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The Science Behind Goal Setting: Getting There In 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John

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

It Can Be A Wonderful Life: The George Bailey Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy whatever you celebrate.

John

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

Teddy Roosevelt On Personal Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John

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

‘Tis The Season : Holiday Survival 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

John

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

Bigger Body, Smaller Brain: The Weight – Dementia Link

In the 21st century, virtually everyone is aware of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and maintaining an ideal bodyweight. Most people try to maintain an ideal weight for cosmetic reasons, others for health reasons, and others because they want to live longer to be available for their family and their friends. If indexyou are a health conscious person, then once a year your primary care physician remind you are the benefits of optimum weight on your blood pressure, cholesterol count, blood sugar, and a variety of other “numbers.” What your doctor is probably not telling you is that being overweight is also wreaking havoc on your brain.

It appears that as a person’s weight rises towards obesity, brain size goes in the opposite direction. Numerous neurological studies have shown, for reasons unknown, there is a connection between being overweight and smaller brain size, brain shrinkage, and corresponding loss of brain functioning. A study done at UCLA showed that compared to people of normal body weight, overweight people have 8% less brain tissue than their peers of normal weight. This is not an insignificant difference and overweight people are at considerably higher risk for all brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s and dementia. People who were merely overweight had brains that looked 8 years older than normal, and people in the obese category range had brains that looked 16 years older. Researchers believe that these differences are not merely cosmetic. Another long term study done in Northern California of 6,500 people found that those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a far more rapid decline in brain functioning over the next few decades, and were much more likely to die of dementia in their 70s. While brain atrophy is a normal part of aging, studies indicate that being overweight accelerates the process tremendously.

Scientists are not sure why being too fat would affect the brain this way, but they have some ideas. A study done in 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences identified a possible genetic link. The gene, which they called FTO, appears to play a role in both obesity and brain functioning. They also concluded that genes are not necessarily the whole story. The gene may be affecting the brain through already well-known problems that being overweight causes, such as sleep apnea, which can lead to the brain being starved for oxygen during sleep. Other diseases associated with obesity such as hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, cause immediate problems for many starting in their 40s, but also drastically increase the likelihood of developing dementia by your 70s.

Whatever is leading to the increases in incidence of dementia, it is now at epidemic proportions. By the year 2050, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple, and 43% of those with the disease will need a high level of care, such as a nursing home. Part of the reason for these increased numbers is due to the fact that more of us will be living longer, but certainly maintaining optimal health in the early and middle adult years couldn’t hurt any of us. An alarming thing about the statistics is these apply only to Alzheimer’s disease, and don’t include other forms of dementia.

While there are a number of things that can be done to maintain brain health, by far the most important thing is to maintain normal body weight through a wellness program that includes proper diet, exercise, and healthy ways to manage stress. Traditional dieting is not enough. Most people when trying to lose weight deprived themselves of calories and pay little attention to nutrients, many of which are necessary for brain functioning and brain health. They also tend to look at bodyweight in terms of what shows up on a bathroom scale. Yes, the scale indicates total body weight loss, but recent studies show that only about 5% of people succeed with weight loss programs that do not include a comprehensive wellness program.

Here are some things to consider when making those lifestyle changes that will maintain your brain’s optimal health:
⦁ Food consumption-While less calories has been proven over and over in studies of brain health and longevity as being of critical importance, do not deprive yourself of proper nutrition. Diet should be well imagesbalanced and include enough quality protein in healthy fats to maintain brain functioning. Many will balk at the idea of fats in the diet, but proper consumption of healthy sources of fats through things like olive oil, coconut oil, and nuts and seeds are required to keep your brain functioning well. These can be high in calories, so adjust your total calorie consumption to compensate. Avoid salted seeds and nuts, consuming them in their raw state.
⦁ Cut back on sugar-Keep in mind that sugar also includes corn syrup and fructose. A diet that is top heavy in fruits and fruit juices can be a source of hidden sugars. Too much sugar has been shown consistently in research studies to create “brain fog,” and an accumulation of this over the years leads to the long-term problems discussed in this article.
⦁ Increase your consumption of vegetables-The typical person trying to “clean up their diet” tends to gravitate towards fruits rather than vegetables because they are easier to consume. You can simply grab an apple and eat it, whereas if you are consuming raw vegetables you may have to peel, slice, or make some other kind of concerted effort. While raw vegetables are best, increasing your amounts of cooked vegetables is a good idea as well.
⦁ Eliminate or cut back drastically on alcohol-Alcohol, or any substance that slows down brain functioning to any noticeable degree can be damaging to the brain. Obviously, an occasional use, or even overuse, of alcohol won’t have long-term impact, but keep in mind that the once a week “mild buzz” that you’ve been getting for the last few years may have an impact on brain functioning down the road.
⦁ Consider nutritional supplements-Omega-3 fish oils are the number one improvement that people should be making. Fish oil is easy to consume in tablet form, is a source of healthy fats which creates that “good cholesterol” that your primary care physician is always talking about. It also has been shown in a variety of research studies to improve levels of depression, mood regulation, and overall brain functioning. Vitamin D3 is also a must. Most of us spend far too much time indoors as opposed to our grandparents. Vitamin D3 is deficient in most people in developed nations. Like fish oils, vitamin D3 is easy to consume in tablet form, and plays an important role in neurological functioning.
⦁ Increase your consumption of water-Most of us mindlessly sip something throughout our day-coffee, tea, or soft drinks. Replacing these drinks with water is a great idea and a simple thing to introduce into your wellness program. Dehydration is a major cause of brain fog and the brief periods of emotional confusion that most of us try to resolve with a quick cup of coffee. While coffee works, water is equally good in the short run, and far better over the long haul.
⦁ Improve your sleep-Sleep is one of the most important things for overall physical and emotional wellness. Most people drastically under estimate the amount of sleep that they need. Just because you can “get by” on six hours doesn’t mean that you should. Try going to bed in the evening when you are tired, rather than pushing yourself to stay up a little longer to watch that TV show you’ve been waiting for. TiVo that sucker and go to bed. You’ll probably find an improvement in how you feel and function within a few days.
⦁ Exercise-Yeah, you knew I was going to get around this one. Any kind of exercise is preferable to none, but choose something that you enjoy and will stick with consistently. If you can, find something that you do regularly outdoors in the fresh air. If exercise has never been your thing, then take small steps like parking your car farther away from your destination, use the stairs instead of the elevator, and maybe fire your landscaper or housekeeper and start doing it yourself.
⦁ Breathe well and deeply-Learning to breathe deeply from your abdomen instead of your chest. Finding periods of time throughout your day for some deep breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth, will increase mental alertness and energy. If you can, step outside even for a few moments to do this. Certainly, there’s no excuse not add this to your lifestyle!
⦁ Meditation-Whether meditation is formal, informal, spiritual, guided, transcendental, or merely sitting still and quiet for a few moments doesn’t matter. Finding times throughout the day to “go inside” and sit quietly calms the mind down, allowing you to function at an optimal level after.

Keep in mind that of all the brain healthy hints listed above, maintaining a healthy body weight is the old women yoga pilates exercise class great shape lean active energy energetic confident benefits group boot camp older senior citizen female workout benefitsmost important, provided that your weight is maintained through a well-balanced lifestyle. Remember, your brain, more than any other factor, always determines the quality of your life. It is the most important body part to take care of.

 

John

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

The Seven Habits Of Highly Happy People

“Habits of thinking need not to be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last 20 years is that individuals can choose the way they think.”-Martin Seligman

Despite the incredible amount of technological, medical, and societal advances of the past 50 years, many people continue to live unfulfilling lives devoid of meaning. Having access to so many things almost instantly can be somewhat overwhelming, and it can make attaining life satisfaction somewhat difficult. This is an age of instant news, instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant access, instant information, instant, instant, instant. There is an expression that you may have heard that applies to being impatient which goes, “I want what I want when I want it.” It’s kind of ironic that now that we can have what we want, when we want it, many remained dissatisfied and unfulfilled. What most people want is to be happy

What many are not aware of is that behavioral science, in the latter part of the 21st century, has happy-couple-1attempted to give people what most of us want, a source of happiness. Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have been working to quantify what makes human beings happy. Seligman is no fly-by-night, pop psychologist. In 1998 he chose Positive Psychology as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association, the premier scientific and professional organization in the field of behavioral health. His work was meant to offset the medical model used in behavioral health, which focuses on mental health problems as a disease. He decided to take an opposite approach, rather than focusing on why people were dysfunctional or “mentally ill,” he decided to study what made people emotionally healthy and what went into emotional wellness.

Seligman and his colleagues have published thousands of well research studies on the topic of what many call the Science of Happiness. Their work can be distilled down to seven basic principles to live by. Researchers have found that happy people live more skillfully in the following areas:
⦁ Relationships-People who have one or more satisfying and close friendships tend to be happier. What they found is that a larger social network is not necessarily fulfilling, and sometimes leads to the exact opposite. This would explain why people who have 437 Facebook friends may feel socially isolated. Researchers found that it is the quality, rather than the quantity, of relationships that makes the difference for happier people. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends or relatives. What does matter is that you have people that you can go to when life hits the fan.
img_1401⦁ Kindness-Happy people tend to be other orientated, meaning that they are more likely to volunteer, do things for others, and be considerate of the feelings of other people. These kind actions do not have to be huge or grandiose, in fact they are actually better if they are the opposite. Spontaneous and small acts of kindness, performed daily and routinely, lead to greater levels of happiness.
⦁ Exercise-Happy people tend to exercise, or at least keep moving. They tend to be more active than people with low levels of happiness. Studies indicate that exercise is a distraction from negative thinking, creates positive changes in brain chemistry leading to optimism. It creates feelings of self efficacy in those that exercise and are active. Your old coach was right, action trumps reaction every time.
⦁ Flow-Happy people have activities and goals that they pursue that put them in a joyful state which positive psychologists call “flow.” The flow state is a state where someone is participating in an action or pursuing a goal that gives them great joy and satisfaction. The pursuit of this goal is, in and of itself, satisfying. People with high levels of life satisfaction tend to have hobbies and interests that consume them in a positive way. (For more on this see http://mindbodycoach.org/find-flow/)
⦁ Spirituality-Happy people tend to identify themselves with spirituality and religion. Studies have found that whether or not the religion is formal is not the primary reason for the benefit. People who are connected to religion and spirituality, organized or not, tend to enjoy greater feelings of connectedness and attach deeper meanings and interpretations to negative life events. They see their role in the universe from a wider perspective and are more insulated from feelings of despair in the face of catastrophic life events.
⦁ Strength identification-Happy people tend to have a pretty good idea of what their strong points are. While by no means are they self-centered or conceited, they do tend to know and recognize their positive qualities. This acknowledgment of their strengths creates a better sense of self-esteem, enabling them to be more resilient and self aware.
⦁ Mindset-Happy people tend to have more optimism, gratitude, and awareness. They have a tendency to spend more time in the now, and mindfully appreciating routine life events. They tend to be more optimistic, seeing the glass as half-full, appreciating life’s simpler pleasures. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/optimism-bias/)

The first step in becoming a more happy individual is to recognize where you can implement these seven principles in your own life. If you are a naturally optimistic and happy person, congratulations and stay the course. If you are not, recognizing the seven principles and applying them to your day-to-day life can create greater happiness. A period of daily reflection, where you review these seven principles and seek to apply them to events that have occurred during your day, is a great exercise to perform. Studies at the University of Pennsylvania show that if a written exercise such as this is performed for a 90 day period, it can have a beneficial and positive effect on a person’s outlook on life and their worldview.

While Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 advice, “Don’t worry be happy,” might be a little simplistic, Martin 1318197330_bobby_mcferrin_dont_worry_be_happy_4Seligman’s is not. Recognizing and applying these seven principles have been scientifically proven to lead to happiness. Give them a try and see if you notice a difference in your life.

 

John

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

Who Does That? : Why People Do What They Do

One of the interesting phenomenons of living in the information age is the impact that the media has on our language. There are many slogans, sayings, and buzz words, that enter the language in a matter of a few months. In the last 15 years we’ve all learned to LOL, avoid TMI, and not panic when something “goes viral.” It’s almost as if there is some kind of subtle, peer pressure, and we inadvertently find ourselves using the same lingo as everyone else. All very interesting, if you can keep up with it.

“Who does that???”

I’m sure you’ve heard this expression. It doesn’t mean what it would have meant 20 years ago. It’s an b3b952a88e001103f41e0735fe675f06expression that has taken on a subtle change of meaning in the information age. It’s usually meant to be rhetorical, not really looking for a explanation. Rather, it is meant to point out the obvious. It implies that the person who did whatever “that” is has some serious problems or some mental, emotional, spiritual, or intellectual defects. It usually is applied to a situation where someone has done something so incredibly off base that normal people- whoever they are- are taken aback by the behavior. It usually refers to actions that are bizarre and extreme, such as hoarding, neglect of children and animals, disrespect of societal norms, and brazenly self-centered behaviors.

“All behavior has a positive intention.”-John Bandler

This makes the perfect addendum to “Who does that?” It doesn’t necessarily answer the question in a literal sense, but it does give the rest of us some insight into the bizarre behaviors of others. If we are indexwilling to play Columbo and ask some general questions, we can often uncover the presumed positive intention of a lot of strange and unusual behavior that the media puts in front of our face 24/7. Finding the positive intention in these bizarre, unusual, and, in some cases, criminal behaviors by no means justifies them. It merely gives us a glimpse into flawed logic, stupidity, selfishness, and mental illness. Finding the presumed positive intention always explains the behavior, but only sometimes justifies it.

If you examine your own behavior, good or bad, it’s easier to understand this principle and later apply it to others as well. For example, if you are, or ever were, a cigarette smoker, then you can get an idea of what I am talking about. Many begin smoking in late adolescence and early adulthood. It is perceived as being a way to relax, take a breath, appear confident, connect with others, and perhaps get outside and think for a moment. Smoking is by no means a healthy behavior, but those who engage in it have a positive intention. They need that break, connection, or interruption to their routine that smoking provides. Yes, it does become physically addicting, but at least initially there is a perceived benefit. People who abuse alcohol also do so with a positive intent. They are looking for the physical and mental diversion that it can provide. Those who are alcohol dependent never begin drinking with the ideas that they will become an alcoholic. Their positive intention becomes too overwhelming to resist, and they become dependent on alcohol in an attempt to get physical and emotional needs met. Even extremes of behavior, such as criminal activities, have a perceived benefit to those who are committing the crimes. The criminal usually begins in young adulthood to find ways to satisfy physical and emotional needs through antisocial methods. If they are not reined in by bad luck, society, or the law, crime becomes a way of life, allowing them to get their needs met. While it is never justified, it does at least explain why a criminal does what he does.

One of the best ways to understand the rationale behind another person’s behavior is to put yourself in their position, trying to view the world as the other person sees it. Don’t try to moralize or judge, rationally view the other person’s actions in the same way you would some other type of animal. Recently, I read an article that explained how hibernating bears often wake up so hungry that they will eat another bear’s cubs. The article explained that it was purely for survival reasons. A bear wakes from hibernation in a state of extreme starvation. In that state, and other bear’s cubs are viewed as food, pure and simple. The bear is simply being a bear, doing what a bear does to survive. Applying this logic to humans can often give us a better understanding of why people do the strange things that they do-they are striving to attain some benefit that they believe to be beneficial. Their means of satisfying that intention is just out of proportion and out of control.

Examining why others do what they do helps us put the world in perspective, allowing some level of acceptance of life’s cruelties, explaining, but not necessarily justifying the way things are. It also was beneficial to apply this logic to personal relationships. Next time someone you, or someone you care about, does something that bothers you in some way, take a step back and evaluate the situation from their perspective. What could possibly be the perceived benefit that they are looking for? What could be their positive intention? Don’t project your values onto their behavior, remember to view their behavior in a detached way. Your values and morals aren’t necessarily going to be the same as theirs. This enables you to make a decision on how you feel and act as a result. If, over time, you find that their intentions are not consistent with your values, it might be a relationship or situation that you may want to terminate.

If you have negative habits yourself, figure out what your positive intention is. For example, if you are a chronic procrastinator, you may find that you have a fear of failure. You can’t fail if you don’t try, right? If you are lazy and know that you should exercise but don’t, then perhaps you are dreading the pain or indexperceived physical suffering that you think will come with getting yourself in shape. If you overeat, you may feel, on some level, that there is something physiologically pleasurable to be gained from the foods that you are over consuming. If you engage in gossip, then you may find that this is a way to inject some excitement into your life. If you find any of these behaviors unacceptable to you, find what you’re positive intention is in find a healthier way to satisfy that. If you love gossip, then stopped doing it in your own life and fill that gap with reality TV. If you dread the pain of exercise, then ease into it with low level activities that you find pleasurable, such as a morning stretch and brief walks. If you overeat certain foods, make healthy substitutions, for example yogurt in place of ice cream, strawberries dipped in chocolate instead of Hershey bars, or freshly baked wheat bread instead of cake.

It’s important to remember that finding someone’s positive intention never, ever, justifies bad behavior. Nor does it absolve someone from responsibility for what they have done. Taking this big backward step, and answering that philosophical question, “Who does that?,” enables us to view ourselves and the world around us from a more logical and realistic perspective.

“What one does is what counts. Not what one had the intention of doing.”― Pablo Picasso

 

John

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

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