How Brain Plasticity can Direct Life for Better or Worse

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” ~ Donald Hebb (Hebb’s Law)

Last week was #BrainAwarenessWeek, and as I find neuroscience a fascinating subject, I thought I’d share my key learning points in a bid to better understand and make the most of the electrical activity that happens within the grey matter nestled inside the cranium.

Your brain can change – it’s called plasticity!

Whether we tend to manifest slightly neurotic, nebulous or nifty neurons, Brain Plasticity (Neuropalsticity) can direct us to achieve our highest potential if understood and developed to positively influence an individual’s life experience.

I can hear Patrick Stewart’s deliberate and deep voice, laden with gravitas, that kicks off Star Trek episodes with the immortal words: “Space, the final frontier….”

I too would like to boldly go where no man has gone before, into my left prefrontal cortex! I’d like to make a case that it’s the six inches between our ears that has uncharted territory, and it’s certainly worthy of exploration. The human brain and psyche still has many secrets to reveal.

Now is a good time to give our neurons a second thought…

Think that affirmations are hooey? Visualisation is fantasy? Mindfulness is a load of rah-rah new age fluff?

I’ve sometimes had my doubts, but science backs it all up.

For me, learning and expanded awareness is a life-long process, and I know from past experience that the mind can be a powerful ally or your own worst enemy. I suspect you, like me, when you have wanted to implement positive change or more empowering habits have sometimes encountered resistance. It feels hard at first with conscious effort.

Oh boy, I’ve sabotaged myself more times than I’ve had hot dinners. However, I do eventually overcome the backlash from my brain; indignant that I’m making it work when it has previously been happily running on automatic.

If there ever was a case for being aware of our habitual thoughts, beliefs, habits and actions, this is it: once the circuitry is thoroughly embedded over time, our brain (doing what it is designed to do in conserving energy), runs those items on autopilot – what is known as Automaticity.

Until recently, Brain plasticity was thought to be a biological process unique to childhood, and that after a certain age brain development halted. Neuroscience has now proved that theory incorrect.In fact, our brains continue to evolve into old age if we take an active process in keeping our neurons firing. Scientist believe that our brains peak in our early forties, but we can use brain plasticity to slow cognitive decline.

The phrase ‘use it or lose it’ certainly applies to our brain cells.

Our brains have the capacity to create new neural pathways and new cells (neurogenesis), the latter being mainly in the memory HQ, the Hippocampus. Neurons are not hardwired like computer technology.  I know that I’d have been up the creek without a paddle if they were!

You’ve most likely upgraded your computer software at certain intervals to ensure smooth running, more speed and improved features. Well, we have incredible biochemical software in our heads which can be continually upgraded; possibly the most complex electrical equipment in the universe…

Our brains consist of around 100 billion neurons (nerve cells), surrounded and protected by ten times more glial cells, which give physical support, nutrition, repair and to some extent they assist neural communication and neuroplasticity.

On average a neuron fires between five and fifty times per second, forming thousands of links with other neurons and the more signals are sent between neurons the stronger they become. A typical brain might experience between a 100 and a 1000 trillion synapses. These hyper connected neural pathways form neural networks.

Imagine a field of wheat, just before harvesting. The tufty wheatears are swaying in the wind. If you walked from one side of the field to the other, you would leave an indentation in the crop. If you took a different route each time you crossed the field the paths would be there, but they would be faint.

If you kept using the same route each time you walked through the crop, the pathway would get flattened and leave a greater visible mark. It’s bigger and stronger than lots of less used paths. I find this a helpful analogy when thinking about neural pathways and brain plasticity.

“A particular train of thought persisted in, be it good or bad, cannot fail to produce its results on the character and circumstances. A man cannot directly choose his circumstances, but he can choose his thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, shape his circumstances.” ~ James Allen (As a Man Thinketh)

Through repetition, emotion and visualisation we fire certain neurons together repeatedly, forming new pathways.

Honing habits

Turbo-charging our brain takes work. Our brains evolved over millennia to do five things above all others: ensure survival, control bodily functions, keep us safe, conserve energy and experience pleasure, (including desirable sensory experience).

Our brains take up about 25% of our body’s daily energy pool.

At birth our brains are a blank canvas, a neutral sending and receiving set which does not contain any limiting beliefs, thoughts or perceptions.

When we are little and learning to walk and talk and co-ordinate our bodies we stumble and fall time and again, but we are determined and we eventually develop enough muscle memory, persistence and plasticity to succeed. So when we have mastered walking, talking and riding a bike, it comes to us as second nature, we don’t have to think about it because those strong neural patterns are embedded in our brain.

Even if I haven’t ridden a bike for years I can get back in the saddle and although I may have a wobbly start, I can very quickly find my balance and the plasticity of my brain enables me to reuse that skill.

Constant repetition enforces automaticity. This is great news for productive thought patterns and habits, not so much for disempowering ones.  Deeply held beliefs are re-enforced based on meanings we assign to events and situations. The stronger the emotion the stronger the pathway.

Scientists did an experiment with fleas in a jar. Because the fleas were trapped in the jar and would hit their heads on the lid when they tried to jump out, after a while they stopped jumping so high. They associated jumping with pain. When scientists removed the lid so they could escape they witnessed that the fleas still only jumped to just below the level of the lid. No fleas jumped out of the jar, even though they would have been able to, due to their conditioning.

Our parents, early environment and experiences shaped our thought processes as we expanded our internal ‘map of reality’.

Our habitual thoughts, feelings and actions create a sort of electrical loop, which is made automatic and becomes part of our unconscious expression. Those deeply created patterns run automatically whether they are positive and helpful or negative and self-limiting.

Trauma in childhood can be especially hard to overcome as the networks built around those experiences; thoughts of anxiety, lack of self-worth,  fear and depression reinforce dysfunctional behaviour over time, which can be become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative thought investments that we continually make, without often being aware of them, can be counter intuitive for this reason.

The brain will distort or delete anything that does not confirm with our subconscious map of reality, so we always prove ourselves right.

Such partisan and often vociferous political division in America seems to stem from both sides being entrenched in certain belief systems. We see what we are conditioned to see, so in a sense the eyes don’t see; the brain sees.

Behaviour, practice and activity are the primary drivers of change in the brain. The brain is shaped structurally and functionally by everything we do and don’t do. Science has also noted that if the learning involves increased difficulty that it leads to greater neural structure.

Music education

One example of this is learning a musical instrument. When I first began to learn the violin I found it extremely challenging and I would come home from my lesson feeling tired. Eventually I mastered the basic skills, how to read music, first position, bowing, trills, double-stopping, 3rd and 5th position and started taking grades.

After a few years one of the pieces I really wanted to learn to play was Beethoven’s Violin Romance No. 2 (which was on the ABRSM Grade 8 syllabus a few years back).

There were sections I thought I would never master. But one time, I had a Eureka Moment and saw the music in a different way and was able to understand how to play the section I had always got stuck on before. It removed my self-imposed glass ceiling. I can play it pretty well now, but I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it like a virtuoso.

Whenever I hear it being played I can ‘see’ the notes and move my fingers in the air as if I’m playing it, visualising where I would place them on the fingerboard. I can even play it with my eyes closed and ‘feel’ where my fingers should go.

At one time I had the entire piece committed to memory, but I obviously didn’t play it enough on an ongoing basis to keep firing the neurons, so now I can only remember the first third or so of it.

Now to tackle Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin!

It’s important to practice music correctly as playing a section with a slight mistake again and again will mean that it’s harder to fix it later on because the mistake will become automatic.

Playing music lights up the brain like a fireworks display, and I have touched on this in my post: The Importance of a Musical Education.

Setting goals and implementing new habits

So when we recognise a habit or thought pattern that is no longer serving us and try to replace it with a more constructive one which is sparked in the thinking, conscious mind (the left prefrontal cortext), it can sometimes conflict with hidden beliefs wired into our subconscious and our brain experiences chaos.

John Assaraf eloquently explains this concept:

The new goal is therefore not in alignment with a story we have continually told ourselves, so we might talk ourselves out of doing something new or procrastinate. The ensuing brain confusion can make us a slave to our conditioning if it is self-limiting.

This cognitive dissonance that we experience can keep us stuck.  We have to pay a price to implement new thoughts, behaviours and learning, which is also known as the switch cost. Our brains go through a period of uncertainty, fear and other emotions.

Dr. Srini Pillay, a professor of Neuropsychology at Harvard University and a specialist in brain imagery and best-selling author, says that we must become committed to this new change and convince our brain that the change is essential.

There are various methods to help us rewire a new habit or thought pattern, such as self-talk, positive affirmations and corresponding physical actions. Self-talk is meant to be even more effective when we talk to ourselves in the 2nd person. For example, I might say to myself before a speech to a group of people: “Ginny you’ve got this, your talk is engaging and interesting, it will resonate with the audience and be successful.”

New actions and self-talk changes brain blood flow and increases neurotransmitters such as dopamine. He also recommended activating reward pathways.

When we experience fear the lizard part of our brain is activated, the AMYGDALA. This is our ‘feeling’ and danger processing centre, and yep, you guessed it, our amygdala doesn’t like change!

So these fearful thoughts and feelings that overwhelm us sometimes when we try new things, or find ourselves out of our comfort zone, can cause a sort of ‘earthquake’ in this part of the brain. But because all parts of the brain are connected this has an impact on our left prefrontal cortex, (the Einstein part of the brain) and that can rattle and shake in after-shocks which disrupts mental clarity.

I have certainly experienced this with some challenging circumstances recently which also meant I had experienced severe and prolonged sleep deprivation as well. This caused a huge amount of stress. I wasn’t just stressed, I was distressed. There were times when I felt like I had lost my mind!

Stress

Dr. Pillay confirmed what I had been experiencing, and that is that when we are emotionally stressed and the amygdala is activated, it makes it much harder to think rationally, and tends to trigger our brain to revert to old, well worn pathways and habits.

An obvious example is how someone who was once an alcoholic, but has been sober for many years can spectacularly fall off the wagon when confronted with trauma or intensely stressful situations.  Same with smoking, retail therapy, or any dysfunctional behaviour or coping mechanism.

From all angles, rampant, out of control stress sucks.

He stated that stress is the key to habit health. How we manage it is fundamental to getting the most out of our grey matter. Productive, self-empowering daily habits are more important than strategies.

The first step is awareness, noticing what we are noticing.

“If you believe you can change—if you make it a habit—the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs—and becomes automatic—it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable.”  ~ Charles Duhigg, (The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business)

Developing mental muscle

The human body has a total of 650 muscles at its disposal. If we want to tone our physique or define those muscles further we have to exercise and add resistance to our workouts. We’d also picture in our mind’s eye what we want our body to look like. Athletes and sports people often use visualisation in addition to physical training to enable strong physical and mental prowess.

The same fundamental principle also applies to our brains.

It’s very important to find mindfulness practices that work for us. Meditation with Holosync is a life saver for me, as well as breathing exercises, physical exercise, reading and playing my violin. A hug helps too!

Meditation

“Meditation has also been proven scientifically to untangle and rewire the neurological pathways in the brain that make up the conditioned personality.
Buddhist monks, for example, have had their brains scanned by scientists as they sat still in deep altered states of consciousness invoked by transcendental meditation and the scientists were amazed at what they beheld. The frontal lobes of the monks lit up as bright as the sun!
They were in states of peace and happiness the scientists had never seen before. Meditation invokes that which is known in neuroscience as neuroplasticity; which is the loosening of the old nerve cells or hardwiring in the brain, to make space for the new to emerge. Meditation, in this sense, is a fire that burns away the old or conditioned self, in the Bhagavad Gita, this is known as the Yajna.”
~ Craig Krishna, (The Labyrinth: Rewiring the Nodes in the Maze of your Mind)

This is a simple but effective way to attain an altered state of consciousness very quickly, by Dr. David R hawkins:

Dr. Pillay suggests using CIRCA:

  • C – Chunking down the problem/situation (defining/taking manageable steps when overwhelmed)
  • I – Ignoring mental chatter (employ meditation, mindfulness, joy filled activities)
  • R – Reality check (recognising that ‘this too shall pass’)
  • C – Control check (Understanding that not everything is within our control and letting go)
  • A – Attention shift (Focusing on the solution which also involves epigenetics)

Innercise

Self-empowerment coach John Assaraf devised internal exercises known as Innercises, which can be different according to want you want to achieve. Today we don’t have to contend with the appearance of a sabre tooth tiger in the village, but in the modern world we are vulnerable to a vast array of internal or external stimuli which can trigger our evolutionary fight or flight response. When that happens, blood is drawn away from the prefrontal cortex into the amygdala.

Innercises are effective in the Autonomic Nervous System (in the Hypathalamus), consisting of the Parasympathetic Nervous System and the Sympathetic Nervous System. When we are relaxed and responsive we are in the Parasympathetic Nervous System, where we generally exhibit good judgement and consciously choose how to react.

When we are fearful, emotional or distressed our bodies prepare for survival and Cortisol is released into the blood, via the Sympathetic Nervous System. When this happens we need to actively empower the left prefrontal cortex and limit the time the amygdala is running the show, and therefore activating unhelpful previous neural patterns.

Take 6, Calm the Circuits

Breath in deeply through the nose (from the abdomen not chest) and count to six. Release slowly through your mouth, slightly pursed as if blowing through a straw. You can also say: “I breathe in calmness,” as you inhale and “I release stress and fear,” as you exhale.

Another Innercise is AIA: Awareness, Intention and Action.

Awareness: Take 10 minutes and ask yourself – What are my dominant thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviours right now? Write them down, note if positive or negative. Pay attention to whether you are behaving in a constructive way. The golden rule here is not to assign blame, shame or guilt, just observe without judgment.

Intention: Now that you are aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions and in a calm state, ask do you want to be in this state, or something more positive? Set your clear intention for what you want. Ask: what if you’re worthy of being your future self?

Action: Do one action you can take to interrupt the dysfunctional pattern. Recognise the ones you want to keep and strengthen those, and let go of the ones you want to release.

I love these short and sweet bursts of inspiration from Dr. Robert Mark Waldman:

There are two reasons we look to upgrade our subconscious conditioning: longing and discontent. These emotions motivate us to change and tell ourselves new stories so that we can experience an expanded version of life expression, to be more fulfilled and joyful.

The ability to be able to translate potential into results is summed up perfectly by Maxwell Maltz, author of Psycho Cybernetics:

“Within you right now is the power to do things you never dreamed possible. This power becomes available to you just as you can change your beliefs.”

Neuroplasticity matters, because we can never outperform our own self-image.

Helpful aspects of neuroplasticity:

Flex your cortex!

7 ways to make the most of brain plasticity:

  1. Single task! Do one thing at a time and avoid multi-tasking. I used to pride myself on being able to switch between tasks, but in reality I wasn’t doing justice to any of them. Our brains are not wired to do two things simultaneously. The brain toggles using the frontal lobes and this increases stress hormones. Single task for improved mental productivity.
  2. Inhibit information. Whilst the internet has been a massive benefit for humanity, it’s now such a behemoth of content that if not controlled information overload can fry your circuits! The highest performing individuals are the not the ones who know the most, but who know what to block out, inhibit or bounce and focus only on a few things.
  3. Detox distractions. If we’re not careful we can let technology control us. Smartphone addiction is detracting from living. Who wants to live with constant buzzing and beeping? It is said that the average person in a corporate setting works for only 3 minutes without interruption. How can anyone do high level thinking in just 3 minutes? It takes about 20 minutes to recover from a distraction and get back into flow.
  4. Big idea thinking. This is rocket fuel for your brain. To take ideas from disparate sources, learning and various areas of your life to combine them with the rich knowledge and experience you already have and thereby form some generalised higher way of thinking. It means we have to synthesise and interpret life. The meanings we derive are the powerhouse transformative communication. Is learning boring or rote? Big idea thinking makes thinking, memory and learning more robust and increases all levels of brain health. It can increase blood flow by 8-12% so neurons are happier! This state can elicit a 30% increase in speed of neural connection across the executive networks. Reasoning and problem solving is improved. Big ideas are to the brain what push-ups and pull-ups are to the body.
  5. Calibrate: balance mental effort. Don’t waste mental effort on less important items, do the big thinking and important tasks in the first few hours of the day.
  6. Innovate: the brain becomes stale with the status quo, it’s not firing on all cylinders.
  7. Motivate: Motivation trumps talent. It’s what will help inspire us to reach our full potential. It can be elusive, but it’s easier if you are doing something you are passionate about. Innovation fuels motivation which injects our brains with powerful neurotransmitters such as dopamine. It makes us happier and increases the speed of learning.

Dr. McKay also gives us permission to indulge in our neurobiology:

In many ways the body and brain could be viewed as a biological virtual reality suit for our consciousness. Perhaps these scientific ideas and practical exercises will be useful for further exploration and understanding, so that we can all perform at a higher level.

Dr. David R Hawkins teaches about the benefits of the etheric brain after someone reaches a certain level of consciousness, but that’s a whole new post for another day…

We are the drivers and mechanics of the most powerful engine in the world, but it certainly helps if we have an instruction manual!

 “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” ~ Aristotle

Free Your Mind: A Practical Process to Overcome Limiting Beliefs

“PSYCH-K® is a set of principles and processes designed to change subconscious beliefs that limit the expression of your full potential as a spiritual being having a human experience.”
~ Rob Williams, originator of PSYCH-K®

As last Tuesday was #WorldMentalHealthDay it seems timely to talk about a recent experience which has helped me immensely, and I’m certain can help others, especially those struggling with mental health issues.

We all have mental housekeeping to take care of  in varying degrees, from how we face and manage everyday stress, to more serious  conditions such as anxiety, depression and Bipolar disorder.

A few months ago I had a fortuitous meeting with someone who would have a massively positive impact on my life, Lorna Kennard. Lorna is a lady of many talents; she has a treatment room at the Lotus Centre in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, where she sees her many therapy clients.

Her main areas of expertise are sports massage, CranioSacral Therapy and PSYCH-K® facilitation.

Here’s Lorna to tell you more about herself:

During our meeting she told me how her interest in examining her own beliefs and the relationship between them, her subsequent actions and outcomes lead her to learn, practise and train in a system known as PYSCH-K®, which was originated by Robert Williams M.A.

Wise words from Robert Williams on high speed mindset change:

I had never heard of PSYCH-K® before, and was intensely curious. Lorna told me how she had tackled her own self-limiting beliefs with this method, and was teaching others to do the same. I decided this was information I really needed to hear.

I was struggling. I felt overwhelmed (as I’m sure many mums do), juggling various career strands, running my children to various activities and auditions and supporting their studies, all whilst running a home in a sense of increasing chaos and despair. I felt like I was chasing my tail and failing at all of it.

I decided to keep an open mind, but at the same time the unhelpful voice in the back of my head piped up that it probably wouldn’t work for me – nothing ever does.

Well, with friends like that…

I knew I had to silence this inner critic, the one who always makes me feel that I’m never quite good enough once and for all. I realised I had believed her lies too often, and they were keeping me anchored, holding me back from reaching anything like my full potential.

Many of my habitual thoughts were not the type of thoughts I knew I should have running on autopilot…

I have big dreams, I am driven and motivated, but back then I was frustrated, I was stuck. The importance of having a dream is worth another post in itself, but I owed it to myself to continue regardless, even if my ‘voice’ was telling me it would be a waste of time.

Lorna was good enough to give me a PSYCH-K® session and I am happy to report back!

PSYCH-K® has been a balm and blessing for my frazzled and at times, overwrought mind. Physically I’m stronger, leaner, healthier and fitter than I have ever been, which is not bad going for a middle aged mum of four.

In the last twelve months I’ve got my body into gear, but I knew in order to successfully face life’s challenges and overcome self-doubt, my mindset needed to do some heavy lifting and develop more muscle and resilience!

I’m so much more in control of my thoughts a few months down the road. I feel like I’m in the driving seat again. My awareness is continually expanding, so I notice negative self-talk and unconscious behaviour much quicker.

About PSYCH-K®

Ninety five percent of our lives are lived in an unconscious state.  We are making decisions and having thoughts that are derived from experiences since we were born, and this map of reality can get pretty distorted by the time we are adults. Somewhere along the line I developed fears and blocks.

It was that old analogy of the iceberg, with the bulk of its mass unseen underwater, powering everything, and it suddenly clicked in me.

This interview with Lorna and Cazzie Dare completes the picure!

I have done a lot of work on myself, getting over many hurdles, but it seems I needed to keep pulling back the layers of junk from my mind, just like peeling an onion, to get to the core of who I am and what I want out of life.

Lorna was very patient with me. She asked a lot of deep and searching questions that helped me to sort out the psychological jumble that was whizzing around my mind. She really helped me to pin down the areas that I wanted to improve in my life and clarify exactly what I needed by getting to the crux of the beliefs that were holding me back; and therefore perpetuating cycles of unwanted feelings and results in my life.

From this discussion and questioning we wrote down half a dozen core statements and then verified them via muscle testing to ascertain that they were right and ‘true’ for me.

All of them tested ‘strong’ except for one particular statement, which required a resolution balance to integrate the belief. It had not tested strong due to an inner conflict, as both brain hemispheres must be on board…

PSYCH-K® can untilise a variety of ‘Balances’ to integrate new beliefs and the balances are varied and integrate aspects of a variety of both ancient and modern practices and understanding of how the brain works.

Afterwards Lorna retested me on the belief and my muscle response was strong.

Muscle testing and kinesiology talks to your subconscious mind while bypassing your conscious mind. This was really powerful for me, knowing that I’m in alignment with my highest Self.

Lorna was incredibly professional, she followed up our session in writing and with all my statements. The next step was down to me to walk my path,  ensuring I followed through on the agreed action points  that resonated with what was needed to carry my new beliefs forward.

Since then I’ve made good progress on some key projects. I found reading them twice a day, first thing in the morning and at night before bed helped me to integrate the beliefs.

I can’t report that my life is perfect and that my desires all manifested instantly thereafter, but what I can say with absolute certainty is that it has changed me for the better.

I am emotionally stronger, happier, more confident, less stressed, and I think and act differently. It follows that results will come. I have had some small successes and noticed auspicious meetings and circumstances have been coming my way. Before I felt hopeless, now I feel powerful…

I still have challenges; that’s the nature of the cycles of life for most beings in physical form, but I am handling them better. Someone I respect very much has a saying:

Trials and tribulations are mandatory – misery is optional.

I feel I can now better embody the wisdom in this quote. I’d like to thank Lorna from the bottom of my heart for her help and support and would recommend her 100% for anyone in the locale.

If geography precludes a visit to Lorna in person, she also offers remote consultations via Skype.

Lorna and her partner Rachael have also developed amazing ergonomic cushions to help those with back pain who are sitting at a computer for long periods of time, or doing a lot of driving through their brand Sittingwell.

In conclusion, working on our mindset and beliefs is the most important, empowering work we can do. My life has changed for the better in a sustainable way, because my beliefs serve me in a more collaborative and supportive way.

I love this series of PSYCH-K® videos with Rob Williams:

Your Divine Guidance System – GPS:

Catching the wave at the right time:

I don’t know what the future holds, but I intend to do my bit to enrich my own life and the lives of my family and friends, and be of service to others to the best of my ability. Now that the shackles that were holding my mind prisoner have been removed, I am empowered to do that.

The brakes are off!

Until the next time, believe the best in yourself and look up Lorna or a local PSYCH-K® facilitator if there are areas of your life that you want to improve. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t…you’re right!” ~ Henry Ford

Shining a Spotlight on Your Awesome Character Strengths

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” ~ Marilyn Vos Savant

Apart from the curriculum subjects that children are taught in school, not enough help is given to them to find and focus on their character strengths. Those all important innate traits that they can use to their advantage in every area of their life ahead: work, relationships and hobbies/passions. As a mother this is something I feel passionately about.

My five 'core' character strengths.

My five ‘core’ character strengths.

I’m only just becoming conscious of my signature strengths at an age when possibly half my life is behind me. Still, better late than never!

We are all unique, and if you can celebrate your special gifts you will know how you can make the best of your life and contribute to those around you and the wider world.

Strength Cards - Creativity

So, just as Jesus commanded us to love thy neighbour, (and I’m not remotely putting myself in his saintly category), I would suggest that the commandment of Positive Psychology could be know thy strengths. After all, the ancient Greeks were onto something with the aphorism ‘Know Thyself’.

The difference between pleasure and gratification

I want to expand further from a previous post – Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness by exploring how being aware of our strengths and working on them can propel us forward to greater satisfaction and happiness.

Strength Cards - Spirituality

Physical and emotional pleasures are fleeting, and although enjoyable in the moment they tend to fade rapidly after the stimulus has ended.  Pleasures also lose their impact if experienced too often, as we inevitably become accustomed to them and habituation ensures that in the future we crave even bigger doses to get the same kick out of them. This is known as ‘The Hedonic Treadmill’.

I think my tendency to eat the whole bar of chocolate may be where the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ comes from!

The evanescent and ecstatic nature of the bodily and emotional pleasures is wonderful while it lasts but we can’t build a life around them.

In past times of depression I resorted to ‘retail therapy’ more than I should have, and whilst that new top looked great and gave me a momentary uplift, the negative effects on my bank balance and the prompt return of emptiness and despair left me feeling even worse in the long run.

To help us step off the treadmill it helps to separate the pleasures from the gratifications.

Ithaca by C.P. Cavafy narrated by Sean Connery sums up the pleasures:

I can appreciate the sensation of curling up on the sofa with a glass of wine, a bar of Galaxy chocolate and a  good book, or watching a romantic period drama in HD, having a massage, enjoying a tasty meal, having a relaxing soak, listening to music, wearing perfume etc.

But it’s a different, deeper kind of satisfaction I feel when I can entertain someone with my writing; or transform someone’s health with my nutraceutical business, go on a trek, dance a Zumba class, help my kids with their activities or play my violin.

Martin Seligman says of the distinction between the pleasures and gratifications:

“It is the total absorption, the suspension of consciousness, and the flow that the gratifications produce that defines liking these activities-not the presence of pleasure. Total immersion, in fact, blocks consciousness, and emotions are completely absent.

For Aristotle, distinct from the bodily pleasures, happiness (eudaimonia) is akin to grace in dancing. Grace is not an entity that accompanies the dance or that comes at the end of a dance; it is part and parcel of a dance well done. To talk about the “pleasure” of contemplation is only to say that contemplation is done for its own sake; it is not to refer to any emotion that accompanies contemplation. Eudaimonia, what I call gratification is part and parcel of right action. It cannot be derived from bodily pleasure, nor is it a state that can be chemically induced or attained by any shortcuts. It can only be had by activity consonant with noble purpose.”

Seligman’s formula for enduring happiness (not temporary bursts) is:

H = S + C + V

  • H – Happiness
  • S – Your set range (your genetic steersman & hedonic treadmill)
  • C – Circumstances of your life
  • V – Factors under your voluntary control (the most important aspect of the equation)

Strength and Virtue

quote-Marcus-Tullius-Cicero-glory-follows-virtue

A major study was undertaken by leaders in the field of Positive Psychology of a large range and number of religious and philosophic traditions to ascertain if there were any correlations and consensus of virtues between them. The results of the study were startling and illuminating. Six virtues emerged as being common to every major religion and tradition around the globe:

  • Wisdom and knowledge
  • Courage
  • Love and humanity
  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Spirituality and transcendence

The perception and interpretation of these ubiquitous virtues varied between traditions, furthermore there were virtues found unique to each tradition.

Strength Cards - Appreciation of beauty

Knowing our personal strengths is the route to attaining these universal virtues. There is more than one way to reach these states and we are unique in our thoughts and character and the way we will attain them.

“Seek virtue rather than riches. You may be sure to acquire the first; but cannot promise for the latter. No one can rob you of the first without your consent; you may be deprived of the latter a hundred ways.” ~James Burgh, The Dignity of Human Nature: Book III. Of Virtue, 1754

For example one can embody the virtue of justice by acts of good citizenship, fairness, loyalty, teamwork and humane leadership. Each of these strengths is measurable and can be developed.

Strength Cards - Vitality

Strengths are not the same as talents. Valour, kindness and integrity cannot be compared to perfect pitch, facial beauty or being able to run at lightning speed.

The important thing to note is that a strength is valued in its own right.

My good friend Anke Exner who is a coach and mentor, helped me to ascertain my five character strengths that apply to me at the moment:

  • Creativity
  • Appreciation of beauty and excellence
  • Vitality (zest, passion & energy)
  • Spirituality (sense of purpose)
  • Perspective (wisdom)

The pictures I took detail the key elements of each strength. It’s not something you should have to think about too hard, it should feel authentic to you.

Strength Cards - Wisdom

I also took the comprehensive test on the Positive Psychology website to ascertain my 24 strengths. I strongly recommend you take half an hour out of your schedule to answer the questions in the VIA Strengths Survey and afterwards you will get detailed feedback based on your answers.

As a parent you naturally wish certain strengths for your new born offspring. I want my kids to be loving, brave, creative, integrous, kind, have a love of learning and be great leaders. You just wouldn’t say, ‘I want my child to have a job in middle management!’

As Public speaker and Personal Presence coach Sylvia Baldock states in her highly useful book – From Now to Wow in 30 Days:

“One of the keys to develop your ‘Personal Presence’ is to be really clear and assured in your own natural talents and abilities, knowing exactly where you add value and what is unique and special about you.”

Flow

One of Sylvia’s tips is to spend more time in ‘Flow’.

Sylvia Baldock - Flow

The concept of flow as it’s now understood and integrated into Psychology was first discovered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who travelled from Europe to America after the Second World War to study Psychology and Carl Jung’s writings. He wanted to discover scientifically the key to human beings at their best.

He explains it beautifully in this TED talk:

When does time stop for you? When do you find yourself doing exactly what you want to be doing and never wanting it to end?

It could be painting, sculpting, playing sports, making love, public speaking, playing an instrument, listening to a friend in need and so on.

I’m certainly in flow writing this post…

Cultivating our talents, strengths and virtues isn’t always an easy task, unlike experiencing the pleasures, but it’s essential to live a life of meaning.

“Happiness is a virtue, not its reward.” ~ Baruch Spinoza

An Epiphany in Gratitude

“When we are happy, we are less self-focused, we like others more, and we want to share our good fortune even with strangers. When we are down, though, we become distrustful, turn inward, and focus defensively on our own needs. Looking out for number one is more characteristic of sadness than of wellbeing.” ~ Martin E. P. Seligman ph.D. (Authentic Happiness)

This isn’t particularly easy for me to share, but I feel the lessons I learnt from my recent ‘mensis horribilis’ may be useful to some who are having a nasty time of things. The week leading up to Friday 13th was truly awful and stressful, I really had the kitchen sink thrown at me.

I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but suffice to say, pretty much every day I had a major challenge to deal with. On top of that I was tired, my kids were at each other’s throats and I had a constant ear ache that thankfully hasn’t developed any further. I felt like I had the world on my shoulders. I’d deal with one problem and then another arose more or less straight away, so I began reacting badly to my worsening circumstances.

Martin Seligman - positive psychology

I wasn’t flowing in and out of my emotions, I had become entrenched in my negative energy field. I certainly didn’t take my own advice from a previous post: Positive Psychology, the Science of Happiness.

Maybe if I’d been more positive I would have coped better with the events that presented themselves to me. I’m usually quite a positive and happy person, but somehow everything got on top of me and I was drowning in a sea of negativity. I was expecting the s**t to hit the fan, and it dutifully did! My pity party rapidly upgraded into a full-on woe-is-me rave…

However, after hearing about the barbaric and tragic murders in Paris something shifted in me. The terror of those affected must have been unimaginable. It has been incredibly distressing to watch the news over the last few days, but it helped put my life into perspective for me. There were many people suffering in much worse circumstances than me.

I said my prayers for the poor souls who were in pain, and thanked God for all that I had. Which, when I tallied it all up was quite considerable, despite the many setbacks of the preceding week. I had allowed myself to become pessimistic and because I was mired in that negative energy it magnified everything.

In a beautiful light bulb moment I started to feel grateful for all the good in my life, in light of the fact that so many just across the channel had needlessly lost their lives in a cowardly, heinous attack. Here one minute, gone the next.

My challenges haven’t disappeared, but the black cloud I borrowed from Eeyore has now left its temporary home above my head!

Everyone has bad events to deal with; it can’t all be plain sailing. It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s what you do about it that does. It’s how you react to it.

happiness - steve maraboli

I admit, it’s harder to stay positive when you’re under an onslaught, but thankfully weeks like that are relatively rare.

Mum and I went to Oxford on Friday, I needed to do a bit of research for my next novel, plus it meant we could have some precious mother/daughter time, as mum now lives near the ‘city of dreaming spires’.

We spent a good hour and a half in Oxford Crown Court, mainly in courtroom two. After seeing a complainant be cross-examined in the witness box by a seemingly kind and softly spoken barrister who mercilessly went in for the kill at the end of her questions, I was grateful not to be in her shoes. I’m not permitted by law to reveal any details about what I heard.

Oxford Crown Court

Oxford Crown Court

Whilst I had sympathy for the person in the witness box, I was learning about the workings of a case. That defence barrister certainly operated like an iron fist cloaked in a velvet glove.

After hearing charges against another man for unmentionable crimes, I began to see that there is so much evil and drama going on in other people’s lives, that mine seemed relatively happy in comparison.

Passing Christ Church Cathedral en-route to the Crown Court

Passing Christ Church Cathedral en-route to the Crown Court

I almost decided not to go as we had a deluge of torrential rain that morning, but by the time we exited the court house at the lower end of St. Aldates the sun had come out and blue sky illuminated the city.  The heavy grey clouds that blanketed the sky earlier had completely evaporated. Mum and I had a short stroll around Christ Church before we had to get the bus back to the park and ride. It was a happy and productive day and I felt myself brightening up.

On our way back from Christ Church Meadow

On our way back from Christ Church Meadow

I stopped listening to the chimp on my shoulder and started making the case for all the success and good things I’ve done. This what Martin Seligman refers to as disputation. What I had perceived as a permanent failure was just a temporary setback. Having the setbacks all at once was probably a consequence of a deeper, more pervasive dissatisfaction with myself.

A cherished friend introduced me to Martin Seligman’s ground break book, Authentic Happiness, which is an invaluable companion right now! I took Martin Seligman’s Gratitude Test, and whilst the results weren’t bad, they weren’t particularly great. It’s obviously something I need to work on.

Gratitude - Steve Maraboli

Here’s the link to the Gratitude Survey, I recommend you give it a try!

The Authentic Happiness website has some great resources and further tests that you can complete anonymously to help further research into positive psychology.

Looking back, I can see that even in the midst of challenges there were some beneficial events unfolding and people helping me. I won’t mention them by name, but in my heart I am truly grateful to them!

forgiveness - steve maraboli

This is an easy to follow presentation about optimism and gratitude based on the positive psychology work of Martin Seligman:

I’ve seen the video before of Joshua Bell playing his Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius in the Washington Subway experiment and feel it’s very relevant to show, (as it’s mentioned in the video above), to demonstrate how sometimes people don’t appreciate the beauty all around them in their lives:

Since my recent epiphany my energy levels are on their way back up, and I feel grateful for so many things: family and friends (both in my physical space and online), having a roof over my head, transport, food in the cupboards, healthy, happy children, a new book to write, my violin and music, a new direction with my health and an opportunity to top up flagging finances, plus many more blessings that I have taken for granted.

My wish for the future (stealing a phrase spoken by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address), is that you, me and humanity can be happy, grateful and content despite the everyday threats and challenges we face, by being true to the better angels of our nature.

Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness

“Happiness is an intentional creation of the Self universe: I am happy. Of course, the self can believe in all sorts of appropriate reasons for making itself happy or unhappy, but the bottom line is that the Self decided.” ~ Harry Palmer

Close your eyes. Imagine, for a moment, what your ideal life would look like. You are living that life. How does that make you feel? What sensations does your body experience?

beautiful Pacific-beach,-sunset

We all have dreams that we want to manifest in our lives, otherwise breathing would feel like a rather pointless activity. Our innate creativity and thirst for adventure makes life interesting and fun.

You may have everything you want and desire and are now seeking to help others. Either way, those plans bring us happiness. The fact that we might not have those desired outcomes in our lives as yet can be uncomfortable, and that in itself can drive us on. We discover why we are here, what our talents are, and where we can use them, in other words: finding our place in the world.

I love the Vedanta wisdom on the science of happiness. Swami Sarvapriyananda talks about pleasure, engagement, meaning and the Atman (sat-chit-ananda):

No doubt you have heard the saying, “It’s not the destination that matters but the journey.” It’s who we become as the result of our travels that’s the real reward. Sure, we have successes along the way, as well as setbacks and challenges; nothing is ever handed to us on a plate. Problems, failure and suffering are all the training ground of the soul.

That elusive quality called ‘happiness’ is simply a state of being, a choice to think and act a certain way. We don’t get pulled down into our story, we somehow transcend it and use the hidden treasures from our life experience and transpose that into wisdom, love and compassion.

A fascinating talk by Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert about stumbling upon happiness:

Many people believe that when they are ‘successful’ then they will be happy. Sadly, many find they climb the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. Happiness in who you are and what you do in the present moment is vital to achieve whatever success means to you. Be it financial, good health, a happy family, giving back to society, peace of mind.

Quotes-On-Happiness

Acceptance of what is, whilst doing your best to steer your life where you want it to go seems to me to be the only way to live. Otherwise you are delaying life. If you are not happy with less, you certainly won’t be happy with more – not in the long run.

Delayed gratification isn’t a philosophy to aspire to when it applies to your happiness.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahr is teaching Positive Psychology at Harvard University. There has been much research conducted into the physiological effects of living a happy life, concluding you are more likely to live longer and have better health, therefore leading a better quality of life.

Five ways to become happier today, by author and psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar:

I’ve come to the conclusion that happiness is an inner decision we make on a daily basis, regardless of outer circumstances. In fact, if anything, outer circumstances tend to reflect what’s going on in our internal representations and how we manifest our attitudes and beliefs.

Happiness-Quotes-32

When the going gets tough it’s hard not to slip into the ‘saboteur’ or ‘victim’ archetypes and therefore compound our misery. But once we have been there and got that T-Shirt, we develop an emotional awareness and tend not to fall into the same trap once a life lesson has been truly learnt.

“Each moment you are happy is a gift to the rest of the world.”  ~ Harry Palmer

I love that quote. Because when you are happy you are like a pebble breaking the surface of a limpid lake: your happiness causes waves to ripple outward in the form of a kind word or deed, thus your positive energy is transferred incrementally to your fellow human beings and the world.

There are days we choose not to be happy, after all, we are human. That’s okay; just don’t stay in that energy field very long. If your happiness always depends on outer circumstances then there will always be something to protect or lose, events that will happen that are out of your control.

happiness-quote

The only true thing we have control over is our mental outlook – our thoughts. And when life throws you a curve ball the challenge is not to get pulled down into the curve and out of our essential nature into judgement, hate, depression, blame and guilt.

“To a far great extent than common knowledge would lead anyone to believe, people’s happiness, health and success are not determined by the thoughts, ideas, and imaginings they have of themselves, but are determined by the ability to change these things. “ ~ Harry Palmer

Working on ourselves is probably the most important task we can ever undertake. This is not a selfish activity, because as we become happier and more fulfilled so we can help others to do the same.

Quotes-On-Happiness-And-Love

Our deepest fears are invisibility, being worthless, lack of importance, not being good enough, and annihilation. It helps to remember that the definition of fear is: False Evidence Appearing Real.

YOU MATTER.

This universal truth is demonstrated so artfully in Frank Capra’s 1946 classic movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, with Jimmy Stewart playing the despairing small-town businessman George Bailey, (in my humble opinion, the role he was born to play).

It’s Christmas Eve and George is on the brink of suicide, when he is visited by his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, who shows him what the world would have been like if he had never been born.  This film is one of the most critically acclaimed films ever made, and was voted the most inspiring film of all time by the American Film Institute in 2006. This scene says it all. I’d like to be your Clarence, just for today!

One life touches many:

Just by being yourself, doing what makes you happy (as long as it’s not hurting others) and following your heart you can make a difference in the world.

“There was a time, a certain number of years ago, when a tiny blob of gelatin began to pulse with hidden potential. It was barely more than a speck of matter, about the thickness of a dollar bill, at the very threshold of human sight: any smaller and it would have been invisible to the naked eye.

Tough tiny, this insignificant little dot of matter (you could have fit about twenty of them on the head of a pin) contained chemical instructions that, if printed out, would have filled more than 500,000 pages; in fact, it was among the most organized, complex structures in the universe. Over the next nine months of slight edge compounding, this little blob of gelatin would blossom into about thirty trillion cells before being born into the open air…and letting out a wail as it took its first breath.

It would become you.”

~ Jeff Olson (The Slight Edge).

Until the next time, I wish you happiness and joy!

Reaching for the Stars – Enlightened Goal Setting (Part 2)

“The important thing is to strive towards a goal which is not immediately visible. That goal is not the concern of the mind, but of the spirit.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The ancient science of Numerology, which originated in Babylon and Egypt, was also studied thousands of years ago in China, India, Rome, Japan and Greece. It was in ancient Greece where a certain Greek Philosopher and Mathematician, Pythagoras, felt that the entire universe could be expressed through numbers, and his theories expanded Numerology (so that he became known as the father of Numerology).

Infinity_by_TheUnlikedOne_1600x1000In modern Numerology 2015 is an 8 Universal Year, (calculated by adding the digits of the year together).  The number 8 is said to represent infinite abundance, which of course could affect many different areas of our lives.

Let’s hope we can all harness this cosmic power moving forward…

Having done some soul searching, decide your definite major purpose.

There are nine advantages to this:

  1. You start to notice resources and develop the possible qualities needed to achieve your purpose.
  2. Specialise – attract the knowledge you need. This gives you focus.
  3. Budget your time and money. You don’t waste precious resources.
  4. It alerts you to possibilities you may have missed before, when your radar is honed.
  5. You make quicker decisions.
  6. You attract help. When you’re on a mission people will want to help you.
  7. Experience of the 12 great riches mentioned in part 1.
  8. Develop faith. Not so much in the religious sense, but in yourself.
  9. Develop success consciousness.

It is recommended to make goal statements. These should be positive, specific and with a deadline. Ideally they should fall under the categories of what, why and how. They should also be influence-able, i.e. under your control.  Decide the price you’ll pay, know how you are going to do it, and what you’ll learn and do. Read it several times a day, and memorise it.

Outcome Acting & Thinking:

Brian Tracy goal-quotes2Model yourself on other people who have done what you want to do. Study not just what they did, but if possible what they believed and their values. What were they focusing on? If you can meet such people, many successful people are prepared to help those with a dream. You can also learn a lot from books and people online.  To some extent you will go through trial and error to gain wisdom.

Working backwards is helpful. First you look at the big picture, and like a puzzle gather and fit together the pieces you need to achieve to reach your goal. It’s common sense to break it down into doable steps.

Remember to ask the magic question if you hit a brick wall:

“How can I____________________?”

Fill in the blank with whatever it is you need to know. It’s amazing how the answer will come to you. It could be in the form of meeting someone influential or knowledgeable in the area you’re interested in. You might see an article, hear a radio interview, read a book etc. Somehow, the universe will answer you.

It’s worth noting that without awareness thoughts and events happen on auto-pilot, according to our early programming.

Thinking:

  • Align your beliefs with your goals for the year. Watch out for your un-resourceful or self-sabotaging beliefs.
  • Values provide a source of motivation.
  • Filters allow us to let in the information that you need to reach your goal.
  • Create the big picture and then chunk it down into manageable steps and actions, so that you don’t lose heart or become overwhelmed.
  • Look at your method of making good and fast decisions.
  • You might find it useful to be aware of your psychological preferences. Are you extroverted or introverted? Sensing or intuitive? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? Why not take the Myers Briggs Test based on Jung’s writings in his book Psychological Types.
  • Understand your internal representations and how they steer your actions.

MyersBriggsTypes

We are all bound to hit some rocks on the road to success. Maybe even a mountain or two. There’s no avoiding it. I’ve found it helpful at such times to remind myself of Napoleon Hill’s statement that every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit. It’s okay to feel temporarily discouraged or bad about it, but the most important thing to do is to evaluate the adversity and list its advantages.

Germinate the seed…

Shakespeare so often has the right words and wisdom for every occasion:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries. ~ Julius Caesar 4.3.217-20, Brutus to Cassius

If we go the extra mile we will gain more satisfaction, make ourselves indispensable, increase our personal initiative, develop self-reliance and courage, integrity and eliminate procrastination. The qualities of all successful people.

Good luck! By that I mean: Labouring Under Correct Knowledge

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Reaching for the Stars – Enlightened Goal Setting (Part 1)

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ~ Napoleon Hill

It’s a new year, and we’re naturally focused on what we might do differently or better than last year. Those well-meaning new year resolutions to exercise more, give up smoking, and all manner of ‘should dos’ get attention for maybe a couple of months before they fall by the wayside; even if we’re super determined. Life has a way of testing us to the limit!

To me, the term ‘resolutions’ sets us up for failure before we’ve even begun. It sounds too much like iron clad will-power is required. There’s no fun or adventure and excitement in it. It sort of implies that we’ll need to be as serious as the United Nations are when they publish a Security Council statement of will.

Some lofty intention that we don’t really believe is attainable, eating away at our motivation for sustained action. We certainly do need intention and resolve to achieve our goals and dreams, but that alone won’t propel us to the heights of achievement.

patanjali

In this and the next post I hope to break down the components of how to turn a few ideas on your 2015 resolutions list into a way of life: a step by step approach to create habits so ingrained that it wouldn’t occur to you not to behave in a way that takes you closer to your desired outcomes; so that when 2016 rolls around you can knock back the champagne knowing you did everything in your power to live the life of your dreams.

Every year is a stepping stone toward manifesting the full potential of your life.

It’s an ambitious task I know, but I wanted my first post of 2015 to be as meaningful as possible…

Perhaps we should start with questions.

Why create something?

For some it’s the joy of creating, but at the end of the day, we all need to survive. We all want stuff. That’s okay. For others, the challenge is the key. If you set yourself a challenge that’s just far enough away to motivate and stretch you, just a little more than you thought you could do, but not so far away that it’s frustrating and seemingly impossible, who knows what your life could look like in the process of striving for that goal.  The point is it has to be important and meaningful to you.

The dictionary definition of success is:  the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment of one’s goals.

Napoleon Hill studied the most successful people in America over a period of twenty years, and at the suggestion of billionaire businessman Andrew Carnegie, he distilled this collective knowledge in his 1937 best-selling book: Think and Grow Rich.

In it, he lists the 12 Great Riches of Life:

  1. PMA – Positive Mental Attitude
  2. Sound physical health
  3. Harmony in human relationships
  4. Freedom from fear
  5. Hope of achievement, e.g. setting yourself challenges, which gives you a zest for life
  6. Capacity for faith
  7. Sharing your blessings with others
  8. Having a labour of love
  9. Have an open mind on all subjects
  10. Self-discipline
  11. Understand people
  12. Financial security

Napoleon Hill’s words of wisdom from the great man himself:

Do you know what you want?

Some of us have been told as children that we shouldn’t want anything, and in other cases these decisions were made for us. Some of us may have decided that what we want is not possible anyway. Just deciding this one thing could be the most important step you ever take.

It’s important to have that key ingredient of awareness, and ask: what are my beliefs around what I want? Beliefs are self-fulfilling prophecies that can either help us or hinder us in our quest.

The next thing to decide is the price. What are you willing to do, or to give of yourself to achieve your goals? The price must be paid in full (even though it’s January there’s no discounting allowed, sorry!)

Six Step Formula:

  1. Know where you are – this is taking stock of your situation. What do I know or not know? What resources are available to me?
  2. Know where you want to be, and be very specific.
  3. Take action. Doing something will lead to learning and to further actions. You may not know every action you should take, but an elephant isn’t eaten whole (if you excuse the example), just act the best way you can.
  4. Evaluate the action. What worked? How can I tweak it?
  5. Refine the action. Continue to act, evaluate and you will attract the people and situations that will help you.

I must away…until part 2.

“If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way. ~ Napoleon Hill

How Purpose and Passion can Transform Life from the Mediocre to the Meaningful

“What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful. ~ Dalai Lama

Ivan Aivazovsky -maritime artDo you truly know what floats your boat? John F. Kennedy wisely stated that a rising tide lifts all boats. Forget that he was talking about the economy. I’m talking about the sea of life, the ocean of experience. Is your mast set to wind? Is your course charted? Or is your vessel rudderless? It won’t all be plain sailing, but you’ll have many adventures navigating from port to port. Before you know it you will have circumnavigated the globe. Okay, okay, enough of the nautical lingo…

Are you aligned with your purpose in life? We can look at many examples of extraordinary people who changed the world by simply following their dream. Individuals who stayed the course, no matter the obstacles they faced.

What will keep you going regardless of success or failure? Inner peace and happiness comes from being true to your vision and values. To inspire your fellow human beings and be the tide that raises other ships, your purpose has to be something other than the quest for money, endless consumerism or a new pair of shoes. I might regret saying that last part!

It has to be a deeply felt cause that is bigger than us as individuals. Without that inner resolve there is no motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

VF quote on happinessDuring my life I’ve done jobs I absolutely hated. Luckily, they were only for relatively brief spells. I found myself wishing away my life, desperate to get to the weekend. I could really relate to philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s words, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” How soul destroying it is to feel that your existence counts for nothing, that you do not matter. Do you know what you were put on this earth to do? Fortunate are those who have shaken free from the clutches of apathy, and are expressing their talents and passion in the world.

Viktor Frankl experienced more trauma in his life than most of us could ever imagine, or would ever face, and yet he went on to write a moving and inspiring lesson for us all, in his ground breaking 1946 book: Man’s Search for Meaning.

For me, when I look at the achievements of people past and present, such as Viktor Frankl, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Beryl Markham, Emily Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale, Madam Curie, Helen Keller, Joan of Arc, Ludwig van Beethoven, Daniel Barenboim, William Shakespeare, Mother Theresa, Walt Disney and many more than I could possibly mention, whose lives were, and are challenging, but through being true to their purpose left their legacy in the annals of time. We ordinary mortals can achieve our success according to our own values and dreams.

You don’t have to be famous to make a difference. You don’t have to have a world changing vision. You just have to know who you are, where you’re going and have a plan to get there. Sounds simple right?

Five pointers to help you find your passion and purpose:

  1. Pay attention to how you spend your time. Chances are, if you do something a lot it means something to you. Awareness creates choice.
  2. What knowledge can you share? What activities are you good at and enjoy, that you could make a living from or help others master?
  3. Write a list of your values, brain storm, then make a short list of your top 10 values and see where they fit into your life. What causes are close to your heart? How can you get more involved?
  4. Delve into your beliefs. What beliefs do you hold around money, work, success, health, and relationships? Be honest with yourself, and label each one as being either resourceful to you or a hindrance to you. How many of them are long buried self-sabotaging beliefs creating negative self-talk? Beliefs are powerful, and we always find ways to prove them, whether they are ‘true’ or not. It makes sense to have well-adjusted healthy beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It’s time to shake off years of indoctrination and remove the glass ceiling.
  5. What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail? I know it’s a provocative question, but as Einstein stated, “Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.” He also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Viktor-Frankl-quote1

There are really only four things that we have complete control over in our lives. How we feel, how we behave, the people and situations we attract to ourselves, and the meanings we assign to all of the above, our internal representations of our lives.

What Makes Life Meaningful: Michael Steger at TEDxCSU:

A recent Stanford research project explored the key differences between lives of happiness and meaningfulness. The meaningful life is a road worth traveling.

Feeling happy doesn’t mean our lives are easy, or perfect. We often feel sadness and joy along our journey, indeed, a whole range of emotions, that’s just the nature of life. But true purpose keeps us on course, gives us that inner peace that we are contributing to the world in our own unique way. Each of us has the ability to touch lives that no-one else can. Every day you are happy is a gift to the world. So in order to be altruistic you also need to be selfish. Indulge in what you love, and give it away…

PhotoFunia-time and tideWe all have the same time given to us. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, 31,536,000 in a year, and just over 2.2 billion seconds in a seventy year lifespan. None of us knows when our personal clock will stop ticking. Time is precious.

How will you spend yours?

The Rewards of Letting Your Inner Child out to Play…

“One of the virtues of being very young is that you don’t let the facts get in the way of your imagination.”  ~ Sam Levenson

Children-at-Play by Harry Brooker‘You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…’ I can hear John Lennon’s immortal crooning in my mind. Isn’t that what children are so good at? They dream. They dream frequently, and they dream about anything they want, and they dream big. Left unfettered from cruelty, their minds are not naturally wired for questioning their self worth. They don’t think of excuses, they just follow their innate sense of curiosity and joy, they let their minds wander, and upon finding something of interest they become completely absorbed in whatever they are doing.

I love to watch Ruby play; she has such a vivid imagination. When she gets into her own little world she dresses up and tears around the house using whatever toys and props (usually kitchen utensils) are needed to fashion her make believe scenarios. If I call her name while she is ensconced in her imaginings she is completely deaf to me. Her excitement at what I would consider a mundane activity never fails to brighten my heart.

I think being a parent probably makes it easier to connect with our bounteous childlike energy, as our children help us to see the world through their amazed eyes.

Ignite Your Childlike State of Wonder:

How many of us can say at some point while we were growing up we were told by a parent, a teacher, or a well-meaning adult, ‘Stop daydreaming!’ It is misguided to think that so called ‘daydreaming’ is a negative trait. Far from it. This is the tool of creation. Creativity is inherently abundant in youngsters, and the school system with its rigid curriculum is not conducive to nurturing this very important aspect of a child’s development.

Federico Fellini - ChildlikeBy the time we reach adulthood most of us, (to some degree), have usually had the light of our dreams diluted or even drained out of us completely. A constant barrage of negative messages from the world around us can eventually drown out our intuitive childlike selves, fostering self-doubt within us instead. The mental baggage is accrued over time, and then it becomes so much harder to follow our dreams, for fear of failure. To be truly ourselves means letting go of other people’s expectations for how we conduct our lives. It means sticking our heads above the parapet. It takes courage to hold our dreams out in front of us like a lantern, glowing with the perseverance and faith that we experienced in our childhood.

“Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence.”   ~ Norman Podhoretz

looking for adventure at Waddesdon ManorUnlike Peter Pan, we all grow up, (well, most of us!) but that doesn’t mean life has to be all serious. Although we have responsibilities, bills to pay and all the trimmings that go with adulthood to deal with; the inner child that dwells within each of us can make being an adult so much more fun. We have a responsibility to love, nurture and parent our own inner child. And when properly cared for, children are happy and they flourish. The benefits to us as individuals (and the people around us), of embracing our inner child are manifold: increased joy, laughter, spontaneity, love, emotional honesty, and chiefly, living in the present moment. We do not brood on the past or worry about the future when we are fully engaged in the now…

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”  ~ Heraclitus

Deepak Chopra quoteI’m not promoting the kind of ‘throw your toys out the pram’ mentality of narcissistic demands or temper tantrums, dependency, neediness, petulance and general egocentric behaviour.  Neither am I suggesting that we live in a world of fantasy. But if we can access that playful and innocent side of ourselves, we can harness this enthusiasm in multifarious ways. We can use that sense of wonder and awe and intense focus (without judgement) in whatever endeavour we like, or indeed, even just to elevate our everyday lives. It is all about achieving that balance between our heads and our hearts. Not living life solely in our conceptual minds, or always wearing our hearts on our sleeves with complete naïveté.

The original Jungian Child Archetype was the basis for many theories and development of the modern term ‘inner child’ including the work of Dr Eric Byrne in Transactional Analysis, and study of the ego states: Parent Child, Adult.

Getting in touch with our feelings can sometimes bring up unresolved trauma or an emotional blockage. However, we can begin to heal when we become conscious of the past wounds our inner child has suffered. Suppressed pain can hinder our functioning at full capacity as an Adult and Parent.

I love this talk by Eckhart Tolle on being yourself:

To coin Ruby’s favourite word, existence is ‘awesome’.  Now I’ve got John Lennon in my head again! ‘I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.’

Here’s my own mnemonic: Doing Really Exciting Activities Mindfully

Dream big!