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Why “Going To The Gym” Doesn’t Work

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” – John Dryden

The month of February is starting next week. How are you doing with your New Year’s resolution? You know, the one that you are going to “go to the gym” at least three times a week? If you’re like most people, you are already slacking on this. Statistically, over 80% of you are already sliding on this and will be completely over it by Valentine’s Day. What’s going on? Bought the right clothing for it, you planned it out well, or at least you thought you did. You even put the cool looking ID badge on your key ring to remind you of all the hard work you were doing. Now that ID badge is a constant reminder to you, nagging you that you are failing on a promise you made to yourself. What’s going on with you? Why can’t you “go to the gym?”

The answer lies in the reasons that you need to go to the gym in the first place. Most people decide to go to the gym were at one point in their life in pretty decent shape. They remained pretty active during high school and college, and perhaps were once quite athletic. By their early 30s jobs, careers, marriage, family, and children all came along and gradually changed their lifestyle. People find themselves trying to salvage small bits of their schedule to carve out some “me time,” where they can get in a workout. For most people, the lifestyle of trying to survive in the 21st century changes their daily habits. A person wakes up one day, looks in the mirror, and sees a large stranger staring back at them. After the initial realization that the stranger is actually them, thoughts change to, “What happened?” A person usually decides that they’re going to change and “get back to” some past physical size or capability that they had in their youth. You know, back to my weight when I got married, back to my 34 inch waist, back to my what ever. But how? How do I get it back?

The media, television, and the Internet-three indulgences that got you out of shape in the first place-eventually provides the answer. Join a gym! Simple! Three easy words, join a gym! 10 bucks a month! What could this possibly go wrong with this? Some of these gyms even guarantee that you will not feel embarrassed being there, promising that no one is going to judge you, there will be no muscled out bodybuilders juiced out of their minds actually working hard. You can go there, listen to a little pop music, putter around on a few shiny machines, and even attend their pizza night on Fridays. Within six weeks you look fantastic, all your friends will be telling you how great you look, and life will be puppies and rainbows.

So what goes wrong? What goes wrong is your willpower and habits need to be built up before you begin to work on your body. You’ve gotten out of shape because of a lifestyle that you developed because you have responsibilities. This fast-paced lifestyle that probably includes job and family stress that’s led to high levels of cortisol, eating on-the-fly when you get a chance, not enough time, and eventually too much on your plate. Literally and figuratively, too much on your plate. You’re too busy, eating a little too much of what ever is available when you’re hungry, and not moving enough during your day.

“You’ve decided to change, but nothing else has. Whatever got you here in the first place is still out there.”- Original quote from the author

The problem with this logic is that the reason you got out of shape in the first place is that your lifestyle changed your habits. Modern life is a Chinese water torture, slowly but surely dripping, dripping, eroding willpower and motivation. Going to the gym without building motivation first is the biggest mistake, setting you up for inevitable failure. The second mistake is announcing it to everyone. “I’m going to go to the gym, get back in shape.” Everyone knows it, and you emphasize it by putting that fashionable ID badge on your key ring. Within a couple of months it serves as a nagging reminder that you are fooling yourself. Eventually, you even stop looking at yourself in the mirror, stop stepping on the scale, and start feeling bad about yourself… again. You start believing that you’re lazy. In all reality, you wouldn’t be if you had the time to work out. You don’t! At least not in the traditional way of “going to the gym.” You have more important things in your life, or so you think… Telling yourself that you are going to “go to the gym” a regular basis is unrealistic in a setup for failure.

The solution? A little reality check. You can find the time. In fact, despite what you think, we all have the same amount of time-24 hours each day. How do you learn to utilize your time in a way that allows you to stay fit? Here are some practical, but not very sexy, suggestions:

⦁ Start by building up your motivation! It’s not that you don’t want to be in shape, you’ve lost your drive, motivation and willpower. Start by building this back first. The way to do this is with small, and I mean really small, bouts of exercise, 10 minutes or less, one to two times per day. It needs to be simple. Things like a 10 minutes stretching routine in the morning, parking your car a few blocks away from your job and walking, skipping the elevator for the stairs, or walking your dog after work, are good examples. No excuses! If the weather is unfavorable, then do 10 crunches and 10 push-ups on the floor. Write these down in a notebook! This is very important. It may seem trivial, but trust me, it’s not. You have to write this down with the date in what you did for those 10 minutes. Do not do any more than this for the first month! The goal for this month is to gradually get you used to moving again as pain-free as possible. If you go to a gym, your enthusiasm will take over in a way that your body cannot accommodate. You’ll get sore muscles, sore joints, pain, and will feel rundown. Nothing kills motivation faster.
⦁ Do not buy any equipment that you don’t already own! Nothing is a bigger reminder of your lack of motivation than a dusty exercise bike in your basement, or some $1500 exercise machine that you used for a few weeks. Remember, you’re building motivation first, and slowly. If you do have exercise equipment do not do a long routine of any type. 10 minutes periods of time only! If you feel enthusiastic indulge yourself with a second 5 minute period of time only if at least eight hours are between episodes. And, stick with this for a full month.
⦁ Not having any equipment to use is not an excuse. Start by using your body weight and learn how to move again. Equipment, although great, tends to put strain on the joints more so than body weight exercises. Pain is the killer of motivation, remember that.
⦁ Do not join a gym or spend any money on your exercise routine for at least 30 days! Work is probably one of the reasons you haven’t had the time to exercise over the years. Wasted money on trying to get fit is a nagging reminder that you are lazy, unmotivated, and out of shape. Before you spend a dime on your exercise program, be sure that you can stick to a routine for at least 30 days.
⦁ After 30 days you may begin to ramp up your exercise routine to approximately 30 minutes per day. This 30 minutes may be done consecutively or it can be broken down into two, 15 minute sessions. Again, it is imperative that this is recorded in your notebook with the date, the length of time, and what you did for exercise. Even though you made it through the first month or so, Do not go to the gym! The reason is you run the risk of sabotaging your exercise routine by the commitment of time it will take to get there, work out, shower and change, and return to your real life.
⦁ After 90 days of exercise, you’re on your own! Feel free to amp up your daily routine to as much as you want. If you want to buy home equipment, then do so. Whatever you do for a daily routine, just make sure it fits your schedule. Never drastically alter your schedule for your exercise routine! Remember, the reason you stopped exercising in the first place was because of your schedule. Make your routine fit your schedule by working out in the morning before your day starts, doing something during your lunch break at work, closing your office door for some push-ups, crunches, or stretching, doing an exercise tape every afternoon when you get home, walking your dog twice a day, etc. Your routine needs to be as natural as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. Getting in the car, driving to a commercial gym, changing into some fashionable clothing, working out in a warehouse under the scrutiny of others on shiny machines, showering, and returning to your real-world is not natural, at least not for you. There are select few who are wired to thrive at a commercial gym. You are not one of them! If you were, you’d never would have gotten out of shape in the first place. Don’t fool yourself! Do not go to the gym!

Following these suggestions will allow you to develop internal reasons for exercise. You can learn to enjoy exercise in and of itself, rather than for the external reasons where you are rewarded by what others think of you. The activity itself needs to be your reward. You need to consider it as being equally beneficial to your mental health as it is to your physical health. Once you start connecting the mind benefits with the body benefits, your hooked.

Just remember these simple rules:

⦁ At least three substantial workouts a week
⦁ Never go more than three days without some kind of workout.
⦁ A brief workout is better than no workout.
⦁ Do something daily, even if it is a few minutes of stretching on your “off” day. Mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, and physical projects around the house all count as a workout.
⦁ Balance cardiovascular workouts with resistance work such as weights, body weight exercises, or resistance bands.
⦁ Don’t Diet! Just be sure to cut down on sugar, simple carbohydrates, and allow yourself sugary, sweet, desserts around one time per week.

Following these principles sets yourself up for success rather than failure. Build back the motivation you once had and remember how much fun it was to feel fit and move.

“And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean? “- Apollo Creed

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

Worried About 2017? Make A F*ck It List

“Forever trusting who we are, and nothing else matters.” – Metallica, Nothing Else Matters

Another year is in the record books, and a new one is beginning. New Year’s brings an optimism and freshness that is hard to explain, but you know it when you feel it. Many of us start our New Year’s with a list of things that we would like to accomplish over the next 365 days. Some will actually attain these goals, but most will give up. Statistics say that most of these resolutions will be dead and gone by Valentines Day. What is it about New Year’s Day resolutions that brings out the BS in most of us? Why do so many fail to follow through?

Everyone is probably familiar with the term Bucket List. A Bucket List is a list of things that one simply has to to do before they die. In theory, there is an urgency with a bucket list, the idea being that a life would not be fulfilled without accomplishing these things. The idea is compelling in an almost spiritual way. Maybe all accomplishment doesn’t have to be this dramatic or drastic.

The year 2017 is the perfect time to change traditional New Year’s resolution lists. It promises to be an exciting year and, depending upon your political beliefs, it’s going to be a dawning of the new age for the United States or the end of Western civilization as we know it. Rather than work ourselves into a tizzy, we all should create a new list this year. Not things that we want to do, must do, or will do. A list of things that we won’t do. Not a to do list, not a bucket list, but a F*ck It List.

The idea behind your F*ck It List is pretty simple. You comprise a list of things that you will no longer do, tolerate, or put up with any longer. You are going to clean house, de-clutter your life, removing the people, places, and things that are dragging you down. Why would you do this? Consider the wisdom of this great American philosopher:

“The status quo sucks.” – George Carlin

Here are some suggestions of things that you may want to say F*ck It to in 2017:

⦁    Say F*ck It to negativity, whether it’s yours or anyone else’s. Consider the way you talk to yourself about yourself. When you look in the mirror in the morning what you say to yourself? Perhaps, even right now, you’re pondering those extra 7 pounds that you’ve gained from Thanksgiving to now, berating yourself for being a “fat slob,” a “pig,” or some other derisive term. Why? Why talk to yourself like that? F*ck It !
⦁    Say F*ck It to negative people. If you can, avoid them, then avoid them. Delete them from your speed dial, contacts list, or Facebook friends. If you can’t, or for some masochistic reason won’t, limit your contact with them. If they tend to piss you off with their rants about religion, politics, or anything else that upsets you, time to end the conversation with an, “I gotta go, talk to you later,” kind of attitude. When in doubt, avoid entirely.
⦁    Say F*ck It to worrying about what people think about you. Realize that you not a mind reader, the Great Karnak, Madame Cleo, or Nostradamus. You have no idea what they’re thinking. Remember that 90% of the time, 90% of people are not thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves. You’re not so special that everybody’s thinking about you. You decide, what You think about You this year!
⦁    Say F*ck It to dieting. Dieting doesn’t usually work for people because it’s such a negative word, with all kinds of negative connotations. You deprive yourself of something that you truly enjoy so that you can impress people that you see briefly. The reward for all that sacrifice is they tell you how great you look. Well, Cupcake, they are going to say that anyway. When is the last time you ran into someone you hadn’t seen for a long time and they told you you look like crap? This year you’re not “going on a diet”, you are simply going to eat healthy instead. Consider eating poorly in the same manner that a moderate drinker uses alcohol. You may imbibe one night per week, a couple of times a month, or even less than that. You don’t grab that bottle of Jack Daniels the next morning, you go back to your normal and balanced routine. Do that with your nutrition. Everything in moderation, just be sure it’s really moderation. Say F*ck It to dieting in 2017.
⦁    Say F*ck It to the media overkill. No year in the history of the United States has been more divided because of the media. The current age of instant access, instant information, and instant journalism, makes the Yellow Journalism of the late 19th century look childish and primitive. How many friends have you lost this year because of political discussions punctuated by quotes from suspect news sources? How many friends that you thought you really knew and shared values with do you now considered to be total A holes because of what you read on their Facebook page? Don’t you kind of wish you didn’t know this about them? F*ck that this year.
⦁    Say F*ck It to an exercise routine doesn’t motivate you. How many people do you know that brag that they “go to the gym” look like crap? I’d guess more than half. The reason is they don’t really go, overestimate how often they go, or haven’t gone in ages. That Planet Fitness tag on their keychain is just a reminder that they will go… sometime…soon…when they can find the time. You may even be one of those no judgment zone refugees yourself. The reason you don’t go is because you don’t want to, because you don’t like it. F*ck It! Find some kind of routine that you truly enjoy and will stick to. It can be something as simple as a routine you do at home, walking your dog, shooting basketballs in your driveway, or gardening in your backyard. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something. It has to be, however, something that you truly enjoy doing. Find that, and do it often.

These half-dozen suggestions for your F*ck It is by no means meant to be inclusive, rather, it is meant to be stimulation for you to get some motivation for some New Year’s resolutions that you are likely to stick with. The beauty of a F*ck It list is that it is instantly reinforcing and the results are noticeable immediately, right from the very first F*ck It. And don’t feel bad about it, don’t announce it on your Facebook page, just begin to do it. A well thought out F*ck It List is a catalyst for a happier you in 2017. This year, decide what really matters to you, makes you truly happy and more available to those that you truly care about.

‘Never opened myself this way. Life is ours, we live it our way. All these words I don’t just say, and nothing else matters.” – Metallica, Nothing Else Matters

Have a happy 2017!

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 Dickens Technique: Lessons From Ebenezer Scrooge

“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

It is Christmas week, and many of us will be watching some tried-and-true classic Christmas movies. Perhaps the most notable of all Christmas stories is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, first published in London in 1843. The novel met with instant success, and the story has been told, retold, modified, and adapt into hundreds of plays and movies. It tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who has a Christmas Eve epiphany about his own role in creating his miserable life. He is visited by three spirits who show him his past, giving him insight into how he became such a miserable bastard, his present life in all its misery, and his future if he remains the same and doesn’t change anything about himself. Of course, we all know how the story ends, he wakes the next morning and exclaims, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” He lives up to his promise, and lives out the rest of his days as a happy and generous philanthropist, loved and revered by all.

Wouldn’t it be great if change were that simple? Is it possible that anyone can change their life so drastically, dramatically, and permanently, practically overnight? While it’s not quite that simple, it’s also not that complicated either. It is possible that dramatic change can be attained using a technique from neurolinguistic programming called The Dickens Technique.

The strategy, while simple, is highly effective and is based on a lot of proven strategies for therapeutic change and personal growth. It must be done exactly as outlined here. It must be written down! Not entered into your iPad iPhone, it must be written down! There is a neurological reason for this. The act of writing something out, in your own handwriting and on paper, makes it effective and transformative. The process of thinking about change, writing it out, and periodically reviewing it, creates new neurological pathways in the brain. These pathways will lead to new behaviors and, over time, permanent change.

Here’s how it’s done:
The first step is to sit down with a notebook and visit the Ghost of Christmas Past. Choose a part of your life you are not happy with, for example your fitness level, diet, relationship status, income, job, etc. Write out as many of your core beliefs about that subject as possible. Start with yourself, asking yourself the question “Who am I?” Begin with the words, I am… and write out as many answers as you can until you pretty much exhausted all the things that you see yourself as being that relate to the are you want to change. Don’t think, write quickly and impulsively. You can sort it through later.

Next write “I believe… Write out as many of your beliefs as possible about whatever you would like to change. For example, if you wanted to change your body and fitness level, would write about what you believe about your body, ability to exercise, ability to endure physical discomfort from various types of exercise, ability to adhere to a healthy diet, and ability to stick to a exercise consistently.

If you wanted to change your beliefs about money, you would write about your current attitudes towards wealth. If you start with “money is the root of all evil,” you probably can see why you haven’t any. If you don’t have any, you’ll want to write out the excuses that you tell yourself are the reasons that you don’t have any. Write has many as you can without analyzing or filtering what you are writing. Write nonjudgmentally, in a stream of consciousness manner.

If you want to change your relationship status, start with your beliefs about the gender that you want to connect with. “Men are all pigs, women are all after your money, there are no good men out there,” etc. are all thoughts that set you up for failure.

The next step is to visit the Ghost of Christmas Present. Taking inventory of where you are currently with regard to the area you would like to change. For example, if you grew up associating certain foods with physical comfort, you can probably see that the BMI that you have of 32 is probably associated with those kinds of foods. If you think that all men or women are “losers”or that there just “isn’t anybody out there for me,” then you probably can see why you’re alone. If you believe that, “I just can’t save any money,” then of course you don’t have any. Really get in touch with the emotions and the pain that you currently feel about the area that you want to change. Pain, as most of us intuitively know, can be a great motivator and teacher. Although this is the hardest part of the Dickens Technique, it is very important to really dial in this emotion and lean into the associated pain.

The final step in the process is to visit the most feared ghost of all, the Ghost of Christmas Future. There is, however, a twist in the story here. Vividly envision the improvements in your designated area of life that will occur if you make some changes. Ask yourself, “If I can change my beliefs, truly change what I believe, where will I be in three months, six months, one year, three years, five years, etc.?” See yourself in your mind’s eye having the fitness level you want, the bank account you desire, or in a relationship with the kind of person that you know that you want and deserve. This visualization is an incredibly important part of the process, enabling you to “practice” what it will feel like when, not if, you attain these goals. When a person truly believes that change is possible, self efficacy is created, and goal attainment becomes more likely because they have convinced their mind, body, and spirit, that it is possible because they have seen it, and felt it, they accept that it can not only happen, but will happen if they create an action plan to get there. All change must start with the belief and conviction that it is possible. That’s the most important factor in the Dickens Technique.

Once you establish a firm conviction that this change is possible, you are well on your way towards getting there. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge however, you must revisit this written exercise often, even daily in the early phases of your process. This exercise, written out in your own handwriting, becomes a call for action. You will become your own motivator. It’s important to visit the Ghost of Christmas Future as often as possible in order to change your perceptions of your capabilities. Practice visualization, use your imagination, see and feel the changes that you are creating. All success comes with belief in yourself. Set aside time each day to reinforce your new beliefs and get acquainted with your future self.

This brief and effective strategy follows the steps that are part of all therapeautic change. Don’t dismiss their power and effectiveness. Give yourself the Christmas gift of positive change!

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, but if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” -Ebenezer Scrooge

Merry Christmas to you and your tribe!

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

Social Media And The Dumbing Down Of America

“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance”- Carl Sagan

As a young boy growing up in the highly Roman Catholic greater Boston area, I recall a practice called “going on retreat.” It called for going away for a day or two for prayer and pope contemplation. Of course, when we went on these as adolescents, we did everything possible to avoid the quiet and solitude that the retreat directors tried to expose us to. They were, undoubtedly, “the lamest thing that ever happened.” Years later, I was a teacher at a Roman Catholic high school and the yearly retreat was a part of the opening week for the faculty. We would spend two days and one night away from the hustle and bustle of the world in semi-isolation on some quiet and usually huge piece of property owned by the Catholic Church. We were supposed to be engaged in prayer, so as to be ready to spend the upcoming school year “teaching as Jesus taught.” I recall not praying very much at all, but I was introduced to that feeling of calm and serenity that being isolated from technology, music, telephones, and TV that those two days provided. And, for some bizarre reason, I always the better spiritually, despite my half assed attempts at prayer. It kind of felt like a detox of sorts, in which I had been purged of all the negative aspects of a culture dependent upon technology.

The reality is that technology is, in fact, addictive. We have become a culture where virtually everyone utilizes every spare moment they have staring at a 3X5 computer that they hold in their hands. Our days are punctuated by the sounds of iPhones that vibrate, ring, chime, and interrupt with inappropriate music. Our whole lives are in those little tiny computers. We pay our bills, get information, music, our books, photographs, and hold the intimate details of our lives – all in the palm of our hand. Way too much information and way too accessible.

This glut of information can be a blessing or a curse. Unfortunately, within the last 10 years it is starting to look more like a curse than a blessing. Here’s some negative aspects of this technology:

1, Social media is highly addictive. Studies show that approximately 70% of all Americans log into Facebook daily. Almost 50% login multiple times per day. People receive likes and shares for things that they post. From a behavioral standpoint, these are positive reinforcements. All living creatures seek positive reinforcements and they can be addictive. Dr. Cecilie Andraessen at the University of Bergen, Norway and her colleagues have classified the overuse of Facebook as an addiction, creating an instrument called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale to quantify what constitutes Facebook Addiction. You can look it up, but don’t bother. You probably have it.

2, Social media leads to unrealistic and contrived comparisons to others with regard to looks, possessions, relationships, and belief systems. For young people, particularly adolescents, social media is a way to develop your identity, embellish your looks and accomplishments, declare your relationship status or lack thereof, and let everyone know what you just had for lunch. For the older crowd, social media is a way to feel superior to others because of your religious or political beliefs. Adults will argue about two conversational taboos that they would never argue about face to face-religion and politics, pontificating about their private and personal beliefs to friends  that disagree in a way that would be insulting and obnoxious if done in real time.

3. Social media creates a false perception of making a difference. People can be lulled into a false sense that they are promoting social justice by trying to convince those with different beliefs to change their ideals in causes that they support. Liberals versus conservatives, Republicans versus Democrats, Hillary versus the Donald, etc. all of this cyber posing and posturing can make one feel like Gandhi, Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King, all the click of a button. However, nothing changes in real time. To my knowledge, there are no instances ever of anyone changing a belief that they already held because of a Facebook argument.

4. Social media and the Internet have created a Cult of Celebrity, where the opinions of rockactors, athletes, musicians, and pop cultural icons are held in higher esteem than those of politicians, scientists, spiritual leaders, and intellectuals. If Springsteen or Kanye say so, it simply has to be true. This Celebrity Cult can be dangerous if the culture looks to celebrities for guidance in realms that are out of their areas of expertise. We have recently elected a celebrity as president of the United States and there is a growing groundswell of support for other celebrities to run in 2020. Yesterday I saw a petition online to support Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson for president. Really? Can you smell what the president’s been cooking?

5. Social media tends to promote nonscientific and archaic solutions to society’s problems based on anecdotal evidence. According to the Internet and social media, yoga, cannabis, and curcumin can cure virtually anything. No need for physicians or science. There’s nothing that probiotics cannot cure. Oh, and forget about those vaccinations. They can kill you.

6. Social media and the Internet has created an environment where anyone can find any news story they may need to support a false assumption. Conspiracy theories abound, exciting the imagination of millions of people. Once a theory goes viral, it becomes an accepted fact. It has to be, because everybody believes it, right? The masses line up, either for or against, and society gets dragged into a rabbit hole of nonsense. The interesting thing is that both sides, for and against these theories, can find ample evidence supporting their viewpoint – all at the push of a button.

7. Social media has distorted the meaning of community. While online communities can be highly beneficial, they’ll never replace real communities where people meet face-to-face, in real time, and share their human experiences. Ideally, people should have both. Social media can be a great way to stay in with extended family and old friends that you’ve lost touch with. Just be sure not to neglect family members and friends who live close by.

8. Social media has distorted our sense of privacy interpersonal boundaries. People will vent about a relationship that they had just ended, some personal problem that may have just gone through, or how much they hate their job. Existential angst gets dispersed into cyberspace and, once it’s there, it’s hard to get back. Some people use social media in the same way that previous generations used a journal or a personal diary. Today it’s very fashionable to put all your deepest and most private thoughts on your Facebook page. Sometimes not a great idea.

9. Social media has changed the ways that people share good wishes, congratulations, and couple-phonecondolences. This is one of the better aspects of social media. Being able to respond to someone’s grief, joy, or to be able to instantly celebrate something of significance with them is great. Just make sure that you try to do the same thing in person if possible. I often wonder if that guy that writes that long and rambling post about how much he loves his wife on their anniversary had the brains to tell her to her face.

10. The Internet and social media have replaced books, pens, paper, and libraries. While this, in and of itself, is not necessarily bad, it can lead to faulty research. Most people latch on to the first article that pops up in a Google search and unquestionably believe it to be true. It has to be, right? I got in on the Internet.

Like most things in life, the answer is balance. Use technology wisely, as overindulgence can lead to misinformation, impaired relationships, loss of privacy, and a host of physical and emotional disturbances. But, don’t take my word for it.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan

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

Amor Fati : How To Live Life On Life’s Terms

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The nature of being human is to be a thinking, feeling, animal. We continually assess nietzsche187awhat is going on in our world, both internally and externally. We receive information, derive a feeling, and decide what it means to us. The meaning that we connect to these experiences shapes the context of our lives. What we love, hate, feel good about, feel bad about, worry about and fear, are all determined by the meaning that we attach to the experiences we have. Ultimately, we all must realize that we do not have much control over most of these things. This realization usually happens in early adolescence and often results in years, if not a lifetime, of running from both real and imagined pain.

This isn’t anything new. Mankind has been experiencing it since Adam bit the apple. Religion and philosophy were developed by humans to resolve the existential angst of the human condition. All religions and philosophical traditions ultimately teach the practice of acceptance. Religions invariably encourage prayer, a turning over of this pain to a higher power, thus relieving the person of the pain of carrying it. Many philosophies encourage a detached acceptance in an “it is what it is” fashion. In both cases the pain remains, albeit to a lesser degree. The pain remains because it is something that we cannot ultimately embrace.

Acceptance is hard and, for most people, impossible. Letting go of control is one of the most frightening feelings a human can have. But what if you could find joy and fulfillment through letting go? Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher put it this way:

“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it…” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Amor Fati! To love and embrace your fate. Not easily done, and Frederick Nietzsche epictetus-5hardly sounds like a fun guy. Nietzsche is best known as the, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” guy. Look a little deeper, and much of what he says makes sense. Nietzsche, and the Stoic philosophers before him, took acceptance to its deepest possible levels. The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, put it this way:

“Do not seek to have events happen as you want them but instead want them to happen and your life will go well.” – Epictetus

From modern philosopher Eckhart Tolle:

” The acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.” – Eckhart Tolle

The nature of acceptance, and the concept of amor fati is to accept, receive, and ultimately embrace, all that life has to offer you, the good, bad, and ugly. It teaches us that contentment, fulfillment, and purpose can only come by embracing, and even welcoming, all that life has to offer us. This need not be a pessimistic outlook, rather it is designed to make us fully appreciate the beauty and joy available to us during our rather short lifetime.

Being fully open to everything that life has to teach us is clearly an acquired skill, not something we are born with as the avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is natural. It is also the reason for almost all human suffering. Ultimately, life is going to do what life does. Learning to let go and accept that we are not in control can be liberating. It can also give us more joy in more meaning with the things that are in our control. Can there be any other way to enjoy a fulfilling life?

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love ooenhenceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Live life on life’s terms. There really is no other logical choice.

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 Straight Dope On Dopamine

“Dopamine is released when you accomplish something you set out to accomplish, when you cross something off your to do list, when you hit the goal. Dopamine makes us achievement machines, but we have to know we are making progress.” – Simon Sinek

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released in the brain that is responsible for a number of motivated-man-720x480functions that makes human life worth living. Some of its more important functions are movement, behavior, cognition, attention, mood, and learning. Its most well-known, and probably most appreciated function, is its motivation, reward, and pleasure creating abilities. To put it quite simply, no dopamine, no fun.

Dopamine is produced in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain. It is produced there, but it’s production does not happen independently without our cooperation. Dopamine mediates the pleasure centers of our brain. It is released during pleasurable activities and compels us to seek out more of that activity. It determines what we find satisfying, stimulating, and rewarding. It determines what we seek out, pursue, and how we feel when we ultimately find it. It compels humans to engage in some of life’s basic functions such as the pursuit of food and sex, creates motivation to strive, is the chemical basis for competition, reward, and that feeling of pleasure we get from the attainment of a goal. It’s what Mick Jagger was looking for in 1965 when he couldn’t get no satisfaction. It is the chemical basis for our fascination with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

All animals, including humans, have some control over this chemical compulsion that dopamine creates. Left unbridled, dopamine can create a lot of problems for humans that other animals don’t have to worry about. Dopamine is the chemical incentive for a lot of human vices. It is the chemical behind love, which is good, but too much of it can lead to lust, adultery, and rape. It can lead one to seek out a satisfying and nutritious meal, but an excess may lead to food addiction, binge eating, and poor health. It can lead us to engage in physical activity that gives us a feeling of well-being, such as hiking or moderate exercise, but too much can lead to a desire to use addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin in order to get the same feeling faster and more intensely. Proper regulation of dopamine creates a life of achievement, satisfaction, reward and fulfillment. Misuse dopamine and you could find yourself in jail or a slave to addiction.

Dopamine also plays a role in cognition and memory. It is often activated by vision, as we often desire that which we see. It can determine what we focus on and can be a factor in compulsions such as gambling, pornography, Internet addiction, and even that compulsive need to check our iPhones hundreds of times during the day. Those little iPhone checks that many of us find difficult to stop are actually little hits of dopamine that we get multiple times during the day. The reward center of our brain is stimulated and compulsion is the result.

How can we learn to control and harness the benefits of this neurochemical to improve quality of our life? Since dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving kinds of behaviors, there is a lot a person can do to get the rewards that dopamine can offer. Unfortunately, it is far easier to improve dopamine levels with destructive behaviors than it is with healthy behaviors. You don’t have to resort to sex, drugs, or even rock ‘n roll in order to increase your levels of dopamine.

Get your diet and nutrition in order. Of all the chemicals that make up dopamine, none is more important than the tyrosine.Tyrosine, one of the building blocks of dopamine, is found in almonds, avocados, beef, bananas, chicken, chocolate, coffee, eggs, green tea, watermelon, and yogurt.

Engage in some dopamine building behaviors. Here are some simple tweaks to your lifestyle that can increase your dopamine levels:

⦁    Write things down and check them off as you accomplish them. Remember, dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving. By writing down a daily to do list, writing out your workout plan, writing out long and short-term goals, and checking these off as you attain them, you are working with your brain chemistry to not only increase motivation, but also to increase the intensity of your reward.
⦁    Be creative. Art, writing, cooking, home improvement projects etc. are all good examples of ways to increase your dopamine. Start with things you know you can do well and gradually increase the difficulty. As you do so you will build confidence, motivation, and self-satisfaction.
⦁    Engage in a daily routine of exercise. Don’t do the same exercise every day, change things up. Occasionally test yourself. Go for a new max dead lift, try to increase your personal best for push-ups, walk a little farther, run a little faster. Start small with these exercise goals and seek out goals that you are reasonably sure, but not certain, that you can achieve.
⦁    Listen to inspiring music. Whatever kind of music motivates you to get up and do something is what you should listen to. Many people find that different genres of music are useful for different reasons. Music is uplifting and inspiring and can be used as a way to regulate dopamine. In the ancient world armies frequently marched into battle to the sounds of trumpets. NFL games are punctuated with uplifting music at opening kickoff and after touchdowns. There is a reason that this is both inspiring and rewarding. Find ways to use different kinds of music for different purposes.
⦁    Avoid behaviors that are addictive. Avoid alcohol to excess and refrain from stimulant abuse from drugs such as cocaine. “Recreational” drug use can be the beginning of a dopamine depleted brain that will engage in high risk and often self-destructive behavior in order to feel some type of reward. Keep in mind that almost anything done to excess can be addictive. Be careful of how much “screen time” you engage in. Too much time pursuing stupid things on the Internet, online viewing of pornography, or mindless video gaming can ruin a person’s desire for real knowledge, real intimacy, or real life. Better to engage in real reality than virtual reality.
calendar⦁    Get a streak going. Counting off the number of days that you do something, crossing it off a list or a calendar, can build dopamine levels. Just be sure to start with something small and attainable, something that you are reasonably sure you can stick with. Crossing it off is a visual reminder that reinforces goal attainment. That satisfaction you receive in doing so is that dopamine hit that you crave.
⦁    Meditate. Meditation quiets the mind and eliminates the natural human tendency to over think things. While it may seem counterintuitive to seek a state of stillness in order to increase dopamine, it’s really not. When one can find satisfaction and reward from merely being, increased dopamine is easily attainable. Meditation can fit and well with getting a streak going. Don’t set yourself up by failure by thinking you’re going to do it for hours every day, set aside 5 to 10 minutes for starters. It’s more important to meditate a little every day, even if it’s for a few minutes, than to do with hourly once or twice a week.

So, that’s the straight dope on dopamine. Learn to harness the joys of this brain chemicalgronk and improve the quality of your life. Enjoy the journey, and reap the rewards!

“If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.” – Lou Holtz

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

Rational Detachment : The Art Of Getting Out Of Your Own Way

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached. ” – Simone Weil

Humans are thinking, reasoning, and reacting beings that navigate through life through a complex interaction of reality, internal dialogue, and situational interpretation. We have capemotional existence far more complicated than that of other living creatures. We remember, we interpret, and we reminisce. We live our lives with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, often misinterpreting and making poor decisions in the present moment because of something that happened before, or something that we think may happen in the future. We miss a lot of enjoyment and pleasure because we are not focused on what is happening in the present. Most of us believe that we are somewhat clairvoyant, relying on feelings more than facts, and, since we are human, we are often wrong.

Emotional attachments to people, places, things, and events often get in the way of our acting in our best interests. We bring all of our previous experiences and our emotions into every decision that we make. This is unavoidable. Part of the nature of being human is having an ability to interpret, plan, and evaluate. With many things that we do, we evaluate our performance in the moment with a kind of “how am I doing?” mindset. We tend to over analyze, overthink, and misinterpret a lot of critical and often life shaping events. Then, with the rational separation of time and emotional distance, we sometimes find ourselves looking back at those moments with some regret and pain. We find ourselves longing for “the good old days,” those lost opportunities, and turns in the road of life that we wish we had taken. Why were they not taken? Quite possibly, if you’re honest, your emotions got in the way. You didn’t see the bigger picture as you were unable to separate your rational mind from your emotional mind.

As a practicing psychotherapist for the last 20 years, I’ve seen countless people come to me to try to obtain clarity between their emotional and their rational interpretation of some life event. More often than not, they are more focused on their emotions and feelings than what is actually happening. As they begin to speak out loud about this internal conflict, they often get clarity about what is the best course of action to take, if in fact one exists. As a person explains a complicated situation to an unbiased and neutral human being, their rational mind kicks in. It has to, as conversation cannot reflect a person’s internal turmoil. This is why all of us feel better after “talking it out, getting it off my chest, or speaking our piece.” This is the essence of rational detachment.

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” – Anonymous

mirrorIf you have ever spoiled a child, enabled a significant other, played it safe with finances or a job, or hung in with a bad relationship, then you know what it’s like to let your emotions run your life. On some level you knew that you were making a mistake, but you were so focused on the moment and how you felt at the time that you made a poor choice. This is the reason that the old adage rings true: hindsight is 20/20. Too bad you couldn’t have seen it then. Most people chalk it up to an “I didn’t know then what I know now” rationalization and move on-and make similar mistakes over and over again. It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are two concepts when utilizing rational detachment:

Rational
The word rational is defined as having a sound mind possessing a capacity to reason and think logically. Naturally, most intelligent human beings are rational people. The problem is that, when emotionally stressed, emotion gets in the way, clouds judgment, and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture options that might be available to us. Our emotions do not give us permission to do what our rational minds would tell us, if they could. People often know at the time that what they’re doing is probably not the best thing, but somehow it seems to be the safest and least stressful path to choose. We seek to spoil that child, enable that family member, avoid confrontation, prevent an awkward moment, or not take that  risk. We will avoid some pain, for a while, but a bigger problem will more than likely result down the road. The avoidance of pain is one of the most motivating factors for any living thing, but especially human beings. While other creatures are motivated to avoid only physical pain, humans are motivated to avoid emotional, imagined, and potential future pain as well. These are factors that can impede a rational mind and create a lot of bad decisions.

Detachment

Detachment is a state of being objective, almost to the point of aloofness. The goal of being detached in using the rational detachment strategy is not to be uncaring or cold, rather it is to be stone cold objective. Remember, it is the emotional interpretation of what is happening, could happen, or you believe will happen when confronted with a challenging situation. Detachment is the 20/20 hindsight experienced in the present moment. We all have this ability, we are just not aware of how to use it for our own benefit.

For example, you probably have friends that you’ve given advice to, and, the advice was probably pretty sound. You gave your best friend advice about that terrible relationship they were in, advised your child about that problem at school, and you have an ability to recognize enabling behaviors in others quite clearly. You may even be the kind of person that friends gravitate to when it comes to seeking sound advice, a second opinion, or some guidance for a difficult personal matter. You give sound advice to all of them, but find it very difficult when it comes to advising yourself. Why? Why can’t you give yourself the same sound advice that you give others? The answer: you are not detached from the emotional baggage that goes into making good choices. It’s your baggage, which makes it heavy enough to cloud your judgement.

Here are some ways to rationally detach from the emotions that cloud your better judgment:

Get the story out. Usually, the emotions exist inside your mind. Clarity can best be gained by looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective by telling the story to someone else or by writing the story out on paper. The goal of this kind of activity is to make the situation someone else’s rather than your own. Remember, if this was someone else’s problem you probably have great answers and insights to share. It doesn’t have to be any different just because the problem is yours. It’s often helpful to change the names of the characters. Substitute someone else’s name from your own and of those involved in the problem. View your “story” in the third person. This is the best way to detach from the emotions that will get in the way.

Review the story by visualizing both the potential negative outcomes and the positive outcomes. Look for patterns with past behavior is similar situations. Most people tend to make the same kind of choices when it comes to relationships, parenting, finances, and career decisions. Look for ways that you are repeating patterns that you are not okay with any longer. Reformulate the potential outcomes over and over again, detaching from the emotions by viewing the situation in the third person perspective. Visualize this as if it was a movie. Write down some note so you can literally see your story from the outside point of view.

When I deal with clients who make the same mistakes over and over again, I’ll say to them, “You’ve seen this movie before… ” Usually, they will enthusiastically responded with, chimp“Yeah, I have!,” and we begin to look at how to change the script. The combination of writing out the story in the third person, or even verbalizing the story in the third person out loud can create motivation to take a different course of action. When combined with appropriate visualization, the results can be amazing. You’ve always known what to do. Practice rational detachment and give yourself permission to do it.

“Detachment doesn’t mean avoiding things and going to Himalayas. It means doing what is necessary without drowning in it.” – Sumit Singh

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

Animal Magnetism: The Benefits Of Living With Animals

“They show us what’s missing in our lives, and how to love ourselves completely and unconditionally. They connect us back to who we are, and to the purpose of why we’re here.”- Trisha McCagh

For most of mankind’s history, humans have had an intimate connection with animals. Humans lived with animals, relied on animals for food, power, warmth, and fuel. The kidshuman species would never have survived and thrived without a mutual coexistence with animals. Prior to the early 20th century, human existence was intertwined with those of animals. It is only in the last hundred years that we have become disconnected from the animal world. While modern man, in his arrogance, considers this to be “progress,” it is actually quite the opposite. There are lots of health and wellness benefits that have been lost by distancing ourselves from the rest of planet Earth’s creatures.

Humans and animals share humans and animals share a mutual history. Humans would not have survived without this relationship between man and beast. For thousands of years humans have relied on animals for food, clothing, tools, fuel, guidance, comfort, and emotional support. This relationship has not always been mutually beneficial, nor could it be. The reality of nature is that life consumes life, with most animals eating the flesh of lesser creatures. Primitive man would not have developed the brain capacity required for survival without the benefits of consuming animal protein. During the Neolithic Age, man learned to domesticate animals, use fire to make animal flesh more palatable, and reaped the benefits of greater brain capacity and intellectual development from the consumption of a consistent source of protein. Without our brains and intelligence, we humans are merely ill prepared primates with little hope of survival. Man’s improved brain power enabled him to harness the potential of animals by using bones for tools and weapons, the skins for clothing and building material, and dung for fuel. Animals lived intimately with man, sharing mutual living space. Animals were a part of the tribe and animals and humans shared the common experiences of birth, life, work, and ultimately, death.

The Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century changed this. Industrial society in the last 100 years has grown distant from the animal world and is now suffering the results. Earlier generations, although intimately connected with animals, did not take them for granted nor did they personify or idealize them. There was a greater understanding of the nature of life for both humans and animals. Living among animals is a constant reminder of the rhythm of nature, the endless flow of birth, life, death, and rebirth. While this way of life may sound primitive or barbaric to those of us living in the anesthetized 21st century, it may just be a healthier, interesting, and perhaps a more spiritually connected way of living.

A recent trend in mental health treatment is the utilization of “therapy animals” as a method of connecting people to emotions, empathy, and feeling supported. Animals of all kinds of species are trained, certified, and approved as therapeutic tools for humans who are suffering. Dogs, cats, horses, ferrets, reptiles, you name it, all are providing mental health benefits for thousands of people. Here are some of the health benefits of therapy animals:

⦁    Positive interactions with pets has been proven to lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, and lessen anxiety. It can also have a positive impact on depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and virtually all types of emotional distress.
⦁    Petting and handling pets reduces stress. Physical contact in an affectionate way releases oxytocin in the human brain, a hormone that is associated with stress reduction and lower levels of cortisol. Too much cortisol not only creates stress, it also is a major factor in obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
⦁    Animal care has multiple health benefits. Animals can get you outside and make you more physically active. You may be struggling to follow a program of daily walking. Your dog is not likely to tolerate your not following through on this. In addition, the daily care required by any pet not only gives you a positive routine, but it also can be somewhat physical and provides moderate exercise.
⦁    Animals create a sense of connectedness. Being able to interact with a living thing is an essential part of emotional health. If you own a pet or farm animals, you intuitively know this. You talk to them and they, in their own way, talk back through behavior, gestures, expressions, and a host of ways. These interactions are important to our mental health.
luigi⦁    Contact with animals improves our immune systems. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in the last two generations there has been an increase in common allergies among children and adolescents. While many studies cite the overuse of antibiotics and sterilization processes, there is developing research that indicates our disconnection with animals as being another possible factor. If you have pets, or even have ever visited a farm, you know that being around animals is occasionally a dirty business. Dirty, but beneficial to health.
⦁    Animal care teaches us empathy. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat animals. If you’re a dog owner, you’ve seen this repeated over and over again. In many prisons animal care is part of the rehabilitation of violent criminals. Sociopathic and criminal behavior is associated with a lack of empathy for fellow humans. Prisoners who groom and train animals develop a connection from interacting with a dependent, living being. This, for many violent offenders, is the only positive interaction they have ever had with a living creature. It can also teach them discipline, routine, and what it feels like to have someone rely on you in a positive way.
⦁    Animals remind us of the true nature of life. Most animals have a much shorter lifespan than humans. The death of a pet is a big part of many children’s development. If you remember pets that you’ve lost, or have ever gone through this process with your own children, you know how painful it is. Painful, but necessary and meaningful. Modern life has separated us from birth and death, with these incredibly meaningful events taking place away from our homes and occurring in institutions. Living with, and among, pets is a constant reminder of the cyclical nature of all life.
⦁    Animals keep us in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that many find elusive. The goal of any type of meditation is to stay focused in the present moment. If you own a dog or cat, it’s pretty simple. Do what they do. Spend time around either of these animals for a while and you’ll understand.
⦁    Animals help fight loneliness, isolation, and fear. If you’re a pet owner, you’re never really home alone when you have a pet. Just having that cat sitting on your windowsill can gronkbe comforting. Animals can be a way of lessening the feelings of isolation that can create depression and low self-esteem.
⦁    Animals can be a vital part of a child’s education. Children who grow up on farms are more likely to have a healthier understanding of birth, life, death, and sexuality merely by living the lifestyle. There also more likely to realize that you get out of life what you put in. Children raised in this environment having intimate connection with the food that they consume in a way that is healthy. For example, many believe that hunting and procuring meat yourself is somehow “animal cruelty,” yet it is perfectly acceptable to gorge on a McDonald’s burger or chicken McNuggets that come from animals that live short and brutal lives. Like a lot of things in the 21st century, things we find distasteful are relegated to others to do. Then, there is a tendency to look down upon those that do our dirty work.

A connection to animals is an often missing element of modern life. Our distance from the rest of the Earth’s creatures is not progress, but detrimental. Finding ways to stay connected with animals is healthy and therapeutic in a multitude of ways. Consorting with animals can make you a better human being.

anneboss“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” ― Carol Emshwiller

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

Depression Hates A Moving Target : 7 Ways To Avoid Being Struck

“If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.” – Hippocrates

Depression is often referred to as “the common cold of mental health issues.” Instances of clinical depression are increasing at the rate of 20% per year and it has a ripple effect dpressdacross all aspects of a person’s physical, as well as mental, well-being. It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, and just about any other problem that a human can have. It is often accompanied by anxiety, a mental health issue that one third of Americans report dealing with on a regular basis. Despite the advances in medical treatment in the 21st century, depression and anxiety are increasing at a faster rate than any time in human history. It is more prominent in developed nations than in Third World countries, with one third of the population of the Western world meeting the criteria for major depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. Many do not seek treatment, despite the fact that 60 to 80% of cases of anxiety and depression can be effectively treated with brief and structured forms of psychotherapy and medication. Researchers are beginning to realize that it is even more preventable than it is curable.

Depression is often accompanied by feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, hopelessness, and a feeling of being powerless. It is a mind-body experience where an individual’s total sense of being and self perception are profoundly impacted. Mind and body work together to not only create the depressive symptoms, but work in tandem to keep an individual in the depressed condition for as long as possible. Once a person becomes overwhelmed by depression, it has to be worked through at a rate that varies from person to person. Many do not seek treatment and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 34. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among American ages 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their fifties, with rates rising nearly 50 percent, to 30 per 100,000. It appears that the more advanced our society becomes, the greater the instances of depression. Declining emotional wellness and depression related deaths are becoming the silent epidemic of 21st century life. Why? How is this possible that with all this knowledge, technology, and creature comforts?

 

The answer may well be it is because of all this technology and creature comfort. Mankind has lived a very different lifestyle since the latter part of the 20th century. Walking, for example, is no longer a method of transportation, it is a form of exercise. We have become anesthetized to events such as the beginning of life, death, terminal illness, and the procurement of food, as we have allowed other institutions and corporations to handle these difficult things for us. We don’t do a lot of our own chores anymore, in fact the activity of mowing your lawn one day a week is considered a big deal. We are less involved in the activities of life and are often spectators in activities that our ancestors had to do for themselves. We watch a genre of entertainment called “Reality TV,” in which we revel in the routine activities of other people. In short, we don’t move, we are less active, less involved, and have become spectators and observers of our own lives.

caneYour great grandparents were not immune to depression, in fact depression in their day was quite serious. Fewer people suffered from depression, but when they did it was far more debilitating and dangerous. The modern irony is that depression is more treatable and preventable than ever, yet a greater percentage of people are suffering from it at any time in human history. And, when depression hits, most look for a quick fix in the form of a medication from their primary care doctor, receiving temporary relief that is not a permanent solution.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”-Benjamin Franklin

So, what are some ways to prevent depression?

  1. MOVE! Modern man does not move anywhere near enough to enhanced physical or mental well-being. The modern solution to this is to drive in a vehicle to a gym, sit on machines or exercise bikes for less than 30 minutes of actual physical activity, and return home to a sedentary lifestyle.
  2. Use activity to prevent, cope with, and keep at bay symptoms of depression. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to become less active and withdraw into the internal world of thoughts rather than the external world of action. A person tells themselves stories, mostly negative, which soon take on a life of their own. These negative stories tell a person why they are feeling like they do, and the depressed feelings reaffirm a negative reality. For many, the negative reality created in their mind becomes their “truth,” shaping their view of the world and their very existence.
  3. Understand that human beings are evolutionarily programmed to be physical beings and that lack of movement and exercise in our daily lives are invitations for symptoms of depression. The more active the lifestyle, the less the tendency towards depression. An active lifestyle does not only mean formal exercise, but it can be things that you “have to do,” such as housework, laundry, mowing your lawn, working around your house or apartment, or preparing your own meals. These kinds of activities of daily living, when done yourself, create a sense of control, purpose, and efficacy that is hard to match with an exercise session with your personal trainer. By all means do that formal exercise, but don’t define your physicality merely by that.
  4. Have a eat, sleep, and movement, routines. Waking and sleeping at regular times gives your mind and body a sense of control and self-mastery, feelings that are inconsistent with the symptoms of depression.
  5. Have a movement practice that you engage in daily. It doesn’t have to be the same activity every day, but something needs to be done daily. Simple activities like walking your dog, stretching on the floor, making your bed, or cleaning the kitchen can be mindful and purposeful activities in the prevention of depression. Supplementing these simple things with formal movement practices such as yoga, martial arts, tai chi, or dance can keep you feeling more physically capable of movement. Depression hates a moving target and if you feel capable of motion you are a little ahead of the game.
  6. Become aware of your own, personal, depression patterns. We all have them, but we don’t always recognize them. Dwelling on thoughts that are depressing, negative people or situations, or even time of year or seasons, can trigger an episode of depression. Prevention, for all its hopefulness, cannot deter depression. It can make an episode of depression less debilitating and shorter in duration. I often remind my clients to “Get out of your head and into your body.” Movement can be grounding for those that are anxious and empowering to those who are slipping into depression.
  7. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help when needed. When needed, counseling should be your first choice, rather than seeing your primary care physician. Your PCP is going to talk to you for approximately 20 minutes-if you’re lucky-and is likely to prescribe a medication and nothing else. The medication will work in the short term, but depression will soon return as your lifestyle and coping skills have not improved. With serious depression the most effective treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy supplemented with medication if necessary. I’ve written a number of QuickStart Guides on cognitive behavioral therapy that are available for instant download on Amazon.com:https://www.amazon.com/John-Sannicandro/e/B00LRJF0W6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1474195380&sr=1-1 CBT can be both curative and preventive. It should be a life skill for anyone who hopes to prevent depression.

 

Remember the connection between inertia, negative thinking, and depression. We all have a tendency when depressed to be less physically active and more engrossed in our own thinking. We spend more time in our heads recollecting what we think happened, should have happened, and might happen. These kind of thinking patterns and personalization make depression our fault, often accompanied by feelings such as “I am a bad person,” or “my life is worthless and not living.” Deeply negative feelings are nurtured from the sense of powerlessness that inactivity creates. While the negative story may not entirely go away, it just may be something that you can learn to cope with.

Depression is much like the Buddhist tale of the Second Arrow. Life is the first arrow. We contortionist-archeryall will feel it’s sting from time to time. The first principle of Buddhism is that life is painful, and this pain is unavoidable, no one gets out alive. We are all going to suffer and feel bad from time to time. Depression is analogies to being struck by life’s second arrow. We feel bad about feeling bad, allowing ourselves to be struck by that second arrow of depression. While we may be struck by that second arrow, it need not be fatal.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.” – L.R. Knost

Remember to keep moving.

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

Back To School: Why It’s Not Just For Kids

“To everything there is a season, and a time and purpose for everything under heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

September is here, and with Labor Day, Summer is unofficially over. Autumn can’t be far behind. Autumn, here in New England where I live, is one of the most eventful times of the year. The leaves have already begun to change, and nature is slowly and subtly beginning to do what it always does. Cooler mornings, changing sounds, later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Everything is changing, including us humans.

I’ve always associated Fall with two significant things in my life-school and football. As a FBNew Englander, I am a fan of the Patriots and, as a former player, cold induced aches and pains bring back memories of every tackle that probably were not quite as vicious as I recollect. The rest of the country may not be able to relate to the Patriots, but all Americans can relate to the anticipation and excitement of the beginning of school. I’m more aware of this excitement than most people. Eighteen plus years as a student and thirty-three as a high school teacher have conditioned me to react to September like a Pavlovian dog. The season starts with the back-to-school sales on clothing, stationery supplies, and accessories that every kid needs for school. Remember that lunchbox you got before third grade started? Those must have items that “all the kids have?” Remember the anticipation of meeting your new teacher and the excitement of learning new subjects, being exposed to new challenges, and participating in new activities?

“Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a constant state of learning.”-Bruce Lee

Most of us had a love/hate affair with school. We would never admit that we liked being there, and eagerly looked forward to the day when we would complete it. For some it was high school, others college undergraduate, and postgraduate for others. Our desire to complete our formal education need not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The reality is that all humans have a fundamental need to learn, take on new challenges, stretch their intellectual and physical limits, and continue to grow. Even people who try not to be challenged by life will eventually find it challenging. Life happens, with both the good and bad, and, whether we know it or not, we are in a constant state of learning. The human intellect makes us, by definition, lifelong learners. Life can be more meaningful, and less painful, if it is accepted and embraced as one, continuous, educational experience.

When was the last time you consciously sought out some new things to learn? What’s the old guy schoollast foreign language you tried to learn? Musical instrument? Sport or exercise routine? Formal class that you took? Book that you read? Are there any things that you “wish I learned or studied years ago?” How often do you use the words “too late” and “too old now?” Formal education would have been a better experience for all of us if we could choose the subjects we studied and the extracurricular events that we participated in. As adults, we all have these options. With the right attitude, we can continue to grow and thrive right up to the day that we die. Medical science has redefined what aging means. Each of us needs to discover our own personal definition.

There are hundreds of things you can do and get involved in that can mimic that September excitement that you felt as a kid. Here’s a few ideas:

⦁ Find some new activities. Are you really “too old” for yoga, tai chi, martial arts, Pilates, ballroom dancing, or the gym? A visit to any places where these activities are practiced will show you that the answer is probably not. Adults of all ages participate in these activities, some well into their senior years.
⦁ Take a class in some activity, topic, or academic subject that always been interested in. Most states have pretty vibrant vocational school systems that hava hands-on activities that are useful, interesting, and fun. In some states, community colleges offer free tuition to citizens over a certain age. Many major universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, record their classroom lectures and make them available to the public online for free. You “attend” all the class lectures for a semester online through video. No test taking, no pressure, just access to interesting information and intellectual stimulation available when you are.
⦁ Make some new friends. One of the more exciting aspect of returning to school was who the “new kids” were. Finding out where they were from, what they like to do, what their favorite music was, and why they talked differently, was all part of your developing a social awareness that people were different. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to make new friends, new activities will acquaint you with people that you can size up for a while as you participate. Eventually, some of these same people will become friends in the same manner that your teammates did during high school athletics. No pressure, common activities and mutual interests can form the cornerstone of lifelong friendships.
⦁ Consider counseling, psychotherapy, or self-help activities. These activities are all too often associated with having problems or being “crazy.” They’re not exclusively for those going through some difficulties. They can be incredibly beneficial for everyone, giving us self-awareness, personal insight, and allowing us to come to terms with a lots of baggage that we all needlessly carry through life. I often compare this to looking under the hood of a car. Many of us superficially travel through life never taking a look at what drives us, motivates us, or inspires us. Looking under the hood occasionally is a good idea with any vehicle, including you.
⦁ Explore what you believe for some of life’s ultimate questions. If you are a follower of an organized religion, don’t be afraid to question it. If you have no organized religion, then what do you believe? Having some healthy doubts about what you believe is what separates true faith from indoctrination. Being curious about these ultimate questions can make life more meaningful.

Whether you’re heading off to first grade, or heading into the autumn of your years, Back-to-SchoolSeptember can be the best season of your life. There’s no sense trying to fight it, embrace it, learn from it, and enjoy it. You just may find that this acceptance is what life is really about.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

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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