10 Ways To Stay Positive In A Negative World

5075477519_03df81cc98_zEverywhere I turn there’s bad news.

A 22-year-old man in CA goes on a killing spree because he’s upset that he’s still a virgin. More than 200 girls were abducted by militants in Nigeria. The sea level is climbing and the East Coast is going to be underwater.

Then a picture shows up in my Facebook feed of a puppy buried up to its neck with a man leering at the camera fist pulled back ready to punch the poor thing.  It was shared in the hopes of identifying the man, but STILL.

Too.  Much.  Bad.

It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and riddled with worry and dread. I’m not alone. Anxiety disorders have become the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 40 million people over the age of 18. An estimated 1 in 10 adults in the U.S. is depressed.

Although these conditions develop from a complex set of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events, negative and unhealthy thought patterns are major contributors. It’s estimated that a person has anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day. If your mind tends toward the negative, that’s a lot of dark thoughts.

Pessimistic thinking is usually under the radar of conscious awareness and becomes a persistent habit casting a shadow over the a person’s entire world. Because our brains physically change based on our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, a capability known as neuroplasticity, negative thinking patterns actually get wired into our brains and become the default.

By learning to consciously intercept and change thought patterns, anyone can lower anxiety, ease depression, and train their brain to become more consistently positive and calm.  The quickest way to change how you feel is to change how you think. [Read more…]

I’m No Angel (And That’s OK)

8739307295_caa69029a5_bWhile driving around the other day, I was playing some old cds I haven’t listened to in ages.  One of them was the British singer-songwriter Dido’s No Angel which was popular around 15 years ago.  (Dido, No Angel, Arista Records, 1999. CD.)

I remember playing the cd non-stop during a time in my life in which I was miserable, hopeless, and kind of clueless.  Despite being comfortably married for 16 years, living in an impressive home in Florida looking like it came right off of the pages of House Beautiful with a pool in the back yard, a Porsche in the garage, and two precious, young sons, I found myself depressed and lost in my own life.

Notice I didn’t say happily married.  I said comfortably.  More like comfortably numb.

By that point, we were having major problems in the relationship and going to couples counseling.  I was also seeing a therapist individually and just beginning to get real with myself. The illusory shell that I’d spent thirty some years perfecting so much so that I didn’t even know who the real me was, was breaking open with the flawed me oozing out of the cracks.

I was tired — damn tired — of rejecting, shaming, and trying to hide the parts of myself that my husband, and therefore I, considered “bad” and feeling guilty for being less-than-perfect. Dido’s song from that cd, I’m No Angel, became my anthem because I was finally ready to admit something I’d always known deep down: I wasn’t who my husband wanted me to be and who I’d tried so hard to become in attempt to keep the peace.  I was a completely different person with my own opinions, dreams, and needs that mattered, that longed to see the light of day, that needed to be heard.

I can remember singing along with gusto, pouring my heart and soul into the words as if she’d written them just for me.

’cause I’m no angel, but please don’t think that I won’t try and try
I’m no angel, but does that mean that I can’t live my life?
I’m no angel, but please don’t think that I can’t cry
I’m no angel, but does that mean that I won’t fly?

When I timidly began to peel back my shell to reveal glimpses of my true self in our couples counseling sessions, it became very clear very quickly that the real me was not going to be OK with my husband. It’s not that he or she was a horrible person.  It’s just that she wasn’t who he thought he’d married.

Despite his rejection and disapproval, something inside of me knew that I was still a valuable person deserving of love, compassion, and happiness.

When Dido’s song, “Hunter,” came on the other day, I broke out in a victorious ear-to-ear grin and felt a surge of joyous energy as I remembered singing its words years ago feeling the longing, the ache, the pain of wanting to be free, wanting to live an authentic life, wanting to be me, and wanting that to be enough. [Read more…]

Garbage In, Garbage Out

 

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“Garbage in, garbage out,” a term originally coined in the technology industry, applies to your brain and body as well.  Both can can only function as good as what goes in them.

Despite making up only two percent of the body’s weight, your brain is an energy hog gobbling up more than twenty percent of daily energy intake. Because of this, the foods you consume (and don’t consume) greatly affect your brain’s functioning, including everything from learning to memory to emotions.

Your gut has a “second brain,” called the enteric nervous system, made up of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the intestines, which play a key role in your physical and mental health.  Studies suggest the quality of the foods you consume over your lifetime affects the structure and function of your brain.

Your brain needs the right nutrients to function optimally.  A brain healthy diet based on plant-fed animal protein, good fats, and lots of organic, leafy greens, and a rainbow of other veggies and fruits is a good start to giving your brain the nourishment it needs.

However for many reasons, it can be difficult to get the needed vitamins and minerals from our daily diets. Although I eat very healthy, I just don’t consume enough food in a day to give my brain and body all the good stuff they need.  Children who turn up their noses at vegetables and older adults with diminished appetites also have a hard time fulfilling nutritional requirements. As if it wasn’t challenging enough already, the nutrient value of produce has declined over the years as crops have been engineered for higher yields.

For these reasons and to aid in my healing from a brain injury, I began taking dietary supplements years ago.  I know that they helped my brain recover faster and further, and I can still tell a difference when I skip them.

Recently, I discovered a shake-on nutritional supplement made from organic vegetables, ENOF, which I love and want to tell you about.  ENOF makes it easy to add vitamin power to my and my teenage sons’ diets. (Shhh! Don’t tell them!) And what’s even better is that the company was co-founded by my yoga buddy and donates a percentage of their profits to charitable organizations providing nutrition to populations in need. [Read more…]

When Being Positive Is A Negative

6905633389_33782972bf_zWhen thinking positive means plastering on a forced smile and latching onto one specific result that we’ve decided is more favorable than another one, that you think will bring happiness, we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment and unhappiness. Thinking positive in this way is really forming expectations and attachments to outcomes and almost always is a negative.

It’s like wishing that leprechauns will magically intervene to make sure everything turns out as we want while unicorns frolic in the flower-filled meadow under a rainbow.  ‘Aint gonna happen. Then, when things don’t go as we hoped, how can we help but be mad and sad?

This kind of positive thinking puts pressure on a person to control or manipulate events to try to make them go a certain way, which is frustratingly impossible and a sure prescription for anxiety and worry. (See blog: Life Gets Easier By Managing Expectations and The Dark Side Of Hope)

I’ve found a better way. When any situation presents itself, I consider the possible probable outcomes, both desirable and those which may seem less-than-perfect, and stay open to and attempt to find the positive in each of them.  There is always some good if you look for it. (See blog:  Look For The Good And You’ll Find It) In my own life, I’ve witnessed time and time again where something, which initially looked like an “oh crap!”, turned out to be awesome and even better than what I’d hoped for.

I don’t pretend to begin to know what is “best” anymore.  “Best” is what I make of what happens. It’s up to me.  I can make any situation good or bad with my thinking about it and my response to it. My experience and the ultimate impact of any happening in my life is determined by my thoughts about and response to the situation. (See blog: Responding Rather Than Reacting)

When I open up my thinking, consider the possible benefits of any circumstance, and ask myself “How do I make this work for me?” (See blog: One Little Question), the positive possibilities become endless. Next, I can move forward taking mindful steps, being receptive to unforeseen paths and choices that may present themselves as events unfold, and having faith in myself and the universe. [Read more…]

You’re Not Stuck With The Brain You Were Born With

8684533456_baec82041a_zHow many times have you heard someone say or even said yourself, “That’s just the way I am” or “I was born this way”? Those statements may be true, but do not mean that the person is fated to stay that way forever.  Contrary to what used to be believed and was a rather convenient excuse, our brains are not hardwired at any age.  You’re not stuck with the brain you were born with.

In The Woman Who Changed Her Brain: How I Left My Learning Disability Behind and Other Stories of Cognitive Transformation, Barbara Arrowsmith-Young tells of being born with severe learning disabilities earning her the labels of slow, stubborn, and worse.  (See blog: Behavior Problem Or Brain Problem) Although obviously intelligent, she read and wrote backwards, struggled to understand language and abstract concepts, was always getting lost, and was terribly physically uncoordinated.

By relying on sheer memory and will, she made it to graduate school where she discovered research inspiring her to invent cognitive exercises to fix her own brain. She has spent more than thirty years since sharing that knowledge working with children and adults to better their brains at the Arrowsmith Schools she started.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, co-founder of Posit Science (BrainHQ) and author of Soft-Wired: How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Can Change Your Life, has proven time and time again that no one is stuck with the brain that they are born with.  Dr. Merzenich was on the team that invented the cochlear implant which translates sound into electrical impulses that can be interpreted by the brain allowing deaf people to hear.

He was one of the research scientists to develop the Fast Forward program, offered by Scientific Learning, a computer-based reading intervention which rewires and improves the brain to treat the underlying causes of language and reading difficulties permanently. [Read more…]

The Baffled Brain

4093083957_574a22187b_zThe Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

by Wendell Berry, from Collected Poems, 1987

Upon reading these insightful words by the American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, Wendell Berry, my baffled mind immediately relaxed a little.  I felt like he was talking directly to me saying, “It’s OK not to know.”

Maybe, just maybe, my standing at this precipice at 50 years old, not sure of the next step,  making it up as I go is exactly where I’m supposed to be right now.  As Wendell suggests, maybe venturing down my next path, whatever it may be, is the start of my real work and journey.

I went to college, got married, had kids – all like I was “supposed to.”  In my early 40s, depressed and living a numb existence, I completely shattered that life when I got divorced, tried to commit suicide, sustained a serious brain injury, and lost custody of my kids.  Whew!  That’s one way to do it, but I wouldn’t advise it.

[Read more…]

Sometimes, It’s Best To Just Stop Thinking

14363038593_d1f14e22ba_zThere are generally two types of people in the world when it comes to decision making.  The first takes the time to gather information, evaluates and analyzes several options, and,  makes a decision backed by sound methodology and reasoning making sense to them.  The other type, of which I tend to be included, makes decisions based on little information with reasoning along the lines of “It just feels right.”

More Information + More Time =  Better Decisions?

Gathering more information and taking the time to make calm, careful decisions is better, right? Not always. There is an implicit belief in our society that more information is better which is supported by basic economic theories.  Economist do concede and make the exception that this is not true when the information is not free.  The general rule is, according to economics, that more information is always better unless the cost of acquiring further information exceeds the anticipated gain from it.

In his book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Gerd Gigerenzer proposes that this is not true even when the information is free and that, while the belief that more information is better is accurate in some cases, there is a range of situations in which less time, less information, or fewer alternatives can actually lead to better decisions and outcomes. [Read more…]

Swimming In A Sea Of Neurotoxins

3165456548_70fe4dc501_zYou eat and are surrounded by known neurotoxins everyday. A neurotoxin is a substance that interferes with the electrical activity of nerves preventing them from functioning optimally. Neurotoxins interact with nerve cells by either overstimulating them to death or interrupting their communication process.

Studies have shown that neurotoxins can shorten the life span of nerve cells. These toxins have been linked to brain disorders, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s, and can cause serious reactions including migraines, insomnia, asthma, depression, anxiety, aggression, chronic fatigue, and even ALS. Neurotoxins may be partially responsible for the swelling numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD and autism.

The availability of neurotoxins has increased dramatically in the last few decades as our food has become more processed and we rely more on synthetic, manufactured products and live in chemically treated environments. Restaurant food and junk food are notoriously known for containing high amounts of neurotoxic additives because they make the food taste good and make you crave more. [Read more…]

The Multitasking Myth

6035325308_f03cab1af5_zA mom holds her baby while stirring a pot of spaghetti on the stove and talking into the phone cradled between her shoulder and ear.  A salesman, running late for his next appointment, glances at the client information laid out in the passenger seat of his car while singing the tune on the radio and whizzing along the highway.

Multitasking.  We all do it.  At times, it simply can’t be avoided. Life often demands that we do more than one thing at a time.  But are we really doing ourselves any good?

The idea of multitasking was originally used to describe a computer’s parallel processing capabilities and has become shorthand for our brains attempting to do many things simultaneously.  However, your brain is not built to work that way. [Read more…]