One of the most important concepts that has recently emerged from the world of neuroscience and the study of the brain is that your thoughts and where you focus your attention can actually change the physical structure of your brain, which in turn influences how you think and feel.
Though meditators and spiritual teachers have known this from experience, until just a few years ago the ability to change our brains by our own self-directed thoughts was generally considered fantasy.
But now we know that far from fantasy, our ability to re-wire our brains and change even long-held habits and behaviors is indeed within our grasp. This is profound! No matter how stuck you might feel, you have a lot more control over your mental and emotional states than was ever thought possible.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to change those old patterns…
This weekend I was working in my backyard, which has a steep gradient. There is a small retaining wall part way down the slope. I noticed that when it rained, the water washed down the hill alongside the wall, and over time had created a deep rut right next to it. If this continued it would eventually make the wall unstable.
Our brains are somewhat like this. As time goes on, pathways are cut that get more and more established, till we don’t even have to think about them anymore. Good or bad, that’s how habits are formed.
As for my backyard – I had to create a new pathway before the soil erosion became a real problem. The first step was the awareness that there even was a problem. The second step – I had to redirect the water.
OK, so my backyard doesn’t quite look like this yet, but just give it a year or two 😉
I began by indenting a shallow groove in a different direction down the hill away from the wall. The next time it rained some of the water took the new path and some continued to take the old path (even though I did begin the process of filling in the rut with new soil – but the lack of grass still made it the path of least resistance).
Each time I went into the backyard I would take a few more layers of dirt out of the new channel, deepening it, and continue to fill in the old channel. Each time it rained, more and more water flowed down the new channel, till eventually the new water route was established and grass grew back where the old channel once was. And the wall stood tall and proud.
Rewiring our brains is somewhat similar. The first step – awareness – is often the hardest. Our unhealthy behaviors and habits become so automatic that we mostly engage them without conscious thought. But with awareness comes liberation, because then we can do something about it.
At first when we create the new pathway, the pull of the old one is strong as it is still there. And it takes energy to overcome the inertia of just doing what you have always done. But over time, with focused intention and repetition a new pathway in the brain is created and a new pattern of behavior is formed. Ta dah!
It is the act of paying attention that rewires the circuits in the brain. That is why “mindfulness” has suddenly become so popular alongside the rise in awareness of neuroplasticity. The two go hand-in-hand.
More about that in another article… but for now, start to notice what you are focusing on and therefore giving energy to. Then ask yourself, do I want to make this pathway in my brain deeper (like my original water channel), or do I want to focus it elsewhere and rewire my brain to go down a different channel? The choice is yours.
So you have visions of getting that big promotion in your career. Yet, even though you are clear in where you want to go, somehow you feel you are not reaching your fullest potential – something is holding you back.
I’ve often heard it said that once you get clear on what you want it will manifest effortlessly. However, the truth is, everything in the way of it manifesting is first likely to come up in your face, especially your own limiting beliefs. Then you end up with one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake.
Here is a simple process you can use to reveal and then eliminate the limiting beliefs that might be getting in your way as you strive to advance in your career.
Revealing Mixed Messages (RMM) Process
Clarify. Get clear on what you want to manifest and write it down. What is your highest vision for career success?
Observe. Visualize having exactly what you wrote down, in as much detail as possible. Include all your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, or touch? Observe how you feel and the thoughts that go through your mind, both positive and negative.
Brainstorm. Take a piece of paper and divide it down the middle into two columns. At the top of one column write “Positive” and at the top of the other write “Negative.” Then list everything that occurred to you when you visualized your success (both positive and negative) in the appropriate column. Even if something seems ridiculous (especially if it’s negative) write it down.
Reveal. Everything in the positive column reaffirms why you want this success, while everything in the negative column is a limiting belief that can sabotage you. The good news is that with awareness comes liberation! So first, just read through the list of limiting beliefs and conflicting intentions. Notice any reactions you have as you do so.
Question. Then, go through each item on the negative list and ask yourself if it is true. Be honest! Often, when we bring our conscious attention to these limiting beliefs we realize they are not true. They are simply things we made up, especially when we are stressed and overwhelmed. Have you ever taken the time to call into question these self–limiting beliefs? Cross off every item on your list that is not true.
Formulate. Sometimes, the beliefs and negative thoughts holding us back are based in truths. For example, you might be dealing with long work hours due to lack of staff, irritated customers, or even issues with co – workers. Still, there are often things we can do to reduce their impact on you. Look at each limiting belief still on your list that you think is true. Then, go through them one by one (if you have more than one) and ask yourself the following question: “What could I do to reduce or eliminate the impact this challenge has on me?” Write down any ideas that occur to you.
Plan. Based on the ideas you generated in step six, create a simple plan that will help you deal with the real issues you are facing in your career. Having this in place will deflate the beliefs that were holding you back and allow you to move forward. If you need further help with this, I recommend working with a coach or an accountability partner—someone who will help you stay on track.
Along the way, it is important that you acknowledge the progress you have made. Seeing your progress gives hope, encourages you to move forward, helps you enjoy your career, and nurtures your life enthusiasm.
If you ever find yourself stuck and unable to move forward, give the RMM Process a try. What it reveals may surprise you.
Research shows that professionals who exhibit greater levels of enthusiasm have less stress, make fewer mistakes, and enjoy better relationships both with co-workers as well as in their personal lives.
But how do you keep enthusiasm levels high when you are feeling overworked and overwhelmed? What stops you from fully experiencing enthusiasm, joy, and significance in your daily life? What stops you from living with Full Wattage?
I have found the three biggest saboteurs that keep us from living with Full Wattage are:
Saboteur #1 – Your own beliefs.
For example, think about your beliefs and what you tell yourself (and others) regarding your work. Maybe you entered your career path because you had a passion for it, but now you view your work as a necessary evil. Is your goal simply to get through the day or through the week, or till that next vacation? Are you counting down the time until your retirement?
A recent survey showed that less than 15% of us are engaged at work… and that figure is on the decline. But is it right to spend such a great portion of our lives doing something we feel is unfulfilling at best? I don’t think so.
So what are your beliefs about work? And where did these beliefs come from?
Often, they came from the things we heard as kids. Did you ever hear any of the following…
- “You have to work hard to make a living.” Just like Donna Summer sang, “She works hard for the money. So hard for the money….”
- I was lucky that my family supported my choice to become a dancer, but many of my friends were told, “Get a real job.” Ouch!
- “It is selfish to have work you love.”
- “Someone has to take out the garbage.” The underlying belief here is that if everyone only did what they loved, nothing would get done!
So what beliefs about life, work and overall success influenced you growing up? And do these beliefs still serve you today?
If you find that you are being influenced by beliefs that are holding you back or are no longer supportive, take a few moments to think about the time you decided that your chosen career was right for you. What about it motivated you ? What drew you in? What were your positive thoughts and beliefs? And can you re-invigorate some of them now?
While we are on the subject of your own beliefs, have you noticed how much time we spend worrying about things that have not happened yet, and that probably won’t ever happen.
When you get caught up in negative self-talk you are simply awfulizing (to imagine something to be as bad as it can possibly be). More often than not, the things we spend most time worrying about never come to pass. Awfulizing is one of the biggest destroyers of joy and enthusiasm.
If you tend to awfulize, begin by simply noticing when you are doing it. That is the first step to being free of this self-defeating habit. With awareness comes liberation!
Saboteur #3 – Not taking time to nurture yourself.
This one seems so obvious but can be the most difficult saboteur to address. It seems that many of us take the time to look after everyone but ourselves. But it is essential for us to take some time to decompress and rejuvenate ourselves if we want to have productive and happy lives.
What feeds your soul? What brings you meaning and joy? What makes you laugh? Find ways to incorporate activities that are nurturing for you, not just once a week, but every single day. It does not have to be a big production, or take a long time. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most meaningful. But failing to take time out for yourself on a regular basis is a recipe for burn out.
So these are the three biggest saboteurs that keep us from living with Full Wattage. Don’t let them stop you!
A good way to get inspired is to simply get out of your normal groove and do something different.
For example, can you remember some of the things you loved to do as a child. The more fun and wacky, the better!
Did you ever play outside in a hailstorm?
Dance around to your favorite song on the radio?
Climb a tree?
Build a fort with sofa cushions?
Allow a friend to blindfold you and guide you around?
Swing on a rope?
Whittle a stick?
What did you love to do?
Now ask yourself, “Is there any way I could incorporate any elements of those things into my workday?” Even if it is a bit of a stretch. What could you do?
Here’s what Sue did:
As a child, Sue used to love raking huge piles of leaves and jumping into them. So one day, when she was feeling particularly frustrated about a project at work, she went out to the local park at lunchtime, found a private spot, gathered a huge pile of leaves, and kicked and jumped around in them.
She admitted that at first, she was kicking up the leaves in anger and frustration. But after a few minutes she was laughing out loud. Sue went back to work feeling lighter and definitely in a better mood.
Taking time to play increased her energy and released the tension she had been feeling. That, along with the laughter, gave her a fresh perspective, and she was able to view her project from a much more resourceful place.
Sue said the best laugh of all was when she got home that evening and her daughter asked her about the leaf stuck to the back of her jacket. Nobody had mentioned it all afternoon!
Don’t underestimate the power of laughter. In fact, Dr. Lee S. Berk, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunology researcher at Loma Linda University’s Schools of Allied Health and Medicine, and his colleagues have done numerous studies on laughter.
Dr Berk said that laughter enhances your mood, decreases stress hormones, enhances immune activity, lowers bad cholesterol and systolic blood pressure, and raises good cholesterol.
And that’s no laughing matter!
In addition, doing something that is outside of your normal routine can be invigorating, especially when we associate the activity with something fun, as Sue did.
So what could you do today to introduce fun and into your work and home life?
Even one small thing could make your day!
So do take the time to recharge yourself.
At the beginning of each new year we often think of the successes we would like to achieve in the year ahead. Maybe you wrote “resolutions” to help you achieve your desired results.
Why do we do this?
We do it because most of us have an innate urge to be successful in life. And I am no exception to that. I strive for increased success in my business, my marriage and in my relationships with family and friends. I strive to live a joyous, loving, purposeful life, filled with abundant health and vitality.
True success has many facets to it. Financial success is certainly important, because, as a wise one once said, “we are living in a material world.” But for me, physical or material success would be empty without “spiritual success”.
So what is spiritual success? According to a great teacher, Torkom Saraydarian, it is “the actualization of your inner potentials and of your essential divinity through your thoughts, feelings, words, and actions” (Dynamics of Success by Torkom Saraydarian).
Now that might seem pretty lofty, yet I am sure you can think of someone who achieved great physical success, but lost it all because they failed to build their spiritual wealth alongside their financial bank account, and as a result their life went out of balance. Our newspapers are full of such stories.
And while it’s easy to measure physical success, how do you measure spiritual success? Certainly the levels of daring, courage, hope, resilience, vitality, love, creativity, happiness and joy are good indicators of your spiritual success.
Lack of it results in more fear, doubt, worry and hopelessness, as well increased feelings of emptiness, dissatisfaction, and a lack of meaning and purpose in life.
So,what about you? How would you define success? And if you agree with me that spiritual success is equally as important as material success, how do we go about building that in our personal and professional lives?
One way to begin is to simply ask yourself what spiritual success would look like for you. What qualities are important to you?
Make a list, then choose one that you would like to focus on. Then ask yourself how you could incorporate more of that quality into your life at work and at home.
For example, let’s say courage is important to you. Maybe you want the courage to go after a promotion at work, or to write that book you keep talking about, or to start a business doing something that you love.
Courage makes you steadfast in the face of obstacles. It gives you clarity of mind and strength of body. Think about the steps you could take to increase feelings of courageousness in your life? Start with baby steps and grow from there. Do the same for whichever spiritual qualities you want to develop.
Doing this will help you to increase your spiritual success and lead to a more balanced life.
Studies show that many folks don’t even make it through the first week of the new year before their good intentions have fallen by the wayside. So if that’s you, don’t worry, you are not alone.
So why is that?
It’s because often our goals are things we think we should be doing. We tell ourselves, “I should work out more.” “I should eat better.” “I should lose those 10 lbs.” “I should watch less TV.”
But committing to something just because you think you should, or because someone else suggested it to you, is not very motivating or compelling. It’s no wonder that we give up without much of a fight.
But there are steps that you can take to create New Year’s resolutions that result in lasting change.
So, here are 3 tips to help you write resolutions (or any goals for that matter) that stick:
1. They have to source from the CORE of who you are.
Instead of just being something that you think you should do, what if you created resolutions or goals that emerged from the core of your being – from your sense of purpose in life? Do you think that would make a difference? I sure do.
This time of year is often a time to reflect on the past year – to examine what worked for us and what did not – as well as to look ahead to the upcoming year. Imagine if you also took the time to ponder the big question of why you are here on the earth at this time.
What if you looked ahead to the new year and created resolutions for change that sourced from your unique life purpose. Now that would be a force to reckon with! That’s because your life purpose is a driving force .
To be effective, a resolution or goal has to be aligned with your deepest values. Do you know what your top 3 or 5 values are? Can you clearly articulate them? Do you know which of your top values is the most important to you?
If a resolution is based on something that is not really important to you, the chance of success is slim.
On the other hand, if you create goals and resolutions from the things that really matter to you, that are based on your deepest values, there’s a much higher likelihood of you achieving them.
You will also have much more satisfaction, enthusiasm, and joy as you accomplish those things that you set out to do.
3. They have to be big enough to stretch your limits.
If you have one big goal or New Year’s resolution that pushes the envelope of what you can accomplish you are more likely to be successful than if you have a number of less significant goals. That is because a big goal has more power of manifestation than lots of smaller ones.
It’s easier to focus on one big goal and is less overwhelming than a bunch of smaller goals.
When you take on a big goal and you really claim it as yours, you become unstoppable. It will energize and invigorate you. Whereas, you are much more likely to give up on lesser goals.
So rather than a bunch of less meaningful goals, choose one big New Year’s resolution that pushes you outside your comfort zone… and go for it 100 percent. Then, once you are clear on your one big goal, chunk it down into smaller “benchmark” goals, each with a specific timeline. And even although we have passed January 1st, it is not to late to create a meaningful big goal for yourself for 2014. Why not write it down now?
Get bigger about who you are and what you can accomplish! I know you can do it.
So I do hope these tips help you to create New Year’s resolutions and goals that have a lasting and meaningful impact on your life. And if you need help clarifying your sense of purpose, your values or your life vision and goals, do contact me. I’d be honored to help.
One of my mentors, Gabrielle Roth, said, “Movement is medicine… a dynamic way to free the body, to express the heart, and to clear the mind.” I couldn’t agree more. Often when I have been feeling lethargic or in a non-creative, non-resourceful place, the simple act of going for a walk has changed my perspective and renewed my energy and enthusiasm.
However, even better is when I dance.
I don’t worry about the steps, or what I look like. I just put on some music, often I will even close my eyes, and surrender to whatever movements my body is inspired to make.
Sometimes I start very slowly and tentatively, listening to my body as it gradually unravels from the demands of the day.
At other times my body is drawn to make large, bold, circular movements, or short, percussive, dynamic jabs. I may start “loud” and then melt into the stillness.
Every day is different, but the results are the same. After a short “movement break” my energy is revitalized and by mind is refreshed.
So, the next time you are feeling out-of-sorts, I invite you to put on your favorite music and dance around to it. Don’t worry about feeling awkward. As the wonderful choreographer Twyla Tharp said, “Get over yourself!”
In fact, you could even try it NOW. Go on, give it a whirl. Find your favorite dancing music and rock out!
If you are in a public place (like at work) imagine yourself dancing wildly. It’s almost as good.
And if you need some additional inspiration, here is a great video to get you going.
There is an amazing connection between physical movement and the brain. In fact, in The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge wrote, “Nothing speeds brain atrophy more than being immobilized in the same environment.”
So the next time you are feeling stuck or just stressed out…. get up, dance around, go for a walk, just move. You’ll feel better for it.
Have you ever been required to give a presentation and it reduced you to a pile of nerves? We generally associate being nervous with novices. But did you know that even successful professional speakers still get nervous? They have just learned to manage their nerves.
It’s natural to feel nervous – it’s been ingrained in us from thousands of years of evolution where human beings needed to be accepted by their social groups in order to survive. If you were not accepted, often for being different in some way, you were cast out and left to defend for yourself. Inevitably that meant death.
So it’s no wonder that we get nervous when we have to stand in front of a roomful of people, and do something that many of us feel vulnerable doing – speak!
So here are 9 tips for healthcare professionals to help alleviate the public speaking jitters:
- Remember first and foremost that the audience wants you to be great, not terrible. They want you to succeed. You are doing something most of them would rather not do, and for that alone you will have their respect. So remind yourself that they are rooting for you!
- Be mindful of negative self-talk. This actually ties into the first tip. We are often our own worst enemy, and talk down to ourselves without even being consciously aware of how much we do that. With awareness comes liberation!
- Be prepared. Practice with friends or colleagues before you give a talk for the first time. Especially practice your timing. The biggest mistake clients make when they come to me for presentation coaching is that they have way too much material for the time allotted. Added to which, we do tend to take more time in front of a live audience than when we are practicing by ourselves at home. So do be mindful of your timing. You also want to practice if you are using any technology. If part of your talk involves a slide presentation, showing a video, playing music etc, make sure you know in advance how everything works.
- Utilize the power of visualization to your advantage. We tend to worry about all the bad things that might happen (like forgetting what we want to say, looking stupid, having technology problems etc). It’s easy to get stuck focusing on what we don’t want, but remember, whatever you focus on you get more of. So see yourself in your mind’s eye giving a stellar presentation and getting a standing ovation! Don’t underestimate how powerful that can be.
- On the day of your presentation get to the room early. Make sure it is set up the way that you want. Become familiar with the space. Do a final check to make sure your microphone and all your audio and visual equipment works.
- Meet and greet folks as they come in. This is so important when it comes to reducing the jitters. First, it takes your mind off being nervous. Second, once you have made a connection with attendees you will be speaking to a roomful of folks that you have some familiarity with (at least a bit) rather than a room filled with complete strangers. That helps a lot.
- Know the opening of your talk cold. You are most nervous and the audience is most skeptical at the beginning of your talk. You will be more confident if you know what your very first words will be, and you don’t have to think about them.
- When it comes time for your presentation, walk confidently to the center of the room or stage (or to the lectern or podium if you are using one). Before you open your mouth stand with your feet firmly planted, scan the room (look for friendly faces) and breathe. Then look at the friendliest face and direct your opening words to them.
- Never speak as if you were speaking to a group of people. Always speak to one person, then another, then another. This creates a sense of connection and intimacy.
So there are 9 tips to consider the next time you have to give a talk. Here is one more – don’t forget to smile… and have fun!
So we tend to cut down on the activities that fuel and nourish us, in an effort to “get more done”.
Unfortunately that means that we are often running on empty. It’s no wonder we get so stressed out at the holidays.
So here are some practical activities that you may have been tempted to reduce or eliminate for the next few weeks. However, not only will they actually help you reduce stress in your life during the busy holiday season, but the renewed energy you get might even help you get more done!
Without a doubt, some form of physical exercise is a great way to break the stress cycle. Exercise pumps up your endorphins (feel-good hormones) and decreases your stress hormones. It also reduces chronic muscle tension, helps you sleep better, and decreases anxiety.
Exercise is also a natural way to increase your energy level, alertness, and concentration. But that’s just the beginning…
In addition to simply increasing blood flow, and hence oxygen to the brain, we now know that physical activity actually helps create new brain cells or neurons, and helps them connect better with other nerve cells. In other words, exercise is a powerful way to help you rewire your brain for greater health, focus, creativity and maybe even intelligence. So during this holiday season, do make sure you get plenty of exercise. You’ll feel better for it.
Dance is also a powerful stress reducer, especially learning new moves, which can be both physically and mentally challenging.
And if you guys think that manly men don’t dance, think again. According to Psychologies magazine, Dr. Peter Lovett, a psychologist specializing in performance at the University of Hertfordshire in England, recently examined how women respond to men’s dance moves at nightclubs.
He discovered that shufflers (those who simply shuffle from foot to foot) were rated lowest in terms of masculinity and attractiveness, while those who incorporated the occasional unexpected movement were “eye-catching and appeared more in control.”
So who says manly men don’t dance!
So at that next holiday party, break out the dancing shoes and don’t hold back 🙂
Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and Pilates are also powerful ways to decrease stress and increase energy (not to mention overall enthusiasm for life). Both of these practices incorporate controlled breathing, increased blood flow, hand-eye coordination, and complete body-mind awareness.
I love my regular Pilates classes for the unique combination of strength building and flexibility. Even after a hard workout I leave feeling so refreshed and ready for whatever life brings my way.
Then, after all of that activity you will have earned a massage. Getting a relaxing, therapeutic massage is one of my favorite ways to interrupt the stress cycle and to rejuvenate. OK, so I will admit that I am a massage junkie. I’ve rarely met a massage I didn’t like.
For me, massage reminds the muscles of what it feels like to relax and let go. And when the body lets go, the mind does too. And always, a rested mind is more resilient and operates with greater clarity.
So there you have it – Part One of my holiday de-stressors. Do these things and you will have more energy and enthusiasm during the holidays and beyond.
So what are your most effective ways to stay sane during the holidays? What helps you stay calm and relaxed so that you can enjoy all that the season has to offer? Please leave your comments and ideas below 🙂