Archive for November, 2011

27 nov

Relax, You’ve Arrived

RickHansonAre we there yet?
The Practice:
Relax, you’ve arrived.
Why?

We spend so much of our time trying to get somewhere.

Part of this comes from our biological nature. To survive, animals – including us – have to be goal-directed, leaning into the future.

It’s certainly healthy to pursue wholesome aims, like paying the rent on time, raising children well, healing old pain, or improving education.

But it’s also important to see how this focus on the future – on endless striving, on getting the next task done, on climbing the next mountain – can get confused and stressful.

It’s confused because the brain:
· Overestimates both the pleasure of future gains and the pain of future losses. (This evolved to motivate our ancient ancestors to chase carrots hard and really dodge sticks.)

· Makes the future seem like a real thing when in fact it doesn’t actually exist and never will. There is only now, forever and always.

· Overlooks or minimizes the alrightness of this moment – including the many things already resolved or accomplished – in order to keep you looking for the next threat or opportunity. (For more on how the brain makes us stressed and fearful, see Buddha’s Brain.)

Further, this pursuit of the next thing is confused because the mind tends to transfer unfulfilled needs from childhood into the present, such as to be safe, worthy, attractive, successful, or loved. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 27th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | 1 comment Read related posts in , , , , , ,

27 nov

The Secret to Feeling in Control of Your Destiny Under Risky Conditions (at the Office and Beyond)

RenitaKalhornDo you think having a 50% chance of dying while at work everyday might affect your job satisfaction?

Well, according to the 1945 report, Men Under Stress, that was the mortality rate for fighter pilots in World War II, the highest among the military. And yet, they also had the highest job satisfaction in the military, 93 percent of them claiming to be happy with their assignments.

How could this be? As Taylor Clark relates in his fascinating book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool: “They felt in control of their fate. They could maneuver however they liked through a huge airspace and they believed, to a man, that their piloting skill would determine their survival, not luck.”

There you have it. No activity, even flying in enemy territory, is inherently stressful. Rather, the more certainty and control we think we have – not how much we actually have — the less stress we feel.

You can see my cheat sheet for enjoying uncertainty here. Now let’s talk about what you need to gain a perception of control:

Confidence in your skill

My favorite example of this is rock-climbers. Surrounded by unpredictable physical threats — a sudden storm, avalanche or drop in temperature – they focus on what they can control: their skill, preparation and ability to find the next hand hold. Although the final outcome will always be uncertain and out of their actual control, they derive satisfaction from knowing they are equipped to handle whatever comes up and thus influence the outcome.

A dash of autonomy

A surefire recipe for intensifying stress is to combine a feeling of powerlessness with uncertainty. Take a traffic jam, for example. German medical researchers found in a 2009 study that being stuck in traffic – caught in an unmoving blockade of cars with no idea when it will let up — more than triples your chances of suffering heart attack.

Autonomy, however, can counteract this effect. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink relates how Zappos, the progressive online retailer used it: Typically, jobs at call centers have turnover rates of 35% in the US and UK, double the rate for other jobs. Zappos, however, provides its customer service team with extensive training and then lets them handle calls however they see fit. Result: it has minimal turnover and consistently ranks as one of the best companies for customer service in the US.

Regardless of your role or company policies, you too can look for ways, small and large, to demonstrate free will over what, when and how you do things during your workday. Stuck on an interminable conference call? Tidy the top of your desk. Required to use a particular tracking software? Create your own system for collecting and inputting the data.

Brainstorm a plan of action

It’s easier to take action than it is to change your emotions. (Go ahead, try to make yourself cry; now lift your arm — which is easier? ;-). And there is always – always — something you can do. When I’m feeling stuck or out of control, I take out a piece of paper and make an “All The Things I Haven’t Tried Yet” list. Seeing all the options in front of me in black and white never fails to give me a sense of control.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Renita Kalhorn on November 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments

19 nov

Give No One Cause to Fear You

RickHansonWhat puts people at ease?
The Practice:
Give no one cause to fear you.
Why?

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive an indifferent shrug from a partner, watch your teenager turn her back and walk away . . . and your heart starts beating faster, stress hormones course through your veins, emotions well up, thoughts race, and the machinery of fighting, fleeing, freezing, or appeasing kicks into high gear.

The same thing happens in the other direction: when you send out any signal that others find even subtly threatening, their inner iguana gets going. That makes them suffer. Plus it prompts negative reactions from them, such as defensiveness, withdrawal, counter-attacks, grudges, dislike, or enlisting their allies against you.

Thus the kindness and the practical wisdom in the traditional saying, “Give no one cause to fear you.”

You can – and should – be direct, firm, and assertive. Without needing to fear you, others should expect that if they break their agreements with you or otherwise mistreat you, there will be consequences: you reserve the right to speak up, call a spade a spade, step back in the relationship if need be, take away the privileges of a misbehaving child or the job of a dishonest employee, and so on. But this is simply clarity. Rocks are hard; you don’t need to fear rocks to take their hardness into account: I know this as an aging rock climber!

Much of the time the fear – the anxiety, apprehension, unease – we trigger in others is mild, diffuse, in the background, maybe not even consciously experienced. But studies show that people can feel threatened by stimuli they’re not actually aware of. Think of the little bits of irritation, caustic tone, edginess, superiority, pushiness, nagging, argumentativeness, eye rolls, sighs, rapid fire talk, snarkiness, demands, high-handedness, righteousness, sharp questions, or put downs that can leak out of a person – and how these can affect others. Consider how few of these are necessary, if any at all – and the mounting costs of the fears we needlessly engender in others.

Think of the benefits to you and others of them feeling safer, calmer, and more at peace around you.

How?

Assert yourself for the things that matter to you. If you are sticking up for yourself and getting your needs met, you won’t be as likely to get reactive with others.

Appreciate that the caveman/-woman brain inside the head of the person you’re talking with is automatically primed to fear you, no matter how respectful or loving you’ve been. So do little things to prevent needless fears, like starting an interaction by expressing whatever warmth, joining, and positive intentions are authentic for you. Be self-disclosing, straightforward, unguarded. Come with an open hand, weaponless.

As you can, stay calm in your body. Get revved up, and that signals others that something bad could be coming.

Slow down. Fast talk, rapid instructions or questions, and quick movements can rattle or overwhelm others. Sudden events in our ancient past were often the beginning of a potentially lethal attack.

Be careful with anger. Any whiff of anger makes others feel threatened. For example, a crowded and noisy restaurant will suddenly get quiet if an angry voice is heard, since anger within a band of primates or early humans was a major threat signal.

Consider your words and tone. For example, sometimes you’ll need to name possible consequences – but watch out, since it’s easy for others to hear a threat, veiled or explicit, and then quietly go to war with you in their mind.

Give the other person breathing room, space to talk freely, a chance to preserve his or her pride and dignity.

Be trustworthy yourself, so that others do not fear that you will let them down.

Be at peace. Know that you have done what you can to help prevent or reduce fears in others. Observe and take in the benefits to you – such as others who feel safer around you give you less cause to fear them.

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 19th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , ,

16 nov

Stay Right When You’re Wronged

RickHansonWhat happens after you’re mistreated?
The Practice:
Stay right when you’re wronged.
Why?

It’s easy to treat people well when they treat you well. The real test is when they treat you badly.

Think of times you’ve been truly wronged, in small ways or big ones. Maybe someone stole something , turned others against you, broke an agreement, cheated on you, or spoke unfairly or abusively.

When things like these happen, I feel mad, hurt, startled, wounded, sad. Naturally it arises to want to strike back and punish, get others to agree with me, and make a case against the other person in my own mind.

These feelings and impulses are normal. But what happens if you get caught up in reactions and go overboard? (Which is different from keeping your cool, seeing the big picture, and acting wisely – which we’ll explore below.) There’s usually a release and satisfaction, and thinking you’re justified. It feels good.

For a little while.

But bad things usually follow. The other person overreacts, too, in a vicious cycle. Other people – relatives, friends, co-workers – get involved and muddy the water. You don’t look very good when you act out of upset, and others remember. It gets harder to work through the situation in a reasonable way. After the dust settles, you feel bad inside.

As the Buddha said long ago, “Getting angry with another person is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned.” You can see much the same thing internationally. Gandhi put it so well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Sure, you need to clarify your position, stand up for yourself, set boundaries, speak truth to power. The art – and I’m still working on it, myself! – is to do these things without the fiery excesses that have bad consequences for you, others, and our fragile planet.

How?

Start by getting centered, which often takes just a dozen seconds or so:

  • Pause – You rarely get in trouble for what you don’t say or do. Give yourself the gift of time, even just a few seconds.
  • Have compassion for yourself – This a moment of feeling “ouch, that hurts, I wish this hadn’t happened.” A neurologically savvy trick for activating self-compassion is to first recall the feeling of being with someone who cares about you.
  • Get on your own side – This means being for yourself, not against others. It can help to remember a time when you felt strong, like doing something that was physically challenging, or sticking up for someone you loved.
  • Make a plan – Start figuring out what you’re going to do, or at least where you’ll start.

And now that you’re on firmer ground, here are some practical suggestions; use the ones you like:

  • Clarify the facts – What actually happened?
  • Rate the bad event accurately – On a 0 – 10 awfulness scale (a dirty look is a 1 and nuclear war is a 10), how bad was it, really? If the event is a 3 on the awfulness scale, why have emotional reactions that are a 5 (or 9!) on the 0 – 10 upset scale?
  • See the big picture – Recognize the OK aspects of the situation mixed up with the bad ones. Put the situation in the larger context of unrelated good things happening for you, and your lifetime altogether. See the biggest picture of all: how your experiences are continually changing and it’s not worth getting all caught up in them.
  • Reflect about the other person – Consider the “10,000 causes” upstream that led him or her to do whatever happened. Be careful about assuming it was intentional; much of the time you’re just a bit player in other people’s drama. Try to have compassion for them, which will make you feel better. If applicable, take responsibility for your own part in the matter (but don’t blame yourself unfairly). You can have compassion and forgiveness for others while still considering their actions to be morally wrong.
  • Do what you can, concretely – As possible, protect yourself from people who wrong you; shrink the relationship to the size that is safe. Get support; it’s important for others to “bear witness” when you’ve been mistreated. Build up your resources. Get good advice – from a friend, therapist, lawyer, or even the police. As appropriate, pursue justice.
  • Act with unilateral virtue – Live by your code even if others do not. This will make you feel good, lead others to respect you, and create the best chance that the person who wronged you will treat you better in the future.
  • Say what needs to be said – There is a good formula from the field of “nonviolent communication”: “When X happens (stated objectively; not “when you are a jerk”), I feel Y (emotions; not “I fell you are an idiot”), because I need Z (deep needs like: “to be safe, respected, emotionally close to others, autonomous and not bossed around”).

Then, if it would be useful, you can make a request for the future. Some examples: “If I bother you, could you talk with me directly?” “Could you not swear at me?” “Could you treat your agreements with me and your children as seriously as you do those at work?”

  • Move on – For your own sake, start releasing your angry or hurt thoughts and feelings. Stop your mind from obsessing about the past, and focus on the present and future. Turn toward what is going well, what you’re grateful for. Do things that feel pleasurable.

In the garden of your life, you have to pull some weeds, sure, but mainly focus on planting flowers.

  • Be at peace – All you can really do is what you can do. Others are going to do whatever they do, and realistically, sometimes it won’t be that great. Many people disappoint: they’ve got a million things swirling around in their head, life’s been tough, there were issues in their childhood, their ethics are fuzzy, their thinking is clouded, etc. It’s the real world, and cannot be perfected.

You have to find peace in your heart, not out there in the world. A peace that comes from seeing clearly, from building up and focusing on good things in your own garden, and from letting go.

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 16th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , ,

16 nov

How to Be a Lean, Mean Thinking Machine

RenitaKalhorn“Watch out! Oh no, you’re gonna screw up, you’re gonna screw up, you’re gonna screw up.” That’s what’s usually going through my head during a piano performance…..right before I screw up.

Here’s what’s going through my head when I’m in the flow and playing my best:

Yep. When it comes to thinking, less is definitely better.

In the first few five or so years of life, our thoughts are simple and focused on the present moment: “I’m hungry.” “I’m sleepy.” “I want that toy.”

Once we’re adults, however, the average person, according to Dr. Eric Klinger of the University of Minnesota, Morris, has 2,000 – 3,000 thoughts a day — 60% of which are mental chaos — redundant and revolving around anxiety and worry. No wonder we feel stressed and overwhelmed. We’re thinking too much!

MIND OF CHAMPIONS

Champions, on the other hand, like children, do very little unnecessary thinking. They have approximately half as many thoughts — 1,100 to 1,300 thoughts per day – and they hold each thought longer.

Tired of the chaotic traffic inside your head? Here are three ways to ease the mental congestion:

  • Make a distinction between functional thinking and ego-driven commentary.“That’s hot, I won’t touch that again,” thinks the child. “This guy has a fast serve. I’ll swing quicker,” thinks the champion: These are functional thoughts. Most other observations — “What’s the matter with me?” “I‘m so stressed!” “How am I going to get this all done?” – serve no purpose and are pointless. .
  • Find a different thought. You can’t control or repress your thoughts. But you can decide which ones to hold on to. When I feel my head awhirl (or, more accurately, when I feel like a headless chicken), I find that one-word commands cut through the cacophony: “Focus.” “Quiet.” Or, “breathe.” (Yeah, pretty much like talking to a dog.)
  • Regulate with music. Although scientists are not yet sure how, numerous research studies have shown that listening to music brings order and structure to neural functioning and affects brain waves. The effects, not surprisingly, depend on the kind of music. Don Campbell, who wrote the Mozart Effect, says slower Baroque music, such as Bach, Handel, or Vivaldi, can create mentally stimulating environments for creativity and new innovations. Classical music, such as Haydn and Mozart, often improves concentration and memory when played in the background.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Renita Kalhorn on November 16th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments