Monday, January 28, 2013

Stress and "Krispy Kreme"

"Choose Happiness" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
Continuing this elephant training adventure with The Willpower Instinct and The Neuroscience of Change it's becoming clearer and clearer that the more we learn about how our "hard wiring" works, the more easily we can teach the elephant (that part of the brain that takes us to "Krispy Kreme") new ways of doing things.   McGonigal says research shows that when stressed the thinking, deciding, reasoning part of the brain (the trainer) completely shuts down, which is why you may find yourself in a fast food line some where, not knowing how you got there, rather than dealing with stress in a more productive manner.  She suggests that by gradually becoming more aware of these stress related states you can gradually strengthen that part of the self that can remain aware even under stress.   She has four stages of growing awareness:

1.  "Mindful Mindlessness" - This is where we see ourselves in that Krispy Kreme line as it is happening but we really don't feel able to stop ourselves or leave the line.  In this stage we can bring a mindful curiosity to to the situation rather than criticism.

2.  We start to notice what our impulses feels like.  We can identify the feelings of craving, the instinct to grab a doughnut, the emotion involved.  Here's where we can begin to find the space or gap between the impulse and the action which gives us freedom.  This is where we can remember what we really care about most.  In this freedom gap, we can find wisdom emerging.

3.  The third stage is where we become aware of what triggers the impulse to get in that Krispy Kreme line.  We start to realize that we are most likely to be triggered in particular situations or environments, and at certain levels of tiredness or anxiety.   We can find the things that trigger us, the things that flip the switch that triggers the [doughnut] habit.   Once we find those things, we can start to construct our life in ways that support us.   (Oh happy day!)

4.  The fourth stage of awareness is the one where we become aware that it is our [doughnut] habits that creates our suffering. 

Try this:
For a week, test McGonigal's theories about stress (physical or psychological) being the enemy of self-control.  How does being worried or overworked affect your choices?  What is your will-power like when you are hungry or tired?  What about when you are in physical pain, illness, or emotional pain like anger, loneliness or sadness?  Notice when stress strikes throughout the day or week.  And watch what happens to your self-control!  When you catch your elephant taking you to "Tasty Creme" maybe try asking yourself about your stress, look for your triggers.  Are there some little things could you change to avoid these triggers?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Self Compassion and Mindfulness

"Self Compassion" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
I thought I "got" mindfulness and self-compassion, having practiced meditation for a few years now, until I watched Kelly McGonigal's video in the previous post. Most humbling. (I'm sure if we took a brain scan while under the influence of meditation, my brain would be lighting up in exactly the same way as the folks who had been practicing for four days.) Somewhere in my head, I've been thinking that my brain needs to quiet down, and once it does, then I will be mindful. I may even have spoken to myself in a less than kindly way about this.  When people talk about "mindfulness" or "self-compassion" I think to myself, oh yes, I know what they mean. But of course that is an assumption! So the whole idea here, as I read The Willpower Instinct, is to be aware of the thoughts that pop up and gently (in the kindest way possible, no sternness necessary) pull yourself back to paying attention to your breath or physical sensations.

Kelly describes a meditator, Andrew, who was about to give up trying to practice because he thought he was hopeless, that he wasn't able to focus perfectly on his breath, that he had to keep reminding himself to come back from his thoughts.  She suggested that he pay attention to how this practice of his, as imperfect as it was, was affecting his choices and attention in "real life."  He said he realized that he was way more focused when he had meditated vs. when he skipped it.  He also noticed that what he was doing in meditation (gently pulling himself back from his mind chatter and just being here now) was exactly what he needed to do in real life: catch himself moving away from his goals and gently guiding himself back to where he wanted to be.

Kelly suggests a five minute brain-training meditation to increase your willpower (or the strength of the elephant trainer).  This will reduce stress and teach the mind to handle both inner and outer distractions and temptations.  You can set a timer and sit comfortably, eyes open or closed, and start to focus on breathing.  As you breathe in you can say "inhale" in your mind and as you breathe out you can say "exhale."  When your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath.  You can make it a tiny daily habit and once you are comfortable with it you can increase it to 10 minutes and then more when that is comfortable.  When you get to a time that feels like too much of a burden bring it back down to a comfortable place.  Short practices every day are way better than long practices that get put off for another day.

And of course all this is true for art making as well.  A small art practice, a tiny daily habit of working in your art journal every day, is way better than putting your art making off, waiting for that perfect day or that big inspiration.  Practice is good.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keeping the creative environment simple... Why not?

"Balance, why not?" Collage by Lani and textures from FlyPaper
In continuing to train my elephant and to become more free to do what I love and waste less time with things that don't contribute to these pursuits, I have started with Kelly McGonigal's The Willpower Instinct and the "The Neuroscience of Change" from Sounds True.  (The spoken meditations that go along very nicely with The Willpower Instinct.)

So the first thing I want to do is keep things as simple in my environment as possible. When there's a lot going on around me, with a lot of distraction and confusion, it makes the elephant trainer part of the brain a little tired and the elephant part of the brain a little more insistent.   The marketers in the Journal of Consumer Research know all about this.  Baba Shiv, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School has research that shows how people who are distracted are more likely to give in to temptation.  Distracted shoppers are more susceptible to in-store  promotions, in fact anything that reduces the ability for the consumer to process information increases the likelihood of impulse shopping.  So stores now have tons of distractions for us to get lost in.  But if I want to train my elephant to avoid temptations then there's no reason for my personal environment to replicate that kind of chaos!  In fact if I want to help strengthen the trainer part of the brain, I need to cut down on the distractions, perhaps confining some of my technological activities to a schedule.  Hmmm, now there's a concept!

Want a little Kelly McGonigal wisdom?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why have a daily practice?

"Live mindfully" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper
"Art Journaling has the power to not only express what happens in our lives but to actually effect it. Through artistic explorations and unbridled creativity the art journaler is a traveler between worlds. Effecting the future of his/her life while recording the moment." -Anahata Katkin from Journaling the Journey; A Rough Guide
I feel as though there are many layers to all that I have been learning in Breaking the Habit Code eCourse. Not only was there the content of the class, but then there was the practice of what we were learning, and then the growing and observing of the daily practice. My favorite learning was how amazingly wonderful change can be when we understand a little about our hard-wiring and use it instead of fighting it, using our ability to learn tiny habits.  Of course I also loved the beauty and simplicity of the elephant and trainer metaphor.  And I feel as though I finally understand why a daily creative practice is productive, wonderful, and fun.

Do check out Christine Carter's eCourse here if you have a chance and the inclination to make a few changes in your life. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

You must always remember...

"You must always remember..." collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
Today was the last day of Breaking the Habit Code eCourse, but the first day of my New Adventure in  Training the Elephant.   Yesterday Christine Carter introduced us to Dr. Norcross's Changeology and a great exercise on his website for remembering what to do if your elephant stumbles in your training program (if you slip with one of your goals or new habits).

So the idea here is that we will generally have a little slip or setback with our goals but we don't need to make it into an "oh what the hell" event.  (We don't need to let AVE or Abstinence Violation Effect get the better of our intentions.)

Alan Marlatt first started working on relapse prevention and the abstinence violation effect while studying cigarette smokers who were trying to quit in the 1970s.  He discovered that people who considered the act of smoking a single cigarette after they had quit to be evidence of a lack of willpower were much more likely to let a momentary lapse become a full-blown relapse. Since then, he has become one of the world's leading authorities on preventing relapse.  "People with a strong abstinence violation effect relapse much more quickly," said Marlatt. A single slip solidifies their sense that they are a failure and cannot quit, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So what should you do instead?   Marlatt suggested that you tell yourself, "I made a mistake. What can I do differently next time? How can I learn from this?"  Also remind yourself that this happens to almost everybody, so don't let yourself get discouraged.  

To stay with the elephant metaphor, if we are a serious elephant trainer, caring for our elephants well- being, we need to have a plan in place for when they stumble or trip.  That's where Dr. Norcross's little "slip card" is very helpful.  As I filled the little card, I started thinking about the elephant.  If you were really training a real elephant and it really stumbled, you wouldn't say "oh I quit, what the hell" and let it jump off a cliff!  Of course not!  You would talk nicely to it and encourage it to get up and continue.  You might even let it have a rest for a couple of minutes.  So why wouldn't we do the same for ourselves?  Good question.

If you haven't taken Christine Carter's eCourse it looks like she's doing a second round and there seems to be a special rate on for the rest of the day.  You can check it out here.

Now I need to look at the rest of the material on Dr. Norcross's Changeology website along with the research on relapse prevention. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Self compassion and the elephant.

"Gaining strength, courage, and confidence" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
The last week of Breaking the Habit Code eCourse  has been about interesting, compassionate ways to handle the elephant's cravings.  One is to 'Never Say Never' so that rather than telling your elephant, "No! You can never have this thing ever again" you say "Well, let's do such and such and after we've done this thing then you can decide if you still want such and such."  Usually the craving passes, especially if you substitute something healthy and rewarding for something less healthy and not so rewarding.

Self compassion is a really excellent method for elephant training. Kristin Neff has a great (extensive) bibliography of articles on self compassion research here, and most of the articles can be downloaded in their entirety.

And from Kelly McGonigal's website, there are some articles related to the physiology of willpower (e.g. improved blood sugar control, increased heart rate variability, better stress resilience), to get us started:
And here's one about Neural correlates of self-criticism vs. self-reassurance: 

Finally, at the moment it looks like Kelly McGonigal's "The Neuroscience of Change" from Sounds True is on sale.  Take a look here.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Links, Ideas, and Authors

"#5. Make Time For Daily Bliss" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper  
There are some links, ideas and authors that have been introduced in Breaking the Habit Code eCourse which could bear further exploration.  I want to get them down now so that I can come back to this at any time and explore.

Roy F. Baumeister has written and researched "will-power" or "self regulation" for quite a while.  Here's a nice article on his research on glucose, the brain, and will-power.  And his books Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications  and Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength look to be very useful! 

Kelly McGonigal has also written about will power and also about yoga and pain relief.  She has a great web page with lots of downloadable articles here, and a video that takes you through her ideas and a lot of fascinating research.  Also she has a whole blog full of ideas right here in Psychology Today!  Wow!

Another person to look out for is BJ Fogg and his "3 Tiny Habits" website and eCourse.  This is an amazingly deceptively simple concept which is in actuality pretty mind blowing and life changing.  He also has his Behavior Model website which is worth a peek.

The Heath brothers, Dan and Chip, have a website full of information and what look like some good books as well.  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard is (of course) all about changing habits, which before taking Christine Carter's eCourse I thought was so hard, silly me!  So although Christine's eCourse is winding up this week, I suspect that the changes new little tiny habits that I've put into place and will continue to tweak and grow, will be with me for a long, long time. 

Thank you Christine Carter!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A HUGE surprise!

"Dream Fearlessly, Feel the Possibilities" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
A HUGE surprise benefit of this Breaking the Habit Code eCourse  is that not only am I kinder towards the struggles of my "elephant and rider," (so there is less struggle and I'm getting more done), but I'm also kinder towards the elephant and rider combinations that I see around me. I find I can let go of the occasional slights and grumpiness of others because I can see the bio-chemical activity at play.  It's all so understandable and forgivable!  And without my reactivity the rise and fall of someone else's blood sugar is just that, rather than a confrontation or argument.  Whew!  Thank you Christine Carter!

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Let the Beauty of What You Love Be What You Do"

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do" (Rumi) collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
I am SO enjoying this Breaking the Habit Code eCourse.  I'm sure that a big part of this enjoyment is about using my signature strengths of curiosity and love of learning, which seems to help the rider/trainer gain some much needed strength in this whole process.  The last two days have been focused on adding sleep, even just a few minutes nap, or going to bed a few minutes earlier, and also working on building in little snacks to keep the blood sugar on a more even keel.   Christine Carter gives us a lot of the brain science behind why diet and sleep affect our behavior, which is so helpful!

It's all beginning to feel so optimistic and amazingly doable, this business of altering our little habits in small increments and helping our elephants learn to surf their urges mindfully.   We get to prove the methodology every day, and every day the elephant training gets a little better, a little easier.  
"My elephant is learning to surf the urge"
And of course creating "Morning Pages" based on what I am learning seems to add strength to the new neural pathways involved in this class, and it helps the trainer part of the mind keep her goals where she can see them (in her daily art practice) like Rumi's advise in the first image, "Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."   Yes, indeed!

Want links to do a little research of your own on sleep, snacks, and stress?  If you take a look you can see what a vicious cycle  all this can become for the poor sleep deprived elephant and rider!  But then of course the up-side is that increased sleep will make elephant  training so much easier!

Investigators from the University of California demonstrated how sleep deprivation can undermine regions in the brain which are responsible for making food choices. They explained that their findings might explain why sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk of becoming obese.
Scientists from the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that sleep deprivation considerably exaggerates how much we anticipate impending emotional events, especially among those who are already highly anxious individuals.
People who have not had enough sleep and have "tired brains" are more likely to find junk foods appealing. (Research from Columbia University in New York)

"Hooray for Today" collage by Lani

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Further adventures in the training of an elephant

"Trainer with Elephant" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 
Today, in Breaking the Habit Code eCourse, we learned more about ways to train our "elephants" or the part of the brain that wants what it wants right now, never mind tomorrow. Christine Carter introduced us to Kelly McGonigal's work with will power, the part of the brain that is the trainer, that can imagine the future and that is guided by her core values.   The idea here is if we have goals and intentions for the new year, if we are trying to learn new habits, then it's really good to help the trainer and the elephant.  There's a wonderful video from Google about Kelly's work!  Very helpful.  So here's my to-do list after watching this video: 1. More sleep  2. Daily meditation (5-15 min.) 3. Physical exercise 4. Plant based, low-glycemic diet, avoiding spikes and drops in blood sugar.  (All of these increase the strength of the "trainer" part of self)

Another interesting bit of research that Kelly mentioned was that the guilt we tend to feel when our elephant strays into the chocolate or what ever, really has the effect of creating more straying rather than more self control.  So we need to be nicer with our elephants, we need to say things like "yes I know you had that doughnut but we all get tempted by these things from time to time, please don't be too hard on your self" instead of "what a terrible big pig of an elephant you are!"  The second approach just adds stress and the urge to look for more of the doughnut and chocolate type quick fix to stress.

Now here's a strange one; people who track success actually do worse with their long term goals than people who look at, think about, and study their failures.  Kelly talks about several studies that were done to look at this phenomenon.  Interesting.

But the most interesting tool, to me, is the meditative practice of "surfing the urge" which you can listen to here.  It comes from Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington.

"We must create what we most need to find" collage by Lani with textures from FlyPaper 

"Controlling elephants depends on three interrelated factors: (1) the level of training of the mahout, (2) the tools or equipment used, and (3) the best ways of using the tools. A weakness in any of these areas means that both safety and the elephant’s health are likely to be affected."  - From Elephant care manual for mahouts and camp managers by P. Phuangkum, R. C. Lair and T. Angkawanith

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Elephant and the Rider

"Rider and Elephant" morning pages collage by Lani
For the past couple of days, in Breaking the Habit Code eCourse, we have been working with one of my favorite metaphors of the human condition, that is the rider and the elephant.   Jonathan Haidt used it in The Happiness Hypothesis, and it is featured in the book "Switch." (The first reference I could find for this wonderful metaphor is in The Dhammapada, a teaching poem traditionally attributed to Gautama Buddha.)  Haidt describes it this way; our minds are like a small rider on the back of an elephant. The rider doesn’t have as much control over the elephant as she would like to have.  We  can’t just resolve to be happy.  We can’t just resolve to quit eating chocolate, we can’t just resolve to be more mindful – because the rider does the resolving but it’s the elephant that does the behaving.  (Brilliant, no?  And the elephant is so darned BIG!) 

Thankfully, though, we can train the elephant, we can learn when and why the rider gets tired and falls asleep at the job, letting the elephant have her way.  We can learn to guide the elephant, and remove distractions and "carrots" from her path.  We can also use small rewards that are good for her.

So what sort of rewards might be good for your elephant?

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

What if "We Are All Sacred"?

"We are Sacred" collage by Lani, with element from Gale Blair's Paper Whimsy
The idea for today's morning pages arrived in my instagram feed, from Gretchen Miller who had written "I am sacred" on her palm and taken it's picture. It created a little mind worm which wouldn't leave, "you are sacred" it whispered, along with "I am sacred" and "we are all sacred." Nice little mind worm. Thank you Gretchen.

But what if we really, really believed that we were all sacred, that all sentient beings were sacred?  Wouldn't we treat ourselves, the people around us, and all creatures with great care?  OK, now here's where I'm going to bring in some of the amazing neuro-psychology research from the  Breaking the Habit Code eCourse . I want to create new helpful habits that are all about treating all beings with extreme care, but I need to know how habits are formed and what my brain chemistry has to do with everything!  One of the sources that Christine Carter refers to in her eCourse is the book "Switch."  In it there's this amazing story about some applied psychologists getting a whole theater full of people to participate in some really nutty research.  They wanted to see how much more people would eat if they were given larger quantities of popcorn, but not just any old popcorn, this was super nasty popcorn, that was popped 5 days before the experiment.  Everyone got their own huge tub of this nasty stuff but some of the tubs were SUPER huge.  What the researchers discovered was that if we are given bigger containers of food, even nasty food, we will consume 53% more even if it is truly nasty.  Even if we are already full going into the movie.  Funny.  Except that this is what we really do.   (Solution?  ALWAYS eat your food in smaller containers, especially if it's nasty, 5 day old popcorn, lol!)  

This sort of mindless activity seems to be the opposite of treating life as sacred.  It would seem that we have some strange hard wiring that allows us to forget that we are all sacred.   The good news is we can create new wiring and new habits.   Stay tuned for more adventures from Breaking the Habit Code eCourse.

Photo of a Santos taken with my Hipstamatic App.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Creating a Support Group for Habit Change

"Beautiful Heart" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper  
What I learned today in  Christine Carter's Breaking the Habit Code eCourse is that we need a committee, group, cabinet of folks who are working on the same habit building type activities that we can count on to understand and support our activities and that hopefully we can understand and support their activities.

So my thought here is if there is anyone else taking the class and creating their cabinet what would you think of a communal cabinet, one for all and all for one?!?  We could all be supportive friends  helping, mentoring, supporting, or guides in this changing habits adventure. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

More simple rewards.

"Art Saved Me" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper  (love love love)
Continuing with  Christine Carter's Breaking the Habit Code eCourse, I have been trying to figure out more non-chocolate type rewards as I build my new, fun, helpful, useful, marvelous, easy-peasy habits.   I tend to go along nicely with my good-habit-building and then a little resistance creeps in to the picture.

So how do I work with my resistance?  I already enjoy my daily art pages.  They are a part of the good habits that are working well, so that's not a problem.   There's no resistance to doing the actual morning pages, but the effort it takes to polish a bit, and put up on the blog is where I can feel the struggle with resistance.  Part of me wants to leave the images right where they are, in my art journal.  But I know that there are more things that could happen with them that won't happen if they sit where they are.

How can I use my simple reward system to keep motivated?  How can I keep the dopamine flowing in my brain?  While contemplating these questions and looking at my morning pages, I got this enormous insight that the minute I think about putting one of my favorite personal strengths into my work (like humor), the happier I get, the more dopamine flows, and all resistance disappears.  (Look at those huge sneakers and fuzzy yellow pants and just try not to laugh.)

So the title of this piece should be "Art and Humor Saved Me."  I'm also a curious person, so following the lead of my curiosity and learning more about this process is also an awesome way for me to feel a rising excitement and resistance melt away.

How does that sound?  Want to incorporate strengths into your work?  Need a list of strengths?  I posted one here earlier.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Be Creative and Curious!

"Creative and Curious" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper 
I'm really enjoying Christine Carter's Breaking the Habit Code eCourse!  I'm learning amazing things from the field of applied psychology, which up until now I have to admit I thought was all about the "dark side" of psychology.  Actually I still think it is, but if you get to know the techniques employed by the marketers and admen, you are less vulnerable to them.  AND of course you can use what they  have learned for your own benefit.

So the most bizarre thing I've learned is the mechanics behind why we tend to crash at some point after doing really well with our resolves and personal revolutions.  (Like if you've stuck to a diet, congratulated yourself heartily, and then got yourself a huge latte and brownie or something as a reward)  It's a strange rebound effect, highly documented that you might want to be aware of.  It's called the "licensing effect" which marketers are really seriously aware of and make use of, especially around the holidays.  Time Magazine had this to say:  
 In essence, the idea is that doing something that feels virtuous (like buying someone else a present) makes us feel unconsciously entitled to do something self-indulgent (like buy ourselves a present, which can then make us feel that we need to do something virtuous again, like buy someone else a present). ...the process can feed on itself in a steady loop of spending. 
It can put us in a wild debt spin, and it comes into play when we are trying to change self destructive habits. It is the reason we crash after doing really well with a new diet or exercise program.  So how do we avoid the "licensing effect" in our personal revolutions?  One way is to remain curious about everything that goes into having and keeping these personal resolves.  Also the idea of tiny rewards are good; easy de-stressing activities which allow us to take charge of our dopamine production.  So no stress and no "licensing effect."

If you want to know more about the "licensing effect" just click and read!   You will be surprised!

Learning to love who we are a little more every day.

"Love who you are" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper 
Find and create more tiny rewards to let yourself know that you are being looked after by your very best friend... yourself!  Take a little time for de-stressing and becoming-your-own-best-friend!  Christine Arylo, author of Madly in Love with Me, suggests a really cute idea that harkens back to childhood.  Take a pen and write something sweet on the palm of your hand.  Sneak a look at it every now and then.  Didn't you do this with best friends when you were a kid?  Every time you see your palm you will have just a tiny dopamine rush from the reward center of the brain, a gift from your brain chemistry to yourself.

Here's another tiny reward.  Take yourself on a sensory walk outdoors in sunlight (soak up some vitamin D), looking at plants, listening to birds and what ever natural sounds you can find.  Touch things that look like they have interesting textures.  Identify at least five different scents on your sensory walk.  Document your walk in your art journal, or with photos.  Have fun.  Want to multiply the fun?  Take a child or two on your explorations.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Need a Little Quiet Bliss?

"Inside Quiet Bliss" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper
In continuing the theme that seems to be developing on this blog lately, of taking back our (or my) mental ecology, I worked on this piece this morning.  The tiny words say "she loved watching it.   And suddenly she knew some thing.  And it made her feel wonderful about life itself."  (They came from a Teesha Moore collage sheet, thank you Teesha!)  I wasn't sure if the "she" in this picture was the cow herder or the cow, but there you are.  For me it was a lovely quiet moment of making and then contemplating.

Here's how it worked for me: I got up before anyone else was awake, except Maus, the cat.  I made my coffee and went downstairs to my studio to do a little yoga which helps quiet the mind and bring together body and breath.  Then I retrieved my coffee and came back down and worked in my art journal.  Next I added some touches in photoshop, a little  FlyPaper fun and filtering.  All of this works together to raise some good brain chemistry that I know I've created myself (as apposed to some neuro-market's input).  It's as though I get to reward myself every day by doing a little yoga and art.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone trying to get me to buy a latte or a big mac.  (See yesterday's post)

Want to find ways to take back your mental ecology, to be able to create your own reward system and dopamine production?   There are folks out there writing about just that.  Dr. BJ Fogg of Stanford University has 10 little ways to reward yourself when you taking little steps to own your life.  You can find his "Slide Share" on Ways to Celebrate right here.  He's got a pretty cool looking and totally free on line eCourse right here, just in case you like to change your life!

Want more?  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

What strange and wonderful things reside in the theatre of our minds?

"Strange and wonderful things" morning pages with textures from FlyPaper

In the pursuit of "miraculous occasions" (see yesterday's post) I decided to examine the "strange and wonderful things" that reside in the "theatre of the mind".  Edith Kramer, my art therapy teacher and mentor, said it's important to look at and take charge of how we furnish our minds and our inner lives.  I've been giving this some thought.  A lot of material in there is not necessarily of our choosing.  In researching the eCourse I mentioned yesterday, I looked at several blog posts and research of Christine Carter.  One article called "Are We Wired to Want Stuff" was extremely eye-opening.  Did you know that the field of applied psychology is now getting into neuro-marketing, looking at how to make better use of our neuropsychology to sell us stuff?   Yikes!  So here's how that works.

Our happiness is our way of rewarding ourselves. We are wired to pursue this reward. Christine feels  the key  here is the word pursue; so that our brain’s built-in reward system motivates us toward all the carrots, large and small, that are dangling out there, things we think will bring us happiness. We’ll pursue anything that looks like a reward, and of course this is true for everyone, kids included.

She writes, "When our brain identifies a possible reward, it releases a powerful neurotransmitter called dopamine. That dopamine rush propels us toward the reward. Dopamine creates a very real desire for the carrot dangled in front of us."  I felt it this morning when I found an add from McDonald's in my mail box.  A big photo of lattes and espressos with the word SAVOUR written across the top.  It was extremely attractive until I flipped it over and there's a Big Mac offending my vegetarian eyes, with the word CRAVE written across the top.   My mind said "Oh, advertising.  How clever!"  But before the Big Mac got me to take a step back I was right in there with the dopamine rush the lattes evoked.

Of course this kind of neurology makes us susceptible to all sorts of temptations.  Escalated dopamine levels make the appeal of immediate gratification way more interesting than any long-term consequences.  And of course our brains don’t distinguish between rewards that actually will lead to a deeper happiness and the things that won’t. Dopamine just makes all the carrots look really awesome.  And of course we start to furnish our minds with the images provided so generously by all those dangling carrots out there.

Do you remember the big, crazy materialistic push in November and December leading up to Christmas?  Everyone filling out their wish-lists, and nagging each other and worrying about if they got enough stuff? 

If we seem greedy or materialistic at that time of year, it's not so much that our values suck, or that we are spoiled and bratty, but more that we are actually human and under siege from all the dopamine being triggered by smart neuro-marketers.

So what can we do to take back the contents of our own minds?  How can we furnish our inner lives with the contents of our choosing, with things that will bring us truer, deeper happiness?   We can teach ourselves to recognize what makes us want, want, want. We can teach ourselves to look for the neuro-marketing techniques of advertisers.   We can use our curiosity to unravel how all this stuff works, look beyond the carrot at who holds the stick.

We can also develop habits that encourage us to create our own inner furniture and rewards.

Try this:
Give some thought to your mental environment, what does it look like?
Are the contents your own, did you put them there, or are they the result of advertising (tunes, phrases, or images geared to help you pursue those dangling carrots)? 

For some real hair-raising research, do a google search of "neuro-marketing" and read just enough of what you find there to motivate you to  take back your mental ecology.  (For example:

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Creating lots of miraculous occasions!

"Instructions for  Miraculous Occasions" book for the New Year with textures from FlyPaper

I love this new little New Year's Revolution book.  It's becoming a New Year's Habit actually, thanks to Gretchen Miller's industrious inspiration.  This year I resolve to create as many miraculous occasions as possible.  And to help me with this endeavor, and in case any of you have resolves that you want to see to completion, I would suggest the following:

Patti Digh
From Patti's blog, there's a lovely Rainer Maria Rilke quote.  “And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”  Nice, right?  And then she's got these two simple questions. 
1. What do I want to let go of?
2. What do I want to create?

She answers the first one with wanting to "let go of people who are toxic to me, whose energy depletes my own. I want to let go of belongings and clutter and weight, the things that weigh me down."

For me, it's my own yucky feelings that make a relationship toxic.  So I would like to let go of my toxic feelings in relationships.  (They usually  have to do with people not doing what I think they should do, which is really funny if you think about it long enough, and then it's no longer toxic!  I mean, God forbid I ever do what other people want me to do... too funny!)

She answers the second question with wanting to "create greater and calmer spaciousness in my life for writing and thinking and teaching and learning. I want to open space."

I would answer it with creating more Curiosity, Freedom, Individuality, Reparation, Love, Light, and Spaciousness.  (I'll keep you posted with how it's going.)

Christine Carter
Another great source for help and support in our efforts to continue towards growth and learning (or in our efforts to create personal revolutions) is the work of Christine Carter.  She has a great free eCourse going on right now called "Cracking the Habit Code" which you can read about here.

She says that researchers are learning a lot that can help us keep our New Year's resolutions (or personal revolutions). Here are three great ideas to get us started:

She suggests that we replace bad habits with good ones.  Because quitting something cold-turkey is really HARD. Even quitting something slowly is hard; once our brains have a habit hard-wired into them, that habit can be super difficult to erase. Easier is to keep certain aspects of an old habit while replacing the undesirable parts with something new.

She suggests that instead of resolving to quit eating things we know are bad for us, replace our usual afternoon snack with something good for us, like some fruit and eat it at the same time.

She also suggests we should never say never. When temptation is right in front of us, it's hard to turn down. And when we tell ourselves "no, we can't have, do or be that thing anymore" we often increase the urgency of the temptation by making it forbidden fruit, or by giving it a whole lot of energy. She suggests that instead of telling ourselves that we can't have that thing (for me that last piece of chocolate cake), we could tell ourselves we'll have that thing in a few hours if we are still interested.  Meanwhile, we go for a walk, read a book, do some yoga, or create something.

She suggests we make dopamine work for us. Dopamine is a brain chemical that motivates us towards stuff we perceive as rewards. Often we are motivated by dopamine-created-cravings towards things we are trying to avoid (like that last piece of chocolate cake, darn it).

She says we can also use dopamine to motivate us towards behaviors that will make us healthier and happier.

Every time we keep our resolves, she suggests we be sure to reward ourselves immediately, even if we just do a little victory dance, or say "I'm awesome!" to ourselves. Pretty soon, our brain will think of your resolves as a reward, and we'll find we're more motivated to do them.

If any of this sounds intriguing to you, then "Cracking the Habit Code" might be the class for you!

Christine Arylo
Finally there's my new Self-Love guru, Christine Arylo!  She's got a great little short video for how we can clear out what we don't need or want from 2012 (or earlier, lol) and make a lot of spaciousness for ourselves and all the goodness waiting for us in 2013.

This should give you some good ideas for creating more of what you need in your life right now!  Here's to 2013!  Hooray!

The New Year Arrives

Originally posted on 14 Secrets blog.

"Fidelis" morning pages with help from FlyPaper
The new year arrives.  I can sort through the elements of my life that I want to remain true to for this year, and I can release everything else.  Today I sort.  I will be loyal to my dreams of adventure, art, imagination, love, and life.  I will honor them.