|Your brain has two functions. One – to keep you alive and safe physically and psychologically. Two – to conserve energy so that it has energy in reserve to deal with threats. Our fast-thinking, automatic brain runs everything that keeps us alive and well – heart, lungs, skin, hair, bones, muscles, digestion, and so on. It handles the constant flow of data through our five senses and keeps everything in balance without needing much input from our executive, thinking brain.
Your brain weighs 2% of your body mass, but it uses 20% of the energy that your body generates. We are alive today because our ancestors were very good at staying alive in a dangerous world by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. And their brains were very good at conserving their precious energy by using thinking habits and short cuts which were very fast, but not always accurate.
We can use this boost of energy to handle whatever difficulties the pandemic offers us.
You are alive today because of the great genes you inherited. But you need your executive brain – your slow thoughtful thinking – to handle the challenges your fast thinking automatic brain often gives you. For instance, when something goes wrong, many of us automatically imagine a “worst-case scenario” outcome. You can handle this by carefully assessing the real probability of a worst-case outcome, taking recognized precautions, and congratulating yourself on your preparedness.
For example, when you hear news about increasing virus infections in your area, you might habitually see yourself in hospital gasping for breath. By turning the news into an imagined life-threatening situation, your brain reacts as if the threat is real and triggers overwhelming fear.
When you find yourself upset, the first step is to ask yourself: “What am I telling myself?” Then think about the probability of whether what you are telling yourself is realistic. For instance, I searched the internet to find out about the probability of me catching and surviving the COVID-19 virus. I found this UK website and even though I am well past retirement age, my survival probability was calculated to be 99.939%.
Of course, I will continue wearing a 3-layer mask whenever I am in a public space. I will continue washing my hands frequently. And I will follow any other government guidelines to reduce my risk of infection. But I will not stress myself by worrying about a worst-case scenario.
I have just heard that my son and his wife went to be tested for the virus yesterday because they had cold symptoms. We expect to hear the results sometime today, but I am going to continue to think that they will be negative unless I hear differently.
Accept that there are a number of difficulties in your life you cannot control. But you can control how you think about them, how you respond to them.
· it’s terrible
· they should, shouldn’t
· I must, I have to, etc.
Substitute more rational thoughts like…
· I would prefer that they . . .
· on a scale of 1-10, how bad is it for me right now?
· I prefer to . . . .
You are going to do your very best with the time and energy you have now. You cannot do the impossible, and striving for perfection is striving for the impossible, which is a waste of your time and energy.
Limit your work hours to 8 hours a day, whether you are at home or in a workplace. At home, you can choose which hours you work. Also, choose when you answer emails.
You don’t have to prove you are working by answering emails all day. Prioritize your most demanding, important work to be done early in the morning. Leave emails until just before lunch and just before the end of the day. The faster you reply to emails, the more you will receive. (See Is it Crazy in Your Workplace?) You are a competent, well-respected worker.
In these challenging times, I recommend you schedule time for fun. Make sure you take time for what brings you joy. Many hard-working people procrastinate on taking time for themselves. Having fun will give your body and brain real relief and will leave you with restored energy for your work.
Protect your sleep. While sleep requirements vary somewhat from person to person, most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best.
Think six hours of sleep is enough? Think again. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that some people have a gene that enables them to do well on six hours of sleep a night. This gene, however, is very rare, appearing in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours doesn’t come close to cutting it.
As winter rolls in, it is getting harder to exercise regularly, unless you love the cold weather and snow. The pandemic has closed a lot of gyms, but you can still find good workouts online. Add your favourite music and away you go. At the very least, you can climb some stairs.
Use the challenges of the pandemic to energize yourself and to bring your best self forward. You can do it, and later you can count it as one of your many achievements.
Reposted from: https://forge.medium.com/amp/p/2a0253a83974
Written by Laura Vanderkam:
On December 24, 2016, I went for a run. This wasn’t unusual — I’d gone running four to five times a week for years. But after I managed to run every day for the following week, I decided to keep going. I decided I would run at least a mile, every day. I’d long been fascinated by streaks; my father, a now-retired professor of Hebrew scriptures, has read Hebrew every day since 1977. I suspected I lacked that sort of staying power, but I did hope my running streak could last a month or two.
It wound up lasting for three years. I ran through bad weather, international travel, and — a personal point of pride — nine months of pregnancy. I went for a run on December 28, 2019, and then delivered my fifth child at 5 a.m. the next morning (at which point I let the streak expire).
While we normally think that habits are about willpower, my 1,100-day streak taught me a different lesson. Committing to doing something daily actually removes all question of motivation — and that makes a habit more likely to stick.
“When” is the magic word
In the past, as I thought about my schedule, I would ask myself “Am I going to run today?” Once I knew I was running every day, I asked a different question: “When am I going to run today?”
“Am I going to run?” would send me down a rabbit hole of introspection. Do I feel like running? Maybe I was tired. Maybe I ran the day before. Maybe the forecast called for freezing rain. Maybe the day was busy, and my husband was traveling, and I didn’t have childcare, and… you get where this is going. There is always a reason not to run.
“When am I going to run?” — on the other hand — was just a question about logistics. I would look at any given 24 hours, and the day’s constraints, and figure out where I could find the 10–12 minutes necessary to run a mile. I almost always ran more, but by switching the question, I took the energy I would have brought to the matter of motivation and focused it on logistical problem-solving. That, in turn, unlocked all sorts of creativity. Sure, I could run laps around a hotel room, or a parking lot, or at 4:00 a.m. before a full-day flight. That mindset made the habit relatively easy to stick with.
Not all habits need to happen daily, of course. Aiming for three times a week, especially when you’re new to a habit, can be wise. A family hoping to eat together regularly might more realistically aim for three family meals a week than a 6 p.m. formal dinner all seven nights. I’d also note that many people who claim to do things “every day” in fact do them four to five times a week — they’re just not building weekends and holidays into the mental models of their schedules.
But committing to doing something every single day has the effect of turning the desired habit into something like brushing teeth. Most of us don’t sit there every morning arguing with ourselves over whether we feel like brushing. We don’t note that we brushed yesterday, or that brushing requires time and we’re too busy. We simply do it. We don’t always do it at the exact same time — there is flexibility for different situations — but we do it.
So if there’s a habit you’d like to make a more regular part of your life, consider the magic of the word “when.” When am I going to study Spanish for 10 minutes today? When am I going to floss today? When am I going to do 10 push-ups or a one-minute plank pose? The question of “when” can be more helpful than “if.” Of course you’re going to stick with your habit — now it’s just a matter of working it in.
Every one of us has a tender underbelly of our psyche. Everyone has something they’re sensitive about, where even a gentle poke can feel more like a thwack. Comments don’t slide off like water from a duck’s back; rather, we feel more like a sitting duck.
But criticism is an inevitable part of life, and hearing reasonable negative feedback without overreacting is a life skill. If we can hear fair criticism of our actions without taking it personally, not only do we escape feeling hurt or shamed, we also keep criticism from escalating. By contrast, if we think, “You hurt my feelings so I’ll hurt you back,” we create more conflict and pain all around.
So how can we take things less personally, both to benefit ourselves and others? How can we toughen up without becoming hard-hearted?
Let’s start with two tips about how to re-interpret the critic, whether it’s your boss, your mother-in-law, your nosy neighbor, or someone you love and trust. In fact, that’s the crux of the matter.
1. Consider the source.
Would you be as likely to drink water from a mountain spring as from a puddle under a dumpster? Of course not. But why? Aside from the fact that you are smart, it’s because the source matters.
The same thing goes for criticism. Does the critique come from someone you like and respect? Does this person know you well? Or is this someone known to shoot off their mouth, have all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, or has never had an authentic interaction with you?
In short, you’d take criticism very differently if it was presented with care from someone you trust versus shouted from a moving car. Consider the source, which will help you decide whether to take their feedback to heart or with a big grain of salt.
2. Give critics another chance, but not unlimited chances.
People say mean things. People can be dumb. People have no filter. It’s only human to make a mistake and say something critical or insulting, but if it happens again and again, it’s not a mistake anymore, it’s a pattern.
To paraphrase, critique me once, that’s on you. Critique me twice, that’s on me. But if you’re repeatedly insulted without apology or acknowledgment, it’s time to speak up and/or limit contact. Three strikes and you’re not necessarily out, especially if you still have to work with or be related to them, but it’s definitely time to draw some boundaries.
Next up, four tips about how to work on ourselves to take the sting out of criticism. As they say, the only person you can change is you.
3. Heed the double-edged sword of “They shouldn’t say that!”
Individuals hypersensitive to criticism often have high moral standards. They have a strict moral code and their values run deep. And that’s a good thing. But this is one of the few places where strong values can have a downside. “How dare they say that!” “That’s wrong!” “She can’t say that!” “That’s not how things should be.” All those things may be true, but whatever statement hurt you was still uttered.
The fact that the critic “shouldn’t” or “can’t” is moot. Pretend a dog just deposited a steaming bundle right next to your “please pick up after your pet” sign. It shouldn’t have happened, but you have to deal with it nonetheless.
Getting unfair or undue criticism is similar. Even if it “shouldn’t” be there, you still have to deal with it. Feeling annoyed and offended may be warranted, but it’s not helpful. Remember that even if you walk the line and follow the rules, you can’t control whether others break them. In short, focus your attention on the content of the criticism, not whether or not it should have happened.
4. Question your own perfectionism.
There is a straight line between hypersensitivity and perfectionism. Individuals who take things personally often work really hard to be blameless, flawless, or excellent precisely so no one will criticize them. When they get negative feedback, it feels like it blows away all they’ve worked so hard for.
If this sounds familiar, you can reframe this in a few ways. One is to incorporate getting better at hearing criticism into your perfectionism. Get better at receiving feedback. Aim higher when it comes to dealing with commentary. Be an overachiever when it comes to facing the haters.
Another, more challenging way, is to change your perfectionism. Dare to accept your cracks and warts. Slowly realizing that you are enough just as you are takes time and work, but simply acknowledging your buttons can be a powerful first step. If you were bullied in the past, you may be hypersensitive to comments that remind you of being thrown against your middle school locker. If you were pigeonholed by your parents as being the dumb one, the crazy one, or the problem child, you may have worked your butt off to prove that you’re anything but.
Any critique that brings forth old hurts cuts extra deep, but just being aware that something is a hot button issue for you is the first step to owning it, and eventually healing it.
5. “I should’ve said…!” Be honest with yourself when recreating scenes in your head.
We’ve all experienced getting bullied or criticized and then, hours later, coming up with a good zinger we wish we had said in the moment. We replay the scene in our head, spinning out what we wanted to have happened instead of what actually went down.
But replaying scenes in your head is a two-sided coin. In some cases, it can be extremely helpful. If you replay the scene and imagine getting what you needed in the moment—feeling empowered, soothed, or safe, it can be an extremely worthwhile daydream. In fact, when done with a qualified therapist, this is called imagery rescripting, and is a cutting-edge tool in treating trauma survivors.
In fact, a study out of Louisiana State University found a link between how frequently people re-imagined interactions and covert narcissism, the version of narcissism associated with low self-esteem rather than I-am-the-greatest grandiosity. Covert narcissism is the unenviable mix of being vulnerable and self-absorbed at the same time.
The researchers found that frequently imagining scenes that were discrepant with reality—fantasizing about humiliating the ex you never see anymore, or imagining dressing down your boss and staging a power grab—was tied to covert narcissism. Turns out covert narcissists envision conflict more often than non-narcissists and, in addition, imagine themselves dominating the interaction and controlling the relationship.
So be aware when you replay those scenes in your head. If you’re doing it to soothe and empower yourself, carry on. But if you’re doing it to dominate your imagined enemy, consider trying out a healthier coping strategy instead.
6. Toe the line between taking things personally and being personally invested.
To wrap things up, we’ll do something surprising: we’ll defend taking things personally. Now, “taking things personally” usually brings to mind images of silent fuming or screaming into our pillow, but there’s something to be said for taking things to heart.
The opposite of taking things personally is to depersonalize them. And when you depersonalize an action or a role, it quickly loses its value. Taking your job personally means being invested, while depersonalizing it means showing up only for a paycheck. Taking a passion personally means being engaged, while detaching guarantees lackluster results at best.
To take things even further, with your fellow humans, taking things personally means engaging with others at your best. Not taking things personally, at worst, leads to dehumanization and moral disengagement—convincing yourself that ethical standards and other people don’t matter.
So, oddly, let things get to you. Take them personally, in the best possible way. Find a happy medium between being hypersensitive and caring deeply. All in all, take your work and relationships extremely personally. After all, this messy, imperfect, glorious life of yours belongs to you.
There’s a clear connection between the way your brain thinks and the way your body feels. And just as you can use your body to reduce your psychological distress, you can use your mind to improve your body.
Simply changing the way you think and taking charge of what occupies your mind can improve your physical health and well-being. Positive thinking won’t cure everything, but a healthy mindset is a key component to a healthy body. Here are seven ways you can use your mind to promote physical health:
1. Make your treatments more effective by expecting them to work.
Countless studies show the placebo effect influences the effectiveness of treatment. If someone tells you that a pill will cure your headache, you’re more likely to find the treatment helpful—even if the pill was a sugar pill. Whether you’re trying physical therapy for a bad knee or you’re seeing a chiropractor for pain in your back, your belief that those treatments will work may be more effective than the treatment themselves. So before you undergo any kind of treatment, think about all the reasons the treatment is likely to help.
2. Sleep better by writing in a gratitude journal.
If you’re struggling with insomnia, a gratitude journal might be the best cure. Several studies have linked gratitude to better quality and longer lasting sleep. Before you go to bed, identify three things you’re grateful for and write them in a gratitude journal. Conjuring up feelings of thankfulness right before you fall asleep will increase the chances of you getting a good night’s rest.
3. Live longer by focusing on your purpose in life.
Feeling like you have a sense of purpose could actually increase the length of your life. Studies consistently show that people who believe their lives are meaningful are more likely to live healthier, longer lives. Whether your work gives you a purpose or you find meaning by volunteering your time, make sure whatever you’re doing matters. Feeling like you have a reason to get out of bed every day might be the secret to longevity.
4. Be optimistic and boost your immunity.
Several studies have shown that optimistic people are less likely to get sick. For decades, many researchers thought the boost in immunity stemmed from the fact that optimistic people were more likely to take care of their health. But more recent studies have shown that a hopeful outlook is actually what influences immunity. Looking on the bright side makes you less likely to get a cold or infection because optimism keeps your immune system performing at its peak.
5. Slow aging with meditation.
Meditation provides a generous buffer against the harmful effects stress can have on the body. Numerous studies have shown meditation slows the rate of cellular aging. Meditation can help you stay looking youthful, and it could help you ward off age-related disease. Researchers suspect teaching children to meditate could provide lifelong benefits. But no matter what age you are, it’s never too late to gain some health benefits from meditation.
6. Build muscle by imagining yourself working out.
What if you could get buff by imagining yourself lifting weights? Well, researchers have found that mental imagery can help you gain muscle without lifting a finger. One study found that people who imagined themselves working out were able to gain 24 percent more muscle strength. People who actually lifted weights saw better results, but the research shows mental training can provide real changes to muscle mass.
7. Reduce your risk of heart disease by laughing.
If you want to build a healthier heart, think about something funny. Research shows laughter decreases stress hormones, increases “good” cholesterol, and reduces artery inflammation. Perhaps laughter really is the best medicine—the positive effects of laughter last 24 hours.
The Power of Your Mind
Your mind can be your best asset or your worst enemy. Learn how to train your brain to help your body perform at its peak. Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. With practice, mental exercises could be the key to living a longer, happier life.
With anxiety and depression rising at alarming rates, we need to create greater awareness around effective coping mechanisms to navigate the challenges that put us at risk for these conditions. Creating a more balanced perspective can be attained through ‘self-talk’, or dialogues that we have within our own minds. Forming more positive internal dialogues with ourselves helps us move through challenging situations that may otherwise lead to intense anxiety or even depression.
Is self-talk innate or learned?
If we were fortunate, when we were infants and small children, our parents and caregivers provided us with verbally and physically expressed messages of emotional validation, kindness, and hope. These external messages provided us with emotional soothing, encouragement, and empathy as we struggled through stress and negative emotions. If we were unfortunate and had harshly critical parents or caregivers, or we overly internalized harshly critical messages, this poses a real challenge to overcoming stress and anxiety in our adult lives.
Thankfully, as adults, we can learn how to dampen the negative self-talk by building a repertoire of positive self-talk messages. As we developed into our adolescence and adulthood, we needed to learn how to internally validate ourselves to provide those same types of positive messages from within to overcome stressful situations. In this way, we could become emotionally independent adults.
When we establish a strong and varied set of positive self-talk messages, we can overcome emotionally negative situations and be able to form strategies and solutions that work. Overcoming adversity builds confidence and hope that we can survive through whatever obstacles come our way, therefore building our self-esteem. We also have the opportunity to understand and develop our personality strengths to come up with viable solutions to our problems, thus building success with a greater sense of and appreciation for ourselves.
Managing challenging situations
Negative emotions are painful and can prompt us to ignore the situation or create distractions (i.e., avoidance behaviors that prevent us from forming viable solutions). And negative emotions bias our perception towards pessimistic, self-doubting, and even despairing beliefs and attitudes about a situation, greatly impacting our ability to see a situation with a balanced perspective that is comprised of positive, negative, and neutral aspects. Positive self-talk can reduce the intensity of these negative emotions such that we can confront the problem, form a more emotionally balanced perspective, and develop an effective solution to solve the problem.
Why is negative self-talk so detrimental?
Negative self-talk leads to enhancing and intensifying experienced negative emotions. This will oftentimes lead to avoidance or distraction behaviors, such as procrastination or even addictive behaviors. In some cases, a person who has some, but weak positive self-talk skills with predominating negative self-talk can start off doing well with adversity but eventually drift towards self-sabotaging behaviors, which will undo any progress.
Negative self-talk includes messages of criticism, shame, hopelessness, or despair. Some examples include “I am an idiot,” “I am a failure,” “no one will like me,” or “I’m never going to make it!” These messages are negative reactions to negative emotions, and therefore will cause additional emotional pain.
Creating positive internal dialogue
In order to get us over our barriers of fear, the most effective positive self-talk or internal dialogue messages are ones that provide emotional soothing, kindness, compassion, acceptance, hope, and logical grounding. Some examples include, “I am rightfully sad, but I know that this feeling will pass,” “If I don’t put myself out there, I’ll never know whether I can make it,” “It was painful to fail, but I will learn from it so that I can achieve my goals,” or “You can do it because you’ve done it before.” These messages can soothe emotional pain while providing a platform to build effective solutions.
It is also worth noting that positive self-talk messages often have more components than negative self-talk messages. For example, it is quicker and easier to say to yourself “I am an idiot” than it is to say to yourself “I may not be good now, but I have to practice and learn from each mistake I make.” At the start of the process, many people state that building positive self-talk messages is “unnatural” or “ingenuine,” which is precisely why the process works through guidance, rehearsal and practice.
Although there is no known way to completely get rid of negative self-talk, we can build a greater repertoire of positive self-talk messages through psychotherapy or self-guided worksheets. The therapist may offer guidance, rehearsal, and practice while the person relays their negative emotions associated with stressful situations. Over time, the person will adopt more positive self-talk messages that can override and dampen any negative self-talk messages.