The Audacity of Optimism

“To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities, and not just any old reality but a better one.”- Tali Sharot

Optimism bias is an inclination that many people have which causes them to believe that smilethey are at less risk of experiencing a negative event compared to others. It is a cognitive distortion that approximately 80% of us engage in regularly. Such biased thinking can be an expectation of either negative or positive events. While research suggests that a higher percentage of people are biased towards negative expectations, over 90%, statistics indicate that being overly optimistic can present risks as well as benefits.

Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist and author of “The Science of Optimism: Why We’re Wired for Hope,” has studied the optimism bias extensively. “Hope isn’t rational, so why are humans wired for it?,” Sharot wondered. She defines optimism bias as our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad events. “So we underestimate our likelihood of suffering from cancer, or being in a car accident. We overestimate our longevity, our career prospects. In short, we’re more optimistic than realistic, but we are oblivious to the fact.”

She cites marriage as an example. “In the Western world, divorce rates are about 40%. That means that out of five married couples, two will end up splitting their assets. But when you ask newlyweds about their own likelihood of divorce, they estimated at 0%” Sharot goes on to say that if people are married they are more likely to have children, and they believe that their kids will be especially talented. A study in Great Britain for example, indicated that three out of four people were optimistic about the future of their own family, while only 30% said that they thought families were doing better than they were a few generations ago. Sharot says, “Because we’re optimistic about ourselves, we are optimistic about our kids, we are optimistic about our families, but were not so optimistic about the guy sitting next to us, and we are somewhat pessimistic about the fate of our fellow citizens and the fate of our country.” She calls such optimism “private optimism,” and studies indicate that it is the universal, world wide, phenomenon.

Sharot compares optimism to a type of “mental time travel,” that has clear survival advantages. “The understanding that somewhere in the future, death awaits. This signknowledge that old age, sickness, decline of mental power, and oblivion are somewhere around the corner, can be devastating.” She has concluded that, while the optimism bias is likely to be statistically false, it plays a role in creating a positive psychology. The positive benefits of being optimistic are:
1. People with positive expectations always feel better. Feeling better mentally leads to better physical health as well. Focusing on negativity creates undue stress on the entire system. Optimistic people will be more healthy, have more longevity, and enjoy a higher quality of life.
2. When people with an optimism bias succeed, they tend to attribute it to their own unique situation and capabilities. This increases their feeling of control and mastery, leading to better self efficacy in other situations as well.
3. Optimism leads to anticipation of positive events. Positive anticipation enhances feelings of happiness. Emotions build in anticipation of something good happening, and when it does the experienced is heightened.
4. The human brain is wired to focus on what it expects. People with a strong optimism bias will notice more positive life experiences than those who are negative.

Sharot concludes that, “Optimists are people who expect more kisses in the future, more strolls in the park. And that anticipation enhances their well-being. In fact, without thenote optimism bias, we would all be slightly depressed. People with mild depression, they don’t have a bias when they look into the future. They are actually more realistic than healthy individuals. But individuals with severe depression, they have a pessimistic bias. So they tend to expect the future to be worse than it ends up being.”

 

Well there you have it, some solid reasons why a little delusional thinking can be healthy now and then. Being aware of the optimism bias doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge in it. When it arises accept it and look for ways to utilize it to your advantage.

“What day is it?”
It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne

John
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“To Nap Or Not To Nap?”

” To nap, or not to nap? That is the question.”

Ah, the nap! A controversial topic that allows for differences of opinion without conflictnap. Ask coworkers and friends what they think about the topic and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some swear by the brief siesta, while others have it ruin the rest of the day and the following night. But should we nap? What does science tell us about the nap? And should it be a skill to aspire to?

Dr. Sara Mednick is a sleep researcher at the University of California, Riverside and the author of “Take a Nap, Change Your Life.” She has studied the to nap, or not to nap question quite extensively and has concluded that humans have a biological need for the nap. “There’s actually biological dips in our rhythm and our alertness that seem to go along with the natural state of the way we used to be, probably way back when we were allowed to the nap more regularly.”

The human is one of the few animals that takes all its sleep in one sitting. The rest of the animal world consists of polyphasic sleepers, breaking up their sleep patterns as needed during a 24 hour period. Primitive man was a polyphasic sleeper as well, and current siesta-time_9-great-things-about-summersleep patterns were greatly influenced by the Industrial Revolution. (See “Got Insomnia? Guess Again,” March 28, 2014) Since the rise of industry, napping has received a bad rap, and has been wrongly associated with laziness and non-productivity. Before industrialization, most cultures were biphasic sleepers. The ancient Romans were biphasic sleepers, setting aside time for sleep at “sexta,” the sixth hour of their day, approximating our noon time. This remains traditional in some cultures. The word sexta is the origin of the Spanish word siesta. Sadly, even countries like Spain are doing away with this healthy tradition.

It seems that many anti-nappers perhaps don’t know how to nap correctly. Dr. Mednick contends that, “There is something very specific about the timing of a nap. It should be about 2 PM or 3 PM. It’s the time when most humans and animals experience a post prandial dip, or low ebb. It’s a dip in cogno-processing and physiological processes, when a lot of us actually do feel sleepy.” Coincidentlly, this is the time of day when most of us grab a cup of coffee or a sugary snack in order to prevent slipping into the valley of fatigue. Mednick asserts that coffee is an inferior substitute for a good nap. “In all my research, what I found is that when I have people not drinking caffeine but take a nap instead, they actually performed much better on a wide range of memory tasks.”

Dr. Mednick’s studies, and those of others have consistently shown that:
1. Naps increase alertness. A NASA study found that a 20 to 40 minute nap increased alertness by as much as 100%. Other studies found that 20 minutes is more effective and 200 mg of caffeine, the amount in a large cup of brewed coffee.
2. A nap improves working memory. A nap clears your mind of clutter and information that is not useful. A nap is like clearing your brain’s hard drive, much like a spam filter. This makes your memory more efficient after napping.
3. Napping prevents burnout. If your argument has always been, “I don’t have time for a nap,” then there’s good news. A nap has been proven to be the, one step backward to take two steps forward, that could be the highlight of your afternoon. Workers are more productive after napping, easily making up for the lost 20 minutes.
4. Naps increase creativity. If your job requires you to be mentally creative, then a nap is the perfect way to maintain creativity. You literally can, “sleep on it,” and arrive at an answer that has been keeping you stuck. Try this and you’ll be surprised at how frequently it works.
5. A nap can improve health and can assist in losing weight. Napping decreases the stress hormone, cortisol, which has been associated with stress, the accumulation of body fat, and weight gain. Cortisol has also been linked to anxiety, overwhelm, stress, and depression. A daily snooze goes a long way towards depleting excess accumulation of this hormone.

Here’s some tips on how to nap more effectively:
1. Keep it brief. Setting an alarm for 30 minutes or less is a safe solution for those of you coffee-timefind yourself groggy after napping. When in doubt, brief is better.
2. Be consistent in your efforts. Pick a time somewhere between 2 and 3 PM and make it a habit.
3. Stay warm. Napping tends to decrease body temperature. Waking up cold is not the best idea.
4. If possible, close the shades and keep the room as dark as possible. Darkness can allow you to slip into sleep a little more quickly. Remember, you have approximately 20 minutes for this.
5. Experiment to find what works for you. If you wake up groggy, or you need a superior energy boost from a nap for some particular reason, try a “coffee boost” nap. Consuming a small, 8 ounce cup of coffee before can supercharge a nap. The caffeine will begin to kick in 20 to 30 minutes after being consumed, coincidentally the time when you will be rising from your nap. The benefits of both nap and caffeine will be magnified. While not for everyone, this might work well for you.

Dr. Mednick has created an instrument called The Take a Nap Nap Wheel which calculates the best time for you to nap based on your specific sleep needs. A link is provided here:

http://saramednick.com/htmls/book/napwheel.htm

So, I think we’ve answered the question of whether or not to nap. Research shows it’s good for you and makes you more productive. Follow these suggestions, take that one step backward to take two steps forward, and improve your life.

John
P. S. Pass this information on to other tired people that you. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus, and Amazon.com. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

“Fake It Till You Make It!”

“Fake it till you make it” is a self empowerment saying that you may have heard. Such clichés are the A 4895backbone of self-help, personal development, and pop psychology. The world of psychotherapy is often at odds with the self-help and personal development movements. Affirmations like “I am going to fake it till I make it,” are considered simplistic, optimistic, and irrelevant. Psychotherapy prides itself on empirical evidence and research based practices. Too bad, because expressions like this one known only can work, but have been espoused for centuries by some of the giants in the fields of philosophy and psychology.

The phrase,”Fake it till you make it,” is very similar to the idea of Aristotle that to be virtuous one must act as a virtuous person would act. He was wise enough to know that acting as if you were something could make you that something. While Aristotle probably never conducted any research studies, he was acutely aware of the connection between mind and body, and the idea that a change in our physiology can quickly lead to a change in our emotional states.

Early in the 20th century pioneering psychologist, William James, stated, “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” James was interested in the role that physiology plays and how one feels emotionally. He proposed that we feel as we do because of how we act, more so than how we think. To James, it was the actions that create the feelings, not vice versa. He argued that if you act as if you are what you want to be, then it’s only a matter of time until you become that.images

In the 1920s, a disciple of Sigmund Freud named Alfred Adler, developed a therapeutic technique which he called “acting as if,” his variation of the fake it till you make it strategy. He believed it to be valuable because it provided his clients the opportunity to practice alternative behaviors to some of the dysfunctional things that they would doing outside the counseling session. His acting as if strategy is frequently used therapeutically where it is known as “role play.” Role-play works well because it opens the mind to other possible behaviors and problem solving strategies. In the world of psychotherapy Adlerian techniques are often used in what is called Brief Solution Focused Psychotherapy, where the origins of negative behaviors are not important and the therapy focuses on fixing things.

In the 1960s, psychotherapist William Glasser developed an approach to psychotherapy which he called Reality Therapy. Glasser relied heavily upon the mind-body link. He argued that emotional states, such as depression, could be changed quickly through a fake it till you make it, acting as if strategy. In his discussions with clients he would use language to begin his therapeutic intervention. He would say you are not “depressed,” but you are “depressing,” meaning that you are acting as a depressed person acts, and are therefore making the problem worse. Much of his brief therapeutic interventions focus on action, movement, and physiological changes to begin the process of dealing with emotional states such as anxiety and depression. His basic message was to change the states, and stop embracing behaviors that are associated with these states.

CootsRehearsal01VH100311In athletics and performance arts the expression “practice makes perfect” is well-known. Practice for an athlete, performing artist, or musician, is nothing more than a fake it till you make it or acting as if strategy. No one questions the value of athletic practice or daily practice for a musician. If you think about it, this is fake it till you make it in action.

For a few years in the 1990s I worked part time on a locked psychiatric hospital unit. I noticed that patients responded to the structure and imposed routines of the unit, such as a bedtime curfew, a specific time to get out of bed, mandatory attendance at group, mealtimes at a specific time and so on. Patients got better due to positive behaviors more than any other part of the treatment. Structure, behavior, and routines are the best ways to create positive change. Conscientious use of fake it till you make it, is one of the best ways to impose positive, goal directed behavior.

So there you have it. Fake it till you make it is not just some pop psychology, Stuart Smalley, B. S. strategy. Some of the giants of philosophy and psychology were aware of its benefits as a powerful method for human change and improve performance. Now you are as well.

“You must be the person you never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”-Paulo Coelho

John
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Preventing Age Related Shrinkage

If you are getting older, and I hope that you are considering the alternative, you are probably concerned about age related illnesses. As we are living longer, the medical community is becoming more and more aware of age related problems and their prevention. One that gets little attention is shrinkage. If you are a Seinfeld fan, no not THAT shrinkage. I am referring to age related loss of muscle mass known as sarcopenia. Although many patients and doctors accept it as inevitable, there are preventative steps that can be taken to delay its onset, slow the process down, and improve the quality of life during our senior years.

Sarcopenia is the medical term for the loss of muscle mass that occurs as a natural result of the aging PJ-BC783B_HEALT_D_20110919202204process. Doctors have long focused on the problem of osteoporosis in the elderly. Sarcopenia is a coexisting condition that is equally, if not more, dangerous. It affects millions of senior citizens and is now beginning to get the attention that it deserves. One research study stated in 2004, “Even before significant muscle wasting becomes apparent, ageing is associated with a slowing of movement and a gradual decline in muscle strength, factors that increase the risk of injury from sudden falls and the reliance of the frail elderly on assistance in accomplishing even basic tasks of independent living. Sarcopenia is recognized as one of the major public health problems now facing industrialized nations, and its effects are expected to place increasing demands on public healthcare systems worldwide.”

Sarcopenia generally appears after the age of 40 and accelerates greatly after the age of 75. While very noticeable in people who are physically inactive, it also occurs in active people as well. It cannot be prevented, it can only be slowed down. It is a complex process that occurs as a result of changing hormonal levels, inadequate protein consumption, poor nutrition, lack of proper exercise, stress, and inflammation.

growingold3Sarcopenia and osteoporosis tend to be comorbid conditions. The loss of muscle mass and muscle tension exacerbates osteoporosis, as muscles are needed for the mechanical stress that keeps bones healthy. Until recently, the focus has been on dietary solutions to osteoporosis. Recent research indicates that diet alone is not enough to prevent osteoporosis. Maintaining muscular strength is required as well. Muscle mass is necessary for a good metabolism, allowing us to burn more calories efficiently throughout the day. Loss of muscle mass leads to weight gain, explaining why our caloric intake may be the same while our weight increases. The combination of weight gain, diminished bone strength, and loss of muscle mass sets off a chain of events that can be devastating. This loss of musculoskeletal structure effects our kinesthetic sense creating a propensity towards falling. Think about how many seniors you know who have been hurt by age related falls. This combination is the reason why, as the fall and lack of protective muscle increases potential for injury.

Prevention starts with proper nutrition. While it has long been believed that the “typical” American diet consists of too much protein, recent studies indicate that older Americans don’t take in enough. Seniors need sufficient high quality protein in their diet to maintain lean muscle mass. We have been conditioned to believe that meat is bad, particularly red meat, and as a result most of us stop eating enough lean meat after age 40. Coincidentally, this is when sarcopenia usually develops. Studies indicate that the required daily amount of protein is not sufficient for senior citizens. And, if the senior is engaging in resistance training, they need even more. It is recommended that, in addition to adequate protein in meals, seniors consume two protein shakes per day consisting of 20-25 grams of protein consumed first thing in the morning and with in a half-hour or so of exercise.

In addition to increased protein consumption, other nutritional supplements may be beneficial. Be sure to include the following in your diet:
- Whey protein. A typical scoop of whey protein contains 25 to 30 grams of quality protein. Mixing one scoop with water twice a day will ensure that you are consuming adequate amounts of protein. Be careful to notice the increase in calories that this will give your diet, and adjust the rest of your diet accordingly.
-Vitamin D. Doctors have been suggesting vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis. If you’re not taking vitamin D now, add it to your diet. You may not believe you are prone to osteoporosis, by we all are prone to age related shrinkage.
-Creatine. Muscle atrophy in adults occurs as a result of the loss of the ability for the muscle to contract. Creatine improves the contraction of fast twitch muscle fibers, those that come into play during resistance training. Creatine is a very inexpensive supplement that can provide big benefits for the muscular system. It has been studied extensively for over 20 years, and recent studies have focused on its impact on sarcopenia. One study concluded, “Creatine supplementation may be a useful therapeutic strategy for older adults to attenuate loss in muscle strength and performance of functional living tasks.”
You may not have to purchase creatine, as it is an ingredient in many types of whey protein products. Read the ingredients that are in your protein powder. Creatine may be one of them.If not, creatine monohydrate is available in health food stores.

By far the most important preventative step one can take to stop it age related shrinkage is resistance training. Weight training is by far the most obvious and best method, but push-ups, pull-ups, and good old calisthenics all provide resistance. It does not take a lot, but it does take consistent work over a long period of time. Resistance training combats muscle loss, strengthens bones, and helps optimize hormonal levels. Using barbells and dumbbells, instead of the weight machines found in most commercial gyms can also improve your balance and kinesthetic sense. Stay away from weight machines and exercises where you are sitting as much as possible. While these can help somewhat, they are not the best overall method. Adding some aerobic activity as simple as walking, some mobility work such as yoga or a stretching routine, leads to a well-rounded, complete exercise routine.

And a personal suggestion that I would make is DO NOT JOIN A COMMERCIAL GYM. The biggest reason than exercise regimens do not last is because people do not make them convenient. Unless you are extremely disciplined and have a lot of time on your hands “going to the gym” is going to be to bookinconvenient. The Center for Disease Control recommends resistance exercise that you can do at home. I believe this is the best way to go with your exercise program. This is not a six week, crash course, in “I need to look good this summer at the beach.” This is a lifestyle change that is going to prevent you from problems now and in the future. It must be something that you are going to do consistently, and hopefully learned to enjoy. Here is a link to the recommended exercise regimen of the Center for Disease Control:

http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/downloads/growing_stronger.pdf

Follow their recommendations if you don’t know how to begin resistance training. Notice that you don’t need a lot of equipment. I believe that equipment you have handy, and at home that you will use, are far better than the thousands of dollars worth of the equipment at the commercial gym that you never go to.

old ladyI hope these suggestions and this information was not only interesting but useful. Age related shrinkage is inevitable, but it can be delayed substantially. Get started on these suggestions as soon as possible, consult your primary care physician for support, and get started. It can be not only life-saving, but also a lot of fun.

John
P. S. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Tumblr. Please share this information with others. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

 

“Why Are You Being So Negative?”

mood“Why are you being so negative?” If you’re like most people, I’m sure you’ve been asked this rhetorical question more than a few times in your life. And, like most people, I’m sure you were stumped by it. Most of us do go through times when we are negative, don’t know why, and don’t know how to get out of our negativity. Well now there is an answer to that baffling question, and our negativity is normal. Our brain’s wired to pay closer attention to negativity, as it serves a protective factor. Problems arise when this negative bias goes haywire.

Negative thinking occurs naturally and frequently. Negativity bias is a psychological phenomenon in which we have greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive ones. It is the brain’s natural “yeah, but…” mechanism designed to help us avoid danger and harm. With the negative expectations we are more likely to avoid harmful past experiences, making us more mentally prepared for things that could pose threats to our physical safety. This logic probably evolved to help protect us from harm and avoid danger. Our brain’s have survival techniques that make it hard for us to not notice potential problems and take steps to avoid them.

Findings in a 2001 study published in the Review of General Psychology entitled “Bad is Stronger than Good,” concluded that we not only anticipate negative events, but our imaginations tend to catastrophize the future, and anticipate the worst outcomes. The good news is that this protects us and prepares us for the “what if’s” that could result. The bad news is that we become victims of all kinds of stressful events that couldn’t possibly happen, reacting emotionally in anticipation. This negativity bias also prevents us from trying new things and taking on novel challenges. Our negativity bias would have protected us as a species during the caveman days, but it is not usually suited to 21st century life.

The negativity bias gets in the way of modern life most often with relationships. Couples that have good relationships are those that have been able to balance the positive and negative feelings that they have for their partners. Couples stay together for the long haul are those that are able to strike a balance between negativity, arguments, and disagreement, with positivity such as demonstrations of love, affection, and caring. If one or both of a couple are biased towards negativity the relationship is probably not going to last.

Negativity bias also rears its ugly head when it prevents us from taking an opportunity that might enhance our finances or careers. If you’ve been slogging away at an unfulfilling job for years, you probably have thought of changing jobs at one point or another. You probably came up with some idea of a disaster that would occur if you were to attempt a new career. You probably stayed in the unfulfilling job and rationalized with a “devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” attitude. Don’t feel bad, you’re not alone, we all do it.

Like most hardwired behaviors, negativity bias can malfunction. We sometimes are negative and don’t know why. Negativity can happen for no logical reason at times. Sometimes “Why are you so negative?” imagescan only be truthfully answered with “I don’t know.” There are some ways we can cope with this random negativity. Some steps to take are:
1. Recognize the negativity for what it is, a random attack of negativity bias. Don’t make more of it than you have to. If you can’t identify a cause for the negative emotion move on. If you look for one, your brain will definitely find one.
2. Change your focus. What am I thinking and saying to myself right now? How does my thinking impact what I am feeling? You can change your focus by asking yourself questions designed to create curiosity, allowing you to take a big step back and see the bigger picture.
3. Change your physiological state. Move, exercise. go for a brisk walk, breathe! Do something to get out of your head and into your body.
4. Choose your thoughts by thinking of something positive that you are grateful for, looking forward to, or happy about. While this is simple advice, it can work wonders.
5. Lighten up! Don’t be so hard on yourself or attempt to over think the situation. If the answer to the question, “why are you so negative?” is “I don’t know,” then move on, get over it. If you keep looking for something negative you find it. When you’re in a hole, stop shoveling!

Hopefully you found some sound advice of how to cope with this age old question. All that’s required to get out of a random, negative funk is self-awareness and a few go to strategies that can change your mood. No biggie, it’s just part of being human.

John
P. S. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and Tumblr. Email me at john@mindbodycoach. Please share this article with those who might benefit.

A Question Of Balance

The definition of wellness has changed drastically over the past 10 years or so. As technology has changed, so has our lifestyles, and along with it, the meaning of what it means to be in a state of physical and emotional health. It seems that the medical community gets a number of illnesses and diseases under control, only to have others pop up and become challenges to our health. There may be some simple solutions to the changing face of health problems. Maladies caused by technology can be avoided by some simple steps that can yield big benefits.

The amount of time that the average person spends seated each day has risen dramatically. The averageimages person now spends close to 50 to 70% of their time sitting. The negative impact of this, in most cases, is quite obvious. While we initially think of this leading to weight gain, which it does, there are a host of other, equally dangerous problems that it leads to. High blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems can occur even among those who otherwise take care of their health. You can be following a good diet, working out three times per week, be a non-smoker, and still develop major health problems. And, problems with health are a huge contributing factor to many emotional and mental health problems. Sitting has indeed become the new smoking.

Other areas that are greatly affected by the sitting lifestyle are our musculoskeletal system and our sense of equilibrium and balance. The human body is an incredibly adaptable machine that molds itself into the shape that is required for the majority of its activities. You literally become what you do. This is why cyclists tend to have huge quads, mechanics have thick wrists, and weightlifters have large shoulders and arms. Genetics, while playing a role in this, are not the primary factor. Over time your body becomes what you do, good or bad. When you look in the mirror, what you see is a result of what you do. While we blame genetics, our parents, and our job, it is literally what we do that results in what we see.

UntitledThe musculoskeletal system of a person who spends half of their day seated takes on a structure and shape that creates all kinds of problems. Slouching shoulders and weakness of the thoracic spine play a role in headaches and neck problems. It leads to an internal rotation of the shoulders, and a caving in of the chest which can result in not only physical problems but emotional as well. Studies have shown that the way we carry ourselves physically plays a large role in how we feel mentally and emotionally. (See “Need Confidence? Power Pose,” March 7, 2014.) The lumbar spine compression, and in the tightening of the hamstrings, disrupts the body’s core structure which can create crippling and debilitating problems.

While the problems of an imbalanced  musculoskeletal system are visible, a potentially larger problem remains hidden. An inability to maintain a sense of kinesthetic balance leads to a tendency towards being susceptible to falling. We tend to accept falling as a natural byproduct of aging. While that may be true, there are a number of things that one can do to build resistance to falls. (See “I’ve Fallen Down And I Can’t Get Up!”, February 17, 2014.)

There is an expression in personal training and physical therapy that is worth mentioning and considering. Those of us who exercise are not immune to these problems. The reality is that even an hour a day may not be enough to fully protect us. The expression is, “What are you doing for the other 23?” This refers to the 23 hours of the day that you are not exercising. If you are sedentary and sitting for those other 23 then you are shoveling against the tide. You need to find ways to build wellness exercises into your other 23.

Some brief ways to do this are to make some simple moves, designed to create balance and wellness, andCorn_TreePose incorporate them into your lifestyle. One of the simplest ones is lift your leg slightly off the ground and stand on one leg a few times a day. It does not have to be lifted too high, and only needs to be held for less than a minute. The effects of the exercise of magnified if you close your eyes while doing so. With eyes closed, you initially will struggle to stand on one leg at all. If you can build to 10 seconds or more with your eyes closed, regardless of the height you’ve lifted your leg, then you’re doing great. If you want something more elaborate this you may want to consider practicing yoga’s “tree pose,” or karate’s “cat stance.” Yoga, karate, and tai chi practice are the best for building a sense of equilibrium and balance. You don’t have to practice these disciplines, but you should incorporate their stances into your routine to build your balance.

During the day, it is vitally important that you take some time to move, stretch, and walk around. As a general rule, a 10 minute break from sitting for every hour that you sit will alleviate many of these problems. During your formal exercise sessions, those where you are “working out,” work to create a balanced musculoskeletal system, rather than trying to look good. Don’t get me wrong, looking good is great, but remaining healthy and feeling great is even better.

Some things to Google and integrate into your daily living are:
kuno3-yoga’s tree pose
-karate cat stance
-tai chi Golden cockerel stands on one leg
-tai chi form
-Chi gong
-five Tibetan Rites

Consider taking a few yoga classes, or find a YouTube video from any of the ideas mentioned above. If you are ambitious, the Five Tibetan Rites are very powerful and take less than five minutes per day.

Even if you’re working out regularly, remember “What are you doing for the other 23?” With less than 3 to 5 minutes per day you can supplement your exercise program with simple things that may even be lifesaving.

John
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Eating Life’s Frogs

“If you have two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.”-Brian Tracy

A few years ago, there was a popular reality TV show called “Fear Factor.” In the show contestants, frogseeking their 15 minutes of fame, engaged in a variety of challenges designed to show their ability to conquer their fears. Some of the challenges, like rock climbing, rope swings, and skydiving, put them in physical danger. Other challenges, such as eating worms, bugs, snakes, and other such disgusting things, challenged their ability to overcome gustatory cultural norms. These grossly disgusting exhibitions provide some secrets for how we can meet some of life’s challenges more successfully.

I recently came across a book on goal setting called, “Eat that Frog: Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time,” written by efficiency expert Brian Tracy. The book contains the typical, yet sound, advice for setting and attaining goals. There is, however, one difference in Tracy’s theories: we should start with the biggest and most difficult task first and continue on from there. His idea is that once the most difficult task has been accomplished, then the rest becomes a downhill, easier process. Tracy stresses that the most important thing is to start, and start immediately.

Tracy’s second rule is, “If you have to eat a live frog at all, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long.” He suggests that we all develop a lifelong habit of tackling the day’s most difficult task first thing in the morning. By doing so the day has momentum, and already gets categorized in your mind as being a success. The book is available on Amazon, and if you are too lazy, (efficient?), to read the entire book, you can obtain a synopsis of the book online. It’s a good read, with a lot of practical advice. His first two rules are gems, and worth remembering and living by.

America’s first self-help author, Napoleon Hill, had another quote worth living by. Hill stated that, “There is one quality that one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants and a burning desire to achieve it.” Once you find what that purpose is, I’m sure you’ll notice that your goal has a few ugly frogs sitting in front of it, guarding it and keeping you from reaching it. Tracy’s advice? Pick the uglier frog and eat that first, preferably first thing in the morning. This builds momentum, empowerment, and confidence, because as the day goes on the frogs get better looking and more digestible.

fearA few years ago, I read a autobiography of renowned boxing trainer, Teddy Atlas. Atlas was the trainer and mentor for a number of the best fighters and champions of the 1980s and 90s such as Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, and Barry McGuigan. While Atlas certainly had technical advice to give his fighters, his strongest suit was his ability to motivate and inspire these athletes to conquer their fears. His theory of how to deal with fear was very similar to Brian Tracy’s- do what you are most afraid of first, get it out of the way, and it’s over. The fear may not be gone entirely, but it is now under your control. He would tell his fighters that carrying fear was much like the Chinese water torture of the mind. Fear would drip, drip, drip, and eventually destroy you. Atlas would tell his fighters to take on the fear by doing the very thing that they were most fearful of. Doing it sooner, rather than later, would put the biggest challenge behind you. Atlas, although no psychologist, certainly understood the nature of fear and doubt, and the paralyzing way that it can impact human performance.

If you used to watch “Fear Factor” on TV, then you probably remember that those that were more wormsuccessful at eating the disgusting things that were part of the challenges were those that simply dug in, shoved the stuff into their mouth, and swallowed it quickly. Some even smiled from ear to ear after doing so. No thought, no contemplation, a “just do, grasshopper,” attitude and it was over. Those who failed were those who overthought the process, allowing their disgust to build, and usually vomited right after they started to dig in. They then got ridiculed by Joe Rogan, and their 15 minutes of fame were over.

Next time you are planning a project, or taking on a challenging task at work or in your life ask yourself, “Where are the frogs here?” Decide which is the ugliest and eat it first, regardless of where it seems to fit in the project’s, grand scheme. Once it’s eaten, things can only get easier.

“Do or not do… there is no try.”-Yoda

John
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The Defrocking of Dr.Oz

“Too often celebrity gurus lure consumers into wasting their money and pinning their hopes on pseudoscientific concoctions that are at best useless, and at worst dangerous.”-Paul Fidalgo

Last week, TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz appeared before a Senate investigatory committee to defend imageshis claims that certain dietary supplements could cause “miracle” weight loss. Lawmakers called for the hearings as a result of a series of actions by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against fraudulent action in the nutritional supplement industry. Dr. Oz, one of the most trusted faces on American television, received the dressing down of his life, as senators used the opportunity to challenge his claims and increase their own visibility. While it was embarrassing for Dr. Oz, the hearings also pointed out the futility of the quick fix mentality that most Americans have toward diet and exercise. Perhaps the highlight was an accusation by Center for Inquiry spokesman, Paul Fidalgo, that Dr. Oz was “peddling snake oil” to consumers on his popular daytime talk show. It was extremely embarrassing for Dr. Oz, America’s High Priest of Health. One has to wonder if he can ever get his credibility back.

The nutritional supplement industry is one of America’s largest and most lucrative. Sales reached $11.5 billion in 2012, and are expected to to reach almost $16 billion by 2015. These are just total sales. The the profit margin generated by the industry is astronomical, as manufacturers are not required to identify much of what is actually in their products, and are not required to substantiate claims made about the efficacy of their products.FTC testimony stated, “The endless flood of unfounded claims being made in the weight loss industry vividly illustrates the challenges that we, and consumers, are up against.”

snake-oil1The industry also benefits from something that has become known as the “Dr. Oz Effect,” where sales skyrocket after receiving a televised endorsement by Dr. Oz. Key players in the supplement industry know that if they can get a celebrity endorsement, the American consumer is more likely to believe that the product works. This increases sales immediately, and the placebo effect (see “Really? The Power of Placebo, “June 23, 2014) convinces enough gullible consumers to become repeat customers.

While Dr. Oz may have deserved the public beating he received, he should not become the whipping boy for what is a far larger problem. The reality is that consumers need to take responsibility for what they purchase and use. It is difficult, if not impossible, to protect consumers from their own gullibility. Americans have been susceptible to this kind of marketing forever. Dr. Oz and the food supplement industry are merely the 21st century version of Dr. Love’s Traveling Salvation and Medicine Show. Certain segments of people who exercise tend to fall prey to these kinds of claims. People who are extremely overweight probably have a tendency towards being lazy. Miracle weight loss products that promise to “melt off pounds while you sleep,” are likely to ass33be things that they are going to try. Teenage boys, hoping to build those 20 inch biceps by next summer, are more likely to try that miracle potion that the latest Mr. Olympia is selling on the back of the magazine, as the industry preys on his optimism and impatience. Such marketing has been going on for decades and certainly did not begin with Dr. Oz and his cheesy, infomercial style.

Some players in the medical community have also jumped on the bandwagon and the line between legitimate, holistic medicine, and placebos has become blurred. Consumers, and their physicians, are looking for less costly alternatives to prescription medications, and enlightened doctors are prescribing appropriate nutritional supplements for their patients with positive effects. It is a rare PCP that does not suggest omega-3 fish oil, or vitamin D3, to their patients over age 40. Others are open to the idea that nutritional supplements can help with joint health, eye care, bone strength, and many other specific conditions. Appropriate use nutritional supplements can play a critical role in your personal wellness program. If you are training for fitness, sport, or strength, then supplements can be beneficial. Just don’t overdo it. A good protein powder, fish oil supplements, and a balanced diet where you consuming enough calories through healthy, natural foods, can allow you to attain your goals.

The defrocking of High Priest Dr. Oz should not be an indictment on the entire nutritional supplement industry. There are a lot of good outcomes from the appropriate use of nutritional supplementation. Beware of terms like “proprietary blend,” celebrity endorsements, outlandish claims, and advertisements that are just too over the top. Realize that nothing will replace hard work, self-discipline, and time. Remember that health and wellness is not a destination, but a lifelong process that hopefully, you can learn to enjoy.

John
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Cognitive What??

The human brain is wired to function best in a logical, orderly way. We act and feel our best when our inside world of thinking and feeling is consistent with the external world in which we live. The term cognitive dissonance refers to the feeling of discomfort that one gets when what we think and feel are in conflict with what we do. The reality is that who and what we think we are is sometimes in contradicted by what we do. Most people strive to be good persons, healthy in mind and body. We tended to struggle when our actions contradict ourselves beliefs.

Cognitive dissonance was first studied in 1957 by psychologist Leon Festinger. His theory is based on the endidea that the human mind seeks consistency of beliefs with actions. Festinger was studying a cult that believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and the emotional impact on its members when the flood did not occur. There were two general responses, one group accepted that their calculations were wrong, left the cult, and moved on with their lives. Most chalked it up to being young and foolish in their beliefs. A second group, however, began to reevaluate and reinterpret their calculations. This second group came to the conclusion that the world was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members. It was their beliefs and convictions-which were correct all along-that persuaded God to save the world. The second group, experiencing cognitive dissonance, created a new belief that alleviated the discomfort and painful emotions that would have otherwise occurred.

All humans engage in cognitive dissonance from time to time, even healthy ones. Most of the time theySmoking-in-front-of-children are not quite as dramatic as a world ending flood. They can be problematic, however. Any time our behaviors conflict with our beliefs, we run the risk of cognitive dissonance. If you sneak a cigarette because you don’t want your kids to see you smoking, that uncomfortable feeling you have is probably cognitive dissonance. If you eat an entire pizza after a two-hour workout at the gym, that feeling may be cognitive dissonance. You consider yourself a kind person, but get angry when the guy panhandling for change asks you for money. Could result in cognitive dissonance. In each case your beliefs about yourself are inconsistent with your actions. We tend to come up with false, yet logical, ways to explain why we do what we do. “I only smoke three cigarettes per day,” or “I worked out hard, so I deserve it,” or “Let the bum go out and get a job,” are ways that we explain the above situations to ourselves.

The rationalizations that we tell ourselves are usually not a problem, and may even serve a protective pizzafactor. We all feel cognitive dissonance to a certain extent. It may be better to rationalize that entire pizza you ate, as opposed to believing that you are fat slob, and that working out and trying to get fit is futile. It is when cognitive dissonance causes deeper emotional pain that these feelings need to be addressed. Some people simply cannot let go of their cognitive dissonance, and focusing on these conflicting feelings can become a habit, leading to emotional conflict and feelings of guilt and shame.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the better ways to combat cognitive dissonance. Like most human behaviors, self awareness is the most important factor. In many cases knowing the relation between your thoughts and your actions can create valuable insights. Rather than think of the uncomfortable feeling as a self indictment, view it as a signal that you need to take a closer look at the connection between your values and your behavior. You are not a bad person, but some value you have is now in conflict with your actions. It is also very important to not over think or be overly critical of yourself. Conflicts between beliefs and actions are characteristic of being human. Accept this, and attempt to bring your actions into harmony with your beliefs. Don’t be critical of yourself if you use thoughts that are defensive to protect yourself from the uncomfortable feelings. Realize that these thoughts can have value if considered appropriately.

Written exercises, where you identify what your core values are, can help you to know what you are all about. When you experience that discomfort that cognitive dissonance creates, it becomes much easier to identify where the conflict is, and make an informed decision about what to do about it. Don’t be so hard on yourself, nobody’s perfect, life would be pretty boring if you were.

John
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Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine

“Laughter is the best medicine.”-Bennett Cerf

Laughs, giggles, grins, guffaws, chuckles-whatever you call it, it’s not just childish behavior, but a necessary part of human wellness. A good laugh not only adds a little fun to your day, it has been proven to improve both short term and long term physical and mental health. A 2014 study conducted in California by Loma Linda University has finally proven what we’ve known all along, laughter is powerful medicine.

oldThe Loma Linda Laughter Study looked at 20 healthy older adults in their 60s and 70s, studying their stress levels and short-term memories. One group sat quietly while silently reading or listening to headphones. The second group watched humorous videos. After 20 minutes the groups were compared for their short-term memory. While both groups showed improvement in short-term memory, the laughter group had improved 43.6%, compared to 20.3% in the know on a laughter group. More importantly, the laughter group showed a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol by a ratio of more than 2 to 1. Another study, conducted by Vanderbilt University, showed that laughter increases our ability to burn calories, and another study by the University of Maryland showed that laughter can protect us from heart disease.

The Loma Linda Laughter Study also found that laughter has age defying benefits. “There are several benefits to humor and laughter,” explained the study’s co-author Gurinder S. Bains. “Older adults need to have a better quality of life. Incorporating time to laugh, through social interaction with friends, enjoying exercise in a group setting, or even watching 20 minutes of humor on TV daily, can enhance your learning ability and delayed recall.”

Multiple studies have shown that laughter can improve quality of life in multiple areas. Some of them are:laugh_me
1. Improved blood pressure
2. Reduction of stress hormones
3. Improved cardiac health
4. Releases pain relieving endorphins
5. Improves the immune response
6. Decreases depression
7. Enhances relationships
8. Provides a burst of energy
9. Positively effects blood sugar
10. Provides instant stress relief.

How can this research be incorporated into your wellness program? Funny you should ask. If you already possess a good sense of humor, use it more frequently. If you don’t have a good sense of humor, you can learn to have one and use it as a health building skill. Find things that make you laugh-TV shows, comic strips you enjoy, and funny movies. Refer to them daily. There are literally hundreds of humorous things on the Internet that you can refer to easily that can make you laugh. Sharing humor at your own expense is quite possibly, the most beneficial, as it reframes your situation and allows you to see things more realistically.

Be careful not to confuse sarcasm with humor. Don’t laugh at others’ expense or engage in inappropriate jokes and humor. Humor that results in pessimism defeats the purpose and does not lead to the positive benefits mentioned here.

I hope you found this helpful. Although I am not a doctor, I am going to suggest the following prescription:images
“Take two ha ha’s and call me in the morning.”-mindbodycoach.org

No co-pay required!

John
P.S. Please share this article if you found it helpful. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email me comments at john@mindbodycoach.org.