How to use visualisation to boost your self-love

happy-and-confident_smallLots of people use visualisation. The most popular way is to visualise what you want. Some people picture their ideal house, their ideal car, or a perfect partner who ticks all the boxes, for instance.

The idea with this kind of visualisation is to picture what you want, the end result. It’s also useful to picture yourself in the visualisation; living in the house, driving the car, or with the perfect partner.

There’s a different kind of visualisation you can do for self-love, though. It’s centred on the fact that your muscles are in constant communication with your brain.

Why is that important?

Before I get into that, I’d first like to say what I mean by self-love. You can think ‘self-esteem’ instead of self-love if you prefer that term. The main reason I use the term self-love rather than self-esteem is that many people get their self-esteem from external sources, from their seeming successes in life and from other people’s positive opinions of them. But it’s not a stable self-esteem because failure, or a change in people’s opinions, give it a serious shake.

I think of self-love, on the other hand, as an inner sense of worthiness and value. It’s more of an inner self-esteem. It’s mostly independent of successes, achievements and external perceptions of you. It is stable, because if seeming failure occurs or opinions seem to change, the inner perception of yourself is untouched.

OK, so let’s get back to why it’s important that your muscles are in constant communication with your brain.

When you’re lacking in self-love, it comes across in your body language and in your facial expressions. Not all the time, of course, but especially when you’re challenged. This happens because your muscles are connected to your brain. It’s the same reason that your muscles and face tense when you feel stressed, or that your body feels light and floppy when you’re in love, and that you smile when you’re happy. In real ways, you wear your feelings on your body.

But it goes the other way too. Just as your body responds to how you feel, you can use your body to create how you want to feel. Making adjustment to how you sit, stand, how you move, and to your facial muscles, quickly impacts your feelings. A consistent practice of adjusting how you hold and move your body, so that it says, “I love myself,” or “I am enough,” or something else along those lines, can impact your self-love by literally creating the wiring of self-love in the brain.

More than this, though, is that your brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. When you imagine moving your muscles, your brain processes it as if you actually are moving your muscles. Elite athletes and rehabilitation specialists use this fact all the time.

When you imagine holding and moving your body in way that says you have self-love, your brain processes it as if you do have self-love. The key difference between this and ‘classical’ visualisation (of the sort I mentioned at the beginning of this blog), is that you don’t put all your focus on an end result. Instead, you visualise the posture and movement of your body.

As you do this consistently, your brain wires in the habit of holding and moving your body in that way. As this happens, you start to feel the feelings that go with this new body posture and these new ways of moving. With enough consistent practice, the feelings of “I love myself,” or “I am enough,” or something along these lines, becomes habit too.

So to get started, simply notice right now how you’re holding your body. Is your body tense or relaxed? Is your spine straight or slumped? How about your facial muscles? Are you smiling or frowning? Is your brow relaxed or furrowed? Then make some shifts.

Do this as often as you can remember to.

Watch what happens!

 

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How to slow ageing

happy elderly ladies playing with a ball

My friend Skip told me recently that he met a 98-year-old man in Bali who challenged him to a race to climb a tree. Skip is a very physically healthy and fit person – an ex-British champion gymnast – yet the 98-year-old nearly matched him.

I spent 6 months of last year nearly full-time renovating our new home. I clearly remember my first building job. My Dad and I had to remove the floorboards in one room, then get rid of all the large rocks underneath (typical in a very old cottage), so that a new floor could be laid.

Lifting the floorboards and removing the joists wasn’t so hard. We did that in less than an hour. It was lifting the heavy rocks for disposal that was the hard bit. When I woke up the following morning, I could barely get out of bed. Muscles I didn’t even know existed were hurting. Walking to the shower, and then downstairs for breakfast, was painful.

I phoned my Dad to see how he was, worried. He is 73-years-old, after all.

“Fine, Son!” was his reply when I phoned him, in an astonishingly (to me) upbeat voice.

He didn’t hurt at all. How could that be? I’m in my mid-forties and no stranger to exercise. I regularly work out. Dad was completely fine. I felt … wrecked … I think that was the word I used that morning.

These kinds of examples of older people demonstrating physical fitness that we only expect in people much younger remind me of how much attitude plays a role in ageing.

For a start, there is no standard rate of ageing. Yes, we have biology. Yes, we have genetics that predispose the human body to an approximate lifespan. But how that biology and those genetics work has a lot to do with attitude.

Back in the 80s, Harvard professor, Ellen Langer, ran a study of a group of senior citizens, some of whom were struggling with arthritis, who were asked to pretend they were 20 years younger. They arrived at the residential centre, where they would live for the next week, and immediately felt transported back in time. Langer ensured that the house was decorated like the 1950s, that daily newspapers each day were from 1959, that the radio played ‘live’ from 1959. Even the TV ran 1959 shows.

They were also asked to converse with each other like it was 20 years ago, discussing their family as if they were all younger. In other words, they were to completely immerse themselves in the mindset that they were 20 years younger. Importantly, they were also encouraged to do things for themselves – carry their own bags, walk up the stairs, etc, without Langer’s team treating them like they weren’t capable.

Astonishingly, when their physiological readings before and after beginning the study were taken – physical strength, eyesight, hearing, gait, manual dexterity, taste sensitivity, memory, mental cognition – they had grown younger. Interestingly, four independent volunteers were asked to look at ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photographs and stated that they believed the ‘After’ photos were two years younger.

In her book, ‘Counterclockwise’, Langer wrote that on the last day at the centre, men, “who had seemed so frail… ended up playing an impromptu touch football game on the front lawn.” 1 week!! This was after just 1 week of holding a younger attitude.

We have two ages. There’s our chronological age, which is the number of years we’ve lived, which of course only goes in one direction. Then we have our physiological age, which is the age of the body, and that depends to a large extent on diet, exercise … and attitude. It can go backwards.

The food we eat, the exercise we take, our attitude to life, ageing, other people, all make a difference to our physiological age. A poor diet, lifestyle and attitude generally takes its toll on the body, prematurely ageing it. A healthy set, on the other hand, keeps the body younger.

One study of 999 Dutch people aged between 65 and 85 quizzed them on their attitudes to ageing. They were asked whether they agreed or disagreed to statements of the sort, “I often feel that life is full of promises,” “I still have positive expectations about my future,” “There are many moments of happiness in my life.” Those whose responses showed them to have higher levels of optimism had a 77% lower risk of death from heart disease and 45% lower risk of death from any cause.

A similar study, conducted at Yale University, asked 660 people for their responses to questions like, “As you get older, you are less useful. Agree or Disagree?’ Those whose responses showed the most positive attitude to ageing lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those with the least positive attitude.

The study also concluded that attitude was more influential than blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, body weight and even exercise levels in how long a person lived.

Attitudes to other people and social contact make a big difference too. People with a poor attitude to others typically don’t make friends as well and neither do they have a broad social network. People who tend to be aggressive, hostile, or even bullies towards others are more prone to cardiovascular disease. People who are more understanding of others, are kind and compassionate, on the other hands, tend to make friends more easily and tend to have better quality relationships. They also tend to have more social contact.

And social contact is highly important. It turns out that social contact is one of the most important factors, in fact, in living to 100. Social contact, as well as helping keep stress down by providing friendships where we can discuss our worries and challenges, also helps produce oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps maintain the health of the cardiovascular system.

The bottom line in research of all of the above types is that attitude affects ageing and it does it by affecting, not just our minds, but our biology and physiology.

One of the key attitudes to adopt is to actually act younger. It’s easy to surrender to what we think we should be doing, or be able to do, given our age. But outside of a bit of common sense regarding our physical state, most people are capable of more than they believe they should be.

A person who is 80 and who believes that the body is mostly worn out at 80, that no improvement is possible in their physical condition regardless of what they do, that their memory, eyesight, physical strength, etc, are set for decline, will live according to this belief, and it will influence what they actually do, how much they move, how they speak, and how their body responds to life.

Let’s say another person has grown up with the belief that humans live until they are 150 years old and that 80 is ‘middle age’. Such a person would likely find that their attitude and the lifestyle, exercise and movement they adopt, would lead to improvements in their physical condition.

Attitude counts! The same holds true when we’re 30, 40, 50, 60, 70… I think you get my drift. If we have a negative preconceived idea of limitations of age, then we tend to live according to these limitations, whatever age we currently are, and don’t stretch our minds and bodies in the way that they are able to be stretched. As such, we age according to our mindset.

Enough said! I’m off to play on the swings. 🙂

The art of self-correction

daisies growingSeveral years ago, I spent time as an athletics coach, coaching young people in the long jump and triple jump. It was one of these things that just kind of happened.

I had no previous coaching experience, and certainly wasn’t a technical expert in the logistics of jumping, but the existing coach was moving on and asked if I’d take over. I’d been training in the long jump myself but mostly got by on raw speed. So without a great deal of know-how, I decided to do it my way.

During each training session I led the athletes through basic routines – things I’d done myself. But throughout each training session, my strategy was mostly about lifting the spirits of each athlete in the squad by saying positive things that helped them feel good about themselves. I’d noticed that my chemistry teacher at school did that with me.

He always made me feel good about myself, pointing out how well I was doing, that I had potential, expressing joy when I’d got an answer correct. As a result, I loved being in the chemistry class, excelled in it, went on to university and finished up with a PhD in the subject. I wondered if the athletes would excel in their own ways if I did for them what my chemistry teacher did for me.

It seemed to work. The athletes made great improvements. So much so, in fact, that every single one of them became medallists in their age groups at the year-end national club finals.

The athletes would often notice by themselves where they could improve in the technical aspects of the event. That’s what happens when you’re enjoying something. They also learned by observing each other. Then they made many of their own adjustments accordingly. By coming from inside themselves rather than just from my instruction, they seemed to take more responsibility for their training and more pride in the event. Success, for them, was an inside job.

I call this kind of thing, where we make adjustments by ourselves, ‘Self-Correction’. It’s where we identify where we can improve and make corrections when necessary. It’s an aspect of self-awareness, but where we then act on what we become aware of.

We can apply it to all manner of things. If you’re learning mindfulness, for example, because you need to manage your stress levels, you can self-correct simply by noticing when you’re not feeling calm and doing something about it.

I apply it to personal growth work. I used it extensively when I was working on my self-love (self-esteem) project. Regular awareness of how I was feeling and how I was acting in particular environments helped me a lot to make useful adjustments.

It seems like a no brainer, pretty obvious stuff. And it is, but you’d be surprised at how little we actually do what we know. That’s why I shared my story of athletics coaching. As simple as it sounds, just knowing that you can make big improvements through self-correction helps enormously. If you’re trying to reduce stress, for example, knowing that self-correction can help will actually cause you to notice times when you need to relax.

A simple awareness of the power of self-correction generates a feeling of hope. And that hope shifts the centre of gravity away from seeking solutions in other places, and into yourself.

And that makes all the difference.

A matter of perspective

sunglassesI’ve always thought of myself as having a positive attitude. Not all the time, of course. I think we all have our good and bad days, the latter making positive thinking quite a bit harder, those days when if someone says ‘Think positive’, well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.

But in many instances, whether a day is a good day or a bad day is really a matter of perspective. Let me share an example of a day I had a few weeks ago.

I’d flown to Dublin on a Sunday evening for my 4th speaking event in 4 days, arriving around 10.30pm, and when I went to retrieve my case from the luggage carousel, it hadn’t arrived. I reported it at the service desk and they discovered that my case was still in London. I explained that it was full of books and that I needed them for an event I was due to speak at the next day.

The girl at the desk sent an email to BA to explain that my case was a priority. She then informed me that there was a flight due in from London at 8am the next morning and that she’d try to get BA to put my case on that flight. If so, she’d then arrange for it to be couriered to the venue.

I was really grateful because she seemed really determined to help me. I also received a text from BA at 4.19am the next morning to tell me that my case was now on the plane. I decided then that I’d just collect the case myself off the 8am flight rather than have it couriered to the venue. After all, I was staying at an airport hotel just a few minutes away. Plus, I had an odd feeling that something might go wrong with couriering my case to the venue.

Arriving at the airport, I was led through the staff security area, which was quite cool. I’d forgotten that I had a bottle of water in my bag so they had to take it off me, but the guy said I could come back and collect it once I’d retrieved my case, which I thought was a nice gesture.

Case in hand I then had to make my way into Dublin. I didn’t know until then that this was the day of the Dublin marathon, the annual 26-mile 385 yards race. It turned out that many of the roads were closed and therefore cars, buses, and taxis couldn’t get into the part of the city I was travelling to.

The bus driver only discovered this himself when we reached the point of a road closure. He said I’d need to get off and walk the rest of the way, which was one and a half miles (2.4km). So I did, dragging my two cases with me (I had a carry-on case as well). Oh, and there was a light drizzle of rain, the kind of rain that soaks you right through, and I didn’t have a hood or an umbrella.

Despite my walk, I arrived early and the venue hadn’t opened yet so I sat in a lovely coffee shop nearby, which was also nice and warm, ideal, in fact, for drying my hair and clothes.

The day went well. I chatted with loads of nice people, delivered a 1-hour talk and taught a 2-hour workshop, having to make a swift exit afterwards to get back to the airport to make the last flight home. With the traffic situation due to the marathon, I just made it!

When I got back home later that evening, I received a lot of ‘Goodness, what a day!’, ‘What bad luck, what with the case, then getting soaked’, etc, ‘especially after all the travel you’ve done recently’. I understood. I’d have said the exact same things if it had been someone else. These kinds of reactions are motivated by empathy.

But you know what? Until that moment, it actually never occurred to me that the loss of my bag following by getting wet while dragging my cases over a mile and a half in the rain was a negative thing.

That really struck me! Until that moment, it really hadn’t dawned on me at all that I could have viewed it all as negative.

Instead, I remember that my main feeling at Dublin airport was gratitude that the girl at the service desk was so kind and helpful in tracing my bag. I also felt gratitude towards BA for texting me to let me know my case was onboard the early morning flight, even though they texted me in the middle of the night. In fact it was moments after I received that text that I had the intuitive insight to collect the case myself rather than let it be couriered. Had it been couriered it would never have reached the venue due to the road closure situation. So I was grateful for the text in two ways: one, because I knew my case was in transit, and two, because it inspired the intuition to collect it myself.

I also recalled how much I enjoyed not having to go through the customer security process but going through the staff one instead. I enjoyed chatting with the staff, and even remember high-fiving myself that I got my bottle of water back. After all, I’d only just bought it and hadn’t even opened it yet. A small thing, perhaps, but it was a first and I was in quite a good mood.

I also appreciated that the bus driver, upon learning of the road closure, helped me to find the venue on the Maps app on my iPhone and showed me that the road I had to walk was actually a straight road, leaving little chance of getting get lost. I also enjoyed the walk. It was a lovely part of the city and I recall looking at many of the lovely houses and imagining how people probably loved living here. I also loved that the coffee shop was warm and cosy where I could dry off.

I recalled, also, that I really enjoyed the day, chatting with people, catching up with one or two friends who were also there, and that my talk and workshop had gone really well (and the audiences laughed at my jokes), and my relief that the taxi driver got me to the airport on time afterwards.

Reflecting on all this made me think of how much our emotional responses to things depend upon our perspective.

For example, two people could arrive for a night at a hotel and stay in identical rooms. One person could label it a bad hotel and another might consider it a lovely hotel. It’s the same hotel. All that differs is their perspective, which might be a consequence of past experience. It’s a person’s perspective that runs the show.

Depending on our perspective, we can view the same event in multiple ways, making us feel good or bad. One of the insights in life, I believe, is being aware of this, and one of the skills in life is using it to our advantage.

I suddenly realised that the gratitude exercises I’d been doing recently had kind of worked wonders. From time to time I make a point of working on gratitude. I don’t do it all the time, lest I get bored with the exercise, but I do it, as I said, from time to time. I basically spend a few moments a day listing all the things, people, circumstances, events, aspects of nature, etc, that I’m grateful for at that time. I had been doing it for a couple of weeks prior to this eventful day.

The exercise seemed to have created a habit in my way of thinking regarding what I focused on and how I interpreted events. Instead of focusing on negative things – I could easily have been frustrated that my case didn’t arrive off the carousel, especially as it was so late at night and that it would likely take at least a half hour to go through the process of reporting it lost, and that I was wakened by a text message in the middle of the night, and that I had to walk for over half an hour in the rain while dragging a heavy case – but my mind seemed to settle on other things, aspects of the situations that made them seem lighter.

That’s the power in gratitude exercises, when we’re consistent with them, that they create habits of thinking that alter the way we experience things.

Now, I’m not saying that gratitude will always work this way. It hasn’t always been that way for me. And it’s not like gratitude teaches us to ignore difficult or painful things. It really just seems to be that, in everyday life, the effect of a gratitude practice is that the detail that our minds settle upon in the landscape of the day contains more light than dark. That’s all.

For me, what really struck me was the degree to which the practice I’d been doing had done this. It had spared me a lot of frustration, which I might have experienced instead.

A strategy for overcoming worry, fear or anxiety

Breathe written on a pebbleEverybody has worries and fears. They can be useful because they can be warning signs of danger. They can also give us insights into the workings of our own minds. For some, understanding the source of a worry or fear helps them address a deeper issue causing it. But for most people, those repetitive bolts of worry, fear, or anxiety are nothing but a nuisance.

New insights in neuroscience offer us hope, however, in being able to change our emotional states.

During worry, fear or anxiety, brain resources tend to be flowing towards worry, fear and anxiety areas of the brain. Part of the fear architecture in the brain is the amygdala.

It’s a habit…

You might have noticed that the more we worry the more we seem to find to worry about. Worry, fear and anxiety are like habits for many people and so much so that eventually it only takes a small thing to set it off. Several years earlier, the same thing wouldn’t have had as much of an effect, if at all, and you now wonder why it is that you seemed so much stronger, more resilient, when you were younger. It’s partly because just like a muscle grows bigger and stronger through exercise, so worry, fear and anxiety brain areas grow too.

Just as a muscle becomes more powerful, so worry, fear and anxiety seem to become more powerful, in that we become more sensitive to circumstances around us and even begin to lose confidence. The phenomenon is broadly known as neuroplasticity.

This is where the hope lies though, because, a) neuroplasticity occurs in many regions of the brain, and b) it doesn’t just refer to growth but to shrinkage through lack of use. Think of what happens to a muscle if you stop using it.

The strategy I’d like to share with you uses this insight. If you stop worrying so much, you tend to find less things to worry about. That’s because you’re not using the ‘worry muscle’ as much and so it shrinks, just as a muscle shrinks if you stop working it.

Easier said than done! True! So the strategy involves bypassing the whole positive thinking thing. Instead we use simple techniques to divert resources away from the worry areas of the brain to areas associated with conscious control of our minds. It’s kind of like not letting resources flow backwards but making them flow forwards instead. Through not ‘feeding’ the worry areas so much, just like a muscle weakens through lack of use, the same happens to worry regions of the brain.

It takes a little bit of work, but it can be well worth it.

The How-to…

Here’s what you do. Each time the worry, fear or anxiety surfaces, take a comfortable breath, focusing all of your attention on the act of breathing – the sound, the sensation in your nostrils, the movement of your tummy or chest. By doing this, you interrupt the flow of brain resources towards the worry areas and instead send resources towards the prefrontal cortex (the bit above your eyes). It’s an area at the front of your brain that’s associated with conscious control. This is because you are consciously controlling something; in this case, your breath. This prefrontal cortex, among other areas, is active when we focus our attention on our breath.

It sounds easy on paper and initially the positive effect might only last a moment or two and you might find yourself having to do it 2, 3 or even 10 times in a row. This is where the work comes in. You almost need to be relentless, focusing on your breath every time the fearful thought or feeling arises. The technique is not for everyone as some might find it tiring and you might also doubt it could actually work.

But it can bring powerful results if you keep it up for a few days. Within that time, as neuroplasticity occurs to build the prefrontal cortex while at the same time shrinking the amygdala, you might notice a little letting-up of your fearful thoughts and feelings. Keeping the practice up for a few weeks might produce lasting results.

There is another fun way to do it. Instead of focusing on your breath when the fearful feeling arises, I have encouraged people to do a little victory dance – a silly, crazy set of made-up dance moves, choreographed by your good self. The key with victory dancing is to do it long enough until you smile (or laugh) – that might take 5 seconds or half a minute. That way, you’re activating positive emotion centers of the brain instead of fear areas. The same thing occurs as before – you build positive emotion areas of the brain while shrinking the worry areas and this is because you’re giving positive emotion areas a workout in instead of feeding worry areas.

You can even add a little visualization or an affirmation while you do the breath thing or the victory dance thing. For the visualization you might imagine the worry area of the brain shrinking down. For the affirmation you might say a positive statement that reflects how you intend to feel.

And if motivation to do it is a hurdle for you, a good thing to help keep you motivated is to remind yourself that you’re simply choosing to work different muscles. We all know how muscles get stronger and weaker depending on how much we exercise them. Doing this and acknowledging that there are actual changes taking place in the brain can provide just the motivation you need.

It is a vey useful strategy. It might not be for everyone and it’s also not the answer to all of our worries, fears, and anxieties. But it certainly is a useful tool.

A laugh before bedtime

Oor Wullie and The Broons
Oor Wullie and The Broons

I love to read before I go to sleep. It is something I very much look forward to each night. It usually makes me feel calm.

But a big part of this is down to what I read. I love to read ‘Oor Wullie’ (that’s ‘Our William’, if you’re not Scottish) and ‘The Broons’ (or The Browns, if you’re not Scottish). They’re Scottish comic strips. They appear every Sunday in The Sunday Post, one of the best-known Scottish Sunday newspapers.

I’ve been getting an Oor Wullie or The Broons Annual every year at Christmas, from my Mum and Dad, for as long as I can remember. Christmas Day just wouldn’t be the same for me without one. I actually look forward to getting one. I have loads of them stretching back, well, a few decades now, and I always have two or three lying beside my bed at any one time.

Very often I’m smiling, chucking, or laughing out loud right before I go to sleep.

I decided to write about this in a blog because I find that so many of us go to sleep stressed, either running over the day in our minds or worrying about tomorrow, or maybe we’re watching the news on TV, reading the news on our smart phones or tablets, or even answering work emails. The last thing we need to be doing before going to sleep is watching the news or answering work emails, especially when the news is rarely proclaiming to us all the good that’s happening in the world, and work emails make us feel that we’re, well, still at work.

Before I say any more on the subject, of course Oor Wullie and The Broons are not the only things I ever read at night. I sometimes read novels (I’ve currently reading Taming Amy, by Seth Gardner, and before that I re-read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows… I have quite a diverse taste. :-)) but, with the odd exception, I mostly avoid anything that is too mentally taxing or stimulating late at night unless it’s something that inspires me or is clearly helpful in my life.

And even if I do read something mentally stimulating (I recently devoured ‘Human Universe’ by Brian Cox), when I feel myself getting tired I lay that book down and pick up a trusty old Oor Wullie or The Broons for the last 10 or 15 minutes, just to quieten my mind and help ensure I get a peaceful nights’ sleep.

It’s good to go to sleep in a good mood and I find that reading something light and funny always helps, no matter what’s been happening recently. Reading about Wullie or Maw and Paw Broon is like a comfort blanket for me.

I’d suggest you find a light-hearted reading comfort blanket at bedtime, especially if you find yourself stressed or depressed a lot of the time, or if you find difficulty unwinding at the end of a day… just something that can help gently nudge your attention towards lightness and ease.

If your material makes you laugh then even better. Several studies show that laughter boosts happy chemicals in the brain, it strengthens the immune system, it’s good for the heart, and most definitely good for mental health. It even helps us improve our relationships.

And if you do happen to pick up a copy of Oor Wullie or The Broons, I hope you find it just as entertaining as I do. 🙂

Don’t judge a book by its cover

homeless - travellerOK, this isn’t a blog about books or their covers, but have you ever made a judgment about someone’s behaviour then later realised you were completely wrong?

While I was waiting in line at a coffee shop earlier, a woman drove alongside the queue in a mobility scooter. There was only a narrow space between the line of people and the tables, which she attempted to drive along. She drove over my foot and faintly looked back. She didn’t apologise.

I had a fleeting thought that I expected she would have apologised, but then I just dismissed it and got back to the more important task of selecting which pastry I was going to have with my coffee. For the record, I chose a blueberry muffin, which I suppose isn’t really a pastry.

The lady and I ended up sitting at adjacent tables. She was on the end of a row, so that she could park her scooter. After about half an hour or so, when she had finished her coffee, she got up and back onto her scooter. It wouldn’t start. She tried to turn the key several times before telephoning the place she purchased it from.

An engineer turned up within 5 minutes. The place must have been local. I couldn’t help overhear because they were only a few feet away from me, but it turned out she had only just collected the scooter that morning. This was her very first outing in it, and the first time she had ever driven a mobility scooter. She’d come to the coffee shop for a stress-rest.

I heard that she felt really self-conscious, that she wasn’t at all confident driving it. She certainly wasn’t used to its speed, nor its width, and this combination made it quite stressful when she had to drive it through narrow gaps.

I felt such compassion for the lady. It really hadn’t bothered me at all that she’d driven over my foot. But I had made an assumption, however, that a person doing that should apologise, that an apology is the norm. But says who?

That assumption also assumes a level playing field, that everyone has the same degree of stuff going on in their lives. But we all know that’s not true?

How many times have you felt judged by someone and you only wished they knew what your life was like right then? Or you wished they knew what you had to weigh up in your mind before making a choice or decision that affected them?

We can’t ever know what’s going on in a person’s mind when their behaviour hurts or offends us unless they tell us.

When the lady turned around after driving over my foot, I suspect she wanted to say something, but a mixture of feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, plus afraid that she might drive over someone else’s foot as she navigated along the narrow space between the queue and the tables, made her channel all her energy into just looking forward and keep going in a straight line.

Next time you’re about to judge someone, pause for a second and remind yourself that people have judged you without knowing what was going on in your mind or your life.

5 Ways that Positivity and Happiness can Protect you from Illness and even help you Live Longer

Little girl smilingStress can have many causes but one that applies to many of us is in how we look at and deal with life situations. Positive coping strategies help keep stress low but having a negative outlook or expectation about things can cause us no end of stress.

Given that stress is linked with illness, it might be no real surprise to learn that a positive outlook can have health-giving effects. At the very least, positivity spares us some stress but it seems to also have immune-boosting effects, as you can see below.

I’ve collected together 5 of my favourite pieces of research that link attitude and happiness with health and even lifespan. Here they are:

1) A Positive Outlook is good for the heart
Optimists are less likely to get heart disease than pessimists. A study of 999 people over the age of 65 found that optimists had a 77% lower risk of heart disease than pessimists.

Much of this is because of the way in which we mentally and emotionally process daily events in life. People with a more positive attitude generally get less irritated and stressed with the challenges of life. Due to the impact of stress on the cardiovascular and immune systems, learning to cultivate a sense of optimism can add years to a person’s life.

2) Happiness helps us get over the cold
People who are happy, lively and calm have better immune systems. One study saw nasal drops of the cold and flu virus given to 193 people between the ages of 21 and 55 and discovered that those who were happier and more positive (defined as a positive emotional style) got less sick and recovered faster.

How we feel affects the immune system and therefore our ability to fight off a cold or even our risk of catching one in the first place.

3) Counting blessings improves happiness
If you wanted a simple tool to increase your happiness then look no further than counting blessings. People who count their blessings tend to be happier than those who don’t. A study compared people keeping a list of blessings with people listing their hassles and found that the blessings group were 25% happier than the hassles group.

A simple exercise that I use is to catch yourself a few times a day and ask, ‘what am I grateful for right now?’ It helps to create a habit of counting blessings. Happiness is a side-effect.

4) A Positive outlook about ageing helps us live longer
A positive attitude can add years to our lives. One study examined 660 people and found that those who felt positive about getting older lived seven and a half years longer than those with a negative outlook about ageing.

Whether we can think of ageing in a positive way or a negative way matters. Even how we act – whether we act younger or older than our real age – also plays a part in how quickly we age. Mindset gives us far more control over the ageing process than most people realise.

f) Smiling helps us live longer
Research shows that people who genuinely smile (who use the muscles beside their eyes – known as the orbicularis oculi) are more likely to live past the age of 80 than people who don’t genuinely smile.

Despite what many people think, you can train yourself to smile more. One ‘laughter yoga’ exercise is to take a deep breath in and then laugh on the exhale. Of course, you will be faking it at first but in time you will start to properly laugh. Doing this a few times a day exercises the orbicularis oculi muscle, training ourselves to smile more easily and genuinely.

A Few Healthy Thoughts

I wanted to start the year by offering a few healthy thoughts and pieces of advice that might help to get the year off to a fresher, healthier start. They’re all things that I think/do personally.

Slow Aging

Scientists around the world agree that free radicals accelerate the aging process. They are small molecules that are incomplete and so pinch energy from anything nearby, which might be important cells and even DNA, thus degrading the body.

Antioxidants mop up free radicals by supplying them with energy. Drinks like green tea, fruits like blueberries, spices like cinnamon, and even vitamin C are excellent antioxidants.

Practices like yoga, tai-chi, and meditation also mop up free radicals from the inside. Research at Harvard in 2008 showed that a short course in either of these practices activated genes that produced the body’s own antioxidants. A daily practice can definitely keep you younger.

Boost Your Immune System

Studies of cultures who live longest often reveals that they eat more than us. Well, not exactly more, but more ingredients.

As we increase the number of ingredients on our plate, we introduce a greater range of bacteria to our immune system. I know it sounds gross to talk about introducing bacteria, but our immune systems respond by developing immunity.

It works on a similar principle to how puppies and dogs can boost our immune systems. They bring in so much dirt on their paws that it exposes us to a wider spectrum of bacteria.

In time, our immune system becomes broader ranging and more robust. In some ways, it’s the opposite to living in an overly sterile environment, where the immune system doesn’t get a chance to build up because there’s not a diverse enough range of bacteria and other pathogens for it to tackle.

You want to protect yourself from getting the cold? Eat more…..ingredients.

Relax

A simple relaxation technique that I personally use when I feel stressed is that I interrupt the effect on my mind and nervous system by taking a few deep breaths. Sometimes I even take a sharp intake of breath, to interrupt the train of though that is producing the stress. This is a bit of a no brainer and most people know about it, but you’ll be surprised at how many people do know it but almost never do it.

Another thing I do is to picture the stress as an inflated balloon. Then I take a deep breath and as I exhale I imagine letting the air out of the balloon. The does 2 things to the body:

The first is that the breathing activates the vagus nerve, which controls the heart. As we exhale, the vagus nerve causes the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to drop, and our physiology moves toward the ‘rest and relax’ mode.

Secondly, the symbolic picture of the inflated balloon deflating represents the stress reducing. It tells our brain that we are feeling better. Psychologically, this eases our emotions.

I do this until I no longer feel uptight. It usually only takes a few breaths.

Gratitude to improve happiness

When life leaves us feeling frazzled, few of us realise that the ability to turn ourselves around lie within ourselves.

Research shows that a powerful antidote to feeling the blues is called a ‘gratitude intervention’. Many find it works even better than an antidepressant.

All you have to do is make a small list every day, preferably before going to bed at night, of 5-10 things that you are grateful for that happened in the last 24 hours.

And other studies have shown that a ‘kindness intervention’ can make us happier. The rules, here, are to choose one day of the week and commit 3-5 acts of kindness on it. Some people find it to be life changing.

 

Well, I hope those few simple thoughts are useful for you this month, and perhaps are also things you can recall from time to time throughout the year.

 

My Top 10 List of Affirmations

I love doing affirmations and have used them for many years. My recent Hay House Radio show (Monday 30th April 2012) was on ‘The Power of Affirmations’, where I went into the science of how they work and their impact upon the brain and body.

Near the end of the show, I read out my Top-Ten list of affirmations and several people have since got in touch to ask if I could put them down on paper. So here they are:

 

My TOP TEN AFFIRMATIONS

1. I am grateful for all that I am, for all that I have, and for all that I experience.

2. I live each day with happiness and joy, trusting that only good things come to me.

3. I love and accept myself just as I am.

4. I love to cultivate thoughts that enrich my life and my relationships

5. I let go of blame and I speak my truth authentically – without judging myself or others.

6. I love to focus on the good things in my life and I love that doing this brings me more blessings.

7. I have the inner strength to handle any situation that I find myself in.

8. My mind and body are healthy and strong and I nourish them with my spirit, which is infinite.

9. I am flexible. I welcome changes in my life and adapt with courage and ease.

10. I allow myself to feel happiness and joy for no reason at all. Simply because I deserve it.

Why not write a list of your own? I bet each of us have a reservoir of untapped wisdom that only ever comes out when people need our help. Think of your list as advice for people who need it. 🙂