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You Really Are Special But You Still Need To Be Extremely Nice

Bill_Bryson

“Take a moment from time to time to remember that you are alive,” Bill Bryson writes. “I know this sounds a trifle obvious, but it is amazing how little time we take to remark upon this singular and gratifying fact. By a most astounding stroke of luck, an infinitesimal portion of all the matter in the universe came together to create you and for the tiniest moment in the great span of eternity you have the incomparable privilege to exist.

“For endless eons, there was no you. Before you know it, you will cease to be again. And in between, you have this wonderful opportunity to see and feel and think and do. Whatever else you do with your life, nothing will remotely compare with the incredible accomplishment of having managed to get yourself born. Congratulations. Well done. You really are special.

“But not that special! There are five billion other people on this planet, every one of them just as important, just as central to the great scheme of things, as you are. Don’t ever make the horrible, unworthy mistake of thinking yourself more vital and significant than anyone else. Nearly all the people you encounter in life merit your consideration. Many of them will be there to help you – to deliver your pizza, bag your groceries, clean up the motel room you have made such a lavish mess of. If you are not in the habit of being extremely nice to these people, then get in the habit now.”

― Bill Bryson, I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

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Getting Started With Meditation For Those Who Find It Challenging

Most people find it difficult to establish a daily meditation practice. We know it would probably benefit us, but how much? Is the “cost-benefit” ratio really in favor of meditation? How much pain of sitting quietly must we endure for the gain of increased calm and focus? Daniel Rodic outlines his quest to meditate for 100 days in a row.

Stress is motivating in short-bursts, but long-term sustained stress leads to burnout, exhaustion, strained relationships and general unhappiness. Daniel realized changing his environment didn’t work because he needed to focus on changing his mindset.

Knowing this was a new habit Daniel was attempting to form, he started with something very easy to do (listening to a 3 minute song) and progressed to his goal of daily meditation (12 minutes every night using a guided meditation recording) over a span of 45 days. This step-by-step progress motivated Dan, as he felt like he was getting better every day as he migrated from music to guided meditation. These are the stages Daniel went through:

Stage 1 (Day 0 to 3): Before using guided meditations, Daniel tarted listening to a favorite song each day. It was an enjoyable experience that he knew he would look forward the meditation exercise every morning.

Stage 2 (Day 4 to 6): Daniel developed a morning habit whereby he listened to an upbeat song, while at night he listened to a slower song. This trained his body to wake up or go to bed when I heard these songs. Daily repetition was key.
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Better Sleep: New Tips and Tricks

Better Sleep MindfulnessRestfulness is next to godliness. Or at least let’s understand that it’s very hard to live mindfully when you’re exhausted all the time. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson has some good sleep tips

– Make a deal with yourself to worry or plan during the next day, after you get up. An hour or so ahead of sleep, “dump” your worries on a piece of paper and put it away in a drawer, preferably in a room that isn’t the bedroom.

– Shift your attention to things that make you feel happy and relaxed, or simply to the sensations of breathing itself. Bring to mind the warm feeling of being with people who care about you. Have compassion for yourself.

– Really relax. For example, take five to ten long exhalations; imagine your hands are warm (and tuck them under the pillow); rest a finger or knuckle against your lip; relax your tongue and jaw; imagine you are in a very peaceful setting; progressively relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your head.

– Certain nutrients are important for sleep. Unless you’re sure you’re getting these in your daily diet, consider supplementing magnesium (500 milligrams/day) and calcium (1200 milligrams/day). If you can, take half in the morning and half before bed.
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Avoiding The Self-Improvement Trap

The harsh critic that lives inside many of us is often interested in masochistic projects called “self-improvement” that it’s never satisfied with. But this can be counter-productive, resulting in you getting more stuck and feeling even more deficient, Bob Stahl writes.

To be sure, it can be helpful to seek psychotherapy and other health-promoting activities when you need support. But you can also become overwhelmed with the idea that every one of your imperfections should be fixed with workshops, new therapies, a better diet, and an intensified exercise program. In some ways, it’s similar to always striving for more money or more things.

Continuously striving to be a better person can fill up a lifetime yet never be fulfilled.
In such a state, the mind doesn’t live in the present moment, which is the only place we can experience love, peace, and happiness. This can be akin to searching for your camera to preserve an experience that you end up missing because you’re searching for the camera.

Your highly judgmental mind can always find something that isn’t quite right. We tend to get the standards by which we judge ourselves by looking around and comparing ourselves to others. But if you consider how many billions of people there are on this planet, you can see that this is a no-win proposition. There will always be someone thinner, fitter, nicer, more accomplished, more attractive, etc.

This is like a military strategy based on the idea that war can create peace – that if you can blast the inadequate self to smithereens, or maybe just threaten to do so, you will finally feel okay and have peace.
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Gratitude: Have You Heard It’s Good For You?

Gratitude thank you Woman-Holding-HeartGratitude: Being thankful, appreciative for the good things in your life, for people who have helped you, for fortunate events that have occurred. By now, most of us have heard from various sources that it’s good for our mental health. Now the research evidence is starting to pile up.

The average person is vaguely aware of a few key, recurring things in their lives they are grateful for. However, if we only think about those, we habituate to them; they stop being interesting. By contrast, fresh doses of perceptive gratitude on a daily basis are like a vaccine against impulsiveness and enhance personal discipline and future-orientedness.

A new study shows that being grateful helps increase self-control and reduce impulsive behaviors, particularly when it comes to financial decisions. People who cultivate an appreciative attitude towards everyday events are more patient; they are better able to delay gratification.

It can be easier than you think to find things to be grateful about; it just takes a bit of extra focus. For example: “I’m grateful that when I left a bag on the train this morning, a stranger ran after me and handed it back to me.”

The new study suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life. It is an important finding because we tend to think of self-control as being linked to cognitive processes. The possibility that gratitude can help us increase self-control and reduce impulsiveness is very appealing.
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Nobel-Prize Winning Productivity Strategies From A Whacky Physicist

richard_feynmanRichard Feynman was one of the most creative and iconoclastic scientists of the past century. A glimpse inside his approach to productivity is provided by Samuel Bacharach:

For Feynman, productivity was less about getting tasks done and more about exploring problems that intrigued him.

1. Don’t worry about what others think
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish,” Feynman asserted. “I don’t have to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”

By adopting this attitude, you free yourself from paralyzing second guesses, doubts, and uncertainty. Work in your own way and don’t let other people’s criticisms delay you.

2. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do
“Fall in love with some activity, and do it!” Feynman advised. “Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.

Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.”

3. Stop trying to be a know-it-all
“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong,” Feynman said. “We should try to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we make progress.”

4. Get off the computer
Feynman avoided computers whenever he could because they were distractions that dulled his ability to investigate the world.

“There is a computer disease,” he said. “It’s very serious and interferes completely with creative work.”
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Staying Focused Throughout The Working Day

You find yourself lost in a repetitive cycle of clicking from web page to web page, checking your e-mail every couple of minutes or passively skimming through a Twitter feed while paying little attention to what you’re reading in it. Mindless media use is a growing problem; Mark Carrigan has some useful reflections:

This is starting to be referred to as “continuous partial attention” and the behavior driving it as “distraction addiction.”
Tension and anxiety are created by “the sheer scale of what we’re missing out on and our growing awareness of all the other things we could and perhaps should be doing.

“The most obvious way to reduce mindless media consumption is simply to recognize that you’re doing it. Putting a name to the experience makes it easy to identify what you’re doing and so help you drag yourself out of an impending technology loop.

The website www.donothingfor2minutes.com offers a helpful antidote to the frenzied hyperactivity which characterizes the technology loop.

Other tips: Buy a pay-as-you-go phone for when you really want and/or *need* to get away from the Internet. You’ll have a phone for emergencies and other basic communication.

You can also delete the mail settings on my iPhone when you want to disconnect but nonetheless retain the capacity to consult, for example, Google Maps or the weather report.

Staying focused throughout the working day; continuous partial attention, distraction addiction, Internet detox, media overwhelm, digital detox

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The Rocky Road To Greatness: “Super Champions” Vs. “Almosts”

close finish super champions mental fitnessLearning to navigate a “rocky road” – often riddled with setbacks both inside and outside the competitive arena – is the essential element in becoming among the best in the world.

A new study headed by researcher Dave Collins highlights key characteristics that separate the best of the best (“Super Champions”), the good (“Champions”), and those who didn’t quite make it (“Almosts”).

Super Champions have developed the skills to cope with obstacles and disappointments without unraveling. The researchers, from the U.K., carried out extensive interviews with athletes from a variety of sports, including soccer, skiing, rowing and combat disciplines.

Athletes who reached the very highest level are never satisfied with their performance; they are always looking for improvements and setting tougher goals. They also have total commitment and relentless internal drives that their less successful peers lack.

When faced with injuries or failures, the almost great athletes often become despondent and lose enthusiasm. Super Champions, though, are determined to return stronger than ever.

According to the study: “Super Champions are characterized by an almost fanatical reaction to challenge, both proactively and in reaction to mishaps which typically occurred due to injury or sport related setbacks such as non-selection/being dropped.”

The most surprising finding was that the almost-great athletes suffered no more setbacks, on average than the Super Champions or Champions. In other words: the difference wasn’t down to bad luck, but a unique attitude. “It is more what performers bring to the challenges than what they experienced,” the researchers wrote.

Super Champions:
– They are proactive in rising to face setbacks such as injury and non-selection
– Have received from coaches positive facilitation and gentle encouragement
– Often have siblings who play a significant role in supporting and challenging
– Have meticulous, persistent attention to detail

The lesson for coaches who want to groom a Super Champion? Often less is more. Taking a hands-off approach appears to be considerably better than micromanaging or “helicoptering” a young athlete. In fact, coping with adversity on their own ultimately makes young athletes more self-reliant and resilient.

Super Champions learn to view setbacks as opportunities for growth, and not as roadblocks. They tend to be both proactive and looked for positive meaning in response to “bumps” in the road with a “bring it on!” mentality.

Developing skills to handle unexpected obstacles and setbacks with grace, self-reflection, and unwavering determination takes practice and real-world life experience.

In their ascent to greatness, the paths of Super Champions are often filled with more adversity and setbacks than their less-successful peers encounter. The young athletes who didn’t achieve greatness tended to have an “easy ride”; having a parent or coach constantly holding their hand throughout the process, making the journey more like a chaperoned field trip than a heroic adventure.

In fact, for the “Almost” category, parents and coaches often played a big (sometimes perceived as overbearing) role in young athlete’s pursuits. Unfortunately, having an adult figure constantly “driving the bus” resulted in floundering when the athletes had to eventually are on their own.

Most of the coddled athletes didn’t have the skills to be self-reliant by the time they reached university. For example, two “Almost” achievers in the study described this conundrum by saying, “My parents, Dad especially was always there… shouting instructions from the touchline, pushing me to practice at home. Really, I just wanted to be out with my mates, even though we would still be kicking a ball around. I felt like [sport] stole my childhood.”

Another ‘Almost’ said, “It was a real feeling of release to get away from my father and go to university. But once there, I seemed to lose my way. No-one telling me what to do… I just lost interest.”
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Time In The Sun Might Be The Ultimate “Bio Hack”

smiling-woman-in-white-hat-in-sun-on-beachAvoiding the sun may give rise to numerous serious diseases. Low sun exposure may be as big a health risk as smoking cigarettes – and the latest research is backing these assertions up, writes Phil Maffetone.

Of course one big caveat – be very careful not to get burned by the sun.

Our sun-phobic society, influenced largely by companies selling products, has resulted in generations of people avoiding the sun, significantly raising the risk of poor health and disease, including skin cancer.

For decades, the benefits of sun exposure have been suppressed by the commercial interests of companies selling creams and lotions, as well as sunglasses. These companies enlist the media to keep promoting their scare tactics.

Instead of hiding inside and slathering gloopy chemicals and “nanotechnology” all over, we should be exposing our bodies – in small doses – without protection like all our ancestors did to improve both health and fitness in our brains and bodies, including protection against diseases. Moderation is the key principle – avoiding overexposure while slowly getting and maintaining a protective, gentle tan.

Time in the sun might be the ultimate “bio hack”

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Clearing Your Mind In Order To Get Things Done

woman-writing-with-pen-in-notebookHow do you get things done that really matter to you? Clear your mind. Yes, that’s it. The problem is most people don’t know how to clear their mind, writes David G. Allan.

The strange paradox is you actually have to use your mind to shut your mind up. First ask yourself: ‘Why is this on my mind?’

Our brain is a poor and unreliable repository of all the things we try to cram into it. “Smart” phones and social networks are making the problem worse. By living a life of distraction , we are crowding out the deeper and creative thoughts, along with any hope of real quiet.

How to make things better:
1) Adopt a reliable capture method (Evernote, voice memos, a notebook, etc.) to get thoughts out of your head.
2) Distill them to actionable items and next steps (“send receipts to Finance,” or “call a kick-off meeting”) on your daily to-do list.
3) Dedicate yourself to multiple reviews in which you put these action items into the right buckets (“must be done today,” “phone calls when I’m on the train”).
4) Do the things on the list when you have time, prioritizing as you go.

David G. Allan has enjoyed occasional, fleeting moments when he realizes, “I don’t have anything I need to think about!” When it happens, a more creative or big picture idea often enters to fill the void. He also experiences increased focus on a project when he’s unfettered by mental loops reminding him to act on something else
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If You Are At Peace, You Are Living In The Present

smiling at peace“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
– Lao Tzu

A simple reminder from Lindsey Block:

I remind myself of this on nights and weekends when my anxiety seems to dwell in the spaces of free time and endless lists of chores and desires…

I think about this quote when I’m driving and unfocused and fretting about an upcoming meeting (worry not, just prepare).

I think about it when I remind myself of the stupid things I’ve said or done (dwell not, learn from mistakes).

I think about it when I feel lost about what’s to come with my future (stress not, make a list and how to accomplish them).

Breathe into the present moment.

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Transforming Poison Into Medicine: Handling Life’s Pains

smile broken armPain in our lives is inevitable, of course. And aversion is a natural response to pain. But aversion to the aversion? That’s probably a bit pathological, as Brian Johnson notes.

Pain is inevitable. Prolonged suffering is optional.

When difficulties arise, try to see them as a valuable life lesson. This doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Our instinct is to avoid discomfort at every turn. And we live in a culture that helps us distract ourselves anytime something emerges.

We need to realize that it’s our resistance to our pain that leads to the most painful, enduring and recurring types of suffering.

Suffering = Pain x Resistance. It’s an exponential rather than a multiplicative relationship.

Try to distinguish between the normal pains of life – difficult emotions, physical discomfort, etc. – and actual suffering, which is the mental anguish caused by fighting against the fact that life is sometimes painful.

Pain is inevitable. Accept that. Work with it. Learn from it. Reduce your suffering and reinvest the energy you gain by into your  growth and increasing your wisdom.

Our society constantly gives us a million distractions and numbing agents to our slightest discomfort. But what if, rather than turn away from what challenges us, we lean into it?
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Bullying Collides with the Connection Economy, Creating Collateral Damage

It seems that bullies are increasingly in the news, all the way up to the White House.

Seth Godin makes a compelling case for reigning in bullying behavior in a recent blog entry. Some excerpts:

War-like domination

…The zero-sum game of world domination or even of the gridiron seems to reward the selfish, war-like domination that the bully embraces. But in the connection economy, the world of our future, it’s pretty clear that we’re not playing a zero-sum game, and the hawkish win-at-all-costs behavior of the bully is actually a significant cost, not an asset.
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How To Sleep Better By Using An Evening Alarm Clock

woman alarm clockSet your alarm for an hour before you hope to be asleep.

Most people use electronic alarm clocks simply as a method to wake up in the morning. However, there is very little effort focused on the much harder problem of helping people get to sleep on time, John Durant notes. Our biological clock helps us both wake up and go to sleep. Waking up is a lot easier after a good night’s rest.

When the alarm you have set goes off in the evening (for example around 9:15 pm), finish any work on your computer, turn off the TV, switch off and/or turn down any unnecessary lights, and start to mellowing yourself into the night. Reading some non-problematic literature using a low powered headlamp is an option that somewhat replicates reading by candle light in days of yore.

Winding down in the late evening has only been a challenge for human beings for about the past 100 years. Right before Edison introduced the first commercially viable light bulb, the average American was sleeping about 9.5 hours per night. That dropped to approximately 8 hours throughout the 20th century to around 7 hours today. For that, we can partially credit the inventions of the good folks at Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Dell and others.

Source: Brian Johnson

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The Personal Cost of Constant Social Media Contact

social-media-confusion-overwhelmThe omnipresence of social media is presenting new existential dilemmas. Courtney E. Martin sees social media as “a tool with which we are compelled to construct a version of ourselves online, hour-by-hour.” Some of us are sending out dozens of micro digital messages – by “liking” and adding short comments, by “signaling” – all day and all night long. But what does all the signaling add up to, she asks.

…This “constant signaling has a price. Our attention is finite. Our energy for action is limited. These tools may lead some to gather and create real relationships or finally compel others to seek out more learning about an issue they’ve never really understood… but life is too short to only exist at the surface level of status updates.”

The personal cost of constant social media contact: Courtney E. Martin: @courtwrites

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The Anti-Anxiety Benefits of “Unloading” Periods

unloading_deloading_@timferriss_tim_ferrissMany people find journaling – basically writing down your contemplations – helpful. Tim Ferriss likens reflecting with pen-and-paper to a photography darkroom for the contents of his mind. The most fruitful journaling emerges during what Tim calls “unloading” periods.

Unloading is a term often used in athletic strength and conditioning, but it’s a concept that can be applied to many other areas of life. In athletics, unloading is a back-off week; a planned reduction in exercise volume or intensity. The purpose is to prepare the body for the increased future demands and to reduce the risk of overtraining.

Tim says he has used unloading outside of sports to decrease anxiety at least 50% while simultaneously doubling his income.
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Growing Roses and the Value of Acceptance

rose_smiling_face_acceptance_actionDon’t try to grow roses in a parking lot, Rick Hanson advises.

An essential first step in taking effective action is first understanding what we cannot influence or change, and fully accepting those facts.

Acceptance does not mean approval, overlooking, or forgiveness, Rick notes. You simply face the facts, including the fact of your limited influence. And through acceptance, you open yourself up to greater resourcefulness to deal with life’s difficulties.

If you cannot accept a fact – that it exists, that it has happened, whatever your preferences may be – then see if you can accept the fact that you cannot accept the fact!

Some possible “stretch” exercises in acceptance:

– Review a life event that has troubled you. See if you can accept it as something that happened, like it or not – and as truly just a part of a much larger and probably mainly positive whole.

– Focus on an aspect of your body that you don’t like. Tell the truth to yourself about the extent to which you can change it and make a clear choice as to what you will actually do. Then see if you can accept whatever remains as just the way it is – and as only a small part of the much larger and generally positive whole that is you.

– Bring to mind a key person in your life. Have there been any ways that you’ve been trying to affect or change this person that are just not working? What limits to your influence here do you need to accept?

– Reflect on something you’ve wanted to happen but been frustrated about – perhaps a career shift, a sale to a new customer. Are the necessary supporting conditions truly present? If they are, then stick with it and be patient. But if they are not present – if you’re trying to grow roses in a parking lot – consider shifting your hopes and efforts in another direction.

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Real Happiness: How Low-Cost Wine Becomes Undrinkable

business_wine_stoicismSome insightfully challenging observations from Jacob Henricson:

You would think that making a lot of money and having a lot of power makes you less more independent, less vulnerable. But often exact opposite happens.

As your income and prestige grow, you develop more expensive tastes. A modest-sized house is no longer enough. Wine at a low price slowly becomes undrinkable. Before you know it you have become dependent on an income which is much higher than what you would get from most available jobs. And it is much more painful to step down from a privileged position than it is enjoyable to climb up. You are creating a trap for yourself.

Epictetus provocatively asks: “Who is your master?” And immediately he answers: “Whoever has authority over anything that you’re anxious to gain or to avoid.”
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Practicing Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day

Mindfulness Meditation at Work tipsSome useful suggestions from Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter:

“People spend about half of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot. Add to this that we have entered what many people are calling the ‘attention economy.’

“In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills. And because leaders need to absorb and synthesize a growing flood of information to make good decisions, they’re hit particularly hard by this emerging trend.

“…First, start off your day right. Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking. Why? Because thinking of the day ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood. Instead, try this: When you wake up, spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath. As thoughts about the day pop into your mind, let them go and return to your breath.

“…E-mails and texts have a way of seducing our attention and redirecting it to lower-priority tasks because completing small, quickly accomplished tasks releases dopamine, a pleasurable hormone, in our brains. This release makes us addicted to e-mail and texting, and compromises our concentration…

“…To get a better start to your day, avoid checking your e-mail first thing in the morning. Doing so will help you sidestep an onslaught of distractions and short-term problems during a period of exceptional focus and creativity.

“… as the day comes to an end and you start your commute home, apply Mindfulness. For at least 10 minutes of the commute, turn off your phone, shut off the radio, and simply be. Let go of any thoughts that arise. Pay attention to your breath. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stresses of the day so you can return home and be fully present with your family.”

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How Success Distorts Self Image and What To Do About It

Marshall Goldsmith in IndiaSome wisdom from leading management thinker Marshall Goldsmith during a recent public visit to India:

“…The more successful people become, the more positive reinforcement you get. This is called the ‘Superstition Complex.’ You think that if you behave this way, you are successful. And you are successful because you behave this way.

For instance, has anyone here been promoted in the last two years? Now those of you who have been promoted: Have you noticed that your jokes have gotten a little funnier, everything you say is very wise; you even look like you’ve lost weight?

It is very hard not to let this nonsense go to your head. It is very important that the more successful we become, we learn to demonstrate our humility and tell ourselves, “I am here, I am successful because of something and despite other things.”

Marshall has developed over the years the practice of “Feed-Forward.” How it works: People reach out to one another and say, “My name is X and I want to get better at Y.” You ask for ideas and people give you ideas and you treat those ideas as a gift. You don’t put the person down; you say thank-you and then you listen and follow-up on it. Amazingly, people get better and it’s positive and it really works.”

“…Buddha says, listen to everything but only choose what works for you. Well, that is the essence of feed-forward. I ask you for ideas, listen to you, I try to seek value in what you are saying, I don’t promise to do everything you say but I do promise to listen and pick up the ideas that I can use.”

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Action May Not Bring Happiness, But There Is No Happiness Without Action

benjamin_disraeliFrom British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (born 1804, died 1881). The exact quotation is: Action may not always bring happiness, but there can be no happiness without action.

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Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence the Google Way

google meditation mindfulness search inside yourself chade meng tanWhen we are fully present, we are more effective and can make better decisions, which allows us to connect with others on a deeper level, writes Louise Padmore, who recently attended the Search Inside Yourself, a two-day program affiliated with Google.

Through mindfulness, we can gain a greater awareness of ourselves and others, and learn how to direct this attention to become more perceptive of feelings/emotions, and therefore handle these feelings/emotions and our interpersonal relationships with greater skill and compassion.

We learn from the past what to predict for the future and then live the future we expect, Louise notes.

Empathy is about seeing similarities and offering kindness… It is the ability to experience and understand what others feel. With this understanding, we can navigate difficult conversations more skilfully, and also connect with others more compassionately.

Louise highlighted five key skills she learned on the course:

1- Looping Back: Instead of projecting our own views on others and quickly drawing conclusions about what you’ve just heard, use the technique of looping back to repeat and clarify what they mean. When you practice this, it’s incredible how much room for misinterpretation there is, and how very often we can draw the incorrect conclusions and miss the point of what someone is trying to tell us.

2- Mindful Listening: Allowing yourself to listen fully, and not say a word. This can be pretty uncomfortable and difficult to do. It’s a natural instinct to want to relate to what the person is saying, interjecting ‘me too’. By intentionally avoiding this instinct and simply listening, it is amazing how much more we can hear.
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Tiredness Causes Depression Which Causes Pessimism and Vice Versa

happy-sleeping-baby-anti-depressionPeople who are depressed do, in fact, have good memories, but alas for negative information rather than positive information.

Brian Johnson highlights a study in which researchers showed subjects images and then tested people who were sleep-deprived and those who weren’t on recall of the images. The images had obvious emotional content, for example a cuddly puppy or a photo of a battleground. Sleep-deprived people had difficulty recalling the positive images but not the negative images.

Folks struggling with depression typically can remember only the negative aspects of their lives. And they are are often sleep deficient.

Everyone needs eight and half hours of sleep out of every twenty-four, Brian asserts, citing research. Everybody. If you need an alarm clock to wake up every day, if you can’t get rolling until a shot or two of espresso, and you find that you sleep long and hard on weekends, then you are probably not getting enough sleep.

The body is wonderfully homeostatic; that is, it has mechanisms to enforce its need for sleep. It’s almost as simple as this: if you are sleepy, sleep. Note: You and I would fall into that “everybody” category. If you’re committed to feeling depressed, definitely make sure you get inadequate sleep,” Brian says sarcastically.
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12 Foods That Can Help You Sleep

woman-eating-nuts foods that help you sleepKeep evening snacks light and eat no later than a half-hour before bed. This allows sufficient time for your body to digest the food and absorb the nutrients before you go to sleep.

Almonds
Almonds contain magnesium, a muscle-relaxing mineral that plays a key role in regulating sleep. A handful of almonds or a tablespoon of almond butter before bed may help you fall asleep and stay asleep.

Bananas
These nutritional powerhouses contain tryptophan, an amino acid that has been linked to sleep quality. They also contain potassium, which may prevent muscles cramps in the middle of the night.

(Breakfast) Cereal and Milk
Milk contains the sleep-promoting tryptophan, which the brain uses to make serotonin and melatonin, hormones that promote relaxation and control sleep and wake cycles. The carbohydrates in cereal make tryptophan more available to the brain. For the best results, choose a small bowl of whole-grain, low-sugar cereal.

Cherries
Cherries, especially the tart varieties (e.g. Montmorency), are one of the few food sources of melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates your internal clock. Recent studies have found that volunteers who drank tart cherry juice daily fell asleep sooner and slept better and longer.
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When Trying to Avoid Suffering Makes It Worse

We all try to avoid suffering and in the process enlarge it and so make it worse, Malcolm Durham writes.

That’s because we don’t simply accept the thing that is making us suffer — say a complaint from a client — but enlarge it in a four-step process:

1. We ask questions: “How did this happen to me?”

2. We seek explanations: “It’s because I’m not good enough; because the world is against me.”

3. We heap on self-blame: “I really need to perform better.”

4. We end up feeling desperate: “I’m not going to succeed because these bad things keep happening to me.”

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Curing Your Social Media Addiction

Smart-Phone-AddictionJulia Edelstein has written a helpful article. Some highlights:

…Understand that you’re being played by programmers. A heavy social-media habit isn’t entirely your fault. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter — they’ve all been designed to make you repeatedly use them and check back in…When you keep in mind that the technology is designed to hold you hostage, you might be motivated to set time limits. Think of it as buying a snack-size bag of chips instead of the party-size.

Set limits: Vow to stay off social media during meals with others, when you’re in the bathroom or in bed.

Buy an alarm clock: If you use your phone as an alarm, the last and first thing you’ll do each day is stare into that screen.
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Resisting Naysayers, Distractions and Egotistical Tendencies

Stoicism is supposed to be a living, breathing thing. Not just words you look at on a page once, but something you carry with you, something you use to live, says @dailystoic. So that, as Seneca put it, the “words become works.”

Recalling Epictetus’s advice in our daily lives: “Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed by alternatively exhorting and restraining ourselves, words that will ensure we lead a mainly blameless and untroubled life. Those two words were “persist and resist.” So that we persist in our efforts, despite any obstacles we might face, and that we resist naysayers, discouragement, selfish and egotistical tendencies and distractions.

The world is constantly testing us. We set out to do something and it’s more trying than we expect. We face resistance. We get criticized. We run out of options. We experience technical difficulties. What will we do?

Marcus Aurelius would say that the Stoic finds a way to turn every negative into a positive. In this famous line, what he’s suggesting is that no matter how bad or seemingly undesirable a situation becomes we always have the opportunity to practice virtue, to use the situation as an opportunity to be our best selves.

We don’t control when things get hard, but we always control how we respond. We can show patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity. The things that test us make us who we are.
The Stoic grows stronger and better with every obstacle they face. They rally to every challenge and thrive as a result. So can you.

As the Haitian proverb puts it: Behind mountains are more mountains. One does not overcome one obstacle only to enter the land of no obstacles. No matter how successful we are or will be, we¹re going to find things that stand in our path. @dailystoic

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Being at Peace with the Pain of Others: Compassionate Listening

listening woman photoRick Hanson notes that we humans are an empathic, compassionate, and loving species, so it is natural to feel sad, worried, or fiery about the troubles and pain of other people.

“…How do you find that sweet spot in which you are open, caring, and brave enough to let others land in your heart . . . while also staying balanced, centered, and at peace in your core?

…Let the pain of the other person wash through you, Rick advises. Don’t resist it. Opening your heart, finding compassion – the sincere wish that someone not suffer – will lift and fuel you to bear the other’s pain. We long to feel received by others; turn it around: your openness to another person, your willingness to be moved, is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.
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How Just One Breath Can Help

meditating stream just one breath photoSome evocative writing from Gary Snyder:

In this world of onrushing events the act of meditation – even just a “one-breath” meditation – straightening the back, clearing the mind for a moment – is a refreshing island in the stream.

Although the term meditation has mystical and religious connotations for many people, it is a simple and plain activity. Attention, deliberate stillness and silence. As anyone who has practiced sitting knows, the quieted mind has many paths, most of them tedious and ordinary. Then, right in the midst of meditation, totally unexpected images or feelings may sometimes emerge, and suddenly there is a way into a vivid clarity.
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Ground-Breaking Study Demonstrates Mindfulness Benefits

meditation-groupFor the first time in a scientifically rigorous study, it has been shown that Mindfulness Meditation – as opposed to a more generic type of relaxation training – can change the brain biochemistry of ordinary people over the medium-term and potentially improve their health.

The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, recruited 35 men and women who were unemployed and experiencing considerable stress. Blood was drawn and brain scans were carried out. Half the subjects were then taught formal mindfulness meditation at a residential retreat center; the other participants completed a similarly comprehensive training program but one devoid of mindfulness-oriented exercises.

‘‘We had everyone do stretching exercises, for instance,’’ lead researcher David Creswell explained. The mindfulness group paid close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The non-mindfulness-oriented relaxation group was encouraged to chatter and generally not pay attention to their bodies,

At the end of three days, all the participants told the researchers they felt refreshed and better able to withstand the stress of unemployment. Yet follow-up brain scans showed differences in only those who underwent mindfulness meditation. There was more activity in the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm.

Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though very few in the mindfulness group had continued to do practice exercises on their own.
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