What Stands In The Way Becomes The Way: Ancient Wisdom For The Modern World

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

In counseling and psychotherapy there is a therapeutic technique that is often referred to as the “paradoxical intention.” This technique, although highly effective, is seldom applied or even suggested by psychotherapists. It is based on a strategy thumbfrequently used in medical treatments were a small dose of the disease is prescribed in order to allow the body to develop a tolerance, thereby becoming more capable of resisting that disease. What results is immunity. Most childhood vaccinations that you received worked on this principle. It is also the reason that stimulants are often prescribed for people who are hyperactive, sedatives, such as benzodiazepines can cause agitation, and is the basic mechanism that makes antibiotics effective. When applied as a part of psychotherapy however, it is usually met with deep and stubborn resistance.

The psychotherapeutic strategy of the paradoxical intention was a strategy first introduced by Victor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor. If you’re ever feeling sorry for yourself, I suggest that you read his book Man’s Search for Meaning, his story of concentration camp survival. The book can be read easily within one day and is freely available on the Internet. In it, he explains what that experience of survival was like in the first part, and in the second part he outlines his therapeutic philosophy which he called Logotherapy. After surviving his ordeal in World War II, he returned to the counseling room convinced that the best way for most of his clients to improve their situations was to challenge them to take on brief challenges in order to increase their tolerance for what he believed was the realities of life. Frankl’s usage of the paradoxical intention was adapted by later cognitive behavioral therapists such as Albert Ellis and Donald Meichenbaum (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/healthy-dose-fear/ )

There is a historical basis to the paradoxical intention. Stoicism, a school of Greek philosophy founded in the third century BC by the philosopher Zeno, has a similar logic. Contrary to the contemporary interpretation of the word stoic, ancient Greek Stoics were not dour, negative, or unhappy. They considered themselves to be realists, determined to have a fulfilling and happy life despite the harsh realities that life throws at us. For them, pain, suffering, rejection, and isolation were simply are part of life to not only accept, but to expect. A stoic would expect that these negative things would happen, and work through them anyway. The Marcus Aurelius quote which starts this article hits the nail on the head: the best way out of a problem is through it.

As you can imagine, introducing these kinds of paradoxical strategies in a therapeutic setting is likely to be an invitation for client resistance. Fighting through this resistance is the reason why therapists often refer to interventions that they suggest to clients as “doing the work.” Paradoxical intention is an invitation for a client to admit their fears and anxieties and “do it anyway.” The therapy often involves breaking down the challenge into manageable, smaller, mini challenges, designed to build the client’s tolerance and confidence. The beauty of this type of intervention is that any exposure to that which is feared is viewed as a success, regardless of the outcome. Therapist and client celebrate rejection, refusal, and exposure to stressful events because the goal is to go through, rather than around, the problem. This has the exact opposite effect from what a client would expect. “I asked her out and she said no,” or “I interviewed for the job and got rejected” become the small, painful events that a client learns to tolerate, be comfortable with, and sometimes even to expect.

In challenging a client to take on this strategy, I often use a quote from cognitive behavioral theorist Albert Ellis: “What’s the worst that can happen?” We begin to explore, in the safety of the counseling room, the feared event with the intention of taking that fear and exploring it in the real world. Follow up, Ellis stolen questions such as, “Would that be so terrible? How do you know? Do you really think that you would die? Would you ever get over it?” and so on, often give the client a glimpse into how unrealistic their fears truly are. The goal then becomes to get out there and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This strategy was used by a company whose revenue was based on cold sales calls. Salesman make cold calls daily and were expected to make as many calls per day as possible.. Trainers of the phone sales persons used the paradoxical intention as a way of getting the sales personnel comfortable with being rejected. New salesman were encouraged to get as many rejections as possible each day and were initially given a bonus for calls that resulted in a sale, as well as a smaller bonus for the number of rejections that they received. Statements such as, “I didn’t make any sales today, but I got 47 rejections!,” became a reason to celebrate. Over time, employees who had this training became the most adept at making these dreaded cold calls.

The strategy of the paradoxical intention works extremely well because it allows a client to personally experience something that would otherwise be hard to nounderstand unless they had gone through it. I once saw an interview with Gene Simmons, bass guitarist for the rock band Kiss. Simmons, who admits to not being very good-looking, was asked by the interviewer why he was so successful with so many women. You would have guessed that he would’ve said something to the effect that it was “Because I’m a rockstar,” but that wasn’t his answer. He said that “It’s because I have no fear of being rejected. I just move on to the next woman.” He went on to explain that “It’s simple mathematics. There’s gotta be at least 5% of women in the world would go out with anybody, regardless of how they looked. I’m just willing to ask those 100 in order to be accepted by those 5.” While Gene is certainly no Victor Frankl, he is certainly onto something here.

There are some basic principles at play here:
⦁ Stoic philosophy can be useful to create behavioral change. Sometimes, the best way around an obstacle is straight through it.
⦁ When it comes to human behavior, Frankl’s idea of the paradoxical intention works as well as paradoxical medical interventions such as inoculations. Overcoming a little bit of emotional stress does, in fact, make one stronger, more capable, and more resilient. Human resiliency can only be developed through experience.
⦁ The meaning we attach to life events is more important than the event’s themselves. It’s not what happens to us, as much as it is the meaning and significance we attach to what happens to us.
⦁ Rejection is only truly a rejection if a person accepts it as such. Remember those salesman with the phone calls and Gene Simmons’ logic. Simple math, the more rejections I get, the closer I am to success.
⦁ When life becomes overwhelming, learn to ask yourself the tough questions. “What’s the worst that could happen?” “Would that be so terrible?” “Would it kill me?” Don’t catastrophize, project, or magnify events. Attaching a better personal meaning to the stories that we tell ourselves can radically change your world.
⦁ The Buddhist philosophy that life is painful, but suffering is optional, is worth considering frequently. Victor Frankl’s life story bears witness to this fact.winston

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston S. Churchill

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Natural Ways To Cope With Depression

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Depression is one of the most common and debilitating illnesses that a human can suffer from. It is subtle and cunning, making it hard for the victim to recognize, invisible enough so that others often don’t know, and is often misunderstood even by depressedthe medical community. It is the common cold of emotional problems, effecting 340 million people worldwide, 16 million Americans annually, and it is estimated that as many as 25% of American women and 10% of American men will meet its clinical diagnosis at any given point in time. 50% of all Americans will meet the criteria to such a degree that they would qualify for inpatient psychiatric care at least once during their lifetime. It would appear that many of us are quite sad a lot of the time.

Over half of all cases of depression go untreated, largely because those suffering with depression misinterpret the symptoms, attributing them to something else. Here is a short list of some of the more common symptoms:
⦁ a lack of energy, and more fatigued than usual
⦁ a sullen mood that differs from what’s normal
⦁ decreased ability to concentrate
⦁ decreased ability to tolerate normal, everyday frustrations
⦁ feelings of hopelessness, guilt, and anxiety
⦁ changes in sleep patterns and appetite
⦁ loss of interest in things that normally are sources of pleasure

Depression, like most mood disorders, will come and go during the course of a lifetime. Many who suffer from depression pass it off as something that they “just have to ride out for a while,” not seeking help because they are embarrassed, ashamed, or because they pass it off as part of their personality. “It’s just the way I am.” For those with mild to moderate depression, it will pass, usually within 6 to 8 weeks time. For those that are unaware of their own patterns, it will return, seemingly without warning, over and over again during the course of a lifetime, wreaking havoc on relationships, work, finances, and health. Untreated major depression can lead to major medical problems, substance abuse, chemical dependence, being incapable of routine functioning, or suicide.

drunkMost suffering from depression who do seek help are first seen by their primary care physicians. Because physicians are schooled in a more medical model, victims are often diagnosed with a physical ailment and treated for that when mental health treatment is a more appropriate approach. Primary care physicians have limited time with patients, and many are prescribing psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, without having done a full psychiatric workup on the patient. Many insurance providers require all patients to be screened for specialty care by their primary care physician, with the PCP referring the patient as needed. This has resulted in primary care physicians becoming the front line providers for mental health care in the United States. The Journal of Mental Health and Family Medicine states that primary care physicians identify 33% of their patients as psychiatric, rather than medical, and that PCPs are prescribing approximately 75% of all psychiatric medications.

The combination of patient misunderstanding of depression, societal stigma, and primary care doctors’ time constraints usually leads to the PCP prescribing a medication and the depressed patient is out the door, on their merry way, changing nothing except the ingestion of a medication 1 to 3 times per day. Patients usually try the medication for a while, often discontinuing it because “it didn’t do anything,” or “I didn’t like the side effects.” The patient usually gives up on treatment because “I tried it and it didn’t work.” They believe that they have been treated for their depression, but this is not the case.

Treatment for depression, and most psychiatric issues, is best started with non-medical interventions focusing on thought processes, behavior, routines, and nutrition. For clients struggling with depression, it is also important that an assessment is done focusing on lifetime patterns of depression, seeking to identify common situational and internal triggers that can give insight into the patient’s unique relationship with their depressive symptoms. While a complete physical examination done by your primary care physician is necessary in order to rule out any physical causes, do not rely on your PCP to be your sole treatment. There are many steps that should be taken first, before medication is tried. Often, behavioral and lifestyle changes make medication unnecessary, and results are more permanent than those that could be obtained by medication alone.

Here are some action steps that can help you cope with and prevent depression:
⦁ Try some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as self-help. CBT is perhaps the most immediate therapeutic intervention for many emotional disorders, but works particularly well for depression. It works to identify habitual, maladaptive thinking patterns that can lead to spiraling depression. While CBT is best done with a professional counselor, it is a great self-help tool that you can learn and practice regularly. Check the “Therapies” of this blog or the Amazon.com link to the right for access to my e-book “CBT Made Simple: A QuickStart Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” for some easy ways to implement CBT immediately.
⦁ Get into a well thought out, daily routine. Depression responds very well to structured activities. It is important that each day has a written plan, or a depressed person runs the risk of remaining in bed too long. Most suffering from depression will tell you that getting out of bed is perhaps the most challenging time of day. A pre-planned schedule of healthy activities and scheduled, positive, human interactions is vitally important to a wellness plan that is capable of keeping depression at bay.
⦁ Get adequate, but not excessive, amounts of sleep. I often tell my clients that there is no mental health or emotional issue that a lack of sleep will not imitate. Developing a system of solid sleep hygiene will improve your physical and emotional energy, making you more ready to combat the symptoms of depression. (Use the search links on this page to obtain more information and hints of how to maximize your sleep)
⦁ Exercise each day. While you don’t need to do a lot to obtain the mental health benefits of exercise, you do need to do something regularly. Yeah, it would be great if you had a formal structured routine that included resistance work, stretching, and walkcardiovascular activities, but that’s not necessary in order to reap depression fighting benefits. Brief, but frequent bursts of activity during the day of moderate to low intensity is all that it takes. It can be simple activities such as housework and household chores, a 5 to 10 minute stroll during your lunch break, parking your car farther from the entrances of places that you are going to, or taking brief stretch breaks during the day. When combating depression, the key is to make exercise sessions very brief, frequent, and interspersed them throughout your day. Do not run yourself down with this! The purpose is to create energy, not deplete it. This physical energy will soon carry over into emotional energy as well.
⦁ Be aware of your eating habits. Three or more small meals each day provide a steady source of nutrition, giving your brain the fuel that it needs to process emotions more positively. Food should be healthy, rather than quick and convenient. Adequate amounts of protein in your preferred form – lean meats, chicken, or fish, plus as many vegetable sources as you can take in – is your best bet. Avoid, or at least cut down drastically on caffeine, simple sugars, and carbohydrates. Processed foods may be unavoidable, but try to cut them down as much as possible. Many studies suggest nutritional supplementation can have a positive benefit in the treatment of depression. Don’t be too quick to jump on the latest fad with this. Stick to some form of Omega-3 fatty acid such as fish oil, a vitamin D3 supplement, and watch your diet. If you have any doubts about what other supplements you should consider, consult your PCP.
⦁ Get as much sunlight as you safely can. Try to get outside during the day as often as possible without over doing it. Modern man does not get enough vitamin D in the form of sunlight. Many are prone to seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that results from seasonal climactic changes. If you can’t get outside as much as you would like, try to get natural light through things like opening the shades and opening the sun roof on your car. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/reason-sad/ for more on seasonal affective disorder )
⦁ Develop some type of meditative practice. Learning to calm your mind enables you to think more clearly and rationally. Irrational thoughts are characteristic of both depression and anxiety, two emotions that go hand-in-hand in the thoughts of a depressed person. The Stress Management link on this page will give you some simple solutions and suggestions if you are one of those who believes that they cannot meditate. It’s not as complicated as you may think. Incorporate some form of meditation into your daily routine.

Make these suggestions a part of your overall wellness program. If you are prone to depression, or merely want to have a more aware and productive life, then these suggestions are for you. If your depression does not respond to these strategies within a month, or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, then contact your doctor immediately. For major depression it is sometimes necessary to combine appropriate medications along with the strategies that are suggested here. Research indicates that for major depression these activities plus medications work far better in combination. Don’t be so quick to have your primary care physician prescribe medication. Medication as the sole treatment for any type of depression is not enough. Depression responds better to a more comprehensive attack. If you suffer from depression, don’t delay getting treatment or creating a wellness program to fight it. Depression is one of the more treatable emotional issues that people face.

 

“You say you’re ‘depressed’ – all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Breathing 101: Improving Life’s Most Basic Activity

““Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life.”― Gregory Maguire,  A Lion Among Men

breathingBreathing is the most important physical activity that any of us do, or ever will do. More important than anything else, yet often taken for granted, overlooked, underappreciated, and abused. You’ve been doing it your entire life, you couldn’t stop doing it if you tried, and you think you’re pretty good at it. After all, you’re still doing it aren’t you? Yeah, you are, but there’s a lot you can do to improve this overlooked ability, and there are a lot of benefits to doing it correctly that you’ve probably never even considered. Don’t worry, it’s never too late to improve on any skill that you have, and breathing is no different.

Oxygen is the most important fuel that we take in. It’s often said that man can survive for three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without breathing. While I’m not sure if this is true, it wouldn’t seem so with food and water, it seems a pretty safe bet that not breathing for three minutes would be devastating. We consciously respond to our needs for food and water. We don’t have to think about breathing. It just happens, and happens, and happens again. You’ve been doing it on the average of 16 to 17 times per minute your entire life. You’d think that something that has been practiced so often, and so diligently, would have been perfected by now. Unfortunately, this is probably not the case. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/brief-history-breathing/ )

When you were an infant, you were actually better at this skill than you are now. It’s one of the few life skills that are perfect initially. If you ever watched an infant DSC2379-490x490sleeping, you may have noticed that the way they breathe is different than the way most of us adults breathe. They breathe from their abdomen, rhythmically, deeply, each breath marked by the steady in and out movement of the belly. The chest barely moves, if at all. Puppies and dogs breathe the same way. If you have a dog, watch the way it breathes as it sleeps on its side. Nothing moves except the belly. This is the way we were meant to breathe. It’s also the way you originally breathed.

What caused the change in such an instinctive and natural activity? Over the course of a lifetime, we all learn to respond to external stressors, constantly reacting and anticipating outside events in a “what’s next?” and “what just happened?” manner. As we do so, our bodies contract in anticipation and reaction, tensing and relaxing continuously as we adjust to what’s going on, or what we think is going on, in our environment. This tensing and contracting is our sympathetic nervous system adjusting and allowing us to function in response to stressful situations. Sometimes, the parasympathetic nervous system, whose purpose is to counterbalance this heightened level of arousal, has a hard time getting us back to normal. Our sympathetic nervous system, the part of us that gets us back to a state of equilibrium or balance, may have a hard time getting us there. If I’ve just lost you with this jargon, don’t worry, it’s pretty simple. When we tense up, either physically or mentally, our muscles tense, our shoulders rise, neck and arms tighten, and we breathe in our upper chest, resulting in labored and ineffective breathing.

Deep breathing, from the abdomen, is the best way to train the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, allowing our entire being to get back to the state of equilibrium where we can function at an optimal level. A natural side effect of breathing deeply from the abdomen is that you take in more oxygen and, as a result, immediately find that you have more physical endurance. When we breathe from the upper chest, we are only using approximately 2/3 of our lung capacity. Abdominal breathing pushes the diaphragm down, pushes the belly out, and allows the lower third of the lungs to fill, maximizing our lung capacity. Next time you are climbing a flight of stairs or doing something physically taxing, try some abdominal breathing and you will notice that you have more endurance immediately. This is the single most important thing you can do to increase your physical endurance.

Abdominal breathing is easy to learn and is a relaxing, yet energizing activity, that you should practice frequently. I teach this to clients in the office in the following manner:
“Sit comfortably in the chair, finding a posture that feels right. Place your hands on your lap, allowing your hands to rest on your lower abdomen around the level of your navel. Now relax your shoulders and notice your breathing. Don’t force or change it, rather gently notice it. You may find it helpful to close your eyes, allowing you to pay closer attention to your breathing. (virtually everybody closes their eyes at this point) Notice your breathing, and notice how your shoulders, neck, and chest begin to lose all their tension. Again, don’t force your breathing, just notice. (I usually do this with them, my hands on my abdomen, demonstrating the technique) Notice how, as you breathe deeply and slowly, your hands begin to move in and out on your abdomen. (at this point there is usually some movement of the hands. The word notice here becomes a suggestion which they take, improving the technique) Now just relax, and follow your breath…..”

With some clients, and you may be in this category, it’s helpful to ask them to silently count the breaths in sets of 10, never hurrying or forcing it, just counting on every exhale. When 10 is reached, start over again and repeat the process as long as you desire. Doing this daily trains your parasympathetic nervous system to respond more efficiently and effectively in the face of real and imagined stressors. It is a great way to de-stress, even if only for a few moments during the day. It also is a great way to drift off to sleep if you lie on your back, place your hands or even a small book on your navel, and relax into your breathing.

I have to admit, that for many of my clients, I use a little deception when promoting this skill. When I suggest to some of my clients the idea of meditation, I can tell right away if they are resistant to the idea. If they are, then I don’t tell them that this style of breathing is the essence of mindfulness meditation. That would increase their resistance, making it less likely for them to do it outside of the office. I also find that Seagalmen are more resistant to meditation than women. For the macho clients who wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga or meditation, I launch into a spiel about abdominal breathing and the martial arts. I first learned diaphragmatic breathing 25 years ago when I started practicing uechi ryu karate do, an Okinawan martial art that has a strong wellness component to it. I tell my clients that diaphragmatic breathing lowers their center of gravity, which it does, giving them a stronger physical base and potential for strength. I ask them to try some abdominal breathing next time they find themselves doing something physical that causes them to get out of breath. Never fails, they’re usually sold on abdominal breathing because it does work. And, if Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, and Chuck Norris practiced it, it’s got to be manly, right?

Begin to utilize these strategies immediately. Unlike a lot of things that you can do to improve your mind and body, proper breathing has immediate, instant benefits. It can improve your energy, provides greater endurance during physical activity, exercise, or sports. It is also meditation and can slow down both mind and body, thus improving your mental focus and concentration. Start small, focusing on breathing from the abdomen and within a short few weeks you won’t be able to breathe any other way. Your health, mental clarity, and energy levels will be noticeably improved. There’s no excuse not to do this, after all you’ve been doing it all along.

“Patience is learning to take a deep breath while you’re exhaling.”-Josh Stern

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Winding Down : Falling Asleep More Easily

“What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an agnostic and a dyslexic?”
“I give.”
“You get someone who stays up all night torturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there’s a dog.” – Unknown

29358Bedtime should be the most rewarding time of the day. You have, after all, earned it. You did what you had to do, got it done, brought home the bacon, gave it your all, and took on the world. You’ve been looking forward to this moment since about 2 PM. You hop into bed with the best of intentions, turn out the light, roll over and…. nothing. Thus starts the biggest letdown of a long day….

Why do so many of us struggle to fall asleep at night? Why does our brain suddenly choose that time to kick into high gear, ask those stupid questions, and rerun the highlight/lowlight reel of our life? It is estimated that the average time it “should” take to fall asleep to be approximately 15 to 20 minutes. Like a lot of things in life, how you prepare for and process that 15 minutes is the difference that makes the difference. This moment, which many of us unwittingly sabotage, may just be the most important 15 minutes of your day.

Most people go about their day on automatic pilot, mindlessly following a series of rituals that the world has given us. These rituals become habits and create the ebb and flow of our daily existence. We have a different set of rituals for Monday through Friday, for example, than we do for Saturday and Sunday. It’s no coincidence that most of us sleep better on the weekend. The reality is that the outside world and the calendar control our ability to fall asleep. In order to increase our sleep time, it makes sense to improve on the amount of time we spend trying to fall asleep. The best way to do this is to make some lifestyle adjustments that maximize our daily rituals in a way that is conducive to falling asleep more easily.

Let’s step into the Way Back Machine for a while. Remember the bedtime rituals that 78484517you had as a child? You probably didn’t spend a lot of time tossing and turning and trying to sleep. You probably had a set routine that was imposed upon you by your parents or the authority figures in your life. I can remember my mother getting four of us to sleep each evening through the use of preset rituals that my brothers and sister were quite familiar with. I put on my jammies, washed my hands, brushed my teeth, and got into bed for a brief period of reading while Ma attended to my siblings. When she completed that cycle, she returned for bedtime prayers, a tuck in, kiss on the forehead, and lights out. Bingo, eight hours or more of sleep like magic! Why can’t bedtime be that simple for us adults?

Well, maybe it can be that simple. Research shows that there are a lot of ways that adults can wind down in order to maximize our ability to sleep. Here are some research-based suggestions that just might help get you sawing wood like a kid again:
⦁ Have a daily exercise routine. It doesn’t have to be intense or over the top, but it can be if that’s your preference. Light exercise works just as well as an aid to sleep. Research shows that if you don’t move enough during the day, then your body is restless when you go to bed. Falling asleep is the ultimate mind-body experience. You have to relax at least one of those components in order of having a chance at getting a good night’s sleep. Find ways to move during the day so that you expend the necessary energy to assisting your sleep ritual. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/bend-stretch-reach-sky/ )
⦁ Have an evening routine that is consistent, predictable, and aware of the hazards of modern technology. Avoiding the blue light from your computer, iPad, or cell phone is a simple, yet often overlooked, solution. Research indicates that there is something different about that type of lighting, making dozing off difficult. If you enjoy reading in bed, go retro. Old school, hardcopy books are best. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-unplugged-age-distraction/ )
⦁ Shut off anything that could ring or buzz that could wake you. Yeah, I know how you feel about the phone. Do the best you can with that one.
⦁ Be aware of what you consume in the evening. A meal that is too big, that 5 PM medium dark roast coffee, or cup of frozen yogurt could be the culprit. These can kick your body into overdrive when you are trying to wind down.
⦁ Minimize the amount of lights on in your bedroom. If you are reading, it’s best to have a reading lamp that illuminates just enough for you to read, while keeping the rest of the room dark. The contrast makes it easier for you to dose when the reading lamp is turned off.
images⦁ Be aware of what you are thinking about before bedtime. This is not the time to worry about things that are not in your control, or to focus on anything other than winding down. Many people find it helpful to write down any pressing thoughts or feelings that could inadvertently become a call to action at 2 AM. There’s no need to think about it because, after all, it’s recorded in black and white right there in my notebook.
⦁ Develop an ability to quiet your mind. This is imminently useful throughout your day, but it becomes imperative during this period of winding down. Learning to keep that pesky rodent off the treadmill doesn’t have to be tedious or difficult. An ability to still the mind and improve focus benefits all hours of your day, but none benefit as much as those before bedtime. Learning to meditate is the best way to still the mind, preparing it for sleep. If you “can’t meditate,” refer to http://mindbodycoach.org/moving-meditation/
⦁ Be aware of the mind-body connection that comes into play when falling asleep. You must relax at least one of these two components. If you can relax your mind, your body will relax as well and vice versa. Ideally, you will eventually learn to be able to relax both. Performing a body scan, where you consciously relax parts of your body one at a time, is a great mind-body meditative practice that can allow you to drift off easily.

Making these changes to your lifestyle will dramatically improve both your ability to fall asleep, as well as the quality of your sleep. It won’t happen right away, it’s likely to be a process rather than an event. Use these ideas to adjust your evening ritual, keeping in mind that what you do during your day is a part of this process. And, Relax! It’s counterproductive to lie down and worry about the fact that you are worrying about sleeping. No moment of your life benefits more immediately from positive thinking than bedtime.

Learn to enjoy your bedtime ritual, after all, you’ve been looking forward to this moment all day.

“Good night, sleep tight
Don’t let the bedbugs bite.
And if they do,take your shoe
And squash them, till they’re black and blue.” – Nursery Rhyme, Author Unknown

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

It May Have Killed The Cat But… Why Curiosity Is Good For You

“Curiosity killed the cat. It is said that ‘a cat has nine lives,’ yet care would wear them all out.”-Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Did curiosity killed the cat? To the contrary, evidence indicates that maintaining a m-loveni-zlata-dobrou-chut-2780sense of curiosity is not only healthy, but is a characteristic of genius. Research indicates that people who are curious live happier, healthier, more productively, and longer than their dull-witted peers. We all had it as a kid, but somewhere along the line the game of life and what we think of as common sense took it from us. Well, scientific evidence says we need to get back. But how?

In 2007, a research survey of more than 10,000 people in 48 countries that was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences the vast majority of subjects indicated that their number one goal in life was “to be happy.” Happiness outranked money, fame, possessions, or power. My assumption is that you agree, and that, as you are reading this, you’re saying to yourself “Yep, I want to be happy.” What does that mean? How would you know if you were happy? What’s preventing you from having it already? What can you start doing today, immediately, to be happy? Spending a few minutes trying to answer these questions is the beginning of being curious. All studies indicate that, without a sense of curiosity, your pursuit of happiness is doomed to fail. Curiosity is not only a factor in leading a happy, fulfilling life, it is a requirement.

Here are some of the benefits of living life with an inquiring and curious mind:
⦁ It is good for your health. A 1996 study in Psychology and Aging found that adults age 60 to 86 who were rated as more curious at the beginning of a five year study were more likely to be alive at the conclusion. They found that curiosity was a larger factor than anything else including age, cardiovascular health, and previous physical condition.
⦁ It is a characteristic of what we refer to as intelligence. Intelligence is often defined as an ability to respond to novel and unusual situations. This cannot be done without a sense of curiosity. A study done in 2002 of three-year-old toddlers showed that those who were rated high in curiosity grew up to have higher IQ scores than their lower rated peers. By age 11 they had IQ scores on the average of 12 points higher, almost one standard deviation above normal.
⦁ It creates better social relationships and is a critical characteristic in social intelligence. Curious people have more friends, more significant relationships, and are viewed by others more highly. The simple reason is that they are able to convey more of an interest in others, which makes them appear to be kinder, more considerate, and more likable than people who do not have this skill.
⦁ It is important for brain health. In the past 20 years science has realized that the human brain is very malleable and responds well to mental exercise. In fact, our brains can grow new neural pathways throughout the entire life span. Picking up new hobbies, interests, and activities at any age in life is not only fun, but improves brain functioning. People who are curious are more willing to try novel experiences, regardless of age.
⦁ It is in important component of what we call spirituality. All of us at some point or another in our lives have pondered the age old question of “What is the meaning of life?” How we answer that question, and how comfortable we are with that answer, plays a huge role in our life satisfaction. People who are comfortable with their answer tend to be happier, healthier, and more accepting of who and what they are. Getting curious about what Philosophy 101 called the Ultimate Questions can be frightening, but worth it.
⦁ It is a key component in being mindful. Curiosity is a characteristic of all mindfulness-based meditative practices. In meditation, being curious and nonjudgmental is the essence of mindfulness. Accepting physical, emotional, and spiritual feelings and insights in a non-judgmental way is really all that mindfulness is. Mindfulness meditation may just be the most important health practice that you are not yet practicing. There’s really no mystery to it, good meditation and a healthy curiosity are close relatives.

images“The important thing is to not stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”- Albert Einstein

There are many ways that you can get back the curiosity that you once had, or increase what you currently have. It won’t be as difficult as you think, and you will find that it is is a lot of fun. Some practical steps are:
⦁ Ask questions, both of yourself and others. If you are a parent, remember what it was like when your kids were two years old? Almost everything that your child experienced was followed by the question “Why?” This type of simplistic questioning is the first step. Why this is that? How do they do that? Who made that? Where does that come from? How does that thing work? Remembering those questions from your high school class in English composition, who, what, when, where, and how, can help you rekindle your natural curiosity. It can also make you appear to others as a brilliant conversationalist. Ask people these questions, then shut up and listen, and learn to listen carefully.
⦁ Keep your mind open. Be slow to pass judgment on events in your life or the behavior of others. Dig deeper before you decide on what things mean or before passing judgment. Strive to see the bigger picture, attempt to view events through the eyes of others, and adopt a wait and see attitude. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/zen-art-context/ )
⦁ Be a relentless learner. Get back to being the natural student that you once were. There was a time in your life, probably preschool to middle school, where you found school and education exciting. Somewhere around sixth grade it became tedious and “work,” probably because you were told to study and remember things you weren’t interested in. Well, you’re a grown up now and can decide what you want to learn about and study. In this information/Internet age there is absolutely no excuse for not satisfying your natural curiosity. You have at your fingertips more information than the public library held when you were a child, all available at the push of a button. Use it wisely. There is more to the Internet than cute pictures of animals and updates on where your friends went for coffee today.
⦁ Find new activities that you’ve “always wanted to do,” and do them. You’ve been making excuses for a long time about these things, so it’s put up or shut up time. Just do it. Don’t worry about what “they” will think, or how you may look foolish while doing it. Approach new activities with the mindset of a beginner and enjoy the process. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/beginners-mind/ )
⦁ Develop more intelligent use of your physiology. Learn to become more grounded and aware of how you use your body and mind. Have a daily exercise routine and observe your body’s response with curiosity. Don’t focus on the end result, or the long-range goals. Instead, focus on the process. Approach your exercise routine in the same manner that you approached recess when you were a kid. Remember the fun of getting outside, going wild for 20 minutes, and returning to class all sweaty but refreshed and ready to roll? That’s the way to approach your exercise regimen.yogacats09
⦁ Develop some type of meditative practice. Start small, learning to get curious and mindful about something. And, if you “can’t meditate,” see http://mindbodycoach.org/moving-meditation/ .

At one time in your life, you had a lot of fun because of your natural curiosity. It’s time that you regained the once healthy and happy outlook that you had. It’s never too late to wonder.

“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”- Samuel Johnson

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The One You Feed

An old Cherokee chief told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside each of us. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought about it for a while, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
The old man quietly replied, “The one you feed.” -Cherokee Folk Tale

Modern nutritional science has made most of us acutely aware of the relationship Wolf2IndianSitSpearbetween what we feed ourselves and our physical health. If you watch any 30 minute local news broadcast, there’s bound to be some story about the relationship between something that you consume and your health. More often than not the stories are contradictory. Some days you learn that coffee is good for you, red wine is healthy, it’s fine to eat an egg every day, and bottled water is the only way to drink it. Two weeks later, all those things are suddenly considered bad for you. Most of us, however, figure it out, managing to pay attention to what we consume and remain reasonably physically healthy. We need to be aware that food and drink is not all that we feed ourselves. Junk food is not the only thing that you may be mindlessly consuming.

While modern nutritional science has made it easy for us to be aware of what we wolfshould be consuming for our bodies, modern communication has made it more difficult for us to monitor what we feed our minds. The typical person in the United States gets up in the morning, flips on the television to see what’s going on in the world, does their morning routine, and hops into their car and heads off to work. While in the car, they listen to the radio, arrive at work, take a glance at something on their smartphone, and begin their day. Each of those informational inputs-television, radio, phone, and computers are some of the ways that we feed one of the two wolves that the Cherokee sage describes in the parable of the Two Wolves. Unlike the young boy growing up in the Cherokee nation years ago, we are not even aware that we are feeding our wolf, we think we’re just going about our regular day.

The modern world has a tendency to prey upon our bad Wolf. The news, gossip, things we remember, and things that attract our attention tend to be negative. Our brains are quick to notice these things. It’s just the way that they are wired. We need to be aware of things that are dangerous, potentially harmful, and threats to our survival. Threatening things tend to remain on the front page of our minds, making us aware, alert, and more capable of self protection and survival. Fortunately, our world isn’t as dangerous as that of a Cherokee child, unfortunately, the modern world makes us think that it is far worse.

Brilliant thinkers throughout history have known that the way we feel about the world, and our place in it, is largely determined by the focus of our thoughts. Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Jesus Christ, and Victor Frankl are just some that come to mind immediately. Each of these geniuses taught that there is a direct relation between the focus of our thoughts and our levels of anxiety and fear. In the pre-modern era, it was easier for mankind to have control of their thinking. In the 21st century much of what we believe to be our own thoughts are really the modern world allowing our bad Wolf to gorge itself on junk food. Depending on what you listen to, read, and intellectually consume, your good Wolf may not even have a chance.

Undoubtedly, it’s difficult to live in the 21st century and not be aware of the negativity in the world. To be adequately informed makes it virtually impossible. We can, however, pay attention to what we focus on, consciously making an effort to feed our good Wolf. All of us live our lives with an internal dialogue that we call our thoughts. This play-by-play analysis of what goes on in our world determines how we play the game of life. The thoughts that we nurture and pay attention to are like food that our physical bodies consume. They determine how we feel, act, think, and relate to others. They are even more important than the food that we eat.

Feeding the bad Wolf is very easy to do. The human condition makes the bad Wolf a pretty ravenous creature. He’s nowhere near as fussy an eater as his good Wolf littermate. The bad Wolf will pretty much eat anything that’s put in front of him. Be careful of what you expose him to, because he’s going to eat it. For the bad Wolf, there’s no shortage of tasty things to munch on. The good Wolf is a little fussier, often needing to be hand fed, consciously and deliberately.

So, how do we give that good little Wolf pup a chance at thriving? Like a lot of behavioral changes, the first step is awareness. What information, news, grey-wolf-pupsentertainment, and inputs are you taking in each day? What catches your attention when you watch television, listen to the radio, or are on the computer? Which wolf is getting fed?
What kind of conversations are you having during your day? Are they productive, or bitch sessions? Is the quality of these conversations focused on solutions, or problems? Remember, you’re not the only person who feeds those wolves. Friends, relatives, family, and co-workers also play a role in how well those wolves grow up.
What kind of conversations are you having with yourself? What are some things you say to yourself on a regular basis? Which wolf are you favoring? The quality of your internal dialogue goes a long way towards determining how large that bad Wolf will grow.
What kind of activities are you engaged in? You keep a close eye on your finances and your bank book. Are you keeping as close a watch on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health? Nurturing those compartments of your life give the good Wolf nourishment as well, allowing him, and you, to reach your full growth potential.

Next time you review any component of your health, exercise regimen, or diet, remember this Cherokee tale of the two wolves. Being aware of other ways in which we “feed” ourselves is more important to our overall well-being than anything we take in by mouth. The battle between the two wolves is perhaps our live’s most important battle.

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Science Behind Goal Setting: Getting There In 2015

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”― Oprah Winfrey

The year is winding down, and we are in that melancholy period of the holiday indexseason between Christmas and New Year’s. The media will soon be bombarding us with lists of celebrities that passed away, mistakes made by government leaders, the best of the year lists, and there’s sure to be some incessant playing of Auld Lang Syne. There may be a party or two left in 2014 but, come January 2, it’s business as usual. Many people will use this time of year to reflect on where they’re at and what they are doing with their lives. They will do an assessment of things, make a vow that the next year will be better, and then move forward into 2015, and nothing will change. Others will swear up and down to themselves that “this is the year” and actually take some actions toward accomplishing some concrete goals. They will actually do a little better, at least for a while, but usually by the end of February they are back where they started. We’ve all seen this, and maybe even experienced it firsthand. Why does this happen year after year to so many of us?

The answer to this is quite simple. Human behavior, although often unpredictable, does have some common themes. After all, it is considered Behavioral Science in that university catalog. While an individual’s behavior can vary greatly, there are trends, similarities, and commonalities in the way that most of us pursue goals and eventually give up on them. Attainment is most likely to occur if an individual is aware of the science behind goal setting, and the predictable potholes that will inevitably arise on the road to getting where you want to be.

I often talk to clients about homeostasis. Don’t be alarmed. If you read this blog regularly, then you know that I pride myself on keeping things simple. Homeostasis is the natural tendency of all things in nature to seek to maintain balance and equilibrium within its environment, even when facing external changes. In plain English, things naturally want to return to their prior condition, in a sort of “it is what it is” fashion. It is more natural and logical for us to fail when pursuing new challenges and new goals than it is for us to succeed. There’s a natural tendency for things to go back to their prior condition. Many people argue that they don’t like their current condition, but they keep finding themselves back there anyway. Why? Homeostasis.

So how can this return to mediocrity be avoided? There are a number of things to be aware of when setting goals. When goal setting, it is important to realize that you are essentially giving yourself a pep talk. Initially, the goal is a thought that must be made concrete, vivid, and real. You have to literally convince yourself that it’s possible for you to attain it. The first step is, like with a lot of things that are agreements, is Get it in writing! By this I mean be very clear and specific about what you are trying to accomplish. Review the article that I have written here on “Smarter” goal setting from this link: http://mindbodycoach.org/work-smarter-harder/ for the details of how to create a roadmap towards accomplishing your goal.

Be aware of the science of human change. There are clear tendencies that virtually all of us have when we pursue goals. It has been studied ad nauseum by experts in human psychology. Again, don’t worry, I’ve distilled it down for you in this article. http://mindbodycoach.org/id-love-change-world/ Just be aware that you will have some anticipatory concerns that may, or may not, be real. Your job is to tease out the facts from fiction.

Be aware of Why this goal is important to you. Write down on paper your reasons as specifically and vividly as possible. Attach Strong Emotional Connection to being successful. Spend some time each day vividly Visualizing and Imagining how you will feel When the goal is accomplished. The purpose of these actions is twofold. You must create a compelling reason to attain this goal and you must believe that it is possible for you to attain it. For most goals that are reasonably realistic, the only thing stopping you is you and your attitude.

While pursuing goals, the number one reason that people fail by far is that they do not Anticipate and Expect that it Will Get Difficult! When writing out your actionhub-50-best-hikes-new-england-new-hampshires-welch-dickey-loop-2014-10-02_17-08-54-800x533goals and creating the action plan to get you there, be fully aware that there will be doubts that set in. The road to success is not a straight uphill climb. If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, then you are probably aware of what a switchback trail is. It is a trail taken that actually goes downhill for a period of time that makes it easier to get to the summit. When striving to attain a goal, there will be switchback trails that you must navigate on your way to the top of that mountain. Be willing to make adjustments as you go. If you analyze other times you’ve tried to set goals and failed, you may even notice that there is a pattern to what derails you. It could be negative self talk, worries about what other people may think, belief systems that you have about money, your ability, your past, etc. If you have a history of trying, with all the best of intentions, and failing anyway, then these are probably the details that are hiding your devils. Spend some time trying to figure out what has historically caused this for you in the past. Putting this on paper gets these negative beliefs out of your head, allowing you to see them for what they really are, just thoughts.

The best way to avoid tripping up when the switchback effect occurs is to Create Habits and Rituals that Lead To Your Goal. Habits are far more important than motivation when trying to make something happen. Motivation tends to be temporary, and it will definitely go away during the Switchback Effect. Habits and rituals, over time, become automatic, and are therefore more likely to continue, allowing you to break through during times of Switchback. If your positive behaviors are habitual, you are more likely to do them when the going gets tough.

Work on your goal the same time each day as much as possible. Stack Your Goal Setting on Your Existing Schedule. If your plan to climb that mountain fits in with what you are already doing, you are more likely to be consistent and persistent during that climb. Most people tend to do the same rituals each morning and each evening. That may be a good time to squeeze in a block of time to work on your goal. Maybe you do the same thing each day at lunch, or take an hour of time each day for yourself. Some work on your goal might make sense at these times. Stacking your efforts onto things that you are already doing make your efforts more consistent and, in attaining goals, it’s consistency that makes all the difference. (See also  http://mindbodycoach.org/kaizen-habit-change/)

You must be fully aware that there will also be outside factors that will make it difficult. They may be money, time, or unforeseen events that are out of your control. They Will Happen. Be aware of the Switchback Effect. Anticipate it, expect it, and learn to befriend it. When it happens tell yourself that this is only going to make the entire process better. It is part of the process, not something that is either good or bad, just something that is part of getting there.

Be Flexible and willing to adjust. There are two things that you must consider here. First, Be Willing to Change Your Methods. Don’t be quick to give up. Modifying the goal may be necessary, but should not be done until you have exhausted various options to attain it. Adjust how you are trying to get to the top of that mountain first. If all else fails, and you’ve exhausted your possibilities, then be willing to Modify Your Goal. Don’t give up entirely, modify the goal and get as close to it as you possibly can. Your goal may not be an all or nothing proposition. For example, if your goal was to lose 50 pounds and you lost only 25, aren’t you way ahead of the game anyway? If you wanted to add $25,000 to your IRA in 2015, is it a catastrophe that you only ended up with an additional $17,000? I think you get the idea here. Not too many things in life are black and white.

In order to make 2015 all that you hope it will be, stop hoping and start planning. Get clear on what you are trying to attain, in writing, using the SMARTER goal setting format. Be willing to modify the plan, adjusting to realities as they occur. Don’t hope that the Switchback Effect doesn’t set in, anticipate and expect it, because it is the number one reason that people give up. Stack your efforts and create rituals that you can add to the rituals and habits that you already have. Be persistent and consistent imagesand you can reach your goals.

“When the going gets tough…. the tough get going! Who’s with me? Let’s go!”- Bluto Blutarsky

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

It Can Be A Wonderful Life: The George Bailey Effect

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? “-Clarence Odbody, Angel Second Class

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a television staple that, for many, heralds in the holiday season. TheWonderfulLife film was produced in 1946 by movie legend Frank Capra and stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a banker and family man who is contemplating suicide due to the difficulty he is having financially providing for his family. He does so because he believes that his life insurance policy is the best way to provide for them, as he feels he is “worth more dead than alive.” Of course, George does not complete the suicide, but the real message of the movie is the reasons why and the thought process introduced to him by an angel in training, Clarence Odbody, who is assigned to save him. Clarence must complete this task on Christmas Eve in order to “earn his wings,” and become a First Class angel.

A strategy in the field of Positive Psychology is an activity called a “Gratitude Journal.” It consists of an exercise in which someone looks for three different positive things in their life each day for a period of 30 days, recording them in a notebook which becomes their journal. The three things can be virtually anything that one is grateful for providing that they are three different things each day. They can be simple things like “I’m grateful that I woke up, I’m grateful for my morning coffee, I’m grateful for fresh air,” virtually anything that you notice that you are grateful for. Each evening you will record three new things after reviewing and contemplating the list that you have compiled thus far. While it may seem rather simplistic, I’ve personally witnessed this value numerous times in programs and therapeutic settings where I have worked. The secret is in the reviewing and contemplating. Research shows that if it’s done for 30 days, a person is likely to continue it indefinitely or at least have their way of thinking changed. It works because our brains are wired to notice what we expect. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/really-power-placebo/ )

Many psychologists have proposed an activity that is similar in intention to the Gratitude Journal called the “George Bailey Effect.” It’s logic is based in the ancient Greek philosophy called Stoicism, which imagesteaches a person to see things as they truly are, rather than through the rose colored glasses of idealism. The activity is named after George Bailey because of how Clarence convinces George that his life is worth living. In his moment of despair, Bailey is focused on how his life has unraveled. A clerical error by his uncle Billy, who works for him and the bank, puts him on the verge of bankruptcy. After George is turned down from obtaining a loan, he gets drunk at a local bar, crashes his car on the way home, staggers to a bridge where he has an epiphany that he is “worth more dead than alive,” and decides to jump to his death, thereby providing for his family the only way he can think of. Clarence, angel second class, appears in the water below the bridge and pretends to be drowning. George, who’s been rescuing people in various forms his whole life, falls for Clarence’s trick, rescues him, and learns Clarence’s true identity and purpose.

The method that Clarence uses to change Bailey’s mind is what has become known as the George Bailey Effect. Clarence asks George to imagine what the world would have been like had George never been born. He takes George on and Ebenezer Scrooge like journey in what George’s hometown would look like if he had never been born, and George becomes an observer of a lot of negative and painful potential events. For example George’s brother, whose life he saved as a child, died at age 12 instead, and the soldiers that his brother saved heroically during World War II all died tragically. George’s uncle, whom George employed for years, was in an insane asylum. The hundreds of customers in the bank where George worked and the positive impact George’s business had on the town never occurred. George’s wife, Mary, was a spinster librarian, and George’s four wonderful children never existed. In a moment of insight, George realizes that what he thought was a pitiful existence was, in fact, a wonderful life, and he returns to his family a changed and wiser man.

The George Bailey Effect technique takes about 20 minutes of your time. It has been studied and its-a-wonderful-life-clarenceresearched thoroughly. One study done at the University of Virginia breaks down the technique, explaining why it is effective. The idea is that by mentally “undoing” positive events from our lives, we initially experience a bit of sadness and regret. In contrast, however, the realization that these positive events and experiences do, in fact, exist makes us appreciate them all the more. It creates an appreciation for routine and mundane parts of our lives that we often take for granted. We, much like George Bailey, get a do over and move forward with a greater sense of the positive people and things in our lives, as well as the positive impact that we have had on others. This makes for the perfect, end of the year, holiday reflection.

Implementing it can be pretty simple. Pick a person, place, or event from your life that gives you joy and satisfaction. Write down some things that may have prevented it from happening. Then, as vividly as possible, imagine what your life would be like and feel like had those people, places, or events never become a part of it. Doing this exercise regularly can make it an habitual way that you process things, creating a greater sense of gratitude and appreciation for things that may otherwise feel routine. It’s a great exercise to do with your significant other if you are married and have a family. Processing the exercise with your partner after can get pretty interesting.

If you get a chance this holiday season, take a second look at It’s a Wonderful Life. I hope I didn’t ruin it for those of you that have never seen it, but you probably realized that George wasn’t going to jump after all. Do yourself a favor, and give the George Bailey technique a try. It could be the best 20 minutes you spend this entire holiday season.

“Remember, no man is a failure that has friends.”-Clarence Odbody, Angel First Class.

Happy whatever you celebrate.

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Teddy Roosevelt On Personal Responsibility

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was truly an American original. Despite being born in extreme3163451_orig wealth in he year 1858, Roosevelt knew suffering and hardship. He suffered from ill health, almost dying multiple times as a child from asthma. He entered his teenage years at about 90 pounds, was forced to wear thick eyeglasses because of his terrible vision, and was the epitome of what later became known as the “97 pound weakling.” His father, Theodore Roosevelt Sr., was worried that  despite the family’s affluence, he wouldn’t be able to protect his son indefinitely. By age 13 his father had him embarking on a regimen of physical fitness that included daily exercise, weight training and, after young Teddy took an embarrassing beating from two bullies, boxing. By the time Teddy entered Harvard University in 1876, he had built himself into a remarkable physical specimen. Upon leaving New York for Boston his father advised him to, “Take care of your morals first, your health, and finally your studies.”

Roosevelt was married for the first time on his 22nd birthday. Two years later his wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, died in childbirth, and 11 hours later Roosevelt’s mother, Mittie, died of typhoid fever. In typical Roosevelt fashion, he went through a period of deep depression for a period of approximately a month, emerging from it with resolve to do the best he could with what he had.

“People are doing the best they can with the resources they have available.”- Unknown

This quote, from an unknown author, is one that is quite frequently dismissed by those who hear it. I’m not sure where I first heard it, possibly from my mother growing up, or from some of the nuns that taught me in elementary school. I do know that, for most of my life, I didn’t believe it. Almost 20 years ago I had a career change and became a practicing counselor and psychotherapist. As part of my job I have interviewed thousands of people, and spent countless hours asking them probing questions about their motivation. I’ve come to the conclusion that the above statement is, more often than not, pretty accurate. I’ve also, much like Teddy Roosevelt, concluded that the biggest challenge anyone can have in life is to take personal responsibility, as much as possible, for their life and their behavior, regardless of their circumstances.

I’ve interviewed a everything from doctors, lawyers, ministers, murderers, prostitutes, hands_1496899c     and white-collar criminals. Many of them will admit in the solitude of a counseling session that they have done some pretty terrible things while trying to cope with some pretty horrific circumstances. The common thread in most of these behaviors is that, at the time, what they did seemed like a good idea, or at least the best choice they had in the moment. The therapeutic challenge in working with such people is to present them with better options and choices. For some, these choices are presented through the careful give and take and introspection of psychotherapy. For others, the best course of action is the legal system or the natural consequences of their behaviors. The reality is that some people’s minds are wired in such a way that criminal behavior does not result in feelings of guilt, shame, or remorse. I’ve seen it in clients and it’s pretty scary. In some instances the behavioral control provided by the legal system is the only way to correct dangerous behaviors. Other times, the client has to fail a number of times and learn from the natural consequences of bad choices. In both cases however, the statement is true. Regardless of how bizarre it may seem to most of us, they believe they are doing the best they can and making the best choice available to them at the time.

The point here is to take the two similar quotes, one from Theodore Roosevelt and the other from some unknown sage, and find some practical application. In times of crisis, overwhelm, and despair, we would all do well to break down Roosevelt’s advice and try to follow it to the best of our ability. Quite often, when life gets a little overwhelming, we ask ourselves questions that disempower us and make the situation worse than it needs to be. “Why me,? Why now,? What’s next,? Now what,?” are just some of the kinds of instinctual thoughts we have, or are things that we say silently or out loud. This normal human reaction, however, needs to be nipped in the bud as soon as these thoughts are recognized. If you examine most of the automatic negative thoughts that you have in a crisis situation, you’ll probably find that most are disempowering and counterproductive. The key is to ask yourself questions that empower, rather than disempower, allowing you to do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.

Self-help guru, Tony Robbins, often states that the quality of our life is determined, to a large degree, from the kind of questions that we ask ourselves. In order to problem solve more efficiently, we have to ask ourselves better questions. Self imposed questions should be focused on solutions, rather than the current negative situation that you find yourself in. The first step is acceptance of your current situation or negative emotion. Please note that acceptance does not mean rolling over and playing dead, (See http://mindbodycoach.org/acceptance-true-wisdom/ ), it simply means not going into denial. Acceptance places you in the “where you are,” portion of Roosevelt’s advice. It means you recognize and acknowledge the current, unpleasant situation.

Better quality questions tend to be solution focused. “How can this be resolved?” “Who or what might be able to help me with this?” “Where can I get information and help to deal with this?” It’s often quite helpful to sit down with a pen and a notebook and put these thoughts down on paper, literally creating a roadmap to get yourself out of the situation or to solve the problem. Sometimes, the exercise allows you to notice that you are overreacting, in the moment, to a situation that is not going to be a big deal in a day, month, or a year. Asking yourself some questions and putting those random, disjointed thoughts on paper, often allows you to realize that the solution is to simply let go of your emotional attachment in a “this, too, shall pass” manner. If you are more visual, then drawing a picture, chart, or a diagram to assist is often helpful. It is important that, when asking yourself these questions, you write down your thoughts in some way, as this leads to a clarity of thought and objectivity that is not available to you through self talk. This activity emphasizes the “what you have” portion of Roosevelt’s advice.

The final phase of this activity is to implement a plan of action. Things don’t always go according to plan, so be flexible. Be willing to change the process while maintaining focus on the goal. The idea is to problem solve, not stick to a rigid plan that isn’t working. Be willing to adjust and change your methodology. “Do the best you can,” and accept responsibility for the outcome. The outcome may not be perfect, but all you can control is your effort.

We humans are great at comparing our situation to that of others. We often believe that if we are doing as well, or better, than someone else, then our lives are okay. There’s no shortage in the world of people doing bizarre, stupid, and even criminal activities that the Internet and news sources make available to us at the twitch of a finger. We wonder why or how someone could do that and then go away thinking that we are doing the best we can. Ironically, in many ways, those weirdos that are out there are doing the best that they can too. (See http://mindbodycoach.org/people/ )

Next time your waist deep in life’s alligators, consider Roosevelt’s advice, and next time History_Ultimate-Guide-to-the-Presidents_The-Talented-Mr-Roosevelt_SF_NEW_HD_still_624x352you find yourself making judgments about others, remember that they are probably doing the best they can as well.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena..” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

‘Tis The Season : Holiday Survival 101

“Sing we joyous, all together, Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Heedless of the wind and weather, Fa la la la la, la la la la la la la la” – from Deck the Halls

We are well into the holiday season, and the mindless rush toward the end of the year. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Festivus doesn’t matter, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. It’s a time of the year that takes many ancient, religious traditions and adds them to our calendar with the intention of reminding us what is important before another year ends, a time to focus and reflect on our values, family, friends, and what we are all about. Sort of like a post game wrapup for another year. In theory, it should be putting us into a better position for an improved 2015. Yeah, right…images

The reality of this time of year, for most of us, is that our stressors actually increase and we are more stressed out than at any other time of the year. We have more internal and external pressures imposed upon us, and you may find yourself saying, “I can’t wait till this is all over.” We often vow that we are not going to buy into the holiday commercialism, but much like that junior high dance, (you know, the one where you said there was no way you were dancing?), you find yourself out on the floor mindlessly thrashing around with everyone else. And, you also probably found yourself pretty annoyed that the commercialism begins the day after Halloween. But, after you declare “That’s ridiculous,” you find yourself in the mix with everyone else. By the time that day you celebrate with your tribe arrives, you’ve pretty much had it.

All of us have to realize that, if we have any kind of relationships with anyone, there are going to be indexcompromises that we must make during the holiday season. Our children, wives, significant others, and friends all will demand some of our time and attention. This is the real reason for the season, so we need to be sure that we attend to this. There is only so much energy and enthusiasm that most of us have for partying, so use your partying muscles wisely. Do you really need to go all in for that holiday party at work? More importantly, should you? Do you really want to get stuffed, drunk, and stupid with the people from shipping and receiving or the marketing department? If you do, great, just be careful that it doesn’t burn out the energy and enthusiasm that you might have for those that are more important to you.

Any good survival plan, whether it’s in the Amazon Jungle or coping with the holiday season, starts with you. I’ve written about this in the past, (see http://mindbodycoach.org/lessons-american-history/ ), but it bears repeating here. Getting through the holiday season sanely can be distilled down to three basic points to keep in mind:
⦁ Attitude-Check your attitude by asking yourself some honest questions. What’s my attitude? Before going into the local mall for shopping, that office party that you don’t want to go to, or that Yankee swap that you’ve been pressured into participating in, ask yourself, “What is my attitude?” Am I positive, negative, looking forward to this, or going into this with feelings of dread and impending doom? If your attitude is not good, then change it to the degree that you can. If your attitude towards something is a poor one, then don’t over think or over analyze your situation. Just do what you need to do in the most mindful, in the moment, manner that you can. Remember, those uncomfortable, awkward moments are fleeting. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in the negativity of a bad attitude.
⦁ Energy-Check your energy levels frequently throughout the holiday season. It’s always a good idea to keep your energy levels in check, but it is even more important to do this during times of stress. By energy, we are referring to physical as well as mental energy. Keep your physical energy in check by attending to proper sleep, diet, and exercise. Many people have a tendency to let these things slide between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. This tendency, probably more than any other factor, is part of the reason that many people dread the holidays. If you do not have physical energy in the tank, then of course you’re not going to be bringing a positive attitude towards anything, let alone fawning over that holiday fruitcake that your sister-in-law put in your stocking. If sleep is lacking, find the time to sneak in a nap. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/nap-nap/ ) Pay attention to your food consumption as well. Occasional binges on holiday staples such as fruitcakes, gingerbread men, and other assorted treats is part of the deal. Just be sure that you are also consuming quality proteins, are consuming enough water, and are not over indulging on alcohol. Nothing will sap your energy faster than lack of sleep and a hangover.
⦁ Focus-During these stressful times, ask yourself, “What am I paying attention to? Where is the focus of my attention? What thoughts am I dwelling on?” What you focus on becomes your reality. If you go into that holiday party at work after spending two straight days telling yourself that it’s going to “really suck,” then of course it’s going to “really suck.” If you adopt a wait-and-see attitude going into it, and focus on the present moment while you are there, you’ll probably find that it wasn’t so bad after all. If you are a parent, then try not to focus so much on your children’s behavior during the holiday season. Don’t stress if your kids get cranky, nagging, or demanding at times during the season. Chalk it up to visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. If you have teenagers, is it really a disaster if your son decides to wear that concert T-shirt with the flaming skulls on it to a family gathering? It will be if that becomes the focus of your attention. If it’s not a big deal to you, then it’s not something that’s going to cause you stress.

One of the most positive things you can do to keep your attitude, energy, and focus sharp during the holiday season is to keep up with your regular regimen of exercise. If you are not able to do your usual workouts, don’t make it an all or nothing proposition. If, for example, you are a three times per week cardio person, then squeezing in walks outdoors whenever you can will keep you on track. If you train with weights at the gym, then a vigorous routine with calisthenics and body weight training at home, when you can work some in, may provide a refreshing change in your routine. If yoga or martial arts are your thing, then clear out some space in your family room and get yourself in motion. Bruce Lee believed in home workouts, so I don’t think your routine will suffer too much.

Keep in mind the Hallmark phrase, “Reason for the Season.” Whether your interpretation is a religious,happyEnding spiritual, or a familial one is entirely up to you. Keep your attitude, energy, and focus in check, and enjoy the holidays like you did when you were a kid.

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

 

John

P. S. Contact me if interested in online mindbody coaching or cognitive behavioral therapy. Please check out my author’s page at amazon.com/author/johnsannicandro or using the Amazon link on this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and social media. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.