online coaching using mind and body for a life worth living

Mind, Body, and Mr. Miyagi

“Karate Kid” was a classic 1984 film that took the entertainment world by storm. The film has been remade over and over again and has been seen by millions of viewers around the world. It is the story of a young boy trying to fit in and trying to find his way through life without a male influence. It’s the basic tale of many movies, boy gets picked on, boy meets girl, girl believes in boy, boy figures out some way to fight back, boy fights back and wins, and everyone lives happily ever after. ka kid

The film also, if watched carefully, gives some of the secrets of Okinawan longevity. The mentor to the main character, Daniel, is a mysterious Okinawan handyman named Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi practices a strange discipline which he calls karate do. He refuses initially teach Daniel karate because, “karate not about fighting.” And of course eventually Daniel wears him down learns the mysterious art and beats up the bad guys.

The island of Okinawa has the longest lifespan of any place in the civilized world. Okinawans remain active into their late 70s and beyond. A study of Okinawan Centenarians set out to find out why.

The traditional diet of Okinawa is high in soy and low in meat and saturated fats. On average Okinawans have 80% less heart attacks than Americans. Okinawans tend to drink lots of water and green tea. Gluttony, and over indulging with food is frowned upon. There is an Okinawan expression which translates to “stop eating when 80% full.” Until recently Okinawans had few modern entertainment luxuries such as computers and cable TV. Okinawans tend to stay active for recreational and entertainment purposes as they age, participating in walking, gardening, dancing, and martial arts-particularly karate do. Older Okinawans tend to lead less stressed lives. No rush hour, no alarm clocks, waking with sunrise, and sleeping with sunset. Following the natural rhythms of life and having a positive outlook is a huge part of why Okinawans live longer.

The “do” in karate do translates to the word “way,” as in a way of life. Here is where Mr. Miyagi gives some secrets of Okinawan longevity. He leads a life of daily discipline, enjoying the discipline and finding it meaningful. He rises every morning and starts his day with a mindful routine of karate training based on rhythmic moves, practicing karate techniques. These routines are called “kata,” and are the heart and soul of karate do. To the uninitiated kata looks much like tai chi or rhythmic dance. After this training Miyagi has a light, simple meal, drinks some tea, practices some meditation and goes about his day. At the end of the day Miyagi may practice kata again at sunset, play his mandolin, or spend some time carefully trimming his bonsai tree. Throughout the day he avoids negative thinking, and worrying about the things that he cannot control. Karate is the frame for his day-a beginning and an end.

old ladySo why the benefit of such a lifestyle? How does karate do contribute to a longer life span? Part of the answer lies in the benefits of kata on physical health and brain health. The physical benefit of rhythmic movement done with varying degrees of intensity is obvious. What’s not so obvious is the benefits of such movement on brain health and neuroplasticity. Such movement engages mind and body allowing the brain to generate new neural pathways improving brain function and capabilities. (See also “Tough Guys Should Dance” January 4, 2014.)

In addition to increasing the lifespan the Okinawan lifestyle adds “life to the years.” Leisure activities that are mind body based, particularly those that stress physical balance, insulate the practitioner from falls-one of the leading causes of injuries as we age. The emphasis on stances, postures, and fluid movements creates a more energetic and mobile senior citizen. Balance training is very subtle but necessary if an energetic lifestyle is to be maintained.

So what’s the take home, “news you can use,” points here? A simple web search of the Okinawan diet will yield tons of good information and examples of how to change your dietary habits. The challenge here is finding mindful physical and mental activities to get immersed in and make them a part of your lifestyle. Miyagi patiently trimming the bonsai tree may be similar to you cooking, drawing, journaling, woodworking, knitting, building a model plane, or any other mindful activity that does not tax you physically. Miyagi’s kata may be your yoga practice, tai chi, stretching routine, or it could be your kata practice. The key elements in the physical practice that you select is that the moves are practiced deliberately, slowly, and are studied. In this context studied means thought about in a meditative, time altering, mind-body practice. Noticing the subtle improvements and day to day changes in your balance and body awareness are the keys to making full use of this activity.

Learning a mind-body study can be done in a formal setting such as a karate class. Look for and Okinawan system such as Uechi Ryu or Gojo Ryu which emphasizes karate as a way of living more so than a self-defense method. If that’s not your cup of tea perhaps a tai chi class or even downloading tai chi or kata videos from YouTube would be a good idea. Yoga also fills the same need and can be learned both in class and through videos. Find something that is both fun, physical, and challenging for your mind as much as your body. Study the movements, get into the feeling of the movements, and learn what it feels like to get in touch with your physical being.gushi

The goal here is not to “beat up the bullies,” or is it? Maybe kicking Father Time’s butt isn’t a bad idea. A comprehensive lifestyle change can lead to an improved attitude and outlook on life that can’t help but lead to a better quality of life.

P. S. Email me if looking for more information atjohn@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Work Smarter Not Harder!

“If it doesn’t  work force it! It probably needs to be replaced anyway.” – Anonymous

“My boy’s wicked smart.” Morgan –  from Good Will Hunting.

goalsLots of people have great goals, great dreams, and great ideas. We often fall into the trap that if we are doing a lot of work that we must be making progress. Being “incredibly busy” makes us feel important and gives us a sense of purpose. This logic does serve a meaningful purpose but it’s not the greatest way to attain goals. The most successful people and organizations focus on working smarter not harder. The “chicken with its head cut off” mentality makes us busy and makes us feel important but usually doesn’t get the job done.So what’s the solution to this trap we often fall in when trying to get something done? The answer: SMARTER, not HARDER goal setting strategies. SMARTER is a simple, specific strategy that breaks goals down, establishes a plan, sets deadlines, and simply gets the job done. It has use for individuals, businesses, teams, and is applicable over a wide range of goals.

Let’s get started. In the spirit of Chunking (see blog post “Breaking Up Is Easy Do” January 24, 2014.) we’ll break this down and get started. SMARTER is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timed, Evaluated, and Repeated as needed.

Here’s a template to follow:
SPECIFIC-does your goal state and specific terms what you are trying to achieve? If your goal is too large chunk it down into manageable, smaller, sub goals.
MEASURABLE-how will you and others know if progress is being made? How can you quantify this?
ATTAINABLE-is your goal realistic? Do you have to depend on anyone else? What factors might prevent you from achieving it? Is there a way to reframe the goal so that it depends on you and not others?
RELEVANT-why is this goal important to you? How will this goal affect your life and others? Emotion is important here, as we are an emotional species, and these questions will play a huge role in pushing us along when things get challenging.
TIMED-when will the goal be reached? What are the deadlines? Remember “A dream is a goal without a deadline.” Properly set deadlines are great motivators along the way to attaining a goal.
EVALUATED-occasionally take stock in where you are at in this process. Don’t be afraid to make changes as needed. The goal is a specific OUTCOME, not merely following some template.
REPEATED AS NEEDED-review, readjust, reassess etc. Be flexible and willing to adjust and adapt to get the job done.

Let’s take a simple example of weight loss. Many people set out to lose weight with vague wishy washy goals thatscale are too global in nature. For example, “I want to look better,” is too vague.I want to lose 15 pounds or I want to get under 20% body fat are more in line with the SMARTER philosophy. As you can see specifically stating a weight loss goal in this manner makes it fit the model.

Other examples of goals more likely to be achieved are:
I’ll I’ll join the gym and workout three times a week for the next three months.
We will set aside 45 minutes per day to talk with each other for the next three weeks.
I will deduct 10% of my income to put into my retirement account for the next three years.
Take a moment and come up with your own examples. What might you be able to accomplish if you took a more thoughtful approach toward some of the things you’d like to accomplish in your life?
A big part of all of this is YOU HAVE TO WRITE IT DOWN! Writing goals out and looking at them in your own handwriting does something magical. It becomes a call to action from the best motivator you could ever have-YOU! Bottom line is this is the only person that can truly get you to do ANYTHING!

Begin using this any time you trying to get something done that you find challenging. Before giving up on the idea, break it down, write it out, and take a look at it. Breaking goals down in a SMARTER format makes goals seem much more realistic and attainable. You’re more likely to succeed if you expect to succeed.
Break it down, and get going!
P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

The Dangers of Self Inflicted Head Butts

Are you a “yeah, but…” guy?
head buttA Yeah But Guy is one who has an ongoing internal dialogue that is punctuated by the phrase “yeah but.” These two simple, yet deadly words prevent him from having, being, and doing literally thousands of things in his life. A Yeah But guy isn’t even aware that this is going on. This internal process is so ingrained and part of his emotional makeup that he doesn’t even notice the impact that it has. We all know someone like this, you know, the person who says “Yeah but after hitting the lottery for $15 million you’re only going to get $7 million after taxes.” Another statement that can drive you crazy is, “See, I told you I couldn’t do it!” This guy lives his life waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for something bad to happen,and has earned nicknames like Debbie Downer, Negative Nancy, and other names that can’t be mentioned here.

So where does this come from? How does it develop? And, more importantly why does it continue? Clearly somejeeps people have a harder time in life than others. Life deals each of us a unique set of cards to play. In fairness, some Yeah But Guys may have had it harder than others during their walk of life. However, the Yeah But Guy gets fixated on the negative. This is actually a well researched aspect of human behavior which is called Expectation Bias. The premise behind Expectation Bias is that we are prejudiced because of our experience and tend to notice what we expect to find. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon as our brains are wired towards the familiar. A great example of this is when you buy a new car. Whatever make or model you have suddenly appears to be everywhere. If you go out and buy that ragtop Jeep you begin to notice that ragtop Jeeps appear to be everywhere. A trip on the highway reaffirms this as your mind notices ragtop Jeeps which it would not have noticed in the past. Owning your own causes your brain to look for that which is familiar-and Jeeps start popping up everywhere! Naturally, the number of Jeeps on the road has not increased, but you are now more aware and are more likely to notice them.

Another way that Yeah But Guys create reinforcement for this is through a process called Selective Memory. Selective Memory is a process whereby we focus on past events that reinforce our current beliefs. For example if one holds the belief that “I am a failure,” they are likely to focus on life experiences where they have failed and are likely to ignore their successes. Such thought processes become ingrained and set the Yeah But Guy up for more of the same. And since we tend to get what we expect, as Sonny Bono said, “the beat goes on,” and the Yeah But Guy plods along unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
beat on
So how do we change this? The first step in changing all behaviors and attitudes is awareness. We cannot change if we are not aware that something needs to change. In your own personal internal dialogue begin to notice how often you might use the phrase “yeah but.” You’d be surprised how frequently it creeps in and can be an automatic thought. You’ll soon begin to notice how frequently other people use the expression as well. The next step is challenging the logic of what follows the “yeah but.” Would it really be a disaster if you walked away with $7 million after hitting the lottery for $15 million? Should you really not enjoy today because it’s going to rain tomorrow? Should you not enjoy your life today because were all going to die anyway? I think you get the picture, the first step is noticing, and challenging this flawed logic.

If changing the thoughts is difficult then writing the thoughts out and answering the thoughts can be very beneficial. Thoughts have a tendency to become real things and putting thoughts on paper turns them into what they actually are, merely thoughts. Thoughts are not real, but can become powerful forces that influence the way we see the world the and our ability to function in it.( For more information on techniques and strategies to deal with this click on Therapies from the Categories link to the right of this article.)

excusesSo take a look at this “Yeah But Syndrome” and see if it’s part of your mental makeup. If it is, then GET OFF YOUR BUT and change it!

P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org for more information. Please follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Breaking Up Is Easy To Do

“Breaking up is hard to do”-Neil Sedaka

Breaking up can be hard to do, but when it comes to goal setting it is essential. Breaking up when trying to attain goals makes difficult tasks easier, more manageable, and makes complex goals attainable. Proper use of breaking up or “chunking,” is something that happens automatically in many cases. It is much more effective if used consciously to attain a goal.

piecesChunking refers to moving in a specific direction along the way to attaining a goal. Chunking can be done “up,” or “down.” For example if your goal was to build something you would identify the materials needed, tools required, and you would lay out a pattern of step-by-step actions leading to the final product. In planning a meal for instance, you would identify the desired meal and then work backwards identifying the ingredients, the procedure or recipes to follow and “chunk up” in the process of putting it all together. Another example could be planning for a vacation. You would start with a dollar amount needed, and map out step by step, week by week, systematic saving plan which would have you ultimately arriving at the required dollar figure at the right time. These are examples of chunking up.

argumentChunking down, while similar, works in the opposite direction. Chunking down works very well in mediation, interpersonal conflict, and with negotiation. For example, if you and your partner are in disagreement on a particular matter, chunking up would be helpful as you move forward to a point where you both agree and then work back to negotiate differences. For instance, you both want to go to a movie so now it’s a matter of chunking down until you find a movie that you both are willing to see. If you’re a parent you’ve probably done this with your children. “I hate brussel sprouts and won’t eat them!” might have been met with “okay, so how about broccoli, you like that don’t you?” You and your child agree on something and have worked backwards to negotiate a resolution. The larger goal was to get your child to eat something healthy, and you both agreed that broccoli would solve the problem.

For complex goals, breaking the goals down into manageable, written chunks may be required. Many goals that we fail to attain are achievable. The reason we fail is not that it is impossible, but that we get overwhelmed with what to do next. We get bogged down in the details, bored with a lack of progress, and lose our enthusiasm. Eventually we give up and rationalize what seems to be a logical reason that we didn’t want it in the first place, or that it wasn’t worth it anyway. When you are moving from task to task the mentality is that you are accomplishing something, making progress and moving forward. This keeps interest and enthusiasm high and makes accomplishing your goal much more likely. When you begin to understand the process of chunking you begin to gain some insight into how you think and how you need to adapt in order to create personal change.

A key point to remember is Think Laterally. When working toward a goal take some time to break it down into small, manageable chunks. Think of doing the “next right thing.” It’s often helpful to process in the third person, as if you were instructing someone else rather than yourself. This creates more objectivity, takes out some of the emotion, and makes you more goal oriented. If need be write it out, draw a diagram, and “see” the bigger picture.

Another point to keep in mind is Negotiate, or chunk up. When in conflict with someone else ask yourself the question, “what do we agree upon?” Starting from that point and then working back can often lead to a desired outcome for both of you. Again, it is critical to remove emotion, maintain objectivity, and deal with the facts.

Chunking, or “breaking up,” doesn’t have to be hard to do. With practice we can find numerous ways to use this skill to problem solve and help with goal attainment. Goal attainment is all about proper planning, systematic thoughts and actions, and managing the emotions that can get in our way. Start implementing this strategy immediately. Try this with big things, small things, and in your relationships with other people. Make it a habit. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve!shatner

“We’re gonna win. You know why? Superior attitude. Superior state of mind.” -Mason Storm
P. S. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org if interested in counseling or personal coaching.

“Are You Going To Practice Today?”

“You gonna go to practice today?”
As an athlete in high school I probably was asked this question almost every day. As a kid in high school, athletics and practice were one of the highlights of being in school. Every afternoon for 2 to 3 hours you got to hang out with your buddies, do something physical, forget about everything else, and just enjoy being in the moment. And as I look back on the high school years I probably remember more from athletics and practice than from what happened in the classroom. The benefits of such a mindful activity is incredible. Too bad as adults we don’t have the same opportunity,- or do we?FB pract

As adults, we would be well served to find something in our lives that serves the same purpose that practice once did. Having something to look forward to, a focus to the day, and a mindful and sometimes mind less activity has great benefit for our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. We should all seek to find our own daily “practice.” The practice may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. It’s important that as adults we find activities that we can immerse ourselves in, where time slows, the outside world stops, and we are completely in the moment. The benefits in terms of stress reduction and physical release can’t help but improve the quality of our lives. Such an activity is often referred to as “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a state of being truly present and engrossed in an activity to the extent that nothing else matters or is important at that moment in time. Mindfulness can take many forms and is simple to do. We just have to find ways to make it meaningful to us.

lincolnGreat thinkers throughout history have made mindfulness-based activities part of their daily routine. President John Adams walked 6 miles per day, usually alone, to gather his thoughts. Henry David Thoreau extolled the virtues of walking, Abraham Lincoln enjoyed chopping wood, and Theodore Roosevelt regularly boxed with Secret Service agents while he was president. Benjamin Franklin had a great expression about finding time for ourselves, “Eight hours for sleep, eight hours for work, and eight hours for what you will.” I have to think that if Abraham Lincoln could find time for mindful activity then most of us could do the same.

Our daily practice, alone time, me time, or what ever we choose to call it, is vitally important to our mental health. It can be physical but doesn’t have to be. The Dalai Lama speaks of daily meditation as a “daily practice.” He recommends the following:
1. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day remembering we all want the same things (to be happy and to be loved) and we are all connected to one another.d lama
2. Spend 5 minutes breathing in cherishing yourself, and breathing out cherishing others. If you think about people you have difficulty cherishing, extend your cherishing to them anyway.
3. During the day extend that attitude to everyone you meet. Practice cherishing the “simplest” person (clerks, attendants, etc.) as well as the “important” people in your life, cherish the people you love and the people you dislike.
4. Continue this practice no matter what happens or what anyone does to you.

The Dalai Lama’s practice, while not physical, is highly effective and certainly stress reducing. Is anyone more chill than the Dalai Lama? His advice is good for someone who does not want a physical daily practice. A daily practice doesn’t have to be exercise either. There is a Zen expression, “when washing the rice bowl, be washing the rice bowl.” Simple advice that shows virtually anything can be a mindful activity. A mindful activity that is a special part of each day, separate unto itself, is ideal. It could simply be a 10 minute walk at lunch, sitting in your backyard listening to the birds, or even weightlifting in a crowded gym. As long as you are engrossed in the activity and perform the action daily, you are engaging in a daily practice.

As an adult, you owe it to yourself to find a meaningful activity to be your daily practice. Think about the benefits of elementary school recess, or high school athletic practices, and how you look forward to those activities and what a break they were in your day. Practice doesn’t have to be difficult or tedious. It just has to be meaningful. The stress reduction benefits and improved sense of physical and mental well-being are well worth the time and will make the rest of your life more productive.

So, are you going to practice today? Find a few things you look forward to, schedule something in each day regardless of how busy you think you are, and notice the positive benefits.

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Reality TV Is Good For Emotional Health!

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” -Napoleon Hill

daydreaming kid isolated on whitedaydreaming kid isolated on whitekidRemember daydreaming as a kid back in elementary school? Sitting there in class, physically present but in reality a million miles away, in a futuristic world of incredible possibilities with no limitations, and no restrictions. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to go back to that mindset?daydreaming kid isolated on whitedaydreaming kid isolated on white

As we grow and develop, somewhere around middle school age, we begin to become aware of what others think about us. We begin to internalize negative evaluations from our peers, teachers, parents, and significant people in our lives. And as we internalize we begin to develop our own negative internal dialogue, you know the world of “what if?” “Yeah but,” “I don’t think I can,” and “but what will people think?”

A lot of solid scientific research shows that returning to the daydreaming patterns that we had in elementary school can be quite healthy and beneficial for the quality of our adult lives. Numerous scientific studies show that the human brain cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. In other words, our brain experiences that which is imagined in the same way that it experiences that which is real. Brain scans show virtually identical activity when someone is imagining doing something as opposed to actually doing that activity. The brain can’t tell the difference.

Visualization, or “mental rehearsal,” is an excellent way to program our brains and our psyche for future success. Athletes have known this for decades and many successful athletes have done this instinctively. Visualization has long been a part of many athletic endeavors (think the golfer lining up a putt, a boxer shadowboxing, or a karate student practicing kata.) There is and often cited study where two groups of basketball players worked on free throw shooting. One group actually shot free throws for six weeks and and other visualized shooting free throws for six weeks. Those that actually shot baskets improved only one percent more than those that visualized! Other studies have shown that increased muscle tone can result for those that merely imagine lifting weights. Sports psychology has been way ahead of the game when it comes to utilizing visualization as a way to improve performance.lebron

So how can this be used to improve life for the rest of us? Clients that I have worked with have done well with the following suggestions and report improved self-confidence and comfort with novel and challenging situations and events. The first step is to find a quiet place, free of distraction. This can be done with eyes open but is more effective with eyes closed. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and relax. Focusing on your breathing at this point helps to quiet your mind and open up that amazing world of possibilities that we experienced as children. Visualize yourself on a movie or television screen performing flawlessly the skill you hoped to develop. Make this as vivid as possible, after all it’s your movie and you’re the star. As the producer of this movie you may want to tinker with the lights and sounds and scenery. Focus on the present and perform as if you cannot fail. Work to develop emotions to assist in making this a vivid experience for you. It is important to perform in the present, with skill and confidence. Remember that failure, doubt, and negativity don’t exist in your movie. See yourself and feel yourself confidently achieving your goal. Focus on what it feels like emotionally to be successful.

Some key points to keep in mind are:
1. Keep things in the present. You are not planning to do this, you are doing it, in the present moment, flawlessly and successfully.
2. Focus on the emotions associated with success. People are more motivated when there is an emotion attached to the action. Simplistic but very necessary in this exercise.
3. No negative imagery! You are programming yourself for future success and you will get what you visualize. This is very, very, important.
4. This exercise needs to be as vividly experienced as possible. Great times to do this are in the morning before starting your day or in the evening when you are drifting off to sleep. Just before sleep our brain enters a state similar to hypnosis where fatigue prevents self-criticism and we are open to suggestion. Your movie is the positive suggestion that your tired mind accepts without questioning.
5. Do this activity at least twice a day in a quiet place and with a quiet mind. Brief “practice sessions” throughout the day are also very beneficial, even if for a few seconds. Remember you are working to program your brain and this will take time.
6. Have fun with this! Somewhere inside you that elementary school kid is still there!

Visualization can be used to improve almost anything that we must do in the future. It works well with athletics, fitness, job interviews, difficult conversations, asking that special someone out on a date, and almost anything else you could possibly imagine. You are programming yourself for future success.thinker quote

Becoming the star of your own Reality TV program can improve the quality of your life. Successful people tend to think differently than unsuccessful people. What separates success from failure is often the mindset that one brings to the event. Create your own reality, change your mindset, and become the star of your life!

“The man who thinks he can, and the man who thinks he can’t, are both right”-Henry Ford.

P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Please subscribe to my blog, like me on Facebook, and follow me on twitter.

The Secret Big Drug Companies Don’t Want You To Know!

The 21st century is the era of instant gratification. We live in a “do it, have it, be it immediately,” age. We have instant breakfast, instant messaging, 300 channels on our TVs, iPhones, iPads, and instant almost anything else you can think of. A huge beneficiary of this attitude is the pharmaceutical industry. Stressed-out Americans are approximately 70% of most primary care physicians caseload, and stressed-out physicians are more likely to prescribe medication than anything else. Overworked primary care doctors are often all too willing to accommodate demanding patients who want their problems solved in 15 minutes  and for a $15 co-pay. Out the door, on their way, problem solved. Television commercials tout the benefits of medications that solve virtually everything. Weight loss, headaches, poor sleep, sexual problems, psychological problems, and on and on. Drug companies profit, patients get better temporarily, and return again and again and the cycle repeats. The only people profiting seem to be the pharmaceutical companies.mind bdy brn

What the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to know is that there is a medication that if properly prescribed would outsell and outperform all other medications COMBINED, and WITHOUT NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS! The medication (drum roll!!!!) is EXERCISE! Yeah, that’s right, EXERCISE! Numerous studies show that exercise has tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and can significantly increase the quality of one’s life. There are, however, some side effects. Proper use of exercise has been linked to weight loss, improved muscle tone, improved concentration and focus, improve self-esteem, improved mental health, and a host of other positive outcomes.

old yogaHere is a list of some of the positive “side effects” of proper exercise:
1. Stress reduction-as little as 15 minutes 1 to 2 times a day can increase production of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.
2. Positive brain function-exercise induces endorphins and other brain chemicals that create positive feelings and alleviate symptoms of depression. Exercise has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
3. Improved self-esteem-more positive feelings about our bodies has a direct correlation on our self-esteem. Looking better = feeling better about ourselves.
4. Prevents cognitive decline-declining mental capacity is a natural byproduct of aging. But studies show that exercise particularly those that use mind and body such as yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and dance have the ability to prevent cognitive decline and actually generate new neural pathways in people of any age. (See also blog post “Tough Guys Should Dance” January 4, 2014.)
5. Reduce anxiety-periodic bouts of mild to moderate exercise improve the body’s ability to calm itself down. A fit body returns to a state of relaxation quicker than an unfit body. The mind becomes trained to calm down as well, right along with it.
6. Improve brain capacity-exercise increases blood flow throughout the body and a brain well-nourished by blood flow makes decisions and thinks more clearly.
7. Controls addiction-the brain releases dopamine in response to any form of pleasure whether it be from food, drugs, sex, gambling, or alcohol. People in early recovery benefit from improved sleep, decreased stress, improved concentration, and the ability to produce good feelings naturally and healthfully.
8. Improved sleep-exercise improves the body’s ability to relax both physically and mentally creating conditions more conducive to a healthy night’s sleep.
9. Increased productivity-regular exercise is conducive to a regular schedule and those who stick with exercise tend to be more productive throughout the day.
10. Improved creativity-moderate exercise has been proven to increase creativity for up to two hours after the exercise session ends. The daily “constitutional” has been a staple for great thinkers throughout human history.

old pup“Exercise has been shown to have tremendous benefits for mental health,” says Jasper Smits, director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “The more therapists who are trained in exercise therapy, the better off patients will be. The traditional treatments of cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy don’t reach everyone who needs them, says Smits,.”Exercise can fill the gap for people who can’t receive traditional therapies because of cost or lack of access, or who don’t want to because of the perceived social stigma associated with these treatments,” he says. “Exercise also can supplement traditional treatments, helping patients become more focused and engaged.”
The evidence is overwhelming, moderate exercise is the single most beneficial thing that a person can do to improve their physical and mental health. No medication known has the ability to do what exercise can. Exercise does not have to be intense to be effective. It’s not about “no pain no gain,” but it is about making exercise part of a well-balanced lifestyle.

Get yourself a physical exam from your doctor, pick something fun that you will stick with and get going! Your body, and your brain, will thank you.

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So, What’s In Your Wallet?

So, what is in your wallet? We’ve all seen the commercial on television where comedian Jerry Stiller asks that question. The answer may have more to do with how you think than how much money you have. This is the third blog post in a three-part series on cognitive behavioral therapy for self-improvement (see posts from January 6 and January 9, 2014). In January 9 post, “Stinkin’ Thinkin'”, we discussed the T F A C model of cognitive therapy. In this post we are going to examine the various ways that we as humans “think.” It’s much more than self talk.
There are various ways by which we think. We are all familiar with self talk, the internal dialogue that becomes a part of our every waking moment. We literally “talk” to ourselves in an ongoing stream of consciousness that never really stops. It is such a part of our existence that we usually don’t even think of it, it occurs sometimes beneath our level of awareness. Of course, there are many ways that we can change negative self talk. Many are familiar with affirmations, which are upbeat slogans and expressions that we say to ourselves such as “I can do it,” “I am a good person,” “you can do it,” and the ever popular, “I’m a good person, and dammit people like me!” While affirmations do have their place, positive self talk is only one method of changing the way we speak to ourselves.

An effective method of changing negative self talk is called the Cognitive Reframe. The Cognitive Reframe is simply looking at something in a way that serves us better. For example, if you’re running late for work on Monday morning, rather than get upset the reframe technique would be something along the lines of “Well, I have more time to listen to sports talk radio,” or “Well at least I have a job to go to,” or some other way of describing the situation to yourself in a way that makes you feel better. A simple strategy for the reframe is to ask yourself “What’s good about this?” or “What’s positive about this?” While this almost may sound simplistic ,it goes a long way towards changing how we feel about situations that could snowball into negativity. In traditional psychotherapy a reframe is often referred to as Cognitive Restructuring and a lot of research shows that it is a highly effective way of changing the way one feels. The premise behind all cognitive therapy is that the meaning we attach to events is more important than the event itself. Language is a huge part of how we attach meaning to events in our lives.Our perception becomes our reality.

Another way that we as humans “think” is through visual images. Most people are familiar with the term “in your mind’s eye.” The title of this article is based on a strategy that I use to convince people that we do in fact think through visual images. When asked the question “what’s in your wallet?” Most people inevitably will gaze off to either the right or the left and “see” in their mind in image of their wallet and then describe what’s in that wallet. They may not know the exact amount of money, but they know the color, what pictures they have, where their license or credit card may be, and a lot of other information that they gather not with words but with a visual image that they have in their mind and can recall when asked. Another question I often use is, “what’s on your refrigerator,?” or “what was the condition you left your bed in when you woke up this morning?” People usually get the idea after questions like these and realize that we do in fact think in visual images as well as with language patterns.

We also think in sounds, smells, tastes, and through a physical sense of touch. What’s the sound of an electric guitar?, Remember the smell of your grandmother’s house? What’s the taste difference between a good and bad cup of coffee?  Remember what it felt like after your last surgery?  Changing these memories changes our interpretation of our experiences and thus the way we feel about them, ourselves, and the world around us.

So how can we use this knowledge to help us? With visual images a simple trick is to imagine the events in the third person, as if we were an actor on the screen of a movie visualizing ourselves outside of our own body. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy this is called becoming “the Observer.” People quite often find that when they become the observer in their thoughts, how they feel as a result of those thoughts changes and they become more objective and less enmeshed in negative perceptions. In this way one can gain objectivity and have a more rational outlook about what otherwise might have been an emotionally disturbing recollection. With auditory recollections it can be helpful to change the quality, rate, and tone of that inner dialogue. Some find that by changing the disparaging internal remarks  hearing them in the voice of a cartoon character takes some of the pain from that and neutralizes it. After all, it’s hard to take Donald Duck seriously when he’s telling you that you’re too fat, too stupid, and are never going to amount to anything!don Duck

With a little imagination you can work out your own strategies to deal with negative self talk, disturbing visual images, smells, and tastes. Physical pain can often be controlled using cognitive strategies such as changing how we describe our pain to ourselves, or either enlarging or minimizing the painful area in our mind. If a sharp pain in a small area is cognitively converted into a dull pain over a larger area then the internal perception of the pain will change as well. Cognitive strategies, with practice, can be quite effective in pain management.

So if you study your preferred sensory modalities, I’m sure you can find many ways of thinking that are unique to you. When you experience disturbing thoughts, or memories, or negative self talk, try to find ways that you can think about them differently by altering your perceptions. The beauty of this knowledge is that you now have a strategy that you can call on instantly when needed to change negative perceptions. Cognitive Therapy is a skill and using these strategies as often as possible keeps them sharp and available when you need them. While without doubt psychotherapy has great value, there is a lot that you can do for yourself to improve the quality of your life. Give it a try!

So, to quote another well-known cartoon character, “That’s all folks!!”

Contact me at john@mindbodycoach.org if you’re interested in learning more about Cognitive Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.


P. S. Please follow me on twitter @johnmindbody and like me on Facebook.

Is Your Thinkin’ Stinkin’?

A few years ago a Cognitive Behavioral therapist by the name of Michael Edelstein wrote a book called “Three Minute Therapy.” While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy isn’t quite that simple the title of the book illustrates a great point, we have the ability to resolve many of the problems that we face more easily than we might imagine. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stresses that we can control, or at least challenge, dysfunctional thought patterns that shape the quality of our emotional landscape.

Most of us are not aware that we have literally hundreds of conversations with ourselves every day. For example, when you got out of bed this morning do you remember what you said to yourself? When you first looked at yourself in the bathroom mirror this morning you probably said something to yourself. There was an internal discussion that occurred so automatically that you probably didn’t even notice. Having these kinds of conversations with yourself is normal. Everybody does it even if they not initially aware of it. Internal discussions such as, “I am not good enough,” “I’ll never get a better job,” “I look disgusting,” are examples of our thoughts working against us. If you examine your internal discussions you may find that you are your own worst critic, and that you would never speak to anyone else the way that you speak to yourself!erratic_thinking

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy this kind of logic is sometimes called distorted thoughts or dysfunctional thinking. Most cognitive behavioral interventions attempts to teach the client to identify and challenge their negative thinking patterns. Some  simply refer to such logic “stinkin’ thinkin’.”

The following are some of the dysfunctional thinking patterns identified by psychologist David Burns, author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”:
1. All-or-nothing thinking – You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, “I’ve blown my diet completely.” This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Overgeneralization – You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, “Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!”

3. Mental Filter – You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive – You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions – You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.
Mind Reading : Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.
Fortune-telling : You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, “I’m really going to blow it. What if I flunk?” If you’re depressed you may tell yourself, “I’ll never get better.”

6. Magnification – You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the “binocular trick.”

7. Emotional Reasoning – You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.” Or, “I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.” Or, “I feel angry. This proves that I’m being treated unfairly.” Or, “I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second rate person.” Or, “I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.”

8. “Should” statements – You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, “I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.” This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. “Musts,” “oughts” and “have tos” are similar offenders.
“Should statements” that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: “He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative!”
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. “I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.” This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this ” must erbation.” I call it the “shouldy” approach to life.

9. Labeling – Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” You might also label yourself “a fool” or “a failure” or “a jerk.” Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but “fools,” “losers” and “jerks” do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.
You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: “He’s an S.O.B.” Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s “character” or “essence” instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame – Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, “This shows what a bad mother I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “If only I was better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.
Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato–no one wants to get stuck with it.

In therapy clients learn which of these dysfunctional thoughts are their default thoughts that get them into trouble emotionally and in their interactions s with others. The first step is identifying what one says to themselves instinctively and automatically. I find that it gets complicated for clients to quickly recall these thoughts when needed. A simplified approach is to use acronyms that can be recalled in utilize easily and immediately with a little bit of training. A favorite acronym of mine is T F A C, short for think, feel, act, and consequences. In group counseling I like to put it on a whiteboard as a formula:


(T+F)  are experiences in the internal world. A and C are experiences in the external world. So as you can see what goes on internally shapes the quality of the consequences that we get in the results that we receive. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy the internal experience, or the T + F, is identified as the area where problems occur. Our internal experiences, interpretations, biases, and expectations are where the problem originates in many areas of our lives. It can take quite a while for therapy client to be able to identify the 10 dysfunctional thoughts that David Burns proposes. It is far easier to remember the acronym T F A C if it is remembered as a word, “teefak.” Teefak, short, easy, memorable, and to the point. The way we think effects the way we feel which affects the way we act which leads to consequences. Once one understands the nature of the dysfunctional thoughts it becomes much easier to identify what’s going on in the real world by breaking down events with the teefak model. As Acceptance and Commitment Therapy teaches, it is necessary to get some separation from the internal events-the T and the F-before we act because there’s a pretty good chance our thoughts and feelings could be wrong.

cat bagSo there it is, a brief overview of how to make cognitive behavioral therapy a little more practical and user-friendly. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to spend 6 to 12 weeks on a couch talking about your relationship with your mother to get some benefits out of psychotherapy.

So that ends the second post on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Next time we’ll examine how we can change deeply engrained thinking patterns.

Contact me if your interested in learning more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.



P. S. Please follow me on Twitter, like me on Facebook. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Whatever the Thinker Thinks

“Whether a man thinks he can, or he thinks he can’t-he’s right”
Henry Ford

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
Proverbs 23:72 can view

Perhaps the primary cause of emotional wellness is the outlook that a person has toward the events that take place in their life. Two people can be exposed to the same event and have an entirely different interpretation of what happened and, more significantly, how they are emotionally impacted. In contemporary counseling this is sometimes referred to as resiliency, or the ability to interpret an event in a way that empowers us rather than disempowers us. In other words our interpretation of events are more important than the event itself.

So how do you see the world? Is it friendly or hostile? Is it a “wonderful world,?” Or is it as Rocky says to his son, “a mean, nasty, place that will knock you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.” Chances are that your answer to that is colored by the experiences that you had in life. People who have faced unfortunate circumstances tend to view the external world through the filter of their experience. While we can’t change the experiences that we’ve had we certainly can change the way that we interpret those events and the meaning that we attach to them. We all live by truths that we hold based on our upbringing, schooling, environmental exposures, and a host of other things that we may not even be aware of on a conscious level. Our truths however, are not necessarily true in a literal sense. Our personal “truth” is our interpretation in the meaning that we attach to outside events.

It is my intention to deal with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy over the course of the next three blog posts. Cognitive therapy is probably my favorite therapeutic intervention because it empowers clients and makes them self-sufficient. It is an action oriented therapeutic approach that has the ability to extend a therapy session beyond the counseling room, into the into the real world, where it can make a difference in a person’s life. Through the use of cognitive therapies, clients learn valuable skills that greatly increase the quality of their existence. Clients in a sense become their own therapist, learn how they view events, and begin to challenge long-held beliefs in a way that improves their interactions with their world.

Essentially we all live in two worlds. There is the external world of people, places, things, and life experiences. And there is the internal world of thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears, doubts etc. It is this internal world which shapes the meaning of our existence. Our subjective reality determines how we feel about virtually everything. Through the systematic use of cognitive therapies, clients learn to change their worldview in a way that serves them better. The ability to challenge long held beliefs is the beginning of emotional wellness, personal fulfillment, and happiness. This often makes therapy challenging as a client learns to accept responsibility for their feelings and their emotions. The “blame game” ends and one learns to accept responsibility for their feelings and begins to redefine their worldview.

Perhaps no better example of the internal world experience is the life of Victor Frankl, a German psychiatrist and physician who survived a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Frankl’s story is chronicled in his biography called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it he describes how he survived the horrors of the Holocaust. He he vowed that no matter what happened to him, no matter what horrors he experienced, he would maintain a sense of control over how he mentally interpreted it and made sense of what he was experiencing. He felt that the only thing he absolutely had control over was his thoughts. What kept him going was his outlook, and sense of purpose. He vowed that he would survive so that he would be able to tell the outside world what he witnessed, and that the world would never forget.. “Man’s Search for Meaning” should be read by everyone who doubts that they can control what they think. images

Feelings aren’t facts. What we think and believe is often merely our interpretation of something that’s happening in our external world. Ironically, in a criminal court case, the type of evidence that is most likely to be false is eyewitness testimony. People see what they expect to see, and people experience what they expect to experience. In other words, you get what you’re looking for. Through the introspection of  counseling sessions clients learn to take responsibility for both the actions and their beliefs and often find that their beliefs exert tremendous influence over their actions.

Watch yourself over the next few days and notice through your thoughts and words what beliefs you hold. Notice how frequently you and others get what they expect. Begin to challenge some of these beliefs and see if it improves your outlook and perceptions of your life.

Contact me if you are interested in Cognitive Therapy to improve your life.

“Whatever the thinker thinks, the prover proves.”
Anton Wilson.

P. S. Please follow me on Twitter, like me on Facebook.Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

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