Friday, June 27, 2014

Building Resilience

Stress Management
Stress Management (Photo credit: Livin' Spoonful)
by , Healthy Heels:

Adjusting to stressful and challenging situations is an important part of succeeding in college.

As a student, you are frequently challenged to adjust to new experiences, develop new relationships, and take on enhanced roles and responsibilities.

College students today face high expectations and must learn to manage stress. For these reasons, resilience can be especially beneficial to students.

Negotiating challenges and disappointments are inevitable parts of learning and succeeding in college. Resilient students are more likely to bounce back from life, including school, challenges. Learning strategies to enhance your resiliency can benefit you while in college and beyond.

So, what is resilience? The American Psychological Association defines resilience as a process of adapting well to adversity. Adversity can include stressful changes, family, health or relationship problems, trauma, or tragedy. It can also include challenging academic events and financial strain.

Resilience helps individuals negotiate adversity and it can also enhance well-being and personal satisfaction overall. Being resilient can help you experience less stress and strengthen your relationships.

Resilience is not a trait that some people have and other people do not have. Rather, resilience is the result of a combination of behaviors and ways of thinking. All people can work on building the behaviors, actions, and ways of thinking common among resilient individuals.

Scientific study has demonstrated that human resilience is common. It is ordinary, not extraordinary. When an individual is resilient, it does not mean that he or she never experiences difficulty or distress. Experiencing stress, sadness, or disappointment is a healthy response to adversity.

But, resilience helps us cope with adversity and come back from challenging situations even stronger than we were before.

All students will encounter some form of academic challenge, relationship problem, health issue, financial stress, work worry, or other stress during their time in college. Being able to bounce back from setbacks will increase your likelihood of success.

Individuals who exhibit resilience commonly have a few things in common.

First, they have a sense of humor. They are able to laugh at themselves and laugh even in difficult situations.

Second, they are likely to have role models or mentors. These are individuals they respect and admire. They can draw strength from these individuals in a time of need.

Third, individuals who exhibit resilience commonly have strong social supports. This involves having others who can be trusted and with whom one can share challenging life events. Resilient individuals are also more likely to take on challenge and actively seek opportunities to get out of their comfort zone.

Additionally, resilient individuals commonly demonstrate optimism and gratitude. You can work on developing optimism and gratitude by doing the easy exercise below.

Every day for the next 3 weeks write down the following:
  1. 3 good things that happened that day
  2. 3 things you are grateful for
Keep track of your writing in the same memo app or journal. To be even more effective, do this activity at the same time every day.

Keep up this activity and over time you will start noticing more and more “good things” around you. Your outlook might become more optimistic and you might feel more grateful too. When you encounter life’s next big challenge, you could bounce back quicker and stronger than before.

This post was written by guest blogger Dr. Cynthia Demetriou, Director for Retention in the Office of Undergraduate Education & Undergraduate Retention and faculty advisor for Carolina Firsts, the student organization for first generation college students. 

She is a Carolina alumna with a Ph.D. in Education from the Educational Psychology, Measurement, and Evaluation program at UNC-Chapel Hill. She also holds a Masters degree in Education from Harvard University and a Bachelors degree in English from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. 

She has taken additional coursework in educational psychology at New York University. Her research interests include applications of positive psychology in higher education, undergraduate retention, and academic motivation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stop Generating Useless Ideas

by , Linked In:

Generating ideas is wonderful. 

You remember those great EUREKA moments under the shower, while driving or just talking to others.

Unfortunately, the hangover comes always later when you present your ideas to others. 

They are often less enthusiast than you and raise a lot of 'BUT' ... questions. 

Or everybody says it's a great idea, and nothing happens after all. All of this is so frustrating. I have been there, seen it, done it and got fed up with it.

Now why are most of the ideas turned down? You could point out that your colleagues, bosses or potential partners are so conservative. And although you might be right, you just don't get your ideas accepted, if they think they are useless. 

Coming up with a lot of ideas might make you a creative person but to be an effective innovator, ideas need to get implemented.

After I overcame my frustrations (at A later age), I got the feedback and insight that my ideas were useless to my bosses and managers because they were not relevant and didn't fit their expectations. Sometimes my ideas were way too revolutionary, way too complex or just too big to handle.

To be effective you have to bring to the table ideas which solve a problem or fulfill a dream in a new simple way and fit (or exceed) the expectations of your management, otherwise nothing happens.

An essential question is: what do the decision-makers expect? Most of the times the answer is that they don't know. So, why don't you take the initiative to make the expectations of your management explicit before you start generating ideas. This will make you a more effective innovator, because when you know their struggles you can provide them with new relevant solutions.

You even could start to formulate a clear a concrete idea-assignment which forces your management, from the start, to be concrete on the criteria your ideas must meet. You can formulate an idea-assignment with the help of the following six questions:
  1. Why do we need new ideas? (What's the issue or challenge?);
  2. Who will use the ideas? (Internal - external. Who is the target group?);
  3. Where will the idea be used? (Which regions, countries, continents?);
  4. What are we looking for? (Something evolutionary or revolutionary? Ideas for products, services, processes, business models?);
  5. When would we like to implement it? (Which year do we need this? 2014, 2015, 2016?);
  6. Which criteria should new ideas meet? (Extra turnover; less costs; margin %; fits the strategy; investment budget?).
The best way to stop generating useless ideas is by ideating new simple solutions, which fit or exceed the expectations of the decision makers. So make their expectations and criteria explicit before you start. This will prevent a lot of personal frustration.

PS: you can download a pdf with the 6W's to make an idea-assignment here.

Wishing you lots of success generating more effective ideas!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How and Why You Should Stop Changing Others

Thinking (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn DeLight (back again))
by , Life Hack:
By trying or wanting to change others, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You were put into this world to make a mark for yourself, not for others. 
The key to resist the urge to change others is simply to focus upon yourself.
Here are some ways to do that.

1. You are the only one who can change

You are here in this life to be the best you can be. Develop the mental strength to improve your own weaknesses and change your own self-sabotaging habits.

You can only change yourself because you’re the only one who knows your heart, your thoughts, your past, your struggles and your fears.

Working on these things are what promotes change. Therefore, when you try and change someone else, you set yourself up for failure because you don’t know the true thoughts and feelings of others as well as you know yourself. For this reason, it is impossible to change another person.

2. You need to identify at least one thing that you love about you

Start by identifying one thing about you that is an absolute strength. Cling to this every single day. Find ways in work and personal life to improve this quality. Use it to your advantage by finding ways to use it to improve your life situation.

Some examples include being a good salesperson, a good writer, a good marketer, or whatever. Play to this one strength more than your other strengths and find ways to coordinate your business and personal life to fit this strength in.

3. You need to write down your dreams and passions

What is your passion? When you wake up in the morning, what are some of the things that you want to accomplish? Write these down. As you go about your days, keep these things in the back of your mind and find little baby steps to take that will pave the way toward some of these things.

Think about them every single morning and make a commitment to look for at least one tiny thing you can do each day to move you in the direction of these passions. Don’t think about others or what they’re doing wrong. Just focus on you and what you can do to improve your life.

4. You must accept people for who and where they are in life right now

One of the worst things you can do to yourself is wish that the people in your life were different, or had made different choices. You cannot control the destiny of others. Whether you condone the choices of others or not, accept them exactly for who they are and where they’re at today.

5. You should connect with the feeling of relief

Instead of looking for ways to manipulate others to change, look at them with gratitude. Find their strengths and praise them. Be grateful that you don’t possess the weaknesses they do, and if you do possess them, find solace in the fact that you have the power to overcome those weaknesses…in your life, but not their lives.

6. You must accept your situation and circumstances as they are

Acceptance brings peace. Peace suffocates resistance and resentment. When you’re finally able to accept your life circumstances, you’ll be able to dig deep and take the steps necessary to change those circumstances. Go easy on yourself. Come to terms with past mistakes and choices that weren’t very wise and use them to catapult you forward.

7. You must deflect drama

The best way to deflect drama is to mind your own business. Don’t gossip about other people, or repeat their personal struggles. Using your energy in this manner drains you so that you’re not as apt to work on your own goals.

In addition, never allow others to drag you into their problems or fight their battles for them. Most of all, avoid negative confrontation. All three of the aforementioned circumstances suck your energy and take the focus off of you.

8. You should revise your goals often to stay on track

Every so often go back and look at the list you made of your passions. Take stock. Are you actively taking baby steps to work toward these? If not, realign your focus so that each day you’re taking at least one tiny step in the direction of one or more of these.

9. You need to have patience with others

Part of accepting others as they are, as well as accepting your own life situation is to have patience and empathy for others. Don’t waste energy getting angry or intolerant of others’ mistakes. At the same time, give yourself some approval and encouragement and be patient with yourself.

10. You must forgive

In order to preserve your energy and keep a positive attitude, always remember to forgive as many times as you’re offended. If you can’t do this for the other person, do it for yourself.

When you find it difficult to forgive, try and look at the admirable qualities in those that offend you. Compliment and encourage these qualities in them and you’ll fine that in time, it’s easier to forgive and all you will see are the positive attributes.

By doing this, you’re deflecting negative thoughts and feelings. This leaves your subconscious with positive energy that you can then focus on yourself with.

As you can see, the trick to stop changing others is to focus on you and you only. Take baby steps each day and gradually incorporate each one of these steps into your routine.

Pretty soon, not only will your frustration and intolerance of others disintegrate, but you will find it much easier and more productive to just focus on your dreams and your passion. These are mental skills that you can easily develop over time and drastically change your path in life.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Passion is Overrated

The Antidote
The Antidote (Photo credit: lokeswari)
by :

Last week we got back from New York, which was fab. I’d go as far to say it’s even almost as good as Melbourne.

It is the type of place that inspires much consumption of cheese, in so many glorious forms. NY cheese pizza, NY cheesecake, actual fancy cheese (and so on*).

Cheese aside, the main reason we were in New York was to attend the 99u conference (if you don’t know who 99u are, do check them out. They’re ace, and dedicated to the art and science of making ideas happen). 

The speaker lineup at this event was super (including the likes of Seth Godin, Jason Fried and Tina Roth Eisenberg). But for me, I was looking forward to seeing my current favourite author -  Oliver Burkeman.

Burkeman wrote The Antidote: happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking. Ah, what a glorious subtitle. I admire this guy’s thinking greatly. In fact, if you’re in the market for a new book (after The Game Changer), get this one.

Rather than tout the conventional motivational folklore of setting massive goals, visualising success and following your dreams, Burkeman (like moi) offers a different approach. Something much more grounded in stoic reason and pragmatism. 

Take the concept of ‘passion’, for example. 

In Burkeman’s first book Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done (another brilliant subtitle), he writes:
Few ideas have spread so rapaciously through the worlds of self-help and pop-spirituality as the notion of Finding Your Passion. Like a nasty outbreak of Dutch elm disease, it has infected entire populations, compelling publisher after publisher to use it in titles or subtitles. Motivational speakers, hypnotists and career coaches have also jumped on the passion wagon, taking a word hitherto reserved for those extra-special moments in life -  making love, say, or being crucified  -  and applying it to the whole of it.”

And so, have you found your passion yet? 

You have!? Well, good-o. Now you must now Live Your Passion, every single day (as one speaker alluded to the day after Burkeman spoke. Awkward). 

But if you haven’t found your passion  -  well! Either you’re not trying hard enough, or you need to enrol in my 7-day e-program The Seven Secrets to Finding Your Passion, Living Your Dreams and Achieving True Success (valued at $4,997 but yours today for the limited special price of $47). Yes please don’t email me, I’m being facetious again.

You see, the trouble with the notion of “finding” your passion (Burkeman writes) is that it presumes that you have a single predetermined passion, and that it is indeed something to be found.

Cal Newport (an author and professor who also spoke at a 99u conference previously) argues that passion is the feeling you get from mastering a new skill. It’s something to be cultivated, not sought for. 

You don’t find your passion  -  you create it. 

This is important. “Suppose you dislike your job,” Burkeman writes. “[If your] passion is ‘out there’, waiting to be found, you’ll feel that quitting is the only path to happiness … but if passions are made, it’s conceivable that doing the job differently might be an alternative answer.”

In other words, if the game you’re playing isn’t working for you: change it. Experiment. Play-test. Cultivate micro-passions. Plant seeds. Meander ruthlessly. 

Easier said than done, Jason! 

Of course! Who said this’d be easy? If it were easy, we’d all be doing it already.

The thing is  -  you’re not trapped. You’re not ‘stuck’ with a poor process, a bad work culture or boring work. Quitting is always an option - and it can be a great option - but it’s not the only one.

Instead of looking ‘outside’ for the solution (that elusive goal, the comparison-game, or that green grass on yonder paddock), and instead of simply looking ‘inside’ yourself (artificially forcing yourself to find passion within, to the point of burnout) … try finding passion within the work.**

Not out there, not in you, but within the work itself. Or, failing that, eat cheesecake.

* I have no more examples. Our diet in New York mainly cycled through these categories of cheese. Sometimes with martinis. But! If you’d like to get a glimpse as to what our adventures were like, my good friend Dougal (of Jaxzyn) put together this short video, featuring fellow conspirator Jen (and a rare glimpse of the Dangerlam too!).
** Stuck on how? Think like a game designer. I hear there’s a book on this topic somewhere.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shyness isn't Nice, but Shyness Shouldn't Stop You

by Sian Prior, RMIT University

Shy people have quite a bit to contend with - not least the word itself.

It has a number of different meanings, none of which are flattering.

To “shy away” from something implies avoidance; to “shy” can also mean to move suddenly in fright; to “be shy of” something can mean to come up short, or be insufficient.

And to be a shy person in our extrovert-worshipping age can be seen as being inadequate for the task of relentlessly positive self-presentation.

I recently wrote a memoir called Shy as part of a PhD in Creative Writing at RMIT University and have been exploring the different definitions of the word “shy” as part of a quest to understand the impact of shyness on my own life story.

As at least 40% of us would self-identify as shy, I suspect my deep interest in this subject will be shared by many fellow-sufferers.

Psychologists would say it is a temperament trait, one that can induce feelings of social anxiety ranging from mildly distressing to severely debilitating. I have been relieved to discover, though, that shyness is also accompanied by a range of socially useful and positive character attributes.

Part of my research involved interviewing my mother, Melbourne University psychologist Professor Margot Prior, who has been studying temperament for more than three decades.

In her view, all children fit somewhere on a spectrum called “approach-withdrawal”, ranging from the most engaged and extroverted kids to the most withdrawn, fearful and anxious kids.

For the shy ones among us, this fear comes from our biology, specifically from the reactivity of our nervous systems. American psychologist Jerome Kagan has studied the physical symptoms of so-called “timid” and “bold” children and found in the timid ones a neural circuitry that is highly reactive to even mild stress.

In short, those children were shown to sweat more and their hearts beat faster in response to new situations. Some kids grow out of shyness but many of us carry this anxiety into adulthood, when this reactivity commonly manifests as blushing, trembling and hyper-ventilating.

I had two shy parents so it is hardly surprising that I inherited a large dose of shyness. As a child and teenager this shyness often got in the way of me initiating social contact for fear of rejection. As an adult I have grappled with social anxiety and been forced to find strategies to overcome my irrational fears.


One such strategy has been to create professional personas for myself, enabling me to function as an apparent extrovert in the workplace. In the memoir I label this persona “Professional Sian” and analyse how she has managed to perform the roles of environment campaigner, choral conductor, opera singer, broadcaster, arts critic and university lecturer.

I now call myself a “shy extrovert”. If I was an introvert, I might be quite happy to remain in the background and avoid social situations. Shy people long for social connections but have to fight through a thicket of fears to make those connections.

Managing anxiety often comes at a cost to the shy person’s body. Swinburne University psychologist Dr Simon Knowles has studied the “brain-gut axis” and its role in the fraught relationship between anxiety and the gastro-intestinal system.

Many of Dr Knowles’ anxious patients present with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), an inflammatory bowel condition caused by the interaction between the gut’s nervous system and the brain. My own digestive system has reacted to decades of nervous stress by developing a broad range of food intolerances.

While the symptoms of shyness can be difficult to control, the distress of social anxiety can be compounded by feelings of shame and embarrassment. We shy people often feel like incompetent idiots in social situations.


English sociologist Dr Susie Scott believes this feeling of relative incompetence is central to the experience of shyness. But she blames these feelings on what she calls “the illusion of competence”: the mistaken belief that we all have to present ourselves as socially competent all the time.

In her 2007 book Shyness and Society: The Illusion of Competence, Dr Scott argues that shy people are perceived as failing to pull their weight in social situations and that, while non-shyness is seen as normal and acceptable, shyness is seen as deviant and undesirable.

The misperception of shyness as rudeness or aloofness plagues shy people, but in fact we long for social inclusion and connection.

But the news is not all bad. According to Macquarie University psychologist Professor Ron Rapee, shyness usually comes with a range of positive attributes, including greater sensitivity and greater levels of honesty.

When I interviewed Rapee, he told me shy people were often reliable, conscientious, and good listeners who demonstrated high levels of empathy. Many shy people can be found in the caring professions, working in roles that are generally non-self-aggrandising and non-domineering.

Sean Savage

The social acceptability of shyness is also somewhat dependent on the culture in which you’re living. According to Canadian psychologist Xinyin Chen, while North American parents typically react to their children’s shy-inhibited behaviour with disappointment, in group-oriented societies such as China, shy-inhibited behaviour may be encouraged because it is conducive to group organisation.

Back in the 1980s the lead singer of British band The Smiths offered a succinct summary of the situation for shy people. In the song Ask, Morrisey sang:
Shyness is nice, and
Shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life
You’d like to
My autobiographical quest to understand shyness has not “cured” me of this temperament trait, as I had hoped. But it has erased my shame and embarrassment about my social anxiety and reassured me that without shy people the world would be a far less compassionate place. 

Sian Prior will be speaking about her book Shy: A Memoir at Brisbane’s Avid Reader Bookshop on Thursday June 19. Sian Prior is the author of Shy: A Memoir.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

What are we missing out on when using our phones to pass the time?
by Christian Williams, UTNE Reader:

Recently, while eating lunch by myself at a local diner, I realized something that genuinely bothered me: I’m losing the ability to sit and do nothing.

Where I used to be able to sit contently and simply daydream or observe my surroundings, I now feel anxious, restless, and awkward if I’m sitting alone with nothing specific for my hands or brain to do.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. Looking around at the other solo diners that day, I noticed a common denominator: the smart phone.

With sandwiches in one hand and thumbs scrolling through Facebook in the other, we all seemed incapable of disconnecting from our phones, even for a 15-minute lunch.

That’s when it dawned on me that it’s entirely possible the most damaging effect of technology’s integration into our daily lives is that it’s replacing something many people have never thought was worth doing - sitting still and simply letting your mind wander.

 As soon as I figured out what was going on, I put my phone away. But that’s when the awkwardness set in.

If you want to feel out of place in a public setting these days, just start staring off into space or watching people as they walk by. Do it long enough and someone is liable to walk up and ask you if you’re feeling OK. That’s because we’re so accustomed to seeing people tethered to their smart phones - it’s the new normal. If you’re not killing time with your face fused to a screen, then you’re the weird one in the room.

Of course, I’m not the first person to notice how technological connectivity is making it easier to disconnect from ourselves and each other in myriad ways.

Late last year, comedian Louis C.K. shared his hatred for cell phones on Conan, and observed how we use technology these days to distract us from thinking about the depressing aspects of life. As he points out, taking on those thoughts head on is the only way to defuse them of their explosive potential.

My concern is similar to his, but with a twist. I worry that the more dependent we become on technology to help us pass idle time, the less likely we’ll be to allow our minds to wander in positive ways.

It’s already become commonplace for parents to hand their kids an iPhone when they’re restless in the backseat or complaining of boredom.

While I recognize the logic-enhancing and hand/eye coordination benefits of video games in young people, I can’t help but wonder how that constant stimulation is taking away opportunities for them to expand their imaginations, creativity, and overall mindfulness.

I’m noticing it in older generations, too. Just the other day, I witnessed a woman walking outside on a beautiful morning with her head down, reading a Kindle. Meanwhile, the natural beauty of her surroundings was going by unnoticed.

While it’s true that she was engaging her imagination through the book, her brain was missing out on a different kind of stimulation - the kind you can only get when you allow yourself to truly appreciate the natural world we’re all apart of.

And lest you think stopping to smell the roses or listening to the birds sing isn’t all that important, consider that establishing a true and lasting connection to nature may be the only way we’ll be able to shake society’s general apathy toward climate change and make the real changes necessary to curb its impacts.

Which brings me to my favorite argument for why we need to spend more time staring into space rather than into a screen: how else can we encourage the cutting-edge ideas, innovations, and solutions that only seem to pop into one’s mind when it’s disengaged from a specific task and allowed to wander?

I recently read Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which is a fascinating rundown of the work habits of 161 of history’s greatest creative thinkers from Matisse and Mahler to Freud and Einstein.

What stood out to me by the end was how many of them took time out of their busy days to take a walk or just sit and seemingly do nothing. Who knows how many world-changing ideas first made themselves apparent during those daily moments of stillness and contemplation?

It suggested to me that what we consider “downtime” may actually be the access point to a higher plane of thinking - one that I’m hoping to find my way back into now that I’ve opened my eyes again to the world that exists outside of the phone in my pocket.    

Christian Williams is Editor in Chief of Utne Reader; contact him at or follow him on Twitter: @cwwilliams. He also paints and makes music. View and listen to his work at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Importance of Play for Adults

The Importance of Play for Adultsby Associate Editor, Psych Central:

Our society tends to dismiss play for adults.

Play is perceived as unproductive, petty or even a guilty pleasure.

The notion is that once we reach adulthood, it’s time to get serious. And between personal and professional responsibilities, there’s no time to play.

“The only kind [of play] we honor is competitive play,” according to Bowen F. White, MD, a medical doctor and author of Why Normal Isn’t Healthy.

But play is just as pivotal for adults as it is for kids.

“We don’t lose the need for novelty and pleasure as we grow up,” according to Scott G. Eberle, Ph.D, vice president for play studies at The Strong and editor of the American Journal of Play. Play brings joy. And it’s vital for problem solving, creativity and relationships.

In his book Play, author and psychiatrist Stuart Brown, MD, compares play to oxygen. He writes, “… it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” This might seem surprising until you consider everything that constitutes play.

Play is art, books, movies, music, comedy, flirting and daydreaming, writes Dr. Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play.

Brown has spent decades studying the power of play in everyone from prisoners to businesspeople to artists to Nobel Prize winners. He’s reviewed over 6,000 “play histories,” case studies that explore the role of play in each person’s childhood and adulthood.

For instance, he found that lack of play was just as important as other factors in predicting criminal behavior among murderers in Texas prisons. He also found that playing together helped couples rekindle their relationship and explore other forms of emotional intimacy.

Play can even facilitate deep connections between strangers and cultivate healing. In addition to being a doctor and speaker, Dr. White is a clown.

His alter ego, Dr. Jerko, is a proctologist with a large behind and a doctor’s coat that says, “I’m interested in your stools.” Over two decades ago, White began working with renowned physician Patch Adams.

Today, White continues to clown at children’s hospitals and orphanages all over the world. He even clowns at corporate presentations and prisons. “Clowning isn’t something we’re doing with kids, we clown with everybody,” he said.

He’s clowned on the streets of Moscow. White doesn’t speak Russian, but that didn’t stop him from playing with people in Red Square. Within 45 minutes, he was juggling and joking with a crowd of 30.

In Colombia, White’s wife and Patch Adams’s son - also clowns - visited a bedridden father, at his daughter’s request. Once there, they sat on either side of his bed. He didn’t know English, and they didn’t know Spanish. Still, they sang songs, laughed and played with a whoopee cushion. They also cried. The woman later told them that her father deeply appreciated the experience.

As White said, play can lead us to these sacred spaces and touch people in powerful ways.

What is Play?

“Defining play is difficult because it’s a moving target,” Eberle said. “[It’s] a process, not a thing.” He said that it begins in anticipation and hopefully ends in poise. “In between you find surprise, pleasure, understanding - as skill and empathy - and strength of mind, body, and spirit.”

Brown called play a “state of being,” “purposeless, fun and pleasurable.” For the most part, the focus is on the actual experience, not on accomplishing a goal, he said.

Also, the activity is needless. As Brown said, for some people knitting is pure pleasure; for others, it’s pure torture. For Brown, who’s almost 80, play is tennis with friends and a walk with his dog.

How to Play

We don’t need to play every second of the day to enjoy play’s benefits. In his book, Brown calls play a catalyst. A little bit of play, he writes, can go a long way toward boosting our productivity and happiness. So how can you add play into your life? Here are a few tips from the experts:

Change how you think about play

Remember that play is important for all aspects of our lives, including creativity and relationships. Give yourself permission to play every day. For instance, play can mean talking to your dog. “I['d] ask my dog Charlie, regularly, his opinion of the presidential candidates. He respond[ed] with a lifted ear and an upturning vocalization that goes ‘haruum?’” Eberle said.

Play can be reading aloud to your partner, he said. “Some playful writers are made to be read aloud: Dylan Thomas, Art Buchwald, Carl Hiaasen, S.J. Perelman, Richard Feynman, Frank McCourt.”

Take a play history

In his book Brown includes a primer to help readers reconnect with play. He suggests readers mine their past for play memories. What did you do as a child that excited you? Did you engage in those activities alone or with others? Or both? How can you recreate that today?

Surround yourself with playful people

Both Brown and White stressed the importance of selecting friends who are playful - and of playing with your loved ones.

Play with little ones

Playing with kids helps us experience the magic of play through their perspective. White and Brown both talked about playing around with their grandkids.

Any time you think play is a waste, remember that it offers some serious benefits for both you and others. As Brown says in his book, “Play is the purest expression of love.”

Further Reading

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mindful Monday: Resilience

res1by WHOORL:

I recently listened to the most fascinating talk by Dr. Joan Borysenko (a powerhouse with three post-doctoral Harvard fellowships in cell biology, behavioral medicine, and psychoneuroimmunology … um, she’s just kind of smart) on the subject of resilience.

What is resilience?

Well, the dictionary says it’s “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”

I like to think of it as getting hit and getting back up again, but also becoming a wiser person in the process. I think most of us can relate to the concept of resilience, as we all have our own struggles, whether they be health, relationships, past traumas, toxic friendships, etc.

Dr. Borysenko’s research is incredibly enlightening, and her tips on becoming more resilient are simple, yet tremendously helpful (we like simple, right?) (for the record, I can’t stop misspelling resileince resilance resilience. Every. Time. GAH).

First off, let’s look at what happens when you experience a difficulty.

1. You experience a separation from life as you know it. Something happens, and suddenly, your life has changed from the way it used to be. Now, there is definitely a sliding scale ranging from “my life as I know it is OVER” to something much less severe. The specifics don’t really matter, though.

2. You are stuck in the space between the “no longer” and the “not yet,” which means you can’t go back to what was. It’s gone. Um, this is usually a very squirmy, uncomfortable time (yoo-hoo! waving to you from it right now!).

3. You return to life on the other side a much deeper, wiser person.

#2 can happen multiple times in a lifetime, and take a very long time to process. In fact, I would wager that many of you are in #2 right now (heh, potty humor. I can’t help myself). And the sad thing is that, unfortunately, some folks never get to #3. And that is where resilience comes into play.

Dr. Borysenko has studied resilience for years, and the studies she cites prove that resilient people share some similar traits.

So, what makes people resilient?

1. Resilient people are realists, not optimists. This one totally surprised me, but when thinking about it, realists usually have a grasp on the situation on hand and adapt to the changes before them. The problem with blind optimism is that sometimes rose-colored glasses induce a false sense of hope, and guess what, when that hope is dashed, it causes a host of problems inside the mind and body. For instance, hopelessness –> depression –>  weakening of the immune system. Blech.

2. Resilient people have faith. Faith in a solution, and definitely not allowing themselves to give into fear.

3. Resilient people are radically creative. They find ways to express themselves and work towards being happy, fulfilled people.

4. Resilient people have support of friends. This one is huge. Isolation is bad, bad, bad. Finding people who truly support you and your growth is paramount.

5. Resilient people have a sense of humor (hey, potty humor totally counts).

Do you possess most of those traits?

Okay, let’s (very briefly) dive into the science of resilience and our brains. I swear I’ll keep it short and non-cricket inducing.

Place two fingers on the middle center of your forehead. Run your fingers from the middle to right above your temples. That area right there is your prefrontal cortex, peeps.

The basic activity of the prefrontal cortex is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals. Yep, and it’s really good at noticing and judging emotions and anxiety.

For example, when you are repeatedly thinking something anxiety-inducing and you realize this about yourself (“hey! I’ve been going in mental what-if circles about tomorrow’s meeting for at least 45 minutes!), that’s your prefrontal cortex (personally, my prefrontal cortex would enjoy a break).

Now, place your fingers just above the left temple. That part of your prefrontal cortex controls happiness and, you guessed it, resilience.

And guess what? There are very simple exercises that have been scientifically proven to improve the left prefrontal cortex’s ability to increase personal resilience. Dr. Borysenko calls it making a “left shift.”

Are you ready? Let’s hit it.

1. Meditation. 20 minutes/3 times a week. This practice makes physical, concrete changes in the prefrontal cortex, and after just 3 weeks, you will witness a huge shift in resilience. Dr. Borysnko also mentioned that it doesn’t need to be a specific formal meditation, either. Just time to quiet your mind - whether it be through mala beads, yoga, or something like Qi Gong. If the blanketed concept of meditation still scares/annoys/bores you, try doing something that enables you to lose track of time -  some people garden, some people do crosswords, some people draw with their kids … whatever floats your boat.

2. Exercise. 30 minutes/5 days a week. This is crucial, and as a side note, I must say that in all of my research on physical and mental healing over the past year, exercise has been the one constant mentioned by every single expert. Exercise is key in improving all aspects of life. Have I done it this year? Barely. Do I want to bonk myself on the top of my head repeatedly over this fact? Yes. Am I starting an exercise regime of brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week? Absolutely. No excuses.

3. Affirmations. The caveat is that they have to mean something to you. You can’t mentally repeat, “I trust the life process” over and over if that particular statement doesn’t ring true for you. Find a slogan or affirmation that fires you up, and say it to yourself all the time, not just when the fear starts to creep in. In the shower, while cooking dinner, while putting on makeup … whenever and wherever (if you have a Kindle, this is an awesome, no-frills program on mastering affirmations for only $3).

4. Breathing exercises. All it takes is a simple slow inhale and exhale for 2-3 minutes to calm down the fear circuitry in your brain and release soothing, calming GABA. That’s it. 2-3 minutes.

Four things, you guys. So simple, yet so effective. It’s about to get all RESILIANT RESILENT RESILIENT up in here, am I right?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ego and Self-Esteem are Traps

Kristen Hamling Photo/File
Kristen Hamling Photo/File
by Kristen Hamling: NZ Herald:

The last article on our Happiness Journey questioned the resilience of children today - and it generated some interesting discussion among my friends and family.

So much so that I am inspired to write more thoughts on the subject.

You'd think that more prosperity, advancing technology, living longer, material wealth, and generally more stuff would be a good thing, yeah?

It seems not. Some reports have shown that we are no happier now than a few generations ago. So what is going on?

After reading last week's article, a wise friend told me about the movie This Way Of Life, which has resonated deeply with people all over the world.

Filmed in the Ruahine Ranges, it focuses on a family who are embracing a more natural life, not getting caught up in the materialistic hype of the 21st century.

They are deeply connected to nature, and their family - including six kids - is the most important thing to them. I get the sense that they are doing something very right.

Although this is not a movie review, I think it provides a beautiful platform to discuss a few other points related to how we are living nowadays.

This family does not have a lot of "stuff", but what they do have more than makes up for a lack of iPads, sparkly shoes and trips to the aquarium or zoo. They spend time with each other. Lots and lots of time. They play outdoors and hunt their meat.

The parents constantly model in themselves the sorts of character traits they believe are important for their children. They honour and respect the strengths and individual differences in their children, and they have an abundance of gratitude, focusing on what they have versus what they don't have.

In the movie, the father is asked what he does for a living. He chortles and responds: "What do you mean 'What do I do for a living'? ... live for a living."

He then asked the film-maker: "Do you mean 'what do I do for an income?'" I love that he was almost incredulous at the question.

This is probably a good question for us all to consider - what do we do for a living? How much of our ego and self-esteem is based on our income, the car we drive, the type of job we have, the clothes we wear? Is that really living?

What is most important to you and what brings you most pleasure, meaning and purpose (aka: gutsy happiness)? In future articles, I hope to crystallise in your mind what is most important to you - and inspire you to go after it.

For one thing, I have been trying not to get caught up in what advertisers say will make us happier. Case in point: I saw an advert the other night on TV where a jewellery store had a 50 per cent off sale claiming that this would make people 50 per cent happier.

I screamed at the TV: "You clearly haven't read the research." I immediately wanted to write to the advertiser.

I remind myself over and over: I am no closer to gutsy happiness after some new purchase. Nor are my children lastingly happier after the purchase of a new toy, a new outfit or a new iPad app than when I spend time with them kicking a soccer ball, playing at the beach or throwing rocks into a river.

I have finally been able to stop buying toys, adding more and more stuff to our lives. But it has been really hard to not get sucked into the hype of consumerism.

Another inspiring moment in the movie was a comment by the father about how we make our choices and decisions. He talks about his life philosophy and how "it helps you to make decisions based on a conscience rather than rules".

Increasingly, we are creating rules to keep us safe, to make people do the right thing, and protect us from litigation. But what decisions are we making from our own conscience?

Studies show that people are far more motivated when their choices are made without external influence and interference but on their own internal drive for autonomy, competence and connection to others. The further we get away from decision-making with a conscience, the more rules we need - it's a vicious circle, if you ask me.

What are we doing for our kids that stands in the way of their future character strengths? All food for thought this week.

A registered psychologist with a masters in applied psychology, Wanganui mother-of-two Kristen Hamling is studying for a PhD in positive psychology at Auckland University of Technology.