ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?” If you are not really hungry, what sensation or emotion are you feeling and is there an alternative way to handle that emotion?
Break out of old habits. Notice habits that keep you stuck, like eating in front of the television, filling a large plate full of food, or grocery shopping at times when you are stressed or hungry. Sometimes changing how you eat, is more important than changing what you eat.
Minimize distractions. Much less attention is paid to the question of how we eat, than the question of what we eat. Silence your phone, shut off the TV, and make a conscious choice to avoid multi-tasking while eating.
Notice the flavor. Paying attention to the details of your food is a great way to bring more enjoyment to eating. Do you notice the tanginess of a lemon, the spiciness of arugula, or the crunch of a toasted baguette? Sharing observations of the flavors and textures of food is a great way to stimulate conversation over the dinner table and introduce children to new vocabulary.
Know your food. Wellness is about relationships and mindful eating is about a relationship with our food. Connect with the story behind your food by planting a pot of herbs, baking bread, or visiting a farmers’ market. Even if your food comes from a grocery store, you can create your own story about the recipes used to cook it or the people involved in eating it.
Use a supportive app. You are not alone. There are many apps available that will guide you through the mindful eating process step-by-step whenever you feel like eating. Think of it as your own virtual coach!
A study published in JAMA Psychiatry has concluded that mindfulness exercises can be as effective in battling depression as some drugs.
The meta-analysis of data collected on 1258 patients between 2010 and 2014 shows that patients who engaged in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) had a reduced risk of depressive relapse within a 5-year period compared with those who did not receive MBCT. Additionally, comparisons with active treatments such as prescription drugs also showed a reduced risk of relapse within the same period. There was also some evidence to suggest that a greater severity of depressive symptoms prior to treatment was associated with a larger effect of MBCT compared with other treatments.
To read the full study in JAMA Psychiatry, click here.