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The Evolutionary Origins of Depression: Why Depression Always Returns

“Sadness and low levels of depression are adaptive since they lead the individual to try and make up a loss. By contrast, severe or clinical depression is not adaptive, but can be thought of as sadness having become malignant.”- Lewis Wolpert

Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder, clinical depression, or simply depression, is a leading cause of disability worldwide. In and of itself it is a devastating affliction, but it also is the fourth leading contributor to all diseases. Approximately 50% of all people will meet the criteria for major depression at least for some portion of their life. Despite its prevalence, people tend to whisper when they talk about this disease, making it hard to identify and hard to treat. In fact, the average person doesn’t think of it as a disease at all. The disease of depression has no Race for a Cure, no car washes, fundraisers, or people dumping ice water over their heads on Facebook. The crushing and debilitating effects of depression are usually borne in silence, a private cross carried alone.

Occurrences of depression are so common in the human animal that there must be some reason and logic behind it. Mankind has been trying to eradicate depression since the depressedStone Age with only moderate success. Depression is largely thought of as a dysfunction, modern psychiatry usually labels it as a “mental disorder,” perhaps further stigmatizing with this label. Evolutionary psychologists who have studied the disease believes that the disorder may have an evolutionary and adaptive purpose and explain its prevalence as a hardwired behavior that at one time in human development was a survival mechanism. This theory, although controversial, would explain why depression is so prevalent and often treatment resistent.

Dr. Jonathan Rottenberg, author and professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has researched the evolutionary purpose of depression and has come up with a number of plausible, if not probable, reasons that humans have historically been plagued with treatment resistant depression. He is the author of a fascinating book called The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic, in which he discusses reasons that depression serves and adaptive function for the human animal.

Rottenberg believes that humans are, in fact animals, albeit highly intelligent and insightful animals. Humans have competed for millions of years with other forms of life on the planet. What has allowed us to survive is the adaptive abilities that come from human intelligence and the human psyche. He cites the comparative way that a human mother and a chimpanzee mother would grieve the loss of an infant: “A chimpanzee cannot report I’m feeling sad. Nevertheless, when the modern chimpanzees sees the baby chimpanzee die, it has a very similar behaviors and very similar things going on inside the mother chimp’s body as human’s do when they’re grieving the loss of their own infant.” He goes on to explain that grief, depression, and profound sadness are not only universal in these situations, but serves and adaptive purpose. “Death,” he says, “is always a sign to pay attention to what’s going on and what we can learn from it. Low mood makes us stop. It makes us analyze the environment really carefully, so you don’t repeat the same mistakes that got us into a situation in the first place.”

The psychiatric world classifies depression as a “mood disorder.” Mood is a perceptual interpretation of what a person is feeling internally at a given moment in time. We know what kind of mood we are in, even if it’s not readily visible to everyone else. “Moods,” says Dr. Rottenberg, “also organize us. When we’re in a good mood, we not only feel good but we’re prepared to take certain actions. For example, I’m in a good mood and that’s when I want to get together with friends. That’s when I want to have fun. Conversely, when I’m in a really low mood, I tend to withdraw. The mood actually makes me more likely or less likely to do certain things. Moods actually have this ability to change our cognitions, they change what’s going on in our body. They’re more than just feelings, they actually organize our activities.”

Depression, in many who suffer with it, can be correlated with seasonal changes. People paleolithic-hunter-gathererswho live in climates that have contrasting seasons often are more prone to depression in the winter months of November to March. The same people usually find a lifting of the symptoms in the month of April. This also has an evolutionary component to it as primitive man had to slow down to survive during those long, cold Stone Age winters, almost hibernating as a means of survival. The Spring months were a time of gathering food and preparing to survive the rest of the year. The longer days provided more sunlight to utilize for the hunt for sustenance and, therefore, more energy and enthusiasm for life. As the human species developed, the tendency of mood to be influenced by seasonal changes remained.

Depression is also associated with low energy and diminished enthusiasm for normal activities of daily living, leading to staying indoors and other isolating behaviors. This deprives a person of sunlight, perhaps triggering an evolutionary cause of depression. Contemporary man, in many parts of the world, spends most of his time and conducts most of their his activities indoors away from the mood lifting benefits of sunlight. A study done in San Diego California showed that approximately 50% of the population there spent around a half an hour per day in sunlight, hardly enough to gain any mood elevating benefit. Sleep, also a major factor in combating depression, is something that virtually everyone struggles with from time to time. Even those who get the required amount of sleep don’t necessarily get the quality of sleep needed to be fully energized and to optimize their mood. Primitive man didn’t have clocks and technology forcing them to sleep at predetermined and artificially constructed times. These realities could be the reason that your doctor prescribes vitamin D supplementation and explains why you sleep great on a vacation. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/natural-ways-cope-depression/ )

Even those who do not struggle with clinical depression will experience its symptoms as a result of living a normal life. Depression is often referred to as the common cold of psychiatry. No sane and rational person can live life and not experience it periodically. Sadness, a normal human emotional experience, is usually caused by some sort of loss, from loss of person, money, a job, or a meaningful relationship. This too has a evolutionary origin. Man is a social animal whose survival is largely determined by his ability to remain connected to a larger group of his own kind. The loss that we feel from a relationship or the grief we feel from the death of a loved one is programed in us to reinforce the fact that we must be part in a larger group of humans to survive. These types of attachments are adaptive from an evolutionary perspective, driving mate selection, procreation, and to bond with and protect with our offspring.(See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-tribal/ )

The research of evolutionary psychologists indicates that depression, rather than being a malfunction, is actually an adaptive mechanism. An understanding of this can allow for the acceptance of the painful emotions that follow many of the difficult challenges that normal life throws at us. Accepting these as a natural part of the human experience doesn’t necessarily dull the pain, but may allow you to keep it in perspective and prevent it from crossing over into a major depressive episode. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/acceptance-true-wisdom/ )

It’s also important to understand that humans are not meant to be ecstatically happy all the time. With the artificial community created by television and the Internet, many peopleadaptive-images.php believe that everyone but them is leading these wonderful, perfect lives, doing all these exciting things, and living free of emotional pain. They know this by looking at the Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and Instagram selfies of the beautiful people and ask themselves, “What’s wrong with me?” The answer is nothing, you are a normal human being adapting to your world in a normal and entirely human fashion, and what you see on Facebook and the Internet is an idealized reality.

You’re normal, and so are your feelings. Feel what you feel and be patient. This too shall pass.

“Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.”- Jonathan Rottenberg

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Emotional Contagion: Why Your Feelings May Not Be Your Own

Emotional Contagion (noun)- the tendency to feel and express emotions similar to and influenced by those of others; also, the phenomenon of one person’s negative thoughts or anxiety affecting another’s mood

When it comes to human health and wellness, we are truly living in the most interesting of times. The medical community is now capable of prolonging human life, keeping usSpartacus-crowd-scene healthy, active, and vital in ways unimaginable as recently as 50 years ago. We have access to a wealth of information on how to improve the functions of our minds, bodies, and spirit right at our fingertips. Diseases that once killed millions have been eradicated and more cures are being discovered every day. Despite what you may think about war and violence, we are statistically living in the safest time in all of human history. So why do so many of us neglect our physical and emotional health, feel frightened and unsafe, and live our lives waiting for the next disaster? The answer very well may be found in human social psychology.

Human beings are, by design, social animals. We are this way because millions of years ago our ancestors needed to bond together in tightly knit communities in order to survive. Humans are simply too frail and ill equipped to survive solo. For thousands of years, our species has survived because of conforming to group norms, ideas, and beliefs. This need to conform, fit in, and imitate others is primitive on some levels and, in many cases, automatic. Many of us like to think that we are “our own person,” unique and nonconforming individuals. Sometimes we are, but most who feel that way actually are not. They’ve just found some subgroup that they identify with and imitate. People, ideas, and lifestyles that are truly unique and different are frequently mocked, ridiculed, and shunned by the society at large, being labeled as immoral, perverse, or just plain weird.

Emotional Contagion is the tendency of two or more individuals to emotionally converge, sometimes creating an emotion that neither one would have ever felt alone. The word contagion is defined as the “spreading of a harmful idea or practice by the close contact of one person to another.” Modern man has never had more capacity for perceived close contact with others due to the instant access of the Internet and social media. On many levels, we know this, referring to ideas that spread quickly as “going viral,” in the same manner that the Black Plague once raced through Europe. Most of which goes viral is harmless, innocent, and cute – puppies, kittens, and babies, acting in endearing ways that put a smile on our faces. A lot of other stuff that goes viral is poor journalism, biased news, and fear provoking information that many of us end up perseverating over, taking on a lot of fear and anxiety that we not only can’t do anything about, but in many cases comes from information that is simply not true. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/going-unplugged-age-distraction/ and http://mindbodycoach.org/craze-rage-enjoy-anger-despite/ )

I’m sure that more than a few of those reading this will initially respond with a “not me” attitude. Keep in mind that this synchronization of emotions can occur on a conscious or unconscious level and is not always negative. American social psychologist Elaine Hatfield has devoted much of her working life studying, measuring, and quantifying Emotional Contagion. She describes it as a two-step process:
1. We imitate people. If someone smiles at you, for example, you smile back.
2. Changes in mood through faking it. Through the act of smiling you become happy, if you frown you feel bad. Mimicking the actions of others creates the emotional connection between people that leads to the taking on of the others emotions. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/fake-till-make/ )

All humans are susceptible to emotional contagion. Some organizations-athletic teams, js7schools, religions, and corporations-consciously, or at least semi-consciously manipulate others in this manner. The results can be either positive or negative, depending upon a variety of variables. It’s not always bad, sometimes creating pro-social values and inspiring pro-social activities from a larger group. On the other hand, it’s also the emotional state that led to the Salem Witch Trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Holocaust. It’s important to recognize this, become aware of Emotional Contagion when it is occurring within you, and make a more conscious decision of how far you want to go with the emotion that it evokes.

Social psychologist R. William Doherty of the University of Hawaii has developed what he calls The Emotional Contagion Scale, which he published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior in 1997. It is reprinted here, see how susceptible you are too Emotional Contagion:

The  Emotional  Contagion  Scale

This is a scale that measures a variety of feelings and behaviors in various situa­tions. There are no right or wrong answers, so try very hard to be completely honest in your answers. Read each question and indi­cate the answer which best applies to you.

Use the following key:
5. Always = Always true for me.
4. Often = Often true for me.
3. Usually = Usually true for me.
2. Rarely = Rarely true for me.
1. Never = Never true for me.

1. If someone I’m talking with begins to cry, I get teary-eyed.
2. Being with a happy person picks me up when I’m feeling down.
3. When someone smiles warmly at me, I smile back and feel warm inside.
4. I get filled with sorrow when people talk about the death of their loved ones.
5. I clench my jaws and my shoulders get tight when I see the angry faces on the news.
6. When I look into the eyes of the one I love, my mind is filled with thoughts of romance.
7. It irritates me to be around angry people.
8. Watching the fearful faces of victims on the news makes me try to imagine how they might be feeling.
9. I melt when the one I love holds me close.
10. I tense when overhearing an angry quarrel.
11. Being around happy people fills my mind with happy thoughts.
12. I sense my body responding when the one I love touches me.
13. I notice myself getting tense when I’m around people who are stressed out.
14. I cry at sad movies.
15. Listening to the shrill screams of a terrified child in a dentist’s waiting room makes me feel nervous.

Note: The higher the score, the more susceptible to emotional contagion a person would be said to be. Happiness items = 2, 3, & 11. Love items = 6, 9, & 12. Fear items = 8, 13, & 15. Anger items = 5, 7, & 10. Sadness items = 1, 4, & 14. Total score = all items.

Source: Doherty, R. W. (1997). The Emotional contagion scale: A measure of individual differences. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 21, pp. 131-154.

An awareness of your own susceptibility to this phenomenon allows you to make a more intelligent decision when it comes to dispensing your emotional energy. Being aware of hapywhere you spend this energy is an important part of your life experience and your emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness. You will be more aware of what thoughts and emotions are truly your own. Take a moment to fill out the Emotional Contagion Scale and see where you stand. Become more aware of what baggage and whose baggage you decide to carry. Lightening this load is bound to lead to less stress, anxiety, and a more fulfilling life for you and those around you.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

How To Manage Your Life Portfolio For An Immediate Return

“Always keep your portfolio and your risk at your own individual comfortable sleeping point.”-Mario Gabelli

If you have any kind of financial investments and are working towards a secure financial future, then you probably have a portfolio. A portfolio is a grouping of financial assets such pieas stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. If you’re like me, you have one, some investment company manages it for you, you stare at a few pie charts now and again on a website, and either celebrate briefly or become depressed. I’m sure there are many others of you that know exactly what is in their portfolio, what all those percentages and colored pie charts indicate, and understand the nuances of phrases like “asset allocation” and “diversification”.

Many Americans obsess over retirement, their future economic solvency, and if they will have enough money to live comfortably from the time that they retire to the time that they expire. Hopefully, their portfolio will help them enjoy the kind of lifestyle that they desire and deserve during those so-called “golden years.” Diversification of their financial portfolio is certainly important towards the achievement of that goal. Having diverse and varied financial investments safeguards and protects one’s assets, hedging your bets and making a sound future more likely.

But what about other aspects of your life? There are a lot of different components to your life and lifestyle that probably don’t get as much thought as your finances. Could your life be better if you considered and managed the various components of it with the same thought that goes into your finances? Shouldn’t we all strive to manage our lives in this same thoughtful manner? Is it possible that we could enjoy life a little bit more, hedging our bets a bit to protect our physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness?

A big part of the work that goes into wellness and physical and emotional health is a person’s lifestyle. The reality is that all of us have different and diverse roles, relationships, and hats that life forces us to wear. Most people coast through life reacting to whatever comes up as it shows up. People who are aware of these different roles and obligations are less likely to be blindsided, surprised, or overwhelmed when life throws them a curveball. They are often people who do a lot of different things, have a lot of diverse friendships and relationships, and are able to switch gears rather comfortably when life requires it. They also tend to be more resilient when one of these roles, friendships, or obligations is suddenly taken from them. They can lose a part of their portfolio and not have their entire life and self image collapse.

How can one diversify their life portfolio? Sometimes the similarities between a financial advisor and a coach or psychotherapist are pretty similar. The financial advisor takes a look at all the assets that you have and where they’re allocated – adjusting, advising, and spreading them around for economic safety. A coach or psychotherapist takes a look at your personal assets such as physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and occupational. They find what a person truly values and works with them to balance these assets in such a way that the client is comfortable, creating a life portfolio that serves them. Unlike a financial portfolio that is in place for your golden years, a person with a well-managed life portfolio gets to benefit from it immediately, no need to wait to age 65 or beyond. Successful management of an emotional portfolio ensures immediate benefits today and compounding benefits over time.

A sound life portfolio also provides a type of “life insurance” which a person can draw on immediately, no death required. People who are able to balance their life and obligations tend to be more resilient when one or more aspects of the their life portfolio is interrupted. For example, if someone loses their job unexpectedly, their ability to bounce back from this challenge is going to be better if they have resilience which comes from diversification. Yeah, it’s going to suck for a while, but they have family and friends that are supportive. They have activities, hobbies, interests, and other things that will give them self-worth while they figure out what to do next. If someone has built their life around their job and that job has occupied too much of their identity, dignity, and self-worth, then the loss of the job becomes devastating. Naturally, losing a job is never going to be easy, but a person with a diversified portfolio of people, relationships, and interests is going to be more capable of bouncing back.

We’ve all heard stories of couples who put too much of their life portfolio into being parents. You know the story well. That couple that seemingly had it all together raised some great kids that went off to college. When they became empty-nesters, they realized that they no longer had anything in common except those kids. They allocated too much of their life portfolio in the parent category, and when that was taken away things collapsed.

And then there’s the story of the guy who worked 70+ hours for 30+ years, 51 weeks a father-and-son-arguingyear. He provided financial security for his wife and family, giving his kids a great lifestyle and educations. Unfortunately, he didn’t get along with his kids while they were growing up. The kids didn’t have the emotional perspective to see how hard he worked, feeling that work was more important to their dad than they were because he was “never home.” I am sure you can see where this went wrong.

Or how about the former athlete who was “gonna turn pro,” but got injured and never made it? Or the prom queen who put too much of her emphasis on her looks rather than her relationships? Go to any cheap neighborhood bar in the country and you’ll find people like these sitting on bar stools trying to recall their glory days. Maybe a little diversification of the life portfolio would have made their lives a little bit better.

A measuring point for how well your life portfolio is diversified is to ask yourself some painfully difficult questions. If I lost_________ who and what would I be? Who or what would be there to help me? Who and what are the most important things in my life? When you’re taking that long and arduous commute to work Monday morning, ask yourself “Why am I doing this?” Initially, you’re probably going to say that you do it for the money, but “follow the money.” What’s the money going to do? Who or what do you hope to spend this money on? What emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits will the spending of this money bring you? You don’t want to be that stressed out executive whose wife and kids live comfortably in that $750,000 home who hate him because “he’s never around” or is “unavailable.”

Take a moment some day and sit down and ask yourself these questions. You can do thisROI of 5S program yourself, or get some direction and guidance from a coach or therapist. If you doing this as self-help, write it out on paper and take a look at it when you’re done. This portfolio is far more important than that financial one that your building and the good news is that you don’t have to wait to retirement to draw the benefits. And, the interest on these investments compounds daily.

“When you comin’ home, Dad.
I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.” – Harry Chapin

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Groucho Marx Syndrome And How To Build Real Self-Esteem

“I would never be a member of any club that would have me as a member.”- Groucho Marx

Self-esteem is one of those hard to quantify feelings that most people strive to develop. grouchoWhile it means different things to different people, having different characteristics depending on the individual, it usually implies that a person values themselves. It comes from how valuable we feel that we are to others as well as ourselves, effecting our work, our relationships, and our sense of trust. It plays a huge role in human motivation, without enough of it we will never try anything new, take any social risks, or live up to our full potential. Too much of it, and people can’t stand us, perceiving us as narcissistic, self-centered, and arrogant.

There are a few key components to what constitutes self-esteem:

· Self-esteem is important to human survival and normal, healthy development.
· Self-esteem is perceived automatically based on a person’s beliefs and consciousness.
· Self-esteem occurs in conjunction with a persons thoughts, behaviors, feelings, and actions.

As a practicing coach and psychotherapist for the past 18 years, I have sat with hundreds of people and listened as they have explored their self-worth and self-esteem. It’s amazing how frequently there is a disconnect between what you would think a person’s view of hitlerthemselves would be and what it actually is. We live at a time when a false sense of self-esteem is far easier to develop than true self-esteem. As evidence, take a look at what pervades the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. People take selfies, show you what they’ve had for lunch, allow you to follow their every move, update you on their relationship status, make public displays of their children, significant others, and share virtually every aspect of their lives. Most who do this type of thing are relatively healthy, but a fair percentage are not, seeking desperately to get some sense of self-worth from the reactions of others.

In psychotherapy, it sometimes becomes obvious that a client who should have a very healthy sense of self-esteem does not. Despite their many positive attributes and accomplishments, they just can’t see it. They usually have problems with accepting complements, recognizing self-worth, and viewing themselves objectively. I often say to these clients, “You are suffering from Groucho Marx syndrome.” I then site the above quote, which usually leads to a pretty productive discussion. After Groucho’s quote sinks in, clients are usually pretty good at identifying where their poor self-esteem originated, citing parenting techniques, their school days, poor relationships, and recent difficulties. Most of the obstacles to self-esteem aren’t real or actual, they are perceptions that exist in the client’s mind, nurtured by negative self talk and flawed logic.

There are literally hundreds of articles on the Internet giving people advice on self-esteem. They usually emphasize positive self talk, developing a can do attitude, and things like talking to yourself daily while looking in the mirror. Without doubt, some of these activities can be helpful, but actions speak louder than words in most cases. There is a cause and effect, yin and yang relationship between behavior and thoughts-thoughts influence behavior and behavior influences thought. Thinking, willpower, and positive self talk are not enough to develop self-esteem.

The best way to build self esteem and self worth is to do positive things for other people, expecting nothing in return. The logic here is that if you have something positive to give to others, then you possess something positive.

There are some action steps that one can take if they are looking to improve their self-worth. Here are some:

· Begin to seek out ways to do things for other people, at least five per day. Help family and friends, volunteer your time, check that box at the cash register where the cashier asks if you want to give one dollar to that charity, hold the door open for someone, let Jonah_and_old_lady2-F600x400someone go in front of you in line-anything.
· Notice what you have done positive. Notice how it makes you feel. Notice what you say to yourself. Keep your self talk positive and realistic. Don’t wait for a thank you, or a complement, your praise must come from you yourself.
· Develop some kind of program of exercise. Too many people base self-esteem on their physical attributes. It’s easier to feel good about your physicality if you physically feel better. Feeling better and inwardly is the first step to feeling better on the outside. We’re not talking hours at the gym and starvation diets here, we are talking about a healthy lifestyle, clean diet, and behavior patterns that lead to positive emotions.
· Drop the perfectionist thinking. Stop thinking you need to be perfect, begin to focus on being good enough. Not good enough for others, but good enough for yourself.
· Learn to accept a compliment. If you are someone who finds themselves constantly deflecting complements, STOP! This is the essence of the Groucho Marx Syndrome. You would never be a member of a club that would have you as a member. After receiving a complement, learn to say thank you. That’s it, thank you, and then learn to shut up. Let the moment sink in.
· At least once per day, sit and reflect on the behaviors that you have done that day which have given value to someone else, or an enhanced the quality of your life. Pat yourself on the back for the things that you did for yourself that day. Maybe you chose a healthy lunch over fast food, went for a walk or worked out, read a book instead of mindlessly surfing the Internet, or put some money in your bank. It’s not only okay to do this, it’s essential to notice these things and reward yourself with positive feelings.
· Learn to reward yourself through positive self talk positive emotions, and positive actions. Don’t brag about these things to others and don’t deflect any complements, praise, or thanks that comes your way. Simply accept these accolades through a simple thank you.
· Stop comparing yourself to others. They is always going to be somebody better, prettier, richer, bigger, stronger, faster, etc. Keep in mind good enough, and strive daily to be a better version of your self.

The most important thing about building self-esteem is to remember that it is self esteem. Your opinion of yourself matters above all else. Stop being a spectator to your own life, viewing yourself and judging yourself as if you were somebody else looking for flaws. Get out of your head and into some positive actions. Reward yourself for these efforts. You are as good as you tell yourself you are.

“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”- Mark Twain

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

An Inconvenient Truth: Walking Is The Best Exercise

“Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.”- Rebecca Solnit

Walking is the most fundamental movement of the human animal. We begin to do it with a lot of fanfare and excitement during our first year of life. As parents, we eagerly look babyforward to the day that our child takes their first step unassisted. We celebrate that day, recorded on video, and in some cases spend the next 18 years driving them everyplace so that they don’t have to walk. Our ancestors walked everywhere, and if you are a Baby Boomer then I am sure that you have told the story of walking 3 miles to school daily, uphill both ways. What happened to the human animals propensity for walking, and what has been the cost of this change in the way that we view human locomotion?

The verb walking comes from the Old English word wealcan meaning “to roll.” Walking is distinguished from running and other methods of ambulation because only one foot at a time breaks contact with the ground and there is a brief period when both feet are supporting the body weight while in motion. It is the safest and most natural form of exercise that a human can do. It can be done anywhere, can be performed solo or in groups, can be exercise, transportation, meditation, or even a conversation starter. It can increase energy, control weight, reduce stress, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, prevent some cancers, and fights osteoporosis. Humans are able to do this activity from approximately a year old to well into old age. Studies have shown that walking a half an hour approximately 5 times per week yields comparable antidepressant properties as psychotropic medications. Despite all of these physical and mental health benefits, many people find this activity inconvenient, boring, and a nuisance. What’s wrong with us?

Evolutionary biologists believe that these benefits exists because the human animal is hardwired to walk. Walking is something that humans must do, they argue, in order to be fully healthy and human. Primitive man was kept alive and survived due to two critical factors, his ability to think and reason in ways that other animals cannot, and his ability to paleo-diet-introductionwalk. It is widely believed that human beings first developed 1.8 million years ago in East Africa. Based on footprints found in Kenya, it is presumed that man was walking in our current upright style 1.5 million years ago, and from that point onward man began to navigate the globe. Man’s intellectual capacity allowed him to figure out the best places to migrate to for food, safety, and survival needs. For a while, the human animal was a nomad, traveling in vast communities, seeking out the best locations for food, clothing, and shelter. Eventually, humans learned how to plant seeds and farm, domesticate animals, and create consistent and predictable sources of food, allowing for the development of communal living.

Even with consistent sources of food and the development of communities, walking remained a part of man’s every day activity. Even into the early modern period, walking was a part of everyone’s daily existence. Public transportation, as we currently know it, did not exist in developed nations until approximately the 1880’s. The automobile did not become commonplace in American life until the middle of the 20th century. The human animal has abandoned walking for only a brief period of our total existence. Perhaps the rise of overweight, out of shape, unhealthy, stressed out, and lethargic people correlates to the demise of this basic and necessary human activity called walking. It’s quite possible that these health related problems are our body’s way of reminding us that movement is in our DNA. We have to move and walk to be a fully functioning human being.

The very act of walking has gone from a given activity to an exception. Go to any commercial gym in the country and you will see people waiting in line in order to get on a machine on which they walk to nowhere, indoors, staring at a television. If you are a parent, you may find yourself driving your children to and from places that are less than a mile from your home. You probably drive your car periods of a half a mile or less for routine activities. What’s the message that we are giving our children with these behaviors? What’s the toll on our bodies and health for this “convenience?” How many convenient opportunities are missed each day for a simple, yet highly effective, form of exercise that costs us nothing?

Part of the bad rap that walking has received is due to its being taken for granted as a method of exercise, stress reduction, and mode of travel. There are exercise trends that catch people’s attention and, at least for a while become the “best” way to obtain health and fitness. We had the running boom of the 1970s, (yeah, I’m still paying the price for that too), Jazzercise, Zumba, aerobics, and Crossfit. Walking, no pun intended, seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It is viewed as too boring, time consuming, and not intense enough to give us a good workout. On the surface, this would appear to be true. There are, however, three criteria that must be met for good exercise:
· Frequency-how often you perform the exercise
· Duration-the amount of time the exercise is performed
· Intensity-the amount of physiological stress the activity applies to the body.

Walking would appear to fall short of many other physical activities at first glance. Why walk for an hour when you may be able to get the same results from 20 minutes of running? After all, it’s less intense than running, requires more time, and needs to be done more often.

Like many things in life, things are often not what they first appear to be. If you are a runner or work out at a gym, then walking should play a major part in your fitness regimen. Factor in some of the extra tasks that are required for that quick jog through the neighborhood or workout at the gym that you squeeze in three times per week. If you are brutally honest with yourself and your time management you will find that they are a number of time consumers:
· warm-ups and stretching
· cool downs
· changes of clothing and shoes
· travel to and from
· aggravations (ever forget to pack your shoes for that work out at the gym before work?)
· down time required to rehab injuries from intense exercise

Walking, excels at two of the three criteria for a great exercise choice, frequency and duration. If you are looking to get super fit, it is by no means all that is required. If you are looking to stay in good shape indefinitely, then it is the wisest activity to add to your routine. If you are into extreme modes of fitness such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, or strength sports, walking adds to your aerobic capacity, aids recovery, and does not deplete that hard earned muscle and strength that you’ve worked to build. It’s often said that that man was “born to run,” but it is far more likely that man was “born to walk.”

No matter what your fitness goals, or even if you don’t have fitness goals, don’t overlook Walk_Park-smallerthis simple and basic human activity. Twenty-four hundred years ago Hippocrates said “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Study after study and the experience of humans over 2 million years support his premise. Find ways to add walking to whatever exercise you are currently doing. If you aren’t currently exercising, or have an aversion to exercise, walk for other reasons-for transportation, meditation, as a way to have a good conversation with a friend, or to give your dog some exercise. If you are currently on a good fitness regimen, add walking for the mental health, fat burning, and recovery benefit that it will give you.

If you can walk, then you must.

“Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.”- Steven Wright

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Eisenhower Method Of Time Management: Still Reasons To Like Ike

“What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.”-Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, holding the office ikefrom 1953 until 1961. If you are a GenXer or a Millennial, his name might get vague recognition. If you are are a Baby Boomer or beyond, then you have a greater appreciation for the role that he played in American history. You can bet that his name meant a lot to your Grandpa.

Eisenhower was a West Point graduate, college football star, five-star general, supreme Allied commander during World War II, president of Columbia University, and President of the United States. Despite his lofty achievements, he retained the Everyman quality of his Kansas upbringing. In 1952 he was drafted by the Republican Party to run for the presidency, his campaign pushed along by a simple, yet effective slogan: “I Like Ike.” Like everything else in Eisenhower’s career, simple was effective, and he won the election by a landslide.

If you are someone who struggles with time management, juggles multiple responsibilities, and feels like your life consists of one crisis to the next, then there are still many reasons for you to like Ike. There is a simple, yet highly effective, time management method known as the Eisenhower Method based upon a quote attributed to Eisenhower when he was president: “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are seldom important, and the important are seldom urgent.”

Using this principle, Eisenhower separated his task basket into categories based on the criteria of important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, then placed them in quadrants on a piece of paper. By having the tasks systematically laid out in front of him, Eisenhower could clearly see the tasks that lay ahead of him that day in the same manner that he would have used as a general poring over maps during the Second World War. These task maps have become known as and “Eisenhower Box.” Tasks are assigned to one of the quadrants based on relative importance and urgency.

When organizing your daily tasks the two most important questions to ask yourself are:
“Is it urgent?”
“Is it important?”

You can now put the task in the correct quadrant using the image below as a model.

posec-eisenhower-matrix

Quadrant 1 is for tasks that are both urgent and important, requiring our immediate attention. These tasks will typically consist of problems, crises, and things that have an impending deadline. Some examples are:
· tasks that have a deadline
· crises such as health, medical, and family demands

Quadrant 2 is for tasks that are not urgent but important. Some examples are:
· your exercise routine
· home and vehicle maintenance
· anything requiring long term planning

According to Stephen Covey, who popularized the Eisenhower Method in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, felt we should spend most of our time on Quadrant 2 activities. Quadrant 2 activities tend to be those that give us the most life satisfaction and prevent life events from crossing over into Quadrant 1 emergencies and crises. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/seven-habits-success/ )

Quadrant 3 activities are those that are urgent, requiring our immediate attention, but are not important because they don’t contribute to our own long-term goals. Quadrant 3 tasks are frequently interruptions and involve helping other people attain their goals. Someone else makes their crisis your problem. Some examples are:
· phone calls, text messages, and emails
· a co-worker, family member, or friend asks you for help with something
· someone drops by to visit you unannounced

Many people spend the majority of their time dealing with Quadrant 3 tasks, believing that they are working on Quadrant 1 tasks. While these tasks seem to be important at the time, quite frequently they are not. Often Quadrant 3 tasks contribute to someone else’s goals more than our own. Some people have a personality style that is frequently referred to as people pleaser, spending a large amount of their time helping other people attain their goals. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just be aware of how much Quadrant 3 activities can detract you from your own personal goals. Delegate these to someone else if at all possible.

Quadrant 4 activities are those that are not important and not urgent. These are the junk food activities of life, giving us no nutritional value, but filling us up. Some examples are:
· watching television
· mindlessly surfing the Internet
· video games, Facebook, and chronically checking your iPhone
· procrastination

There is certainly nothing wrong with Quadrant 4 activities in and of themselves. The problem arises when you find yourself spending too much time in Quadrant 4. Minimizing the amount of time you spend here can allow you to enjoy these Quadrant 4 activities without becoming addicted to them. Monitor how much time you spend doing these activities for a few days and see if the time spent is consistent with your long term goals. Remember, this is junk food, so consume sparingly.

If you are someone who procrastinates and struggles to decide which activities to tackle 1415711980787.cachedfirst, then this is something you should try. If you are a visual learner, having an Eisenhower Box to refer to will make your life a heck of a lot easier. Be like Ike, give this a try and see how much it improves your time management.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”- Dwight D. Eisenhower

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Neurons That Fire Together Wire Together: Optimizing Your Brain Chemistry

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”-Donald Hebb

One of the most exciting developments in human behavior over the past 10 years is the brain-neuronsnew interest in the field of neuroscience, the scientific study of the brain and the nervous system. We’ve long had theories about how learning takes place and how humans develop new behaviors and attitudes. We now have visible evidence not only of what happens inside the brain, but how to facilitate the acquisition of new skills, ideas, values, and behaviors. While the scientific literature can get quite complicated at times, it doesn’t have to.

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I am constantly looking for ways to simplify
complex ideas in ways that are useful for the layman. When it comes to brain chemistry and neuroscience, I consider myself to be in that category as well. I often tell my clients that, “There is no behavioral change, emotion, feeling, attitude, or any sensation that you’ve ever felt that is not a product of your brain chemistry. Without a change in brain chemistry, there can be no experience that we can call change.” As a result, there can be no change in our lives, positive or negative, that are not the result of changes in the neurochemistry of the brain.

If you pay attention while watching TV or reading on the Internet, you’ll often come across commercials for educational games for adults designed to improve brain functioning, taking advantage of what is being called the “science of neuroplasticity.” While the efficacy of these games is controversial, the concept of neuroplasticity is not. The brain is quite malleable, constantly changing and evolving throughout the lifespan. An understanding of the link between behavior and neuroplasticity is important for counselors, coaches, and therapists, but also for the average person who would like to change their behaviors and attitudes, improving their lives in the process.

The quote, “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” is a brief summary of the ideas of Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, adapted from his book written in 1949 called The Organization of Behavior, in which he introduced his theory about the neurological basis of learning. This theory, which has become known as Hebb’s Law, has since been proven as factual. Hebb proposed that learning is not something that happens to a passive brain, but is a process whereby the cellular structure of the brain is permanently altered and modified. To put it quite simply, behavior and action are the best ways to initiate permanent behavioral and cognitive change in any living being.

A metaphor for how behavior creates changes in brain chemistry was offered by neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone in a book called The Brain That Changes Itself, in which he compared the brain to a snowy hill in winter. When we first go down a hill in a sled, we can be flexible because we have the option of taking various paths through the soft snow each time. If we begin to favor certain paths they become speedy and efficient, guiding the sled swiftly down the hill. Changing these paths becomes increasingly difficult, as we literally become stuck in the ruts that we have created. Human behavior operates upon the same principle. Our behavior creates preferred pathways in our brains that make these behaviors almost automatic and these behaviors become our preferred ways of doing things.

We must be aware that there are ways that we can change long held beliefs and behaviors through conscientious actions optimizing the way that we learn and acquire new information. A metaphor that I like is one that compares our neurology to our muscular system. We can all accept that if a muscle is used systematically and efficiently it can improve strength and functioning at almost any stage of the life span. Thinking of our neurology in the same way is helpful, giving us a model for change that we can process and understand. The body’s muscles strengthen and grow while resting, after stress has been applied. In order to increase muscular size and strength the muscles must be taxed, allow to rest and recuperate, taxed again, followed by more rest and recuperation. During the recuperative phase, it is very important to obtain adequate rest and proper nutrition. As the cycle repeats, theoretically muscle capacity improves each time. Changes in brain chemistry occur almost in the same manner. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/mind-muscle-connection/ )

How can this be applied to changes in our neurology? The “exercise” occurs when we encounter new or unknown challenges, the “recuperation” occurs when we learn to accept and become more comfortable with these challenges. Recuperation phase acceptance can be worked on through cognitive behavioral therapy, journaling, introspective self-help exercises, or working with a counselor or coach. As we become more relaxed, adjusting to the stressors, our brain restructures itself, storing its new found knowledge. The key component in this process is the way that one mentally processes the stressor. Focusing on positive self talk, realistic as opposed to catastrophic thinking, and accepting unbiased feedback from a therapist or coach allows one to accept the changes, making them permanent.

The mental recuperation phase is where the magic can occur. It’s also where catastrophic associations can inadvertently be made if one is not aware of how this process works. Over the past 18 years I’ve seen hundreds of clients who have been lifelong victims of childhood trauma. After traumatic events, they were left alone to figure out and make sense of those traumas. It is quite common for trauma victims to blame themselves, stuff down their feelings and emotions, and process them in a maladaptive way. The therapeutic work done in psychotherapy is to get them to open up and process the events, allowing acceptance and healing to occur. Quite often healing occurs through subtle cognitive changes such as identifying the self as a “survivor” rather than a “victim.” These changes in reference create new, more rational, attitudes and behaviors allowing a person to move forward by consciously choosing a different path.

Studies done on the brain chemistry of taxi drivers illustrates how this takes place. Taxi taxidrivers, whose job requires them to memorize mental maps of city streets, have thickened neural layers in their hippocampus, the region of the brain that creates visual spatial memories. These drivers have new tissue they have created there, much like the over developed forearms of a carpenter or mechanic. Similar studies showed that mindfulness meditators had a thicker prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that controls attentiveness, and research subjects that participated in studies to improve their relaxation skills also showed increases in parts of the brain that control self regulation. These studies suggest that your experience and actions matter profoundly, making a difference not just in the moment but for the lasting impact it has on brain chemistry.

It is important to realize that every single day our thoughts and behaviors are creating our brain’s connections and thus our life experiences. Becoming aware of this is a critical component to learning how to optimize your neurochemistry. You can literally “train your brain” by becoming aware of your self talk, focusing your thoughts, and engaging in positive behaviors. You simply cannot avoid the fact that your brain is constantly creating pathways, your goal should be to be more aware of the pathways that you are creating.

What you choose to pay attention to and what you focus on will be the primary influence on how your brain develops. Naturally, some things will grab your attention first – health problems, worries, and legitimate fears. How you choose to process, reframe, and work through these fears will be the deciding factor in how your brain chemistry ultimately settles as a result of these experiences. Focusing on optimistic thoughts, things which are controllable, and working on acceptance and gratitude are things that you must consciously take responsibility for. Doing so will create a brain that is wired for strength, resilience, optimism, and emotional flexibility. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/best-state-live/ )

Keep in mind the expression “neurons that fire together, wire together.” Become more aware of when you are staying with a negative emotion longer than is necessary. CatchingOptimistic_Life yourself in this negativity, consciously working to change that mindset, and moving forward in a more positive direction is the most important part of training your brain in this manner. Whether you are naturally optimistic or pessimistic, consciously seeking where to place your focus and attention is a must if you want to maximize your brain’s ability to create your reality and the quality of your life.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”-Carl Gustav Jung

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

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