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The Health Impact Of Gravity

“It’s true that you can’t change your destiny, but still it helps knowing about gravity.” – Kedar Joshi

As residents of planet Earth, we have a love hate relationship with gravity. It is an ever present force, something that we take for granted. We seldom notice it unless we misuse its ever present power. Usually, someone or something falls. We break something plankimportant, receive a bump, bruise, or possibly even a more serious injury. Our interactions with gravity are usually instantaneous, unexpected, and remind us of the fragility of life and the sudden consequences that our actions can have. There are, however, other powers that gravity has over us that are not so sudden.

As we get older, mother nature reminds us in subtle, but definite ways of the persistence of gravity. Virtually any adult over the age of 30 carries the visible effects of gravity. Hunched shoulders, slouched posture, sagging muscles, and problems with digestion are all “normal” changes because of the impact of gravity. The average human shrinks 1/3 to 1/4 of an inch in height each decade from age 40 to 70, with the average man is a 1.3 inches in height during that time. Women are more victimized, losing an average of 3.1 inches by age 80. Gravity, although not the only factor, is the primary one. Bone shrinkage, poor posture, and lifestyle choices contribute to the decline. (see also “Preventing Age Related Shrinkage” http://mindbodycoach.org/preventing-shrinkage/ , “The Zen Of Being Sedentary” http://mindbodycoach.org/the-zen-of-being-sedentary/  and “Death By Desk” http://mindbodycoach.org/death-desk/  )

A study at San Francisco State University showed that poor posture caused by the pull of gravity is a major cause in depression and inability to manage stress, digestive problems, improper breathing, all types of back pain, and tension headaches. Much of what humans believe is the stress of 21st century life could be alleviated if we learn to work with, rather than against, the forces of gravity. Although we frequently associate gravity with its negative impact on human health, we can implement it in ways that are beneficial, healthy, and improve our quality of life. And, it is free, consistent, and available 24/7.

Gravity is a signal that tells the body how strong its bones and muscles have to be. Astronauts in zero gravity for long periods of time suffer detrimental effects from its absence. The body perceives that there is no need for strength and bone density, so atrophy sets in throughout the musculoskeletal structure rapidly. Muscle mass can atrophy at a rate of 5% per week, and supporting muscles such as the legs and back can lose around 20% of their mass during a typical spaceflight. Bones lose even more. For most astronauts the total loss in bone density is 40 to 60% for a month-long spaceflight.

AstronautEfforts to prevent physical deterioration in astronauts through exercise programs during spaceflight have only been marginally successful. Various types of exercise equipment have been tried during spaceflights, but the results have been less than spectacular. The reason? Lack of gravity. Without gravity is next to impossible to load the musculoskeletal structure to the resistance levels required to maintain strength and mass. Astronauts continue to use resistance bands, exercise bicycles, and treadmills while wearing weighted vests, but continued to lose muscle strength and bone density despite their best efforts.

With a little ingenuity, us earthlings can learn to use gravity to our advantage in order to stay fit and healthy. Here are some ways to use one of nature’s most powerful forces to your advantage:

Move! Every motion that you make is met with some degree of resistance from the pull of gravity. Simple activities such as walking, stretching, and even something as simple as getting in and out of a chair can become legitimate exercises if you do them consistently, paying attention to the pull of gravity.
Exercise slowly. Any exercise, even those without weighted resistance, can be beneficial for muscle and bone strength if performed slowly. Martial artists, yoga and tai chi practitioners, gymnasts, and dancers all know this. Try doing a set of 10 push-ups as slowly as you can and you’ll see what I mean. Muscles grow in response to resistance, not a number on a barbell plate. Your muscles don’t know if you’re curling a 45 pound dumbbell, they just know if they’re working hard or not. In fact, this is a trick that 19th-century strongmen knew well. In those days strongmen only used heavy weights for exhibitions, never in their day to day training routines. They knew that an injury would have ended their career, as orthopedic surgery as we know it did not yet exist. If you blew out a knee, or herniated a disc, your lifting days were over. They trained with moderate weights, moving slowly and made the weight feel as heavy as they possibly could.
Train to increase time under tension. Instead of performing an exercise for a set number of reps, do it slowly for a set length of time. Instead of curling a 45 pound dumbell for 10 reps, curl a 25 pounder slowly, in good form, for 90 seconds. Interval training can be done with resistance by alternating periods of effort and periods of rest. 90 seconds of effort followed by 30 seconds of rest repeated during a 30 minute exercise routine can create a solid and challenging workout. Forget about how many reps you’ve done, focus on the effort, muscular tension, and the pull of gravity. This is a great way to combine cardio and resistance work in one workout. Great for people who believe they don’t have enough time or are “too busy to workout.”
Add this some body weight exercises to your routine. Moving your body through space creates a body that is functional as well as fit looking. When the gym is closed or you don’t have equipment available, don’t make excuses. You’ve got gravity, you can get a workout in. Gravity can be as effective as any piece of exercise equipment despite the fact you’ll never see it on an infomercial.
Make an effort to harness gravity during the day. Take the stairs, walk a little farther to the train, stand while working at you desk, stretch during the day multiple times and engage in nonspecific movement as much as possible. Being sedentary is a choice, don’t make it!

You’ve been aware of gravity ever since you learned to throw food as a baby. Learn to use it to your advantage as an adult.newton

“What goes up must come down.” – Isaac Newton

Smart guy, that Newton!

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

Suck It Up! : The Science Behind Peak Physical Performance

Suck it up Princess!” – Randy Couture

The human body is the most remarkable machine ever made. It is capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance, is remarkably resilient, and is adaptable to almost any climate and condition. The body of the human is far more adaptable and resilient than that of any other animal because of the mind’s incredible capacity to receive feedback from the body and make decisions on how to respond. What makes this amazing machine so adaptable is the mind body connection and our ability to decide whether to continue or not. While we all may not be able to become ultramarathon runners, climb Mount Everest, or even complete a 10K, we are all capable of far more than we believe.

Here are some examples of the upper limits of human endurance:

⦁ Rainer Predl, an ultra-marathoner from Austria, came up with an incredibly special challenge. He resolved to break the record of the highest mileage on a treadmill within a 7 day period. With 853.46 km, he managed to set a new world record. Predl ran 168 hours during that week while making do with just 15 hours of sleep. And, in case you’re wondering, that’s over 530 miles!
⦁ A special form of ultra marathon is the 24-hour run where participants run as far as possible in a 24 hour period The male world record is 188.6 miles, set by Yiannis Kouros. Mami Kudo holds the female record of 156.7. The mileage is accumulated by running consecutive laps over a flat, three quarters of a mile course.
⦁ Dennis Kimetto of Kenya was the first to beat the 2:03 hours, finishing the 26.2 mile Berlin Marathon in 2:02:57 hours. This breaks down to over 26 consecutive miles of just over forward a half minutes each!
⦁ Wim Hof, a Dutch endurance athlete who is commonly referred to as “The Iceman,” completed a 26.2 mile marathon north of the Arctic circle wearing nothing but a pair of sandals and gym shorts. He’s also climbed 19,000 foot Mount Kilimanjaro in less than two days while wearing gym shorts as well as completing a full marathon in the Namib Desert-without any liquids.

Scientists have studied what separates these endurance athletes from their athletic peers as well as the rest of us mere mortals. What makes them different is not just their physiology, but the way that they process physical discomfort. They innately know that fatigue is a mental perception way before it becomes physical.

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”-Vince Lombardi

The human body is designed to survive. Fatigue, at least in its initial stages, is a warning that things might get worse and that continued effort could result in damage to the body. It allows doubt to enter the mind, is accompanied by negative self talk and and an “I can’t do this” mindset which results in a person quitting prematurely. It serves a protective purpose and the act of quitting at that point in time insures that the physical body will be protected from damage. Simply put, we get scared because it hurts, so we quit. The body usually quickly recovers and a second layer of doubt sets in. We begin to question our decision to quit in a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” manner which is usually accompanied by a layer of regret.

Athletes that are able to push through the fatigue are usually no more physically capable than those that they defeat. Athletes and coaches marvel at their ability to “suck it up” and push through this fatigue barrier. Athletics is full of folklore and clichés such as, “victory will go to the athlete who wants it the most,” you quit too soon because “you didn’t want it badly enough,” or that you didn’t have the “will to win.” These criticisms are an oversimplification of what is really going on. Athletes that have this ability to push on instinctively process feedback from the body differently than those who give up too soon. While preparation in talent are undoubtedly a prerequisite for success, there are things the rest of us need to know in order to get to that next level.

Knowing how your brain works when faced with fatigue that is interpreted as a threat to its survival is one of the first things to understand. The central governor theory is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxic damage to the heart muscle. This process effects athletes on all levels from elite Olympians to weekend warriors. It is how the athlete interprets these sensations that makes the difference, assuming that the athlete has done the proper preparation and is physically fit. It is when proper preparation and proper mindset merge that peak performances will occur.

An experiment done in Great Britain with college rugby players illustrates the point. The athletes were riding a stationary bikes and were told to maintain a certain RPM output. When they were active perceive limit of exertion, they were encouraged to pump it up a bit for five more seconds, “just five more seconds.” They were told that after those five seconds they would get a slight break. Every athlete was able to increase their RPM output by at least 40%, despite the fact that they believed that they were already at their limit. Their logic became “I can push harder for just five more seconds.” This is something that a recreational athlete in a spinning class knows. When complicated tasks are broken down to minute periods of time, the human body is capable of much more than mere perception. If you have ever been an athlete in training, had a personal trainer, or even participated in a formal exercise class now and then, you’ve probably had this experience. A coach encourages you to “push” a little harder for a small period of time. You dug down and found a little more effort than you thought you had. Why? This is a small example of how the human body is capable of more than perceived effort.

Naturally, before one pushes themselves to these levels they have to be in good condition first place. Pushing an out of shape athlete to this level of exertion is potentially fatal. However, if you know that you have prepared yourself physically, then practicing this during workouts now and again can increase your mental toughness and extend your physical capabilities. In a solo sport such as running, weight lifting, or a combat sport an athlete must do this himself. In a team sport like football, there may be a motivated team mate that elevates everyone’s game. As athletes, we’ve all witnessed this and even experienced it firsthand. We often forget times when we’ve had more in the tank than we thought. Train with this in mind and you will find an ability to replicate this experience over and over in your day to day training. Over time, the work you put in will be far more fruitful if you train with this in mind.

When feeling discomfort while working through perceived exertion, try to get specific about what you are feeling. For example, hunger is a different perception than thirst, pain is different from fatigue, and being out of breath is different than exhaustion. Asking yourself “what exactly am I feeling?” and pushing on can enable you to ignore and potentially misinterpret a physiological signal that may cause you to quit prematurely. Under extreme physical exertion, the mind becomes confused and this confusion can trick our bodies into quitting before we really need to. These sensations are often temporary and if a person breaks it down into small and manageable inputs, they’re often capable of much more and, in some cases, able to push right through it. Getting a “second wind” is not a myth. Training with this in mind, no matter what you are training for, will greatly increase your capabilities and your results.

Here’s how you can teach yourself to “Suck It Up”:

Make damn sure you are physically fit enough. Training in this manner is an acquired capability. Sucking it up is only possible if an athlete has done basic training diligently.
Learn to distinguish the difference between pain and exertion. Many athletes talk about the difference between “good pain” coming from exertion and “bad pain” which comes from injury. There is definitely a difference. Learn to identify in your training.
Master your self talk when things get tough. What do you say to yourself on a regular basis when working out? Are you usually positive, or negative? Use your internal dialogue to motivate yourself, making that internal critic a positive internal coach. Talk to yourself with the intention of pumping yourself up, rather than psyching yourself out.
Train to control your breathing. Breath control is one of the most critical components to alleviating panic, mental overwhelm, and physical fatigue. Breathing deeply from your abdomen can enable you to take in much more oxygen, allowing your muscles greater movement.
Train to control muscle tension. Learn which muscles are required in the performance of your sport or physical activity. For example, if you are a sprinter tensing up your shoulders and neck is counterproductive to developing speed. If you are boxing or hitting a heavy bag, a tight fist is only necessary at the moment of impact. Too much tension in areas that are not required will wear you out very quickly. Study your physical activity with the intention of becoming more efficient with your motion.
Break things down when you are training. Telling yourself things like “three more reps,” “just one more lap,” or “10 seconds,” during training conditions you to push through sticking points and when done consistently makes you far more mentally tough.
Do a little research about the nutritional requirements of your sport or activity. Make sure that you are properly hydrated and fueled before you try to suck it up in your training. There’s a lot of solid research on this available on the Internet, but there’s also a lot of BS out there as well. Choose your sources wise.

There’s always been a controversy as to whether or not athletics and physical training are character building. While that’s a debate for another time, I think you can see the benefit of being able to push yourself physically and mentally in your everyday life. Stop admiring RandywTowerthose athletes who have this mystical ability to “suck it up” and become one yourself.

“Well Princess, what are you waiting for?”-Randy Couture

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

Maximizing The Body Mind Connection

“Where the mind goes, the man follows.”-Proverbs 23:7

For thousands of years human beings have pondered the nature of human existence and the human experience. Because we are thinking beings, historically humans have believeddaydream that we are mind more than body. The mind-body connection is frequently thought of, and believed to be, mind over body, meaning that the mind is more important than the body. The mind-body dilemma has been studied by some of history’s greatest thinkers, as they attempted to understand the relationship between mind and body, thinking and action. Aristotle, René Descartes, and many Asian philosophies and spiritual traditions have dedicated volumes in an attempt to decipher the process. 21st century research has continued this study.

Most people have a natural tendency to consider themselves as more mind than body, a spiritual being that resides in a space just behind our eyes. Since we use our brain to think and interpret, many of us have a tendency to see that space in our heads as being where we reside, where our spirit, our essence, is located. Undoubtedly, this abstract essence, which we call the mind, is what tells us we are alive, our own command central that allows us to interpret, plan, control, and regulate everything that we experience. Our interpretations of events frequently get rather complicated, at times even overcomplicated. Our thoughts can be overwhelming and often paralyzing. Recent behavioral scientific research shows that there is a way to keep our minds in check and make our lives more fulfilling if we understand both sides of the mind body connection.

The mind-body connection is not a one-way relationship. Thinking about the mind as in control the body is running your life on half throttle. Recent research done at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and other research institutes implies that the relationship between mind and body is more of a reciprocal relationship than was once thought. While the mind undoubtedly controls the body, the body has an almost equal relationship in its ability to influence the mind. Understanding of these concepts can radically change and influence a person’s behavior, leading them to attain their full potential in multiple areas of their lives. Put in very simple terms, the mind controls the body, the body influences the mind.

“If you train the body, the mind will follow.” – Ross Enamait

Recent research done at Harvard University shows that people who are trained to use their body and physiology can create a better mindset going into stressful work-related situations such as job interviews, presentations, and confrontations with co-workers. Being optimally ready for these situations obviously requires mental preparation, visualization, and rehearsal, things that most of us do before these events. What frequently happens is that, just as we get to the critical point in the interaction, a little bit of doubt comes in, we accept the doubt as a truth, and both our bodies and minds run with it, causing us to perform not quite as well as we had hoped we would. Anyone who says that this has never happened to them is probably lying, we’ve all been there. If we’re lucky, we do okay in these situations, but deep down inside we know we could have done better. Our gut instinct is correct. These situations can be remedied by an understanding of how our physiology influences performance.

Researcher Amy Cuddy, from Harvard University school of business, suggests that prior to Confident businessmanstressful social and occupational situations that we engage in what she calls “power poses.” These are consciously practiced stances, body positions, and activities where we are engaged in expensive, expressive, and powerful body positions. (See how to power pose here: http://mindbodycoach.org/need-confidence-power-pose/ ) One of the simplest way to be in an empowering physical state is to be aware of posture – shoulders back and down, breathing in a controlled manner from the abdomen. This powerful physical position sends signals to the brain that we are in control, capable and powerful. Our performance in these social situations can’t help but be improved by the sense of body control that this posture gives us. Control your body and you will control your mind.

The creature comforts of modern living, for all their conveniences, tend to create disempowering physical states that, unfortunately for all of us, have become the norm. Not too many of us get up in the morning to moderately demanding physical activities such as gathering eggs, milking cows, tending to domesticated animals, and starting a fire for the day. These tasks, although tedious and difficult, would set you up for a feeling of control, take charge, and “can do,” starting you off in a more powerful and assertive mindset. These physical activities would send a signal to your brain that you are capable, competent, and able to handle whatever that day would throw at you. There are, however, ways that these basic human activities can be replicated:

⦁    Morning exercise. Human beings were built to adapt to physical stress. We’ve known this for a long time but have only realized recently the impact that morning exercise can have on our mental health, motivation, and feelings of competence. Yeah, I know many of you are saying, “I don’t have time to get to the gym before work.” You don’t need a gym to engage in some power producing morning rituals. Stretch before getting out of bed, bang out a few sets of push-ups and sit-ups, open your window in engage in some deep breathing where you stand upright and fill your torso from the abdomen upward, throwing your arms back and upward powerfully. Five minutes is enough time to set your brain in a powerful, more confident, and assertive mindset.
⦁    Be conscious of your body position throughout the day. Many of us sit at desks, have long commutes, and sedentary jobs where machines do all the work. Be sure to get up every hour and take a five-minute or so break. Engage in some sort of mild physical activity during these breaks, making a conscious effort to improve your physiological state. You will return to work not only clearheaded, but feeling more capable and more likely to utilize your full potential and work capacity. (See also “Death By Desk.” http://mindbodycoach.org/death-desk/ )
⦁    Become aware of your breathing throughout the day. Breathing is obviously a necessity for life, but it is a way to control your emotional state. When we are stressed, deep control breathing sends off a signal to the brain that we are okay and will survive. It creates feelings of physical calm and control. Remember, control your physiology and you control your mind.
⦁    Smile! A smile has been proven to be in instant mood elevator. It’s very difficult to be sad when you are smiling. In addition to the obvious rapport that it will build with others, research indicates that it can improve your life span. (See also, “Smile, It’s Good For You.” http://mindbodycoach.org/smile-good/ )
⦁    Be aware of your hand and arm gestures as you communicate. Good communicators instinctively know that physiology conveys more information than words. Numerous studies have suggested that perhaps as much is 90% of human communication is nonverbal. Powerful hand gestures, arm movements, and pauses in speech not only are good for your audience, but also sends signals to you that you are confident in your material, you know what you’re doing, and you believe fully what you are saying.
⦁    Warm up like an athlete. Prior to stressful situations, engage in some warm-up style physical activity. There are reasons that all athletes stretch before competition, baseball Box Guyplayers swing weighted bats, and boxers shadowbox. These reasons are not merely physical. Before a stressful situation, find a quiet space where you can engage in some physical activity to help set yourself up for success, go for a brief walk with some deep breathing, or find someplace to practice power posing.

It’s pretty common that most people can identify with feeling better during the warm summer months, particularly if you live in an environment that has a full range of seasons. People tend to be less depressed, more physically active, and enjoy a greater sense of well-being that most attribute to sunshine and warm temperatures. While warmth and sunshine are beneficial to this feeling, don’t underestimate the role played by the increase in physical activity at most people engage in. Find ways to engage in meaningful physical activity regardless of the season or climate that you are in.

When considering the mind body connection, don’t forget to also consider the body mind connection. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

“Action beats reaction every time.” – Tony Blauer

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 Dunning-Kruger Effect And Why It’s More Important Than Ever To Make Up Your Own Mind

“The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” — Bertrand Russell

Any observation of 21st century culture can’t help but give one the impression that there are a lot of incompetent people in the world doing stupid and often dangerous things. It’s hard to tell if this is some kind of epidemic, man as a species is evolving towards more sawing_tree_limb_man_stupidity, or if instant access of modern mass communications puts a spotlight on isolated instances of stupidity and broadcasts them around the world. Humans, undoubtedly, are the most complicated and bizarre animal that inhabits planet Earth. There is some scientific research that has tried to solve this puzzle. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect takes its name from two Cornell University researchers, David Dunning and Justin Kruger, social psychologists who have the interesting job of studying the puzzling question of why people do the things that they do. They determined that some people have a cognitive bias whereby they fail to adequately assess their level of incompetence at performing a task, erroneously considering themselves to be far more competent than they are and, in some cases, more competent than anyone else. They have a lack of self-awareness, depriving them of the ability to critically analyze their performance. As a result, they may significantly overestimate their own abilities. In simple terms, they are too stupid to know that they are stupid. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is one of the more common cognitive biases. There is a corollary to this effect which is called the Imposter Syndrome, where competent people underestimate their abilities but, unfortunately, Imposter Syndrome is far less common.

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”—William Shakespeare

Dunning and Kruger postulated this theory after a series of experiments started at Cornell in 1969. They tested students in a number of areas such as humor, grammar, and logic and compared the actual results of the tests with student estimates of how well they did. Those who scored well on the test consistently underestimated their performance, while those who scored the lowest “grossly overestimated” their scores. Dunning and Kruger found a correlation between the lowest scoring students and the degree to which they overestimated their ability. Dunning and Kruger explained it this way:

“This overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

While many view the Dunning-Kruger Effect as being somewhat tongue-in-cheek humor, bungled-personal-flight-attempt-1this phenomenon has been something that has fascinated great thinkers throughout the ages. Socrates, Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Bertrand Russell all have notable quotes that undoubtedly refer to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The work of Dunning and Kruger is nothing new, this cognitive bias has existed throughout time. In previous eras of human history it would have been passed off harmlessly as the behavior of a village idiot, an eccentric old woman, or some nondescript character that society could avoid. In the 21st century, it might be more insidious.

Instant access of information has made people less likely, rather than more likely, to do their own research when it comes to political, economic, and social decision-making. Many are influenced by celebrities such as actresses, actors, athletes, and comedians when casting a vote or taking a stand on topics that impact contemporary society. But here’s a sobering thought: What if some of these celebrity sages are suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”—Isaac Asimov

2016 is an election year in the United States. We also live in a time when accurate donald-trump-hillary-clintoninformation is accumulating exponentially. There’s no reason that anyone needs to trust someone else’s opinion on issues of social and political importance. Before you surrender your opinion to the bias of someone else, do your own research and make a conscious effort before you decide on which village idiot to support.

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

Mental Models : Be Careful What You Build

“A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks.” – From Wikipedia

As a child growing up in the 1960s, that golden age before computers, videogames, and too much technology, one of the great joys I had was building models. Airplanes, boats, boy_modeling-370x263aircraft carriers, and cars were common models that boys of my age built. The boxes depicted colorful and exciting pictures of planes and boats of World War II and the hottest cars of the decade. My mother would buy me about one per month, and I spent the next week or so tediously putting it together. In those days the directions inside were usually pretty accurate, and it was simply a matter of laying out the parts, matching them to the directions, and following directions meticulously, one step at a time. Just be sure to use enough, but not too much, glue!

Today directions that come in a box to build an item are seldom accurate. They usually written to generally follow the product that you have purchased that was built by some person being overworked in a foreign factory. It’s pretty common that some of the parts will be missing and that the directions will be a rough approximation of how that item will look when done. I often find myself so frustrated that I give up, call one of my adult sons on the phone and have them come by and help me put it together. Hard to believe that I was once that kid that put together the USS Enterprise in 1966.

As adults, whether we realize it or not, we are still model builders – mental models. A mental model is a internal representation, an expectation, of how something is going to play out in our lives. For example, today is Sunday and most people are building a mental model of how they believe their Monday is going to go. At the beginning of each day, usually while doing some mundane and routine task like brushing your teeth, shaving, or putting on makeup, you are mentally building a model, a plan, of what you expect will happen that day. As you are building this model you are visualizing, feeling emotions-both positive and negative-and setting yourself up for either success or failure. The emotions that you have going into that day become the devils that hide in the details and can either set you up for success or failure in the next 8 to 12 hours.

Human beings are thinking and planning animals. This is our most useful survival daydreame1370487424948mechanism, something that sets us apart from all other creatures on the planet. The problem is that our thoughts are often programmable and our decisions and feelings often result from the mental models that we have previously built rather than the events that are happening right in front of us. We react in the moment not to the moment itself, but to the mental models that we built earlier that day, while going through our morning routine, or daydreaming while at a traffic light.

The mental models that we build, much like the directions in that great item you bought that was made in Taiwan, are close approximations and not entirely accurate. Realizing this is important or you may inadvertently set yourself up for failure by building a negative mental model. If the mental model you’ve built is a negative one, you will begin to follow those negative directions as soon as you feel uncomfortable. Automatic pilot will kick in, you’ll start putting the parts together in a way that doesn’t fit, become overly frustrated, lose valuable time building it, or giving up altogether. The mental model that you built prior to any event can either set you up for success or failure.

How does one build better mental models? As with all complicated models (remember that aircraft carrier?) directions that are as accurate as possible are necessary. It’s also helpful if you are flexible and maybe have a “Plan B” set of directions in mind. Here are some suggestions of how to build better directions for those mental models you build:

1. Make sure you have the tools needed. Maybe you have a presentation that you are doing at work or school. Are you prepared? Do you have the necessary facts, tools, and research? Lay these out in the same manner that you would if you were building a model airplane. Do they match the images that you are visualizing?

2. Use visualization to your advantage. Realize that, when you visualize, you are predetermining what you will do at a future time. Positive visualization is more likely to allow you to function the way you would like to when confronted in real time. The human mind cannot tell the difference between that which is real and that which is imagined. When you visualize yourself succeeding, performing well, and completing tasks as you wish, you are rehearsing success. Your mind cannot tell the difference. If you doubt this, think about what happens when you have a nightmare. You wake up with a racing heart, anxious, in a bed covered with sweat. Why? Your brain has convinced your body that something horrible has happened. When you visualize failure as you build your mental model, you are setting yourself up for failure when that moment of doubt arises. Visualize success when you put your directions together.

3. Use more than one sensory modality to design your directions. A “to do” list, diagram, or visual can help you plan more graphically in advance. Just remember to be flexible when the time comes.

4. Prepare for the emotions that are likely to get in the way. Emotions are the saboteurs of success. Fear, doubt, and negative self appraisal are likely to pop up as you go through your day. These thoughts are most likely to be incorrect, but you may believe them because they are yours. We all like to think that we have such self-awareness that our thoughts about ourselves are accurate. They are not. Be careful not to believe your thinking, particularly if it is negative and is about your performance. Thoughts are not facts and only sometimes do they reflect reality. Prepare for these emotions in advance, realize that they are likely to pop up, and act the way you planned when you wrote your directions.

5. Plan to relax. When putting your mental directions together, build in moments where you pause, take a breath, and slow down. A brief pause of 3 to 5 seconds may seem like an eternity while under stress, but it just may be enough time to allow you to follow those directions accurately.

6. Build mental models often. Chances are you are doing this anyway, whether you realize it or not. Consciously building mental models on a regular basis will improve these skills, build confidence, and lead to more successful outcomes. Success builds upon success,  and confidence grows from the positive reinforcement of a plan coming together as you imagined and hoped.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all model builders. Consciously building the modelshannibalsmith that you desire may take a little time and effort, but you are doing it anyway. You’re a grown up now – and you don’t have to plead with your mother to buy them.

” I love it when a plan comes together.” – Colonel Hannibal Smith

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

Do The Next Right Thing : The Multitasking Myth

“F**king two things up at the same time isn`t multitasking.”-Dick Masterson

You probably think of yourself as being a pretty busy person. You got multiple things to shavedo each day, try to do the best you can, and occasionally you do get things done. Because you’re so busy, you tend to combine a lot of things. For example, you’re pretty good at driving while talking on the phone. Yeah, you know you’re not supposed to drive with the phone in your hand, but it’s okay. You do it all the time and nothing’s happened…yet. You do some simple things, like shaving while listening to the news, talking to your spouse, or giving advice to your children. Sometimes, you even are able to sneak out a text message during that meeting at work. You believe this ability is something special that you developed. You’re a multitasker, you get things done. It’s what you do, and you’re pretty good at it, or at least so you think.

Neuroscience and empirical evidence would disagree vehemently with you. Research indicates that multitasking is a myth, an idea developed by 21st century man as an excuse to do multiple things at the same time-none getting the proper attention that they may deserve. We’ve long known that the average person’s short-term memory is capable of holding seven items at any one time, plus or minus two. Most of us, however, think that we are better than average. Chances are we are not, and the quality of our work and life suffers from this belief.

The term multitasking was coined in 1965 by computer scientists working for IBM to describe the capability of the fledgling computer. Scientists have always had a tendency to compare the human brain to the latest technology. The mind has been compared to a water pump, steam engine, television, and most recently a computer. It’s not. It is a living and intuitive organ, highly unpredictable, highly distractible, and very difficult to harness. It can only process and attend to one task at a time.

Research has shown that, when the brain switches between more than one task at one time, there is a refractory period, a brief period of reorientation before the mind can attend to that second task. When more tasks are added, there is a bottleneck effect where processing suffers and certain aspects of each individual task is indiscriminately ignored so that the mind can continue its attempt to juggle more than one task at a time. No one is immune to this effect, despite what most of us think. Dr. Edward Hallowell, an expert on attention deficit disorder calls multitasking a “mythical activity in which people believe that they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.”

As a result of this multitasking myth, the quality of work suffers, tasks that are BBSelfcompounded take longer than they would if tended to individually, and the quality of our personal and social relationships suffer, as people are trying to connect through their iPhones, telephones, and email with people miles away while ignoring the people that are right in front of them. People are attending social activities, eating in restaurants, and attending athletic events, all the while trying to record it on YouTube and on camera. The purpose is to view it later or share it with friends. The problem is that they are missing what is going on in the present moment. For example, if you are a major league baseball fan, you probably notice that in the past year there has been an increased incidence of people injured at games from foul balls and bats that end up striking fans in the stands. Is the game more dangerous, or is it that people are less focused on the activity on the field and simply not paying attention? One would have to wonder if these injuries would be more preventable if people were paying attention to the game and not distracted by the desire to share it through selfies that they post to create envy among their Facebook friends.

Yeah, I can hear the protests now, “But how do you expect me to do all the things that I need to do every single day?” There are some internal and external things that one can do in order to juggle more than one thing at a time. Here are some suggestions that neuroscience and behavioral science have that can be beneficial:

1. Compartmentalize. This means to separate multiple tasks into distinct processes with a definitive start and ending. While you may not complete the task entirely, want to have stopping points that you “bookmark” before turning to another task.
2. Operate from A to Z whenever possible. If you can complete a task from start to finish then do so. This prevents drifting from one test of the next without completing either. Having a To Do this that you stick to can help you do this.
3. Learn delayed gratification. Train yourself to put off impulsively pursuing that which is not important. For example, that email on your iPhone. Does it really need to be read and answered while you are driving down the highway at 65 miles an hour? Probably not. Learn to let it wait.
4. Prioritize. Obviously, there are some tasks that are so simple, rote, and unimportant that they can be combined. Of course, it’s okay to shave while listening to the radio, and listening to a podcast while driving to your job. Just be aware that the ability to attend to these equally is not possible. Breakfast while reading Facebook makes sense, breakfast while driving does not.
5. Set aside quality time for the important people in your life. Your children, spouse, partner, and friends are all in this category. Give these relationships your undivided attention. Have a no phone, text, or interruption rule.
6. Practice mindfulness and consider a mindfulness meditation practice. Train yourself to focus on the present moment by cultivating a daily practice of meditation. You don’t need to spend a lot of time, 10 minutes a day can do wonders. If you don’t know how to do this, use the search box to the right of this post or search the Internet for helpful hints. See http://mindbodycoach.org/washing-lifes-rice-bowls/ for some simple suggestions on how to implement this into your daily routine.
7. Consciously limit your access to technology. Your smart phone may be a necessity, but it is not necessary as frequently as you would think. It also has an off button which you should consider using as much as you can tolerate. While this technology contributes much to the quality of 21st century life, it has an equal and potentially greater negative impact, causing us to miss a lot of events that are going on during the here and now.
8. Use social media sparingly. Do your 424 Facebook friends really need to know what you’re having for lunch today? Is anyone ever come over to your side on a political issue after a heated exchange on Twitter? Despite what you may think, the answer to these questions is no.

Remember, it is okay to be busy, just don’t fall into the trap of confusing being busy with being productive. Modern life and technology has created a generation of dopamine junkies trying to juggle multiple tasks and obligations while trying to pursue the latest shiny object. While you may feel productive, research indicates that we are less productive than would be if we tended to one thing at a time.

Q: How do you eat an elephant?elephant
A: One bite at a time.

Like an old TV commercials used to say, “Eat well, but wisely.”

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

Sleep: Life’s Secret Sauce

“Sleep is the single most important thing that you can do for your health.” – Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter

Sleep is one of the most mysterious, misunderstood, complicated, maligned, yet simple things that a human being does. Most of us reluctantly spend about one third of our life asleep. We often drag ourselves to bed feeling that we are missing out on somethingSleep more important, more exciting, and more beneficial to our lives. It is complicated, somewhat mystical, and even feared by some people. It is the easiest, simplest, and most important thing that anyone can do for their physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. Why do so many of us find it to be a nuisance, a waste of time, and an obstacle to how we want to live our lives? How can we optimize it and make use of the incredible benefits of this very misunderstood third of our lives?

Studies indicate that the average person needs at least seven the half hours of sound sleep per night. The majority of people fall short of this number and it may be that many of those getting the required amount do not sleep soundly. If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you probably try to take care of all aspects of your wellness and health, exercising regularly, trying to eat healthy, and trying to de-clutter your mind and think positively. You do the best you can, keep up with the latest research and try to implement it in your life. Sleep is more than likely the forgotten ingredient in your wellness program, the secret sauce, the difference that makes the difference, that you probably have been overlooking. Ironic isn’t it? How can something so simple and biologically basic be something that you don’t pay enough attention to?

Much of the reason that the health and wellness benefits of sleep are under appreciated have to do with the kind of personality that develops a well thought out wellness program. Study after study indicates that people who have some sort of a wellness program lead more successful, happy, and fulfilled lives. They usually are the kind of people who try to cram as much living into those 24 hours as they possibly can. They want to maximize the time that they have available to them, and quite frequently have to make compromises with how those 24 hours are spent. Sleep, being the most taken for granted eight hours of their day, frequently gets shortchanged as people shave off an hour or two here or there in order to carve out a little more time for something deemed to be more important. Big mistake.

A solid and sound eight hours of sleep is a force multiplier in all aspects of your life. When people get adequate sleep on a regular basis, everything in their life gets better. Physical, mental, and emotional health benefit almost immediately and are the first improvements that people recognize. Less recognizable, but definite, are a person’s relationships and spiritual wellness. Intuitively, we all know this. Think about how bad you feel if you have something that impedes on your sleep two or three nights in a row. You feel absolutely horrible, you’re miserable, you hate the world, your life, and most of the people in it. You instantly recognize the reason – you haven’t been sleeping well. Conversely, it is very difficult to recognize the relationship between good sleep and our wellness. High achieving people tend to focus too much on those waking hours and try to squeeze out more than they should out of their waking existence.

The need for restful and solid sleep is built-in to our DNA. It is only in the last 130 years or so, since the development of artificial lighting, that people have not slept with the Cockrhythms of nature. People of the 19th century and before usually rose with the sun, slept shortly after sunset, and were only stressed out by things that related to their survival. The going to bed at 11 PM mentality makes no sense from the standpoint of human evolution or development. The mere act of going to bed an hour so after sunset would yield almost immediate gains. Instead, most of us make the big mistake that when we need more time, sleep is the first thing to be compromised. While you can “get by” with less sleep, should you? More importantly, what’s the trade-off and the cost to your health and wellness?

Here’s some things that we do know about the benefits of productive sleep:

  1. Sleep optimizes human growth hormone, or HGH. Human growth hormone is the anabolic hormone responsible for the growth of muscle, and tissue. Natural development of HGH ironically peaks around age 18, a time when most young people begin to skimp on their sleep requirements. As adults, sleep is the best time for us to optimize our production of HGH. HGH is better known as the hormone that is artificially given to athletes to improve their performance and to actresses and celebrities to make them appear more youthful. The greatest anabolic sleep will occur between 10 PM and 2 AM. If you are not sleeping soundly during those hours, you’re missing out on some pretty serious health benefits. One hours worth of sleep before midnight has approximately twice the value of an hour in the early morning. Get to sleep early to maximize your sleep quality and natural production of HGH.
    2. Sound sleep aids in the production of leptin, a hormone that is associated with weight control and energy. See also http://mindbodycoach.org/leptin-the-free-energy-boosting-weight-loss-miracle/ . It also reduces cortisol levels, a hormone associated with collection of health problems as metabolic syndrome. See also http://mindbodycoach.org/syndrome-x-the-not-so-silent-killer/ . Waking earlier enables a person to utilize this hormonal benefit more effectively.
    3. Sleep impacts our lives in ways that are not immediately apparent. When we feel rested and refreshed, we are less prone to moodiness and anger, more tolerant of others and life’s ambiguities, and generally more happy. Sleep deprived people frequently have poor relationships simply because of the inconsistent moods and attitudes that they bring to those relationships. Improve sleep = more tolerance of your fellow man. Obviously a good thing for all the relationships that one has.
    4. Sleep deprivation impairs thinking and learning motor skills. The National Highway Safety Administration has conducted studies that showed sleep deprivation to be as much of a problem on our national highways as driving while intoxicated. Some researchers think it is even a greater problem, because people don’t recognize it as such and it is harder to prosecute in a court of law. Sleep deprivation ranks highly in surveys that assess causes of poor productivity and accidents among workers.
    5. Adequate levels of sleep can prevent disease and illness, but also decrease the amount of time needed for recovery. There may be a link between sleep deprivation and the development of cancers. Some preliminary studies have been conducted that indicate that nurses working regularly on overnight shifts have a two 2/3 higher chance of developing breast cancer, but at this point further research needs to be done.
    6. Sleep is one of the most readily available and underutilized sources of emotional wellness. There is no mental health problem that sleep deprivation will not imitate. Many low levels mental health issues that people suffer with will improve almost instantly with an increase in the amount of and quality of sleep that one gets.
    7. Adequate sleep can effectively help people who have anger management problems cope almost instantly. Most people who are prone to problems with anger and affect regulation are significantly sleep deprived. This is not a coincidence.
    8. Sleep is when the benefits of your exercise program occur. Your workouts, even those light routines, break your body down. Growth occurs while resting and growth on all levels accelerate while sleeping. It is not enough to rest in a recliner and watch television. You must be sleeping soundly, preferably before midnight, in order to get the full anabolic effects of your exercise routine.
    9. Sound sleep is necessary to clear thinking during your waking hours. Recent studies indicate that one of the reasons that human sleep is to clear the mind of clutter and unnecessary information that we take in during the day. An average human is exposed to more sensory inputs in two weeks than our ancient ancestors were exposed to in a lifetime of 60 years. Sleep enables us to sort through and delete information that we do not need for survival. As a result of all this sensory stimulation, sound sleep is more necessary now than at any other time in human history. Sound sleep leads to clarity in decision-making. “I’ll sleep on it and give you an answer in the morning,” is more than a tagline in a pop song, it is an effective way to make important decisions.

 

Sleep has developed a bad rap in this highly velocitized and technological age in which we live. It is not a sign of laziness, in fact it takes self-discipline to get to bed at a reasonable hour. It is something that we shouldn’t fight, but we should accept and learn sunriserunto look forward to. It’s kind of ironic that something that is so beneficial and necessary to a high quality of life is something that most of us resist and fight.

Get to bed early. All aspects of your life will thank you.

Check the search box to the right of this post more more articles on how to improve the quality of your sleep.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” – Irish Proverb

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

Mindful Moments : Finding Mindfulness In Everyday Life

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” – Andy Bernard

Mindfulness is a contemplative practice that is the basis of most of the world’s great WomanInCentralParkWithCoffeeMeditation-850x400-2philosophical and religious traditions. It is also one of the most misunderstood and underutilized tools to maintain mental and emotional wellness. There are many definitions, most too esoteric and  philosophical for the majority of people to digest and understand. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as:

Mindfulness 1.  the quality or state of being mindful. 2. the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis; also : such a state of awareness.

There are many other self-help experts, schools of meditation, and philosophical traditions that have their own spin on what mindfulness is. There are so many different perspectives that the average person gives up on practicing this basic skill out of misunderstanding and frustration that comes from trying to figure out something that cannot be explained, but must be experienced. The simplest and best definition that I know of comes from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh, who describes mindfulness this way:

“Be here now.”- Thích Nhất Hạnh

Most people associate the practice of mindfulness with the practice of meditation, as if one cannot coexist without the other. Meditation, also an ancient tool for mental health and wellness, is greatly misunderstood as well. Most 21st-century humans don’t have the patience or self-discipline to engage in a meditation practice. Most, however, can practice mindfulness by incorporating a few basic skills into their every day life. Modern life is a whirlwind of sensory stimulation, distractions, and shiny, pretty things that pull us away from what life is all about. For example, the number of people who think they have ADHD, as opposed to the number of people who actually have is a very wide gap. The American Psychiatric Association puts the number at 5%. Think about how often you hear people tell you that they have ADHD. You yourself may believe that you have this disorder. Do you really, or do you merely have a problem staying focused in the present moment? More importantly, does it even matter?

Contemporary life has never been more stimulating. We are living in the most distractible people-texting-600x399-600x337time of any society at any period of human history. Most of us carry, on a routine basis, more computer power than was available to Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon in 1969, and carry it in our pocket. From this device we can speak face to face with virtually anybody on the planet, watch more video than existed on television 10 years ago, and get as much information in seconds as it would’ve taken you hours to gather in the public library when you were in the seventh grade. Is it any wonder that were all walking around distracted and missing the life that is right in front of us right now? No wonder we’re all missing the good old days.

In my counseling and coaching practice, I try to get my clients to appreciate the benefits of a mindfulness practice of some sort. I frequently find myself having to sell clients on the idea that slowing down and noticing things will increase their productivity, happiness, and sense of well-being. Those that buy what I’m selling are usually amazed at how quickly their awareness, attention, and focus become. Like many things human, the tendency to overthink, intellectualize, and analyze tends to get away of optimal performance.

There are a number of ways to be mindful in every day life. Taking a deep breath and asking yourself the following questions can increase your awareness of those micro-moments that are the fabric of life and will be the good old days that you someday reflect upon. Here are some basic questions that can focus you on the here and now:

1. Where am I right now? This question is not one of confusion, but one of awareness and literalness. Ask yourself, physically, where am I now? Who’s with me? Where am I sitting, standing, and being right now? A deep breath, inhaled thoughtfully, can help you zero in.

2. What am I doing right now? What’s the task at hand, if any? This can be a physical or mental task. It can also be that what you are doing now is nothing. Realizing that sometimes doing nothing and merely zoning out is okay can be truly liberating.

3. Why am I doing what I’m doing in this moment? This can help you focus and zero in on tasks that must be accomplished, or can help you to realize that, in that moment doing nothing is perfectly okay. This can give you an appreciation of those micro-moments that will someday be those good old days that you look back on. For example, realizing that you are spending time at a family holiday party in order to commune with people that are important to you can more fully bring you into the present moment and make you appreciate what you have.

These first three questions can more fully bring you into the present moment. If there is a doing task that you must perform, then being mindful can make you more aware, capable, and effective. When going into a task, ask yourself these questions:

1. What’s my attitude? Am I bringing a positive, negative, or neutral attitude into this? Remember that neutral is sometimes ok.

2. What’s my energy right now? How’s my physical energy? Can I feel it? What’s my mental energy? Pause to notice and identity your energy resources.

3. Where’s my focus? What am I thinking about, looking at, ruminating over, saying to myself? How does this help or hurt the situation I am in right now, if at all?

Being mindful has the two-part benefit of making us more efficient and aware of what’s mindfulness-istock-prvgoing on in our lives. It makes us more capable of making better decisions and choices, while giving us the ability to notice and savor those day-to-day little things that we might not notice or appreciate for years. Living life more mindfully can help you realize that the good old days are now.

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” – Bruce Lee

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 Hidden Costs Of Going Paperless

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”- Groucho Marx

If you were born before the year 2000, books, and paper were probably a major part of grouchoyour life. Books, or at least books as they were known then, are on the verge of going extinct as electronic tablets, Kindle books, Nook, and other electronic devices run the risk of making bound books and newspapers obsolete. When I saw the Groucho Marx quote which starts this article I laughed to myself and said in 2015, the light inside of a dog would be perfect for reading. While there is more ease of access to written information than any time before, we are losing something very healthy by the loss of traditional books, newspapers, and paper reading material.

I remember being six years old and becoming an avid reader. My mother nurtured this desire of mine by enrolling me in what was then called a “book club,” where on a monthly basis you received a book in the mail. From somewhere around 1960 to 1962 I was a proud and probably charter member of the “The Cat in the Hat” book club. I remember receiving my first two additions in this series, “The Cat in the Hat,” and “The read seussCat Hat Comes Back.” For the next two years or so I received almost everything written by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The silly prose of Dr. Seuss were easy to follow and, so I thought at the time, easy-to-understand. His writing, although simple, was actually a lot more meaningful and profound, but that’s a deeper topic for a later article. There probably isn’t a parent truly worth the label of Mom or Dad who hasn’t spent at least a few evenings reading their child “Green Eggs and Ham,” one of Seuss’s classics. For many children, sitting each evening with mom or dad and listening to the same story over and over again is one of the most remembered parts of early childhood. I’m not sure if it would have the same impact if mom or dad reads it on a Kindle or iPad.

Later in life, when a child became old enough to read independently, there began to be a fascination with comics, book series such as “The Hardy Boys,” or the “Nancy Drew Mysteries,” which were eagerly read, swapped, and shared by many children of that generation. Like the work of Dr. Seuss, they were pretty predictable, but we read them anyway often finding ourselves unable to wait for the next chapter, or book. Every Sunday was punctuated by a battle with my older brother over who would get various parts of the Sunday newspaper first. He, being older, always got the sports page, while I had to settle for the comics. Looking back now it’s easy to see the positive benefit it had for our minds, attitudes, worldview, and socialization skills.

The reality is there is something very grounding and secure about the tactile experience of reading a book, magazine, or printed literature. The very experience of opening that book, hearing that binding crack, thumbing through the pages, referring to an index, or checking out a book from the library played an important role in the intellectual and emotional development of anyone born before the year 2000. One would be far more capable of focusing on that book because of the lack of distraction within it. For example, if your reading a Kindle book you also have access to thousands of other books potentially at your fingertips. Not sure about you, but it would’ve been very hard for me to focus on one thing at a time when I was a 12-year-old.

A lot of research indicates today that people who read before bedtime will find it in either sedating or stimulating, depending on which medium they are reading from. Studies show that people who are reading from traditional books, or magazines, are more likely to fall asleep easily than those who are reading electronic devices. Studies done at Penn State University show that iPads, iPhones, and Kindle have higher than normal concentrations of blue light waves than natural light does. Anne-Marie Chang, assistant professor of bio-behavioral health at Penn State summarized their findings, “This is different from natural light in composition, having a greater impact on sleep and circadian rhythms.” The study observed 12 adults for two weeks, comparing when the participants read from an iPad, serving as an e-reader, before bedtime to when they read from a printed book before bedtime. The researchers monitored the participants’ kindlemelatonin levels, sleep, and next-morning alertness, as well as other sleep-related measures. They found that those who read from electronic devices took over 10 minutes longer to fall asleep, had poor quality of sleep, and were deficient in REM sleep – the dream stage of sleep which is vitally important for one’s mental health and emotional stability. The electronic readers also made it more difficult to wake up fresh the next day. Similar studies done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston had a similar finding.

Another aspect of this loss of traditional paper is the spontaneous use of electronic devices in order to capture thoughts. Years ago, I remember having an English teacher or two that required us to keep a journal. For a boy in middle school, this is a real stretch. Girls, on the other hand were more capable of this kind of introspection because of their earlier emotional development.

A couple of years ago, in a hospital-based program that I manage, we had a patient admitted because he posted a suicide note on Facebook. He really didn’t intend to die, but he was desperate for someone to care about him and convince him to get the help that he knew that he needed, but didn’t have the courage to ask for. I can only wonder what would have happened if his “Facebook friends” had decided that they didn’t want to get involved and unfriended him. Of course we all know and have heard stories of people who have completely embarrassed themselves through drunken texting, Facebook posts, or nasty emails sent while intoxicated. Many think that breaking up with someone through a text message, rather than in person, is rather classless and mean spirited. Maybe, maybe not. Previous generations did the same thing, often through a well crafted, hand written, letter. In the electronic age, it seems to be the same thing.

A 2011 report put out by the State of the Paper Industry reported that consumption of paper in North America declined 24 per cent between 2006 and 2009. In fact, the results are the same for the rest of the world with the exception of China. It is estimated that over 20,000 people per day are starting online blogs. It would appear that something significant and revolutionary is happening here, we just want to be a little more clear on the impact that it is having on society.

The reality of this kind of activity is that our deepest, darkest thoughts are temporary and often fleeting. We usually get through it a lot faster than we would have thought. Twenty-five years ago you would’ve gone to the mailbox and retrieved that ill thought out letter the next day. Not so today. The push of a button can make a poorly planned journal entry a viral, and potentially international event.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology as much as the next person, probably more. It’s just that I believe we have lost a lot because of the desire to go paperless in our lives.

“There is, of course, always the personal satisfaction of writing down one’s own experiences so they may be saved, caught and pinned under glass, hoarded against the winter of forgetfulness. Time has been cheated a little, at least, in one’s own life, and a personal, trivial immortality of an old self assured.”- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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

 

Between Stimulus And Response: Developing Your Own Sacred Space

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lays our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”- Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Most of us living in this 21st century have a very strange relationship with time. We know what time is, of course, but it’s helpful to consider its working definition: “Time is a guy mtnmeasure in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future, and also measure the durations between events and the intervals between them.” Conceptually, we know that there are gaps between moments in time, or at least there appears to be. Being able to utilize these micro-moments that occur could very well be the difference between a fulfilling and happy life and one of misery and poor choices.

As we all know too well, life tends to come at us very quickly. The more caught up in life we become, the more we are likely to find ourselves getting caught up in a rhythm and flow that life is handing us, often responding to events more quickly, and with less thought than we would like. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slow things down a bit and make decisions coming from a place of a little more thought and a little more awareness? Don’t you sometimes just wish that you could “stop the tape” and pause before making an important decision or taking an action, giving yourself a little time to do the right thing?

In theater, movies, and drama there are a number of literary devices in which the characters do just that. Some of these devices are the soliloquy, the aside, or the fourth wall. In each of these a character will pause, turn to the audience and discuss to themselves, our loud, what they are thinking, what actions they plan on taking, and why. This literary device has been used by playwright William Shakespeare, comedians Bob Hope and Woody Allen, and others as a way of engaging the audience in the deeper aspects of what a character is struggling with. Typically, a character will stop for a few moments, do some thinking out loud, and then return to the action and follow through with a better thought out course of action. Too bad we couldn’t do the same thing in their own lives. Or can we?

Victor Frankl, mentioned in the quote that started this article, was a Viennese psychiatrist franklwho survived concentration camp life during the Second World War. One of the ways that he survived was through separating himself from the horrors in front of him by asking himself questions, pausing to see the larger picture, thereby detaching himself from impulsive thoughts and poorly thought-out actions. He not only chose more prudent behaviors, but he also consciously chose how he thought-and therefore felt-about what he was experiencing. He learned that pausing to ponder and consider how he consciously and carefully chose to process and think about these events made all the difference in the world and how he experienced his world. He learned that he could not only survive concentration camp life, but even thrive in some spiritual ways, as his process allowed him to find meaning and his struggle. (His story is available here as a free download: http://www.anderson5.net/cms/lib02/SC01001931/Centricity/Domain/222/man-s-search-for-meaning.pdf)

Tara Brach, a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation, speaks often of what she refers to as the “Sacred Pause,” a conscious moment where we stop, breathe, and attempt to decide how we are feeling in that given moment. It is a moment where one consciously seeks to find that “space” that Victor Frankl referred to. Finding this space is an acquired skill, but the good news is the busier you are, and the faster paced your life is, the more opportunities you will have to find this sacred space.

Brach suggests that you find time when you are engaged in an active, goal oriented, activity, one where you are likely to get caught up in the moment, such as reading, working on the computer, writing, or engaging in some physical activity. Explore pausing, breathing deeply and noticing what’s going on for you in that moment. Take a few, measured, deep breaths and with each exhale let go of any worries or concerns about what you are going to do next. Allow your body to relax, letting go of any tightness that you may be carrying at that moment. Brach says to “notice what you are experiencing as you inhabit the pause. What sensations are you aware of in your body? Do you feel anxious or restless as you try to step out of your mental stories? Do you feel pulled to resume your activity? Can you simply allow, for this moment, whatever is happening inside you?” Most of us are constantly engaging in a self dialogue, telling us stories that may or may not be true. Noticing what’s going on physically at the moment of the sacred pause will enable us to stop those stories and simply sit with the feeling that exists, rather than create feelings from some internal dialogue.

There are many ways that one can learn to recognize and utilize the gap between stimulus and response. A daily meditation practice is perhaps the best one of them. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate or complicated process, but it does have to be a consistent one practiced a few moments each day. Practicing of the sacred pause can become a meditation practice in and of itself. There is a simple awareness of breath meditation that I teach to many of my clients that they find highly effective which I am sharing here: http://mindbodycoach.org/breathing-101-improving-lifes-basic-activity/ and here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iypetAkg_pY

The daily meditation practice is an acquired skill, but if done briefly a few times each day one can recognize its potential. Utilizing meditation in order to identify the sacred pause is an acquired skill, but its benefits can be recognized immediately if accompanied by correct breathing. One of my clients, who has been practicing this skill daily, recently said to me, “It’s almost like time slows down. I have more time to make decisions. It seems like a long time that I pause, but it’s really not. It’s not even three seconds. I think it through and make a better decision.”

Start utilizing this brief moment in your life immediately. Try to identify this sacred pause when you are enjoying yourself in an activity that you love, doing something that is stressful, absorbed in something-anything that you find yourself getting caught up in. STOP, BREATHE, and NOTICE what you are experiencing in a non-judgmental way. Savor the feeling for a few moments, becoming aware of what is going on and how you are physically and emotionally experiencing that space in time. If it’s something noncritical or enjoyable, go back to it when you are ready. If it is something that is stressful or more crucial to your life, take a little more time in that sacred space. Over time you will develop a rational detachment which will allow you to enjoy some things more and allow you to make better decisions with others. In either case, time will appear to be a little bit slower, giving you a greater capacity to act in a way that you will be more comfortable with.

Start learning to recognize this sacred space between stimulus and response. Learn toguy utilize the sacred pause and learn to recognize what is really going on, as opposed to what you think is going, on or perhaps that which you are not even noticing. Increased awareness, and decreased stress can only be a good thing.

“LSD stands out for learning to slow down.”- Santosh Kalwar

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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