Channel Kindness

What does channel kindness mean to you? There’s a few ways you can think of it, I suppose. You can be a channel for kindness. That is, whatever you say, say it with kindness and whatever you do, do it with kindness. In other words, let kindness be like a gentle wind that helps nudge your course as you go through life.

That’s mostly how I think of it.

Channelling kindness is good for mental health. Lots of research shows that it boosts happiness and can even protect against depression. It can also neutralise fear. Kindness is the opposite of stress in terms of how it feels and the physiological effects of it. But it can be an antidote to fear. Have you ever noticed that in the moment of an experience of love or deep compassion, that you don’t feel fear? It’s why parents can sometimes do extraordinary acts to protect their children, moving past things and people that would ordinarily scare them. Kindness has similar effects.

There’s a biological basis for it. Kindness creates the kindness hormone, which also happens to be the love hormone, oxytocin. It’s produced because of how kindness feels. One of the things the kindness hormone does is that it turns down activity in the fear centres of the brain, like the way you can reduce the light by turning down a dimmer switch. With the feelings that accompany the experience of kindness, the kindness hormone flows into fear centres of the brain and simply reduces activity there.

Channelling kindness also means to be kind to yourself as well, channelling it for the sake of your own wellbeing. Not instead of others, of course, but as well as others. Most of us miss the ‘as well as’ part. We give so freely of ourselves at times, but often forget that we need topping up too. Like a phone that’s run out of battery and can no longer function, we’re a bit like that. Too much doing and giving can leave us low in energy, which can degrade our mental health and affect the quality of our day to day life.

And so even though being kind to others is good for our mental health, too much can be detrimental. This can be seen from a study that examined the quantity of time people spent volunteering. At low levels, once or twice a week for a short time, volunteering had a positive effect on mental health, but once a person got to around the 16-20 hours a week (approximately – it varies from person to person so this was an average) of giving their time freely, there were no longer health gains, but overall the effect became negative. Why was this?

There’s a few reasons. One is that beyond this threshold, it didn’t feel so much as giving their time to help others, but began to feel like a job and something that was expected of them. I have experience of this. Some friends and I founded a charity about 20 years ago. What began as a heartfelt mission to help others, eventually became stressful as the number of hours we volunteered exceeded normal full-time hours. With those demands of time, I personally sometimes lost the sense of purpose that initially fuelled me as the needs of the job became all consuming.

Another reason is that many had other full time jobs that earned them their wage, so they were trying to squeeze time to volunteer into an already busy schedule, such that volunteering a large number of hours became physically and mentally tiring. 

Another reason, one that is relevant to those who have to care for people due to health situations, is that it can be stressful – the concern for your loved one and fear for their situation, plus the emotional demands of caring while also maintaining a household.

The moral of the story is that always be kind when and where you can, but if you notice that it is taking a toll on you, then step back and do what you need to do to recharge your physical and emotional batteries. Plug yourself into a charger, so to speak. Take some time in nature, if you can. The human nervous system is adapted to green spaces so trees, grass, and flowers, have a calming effect. Or treat yourself to something nice or by doing something you enjoy or that matters to you.

So channel kindness towards others and also channel it towards yourself.

Channel Kindness is also the title of a new book by Lady Gaga and young reporters from the digital arm of her charity, Born This Way Foundation, a charity all about helping young people be kind, create more kindness, and that supports their mental health. The digital arm is called, ‘Channel Kindness’, as in ‘Channel 1’ or ‘Channel 2’, but also as a suggestion that we try to channel kindness in our lives.

I told Lady Gaga’s team I’d mention the book. It’s packed with inspiring stories of kindness and community from young people. It’s a really heartwarming and inspiring read. I’ve done some work with Born This Way Foundation. I met with Cynthia, Lady Gaga’s Mum, who co-founded Born This Way Foundation with her daughter, and we went with some of the team to a high school in Long Island that they were involved with. The kids had bought Christmas presents for the children of women staying in a local temporary homeless shelter. Over the following week, they would discuss the impact of their kindness, write about it, and learn how and why kindness is important in the world and the difference it can make in the lives of others.

I said I’d tell people about the book because I truly love the work they are doing with young people around kindness and mental health.

For me, kindness is the ingredient we need to use more in the world right now. It’s why I write and speak about it so much. Just like you might sprinkle some herbs over a meal, channel kindness and sprinkle some of it everywhere you go. 

7 ways to develop your self love

1) Know it’s OK to not be OK

It’s OK to not be OK, or have a bad day, or to fail at something. It happens to everyone. Failing at something doesn’t mean you’re a failure, only that you didn’t manage to do something you intended. If you realise that it’s OK to fail or to not be OK, that’s a success!! Well done!

2) Love thy selfie

Say, “I love you” or “I am enough” every time you see your reflection in a mirror. Say it when you brush your teeth, do your makeup, dry your hair, and even when you catch your reflection in a shop window. Repetition like this will eventually wire the idea into your brain.

3) Strike a “Power” Pose

You smile when you’re happy and frown when you’re stressed because the brain’s emotional circuitry is connected to your muscles. But it’s a 2-way street. Your feelings show up as smiles, frowns and muscle tensions, but how you choose to hold and move your body feeds back to the brain and creates the way you want to feel.

So find a way of holding and moving your body that says, “I’ve got this” or “I have an inner sense of worthiness and value” or something similar, and do it as often as you can remember to.

4) Visualise your highest self

Your brain doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. Frequently imagine yourself as your best self – with confidence and self love – speaking and interacting with people in the way you’d like. Don’t just imagine the end result though, but give important mental attention to the way you’re holding and moving your body as you create the result. 

5) Celebrate your uniqueness

Don’t try to be like everyone else. Be like yourself, however you are. Conforming to an idea of what you think people want only feeds the thought that, ‘I am not enough as I am’. Make a decision to celebrate what it is about you that makes you You. As they say, ‘Be Yourself. Everyone else is taken’.

6) Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself with the same kindness and care that you show others. Treat yourself, take some time for yourself, practice saying ‘No’ (or at least, ‘Not yet!’) instead of always saying yes. Let your hair down once in a while. You deserve it.

7) Stretch out of your comfort zone

The greatest gains in self love often lie just at the edge of our comfort zones. Knowing this actually makes it a little easier to stretch yourself because you know what the self love reward can be. Try not to be afraid of rejection or failure. Whatever the outcome, you stretched, and that’s a declaration of self love.

Counting Kindnesses

There’s a lot to be said about noticing what you do. Many of us go about our days largely unconscious, in that while we do the things we do, we’re not so present as we do them.

Meditation helps us bring awareness to what we do and also to how we think. Meditation, for example, teaches us to start by noticing the breath, but then to notice that we are breathing. It’s a subtle shift but an important one. It shifts awareness to a deeper state. Rather than being the ‘doer’ of breathing, you become the ‘watcher’ of breathing. With practice, meditation helps us to notice all of our perceptions and experiences as appearances in our consciousness. In so doing, we become less unconscious and more consciously present in our lives.

Awareness is a powerful thing. Awareness of anything illuminates it. Even awareness of psychological pain can illuminate it and help to dissipate it as we find a deeper state that is not experiencing the pain, but aware that it is happening. This is not to trivialise our pains. It usually takes a great deal of awareness practice to be able to transcend much of our suffering in such a way. But there is hope to be found in awareness practices.

What about awareness of kindness?

Some research has shown that noticing that you are being kind helps to deepen some of the benefits of it. One of the ‘side effects’ of kindness, as I call them (see, The Five Side Effects of Kindness), is that it makes us happier. It leads to overall improvements in mental health and can even build resilience towards some of the stresses and strains of our lives.

In one study, scientists invited over a hundred women to notice their kindnesses; that is, to keep an approximate daily record of when they say or do something kind. The object was not to go out and intentionally do kind acts, as can be the purpose of other kindness studies, but to simply notice that you are being kind, ultimately to illuminate your intentions, words, and actions in your own consciousness.

Well, after a week of doing this, all of the women were happier than they were at the start of the study and around a third of them had experienced significantly large gains in their happiness.

One of the things this kind of awareness does is it helps us to rewrite the stories we have about ourselves. Many of us focus so much on our faults, our misgivings, our failures, our struggles, times when we did not live up to our own expectations. Many of us feel that we wear a mask as we go about our lives, but that people don’t know what’s underneath it. Sometimes we hold good ideas about ourselves underneath, but a great many people hold negative ideas about themselves underneath, whether it’s about their appearance, personality, or who they believe themselves to be. We hide our self esteem under our masks.

The study essentially illuminated an aspect of these women that many of us tend to forget, that we’re much nicer, kinder people than we realise. Most of us do so many kind things, in the polite things we often say, in saying thank you, letting someone go in front of us in traffic, holding a door, smiling, engaging in friendly conversation with a neighbour or colleague, that we don’t even realise that these are all examples of kindness, and that they say a lot about who we are as individuals.

Many of us frequently reach out to a friend or family member who needs helps, support, or just a friendly ear. Many of us do numerous intentional acts of kindness. All of these things, we tend to give less focus to because they’re habits. But they are beautiful habits. 

And when we illuminate them, it brings who we are, this kind person, to the forefront of our consciousness. For some people in particular, the third of the women in the study who felt the biggest gains, they rewrote their personal story so much that it ultimately gave birth to greater self esteem than they had before.

So try to bring awareness to your kindnesses. Just notice that the things that you do, even the tiniest things (or tiny as they seem to you, but they may be significant to the other person(s)), say a lot about the good quality person you are!

Reference
K. Otake, et al., ‘Happy people become happier through kindness: a counting kindness intervention’, Journal of Happiness Studies 7 (3), 2006, 361–75 (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820947/)

How Your Mind Can Impact Your Immune System

PCDR stands for Placebo Controlled Dose Reduction. It is where a drug is gradually replaced by a placebo by making incremental reductions in the drug while making incremental increases in the placebo.

One of the most successful demonstrations was by Fabrizio Benedetti at the University of Turin School of Medicine. Over the period of 5 days, he was able to swap the anti-Parkinson’s drug, apomorphine, for a saltwater placebo. On the first day, the placebo had no effect, as measured by tremors, changes in muscle stiffness and activation of individual neurons in the brain. But by day 5 of incremental dose reductions of apomorphine, topping up with placebo each time, the placebo on day 5 generated a clinical and neurological effect equivalent to a full dose of the drug.

What happened in those 5 days?

Each day that a patient receives their injection, they gain experience that, “When I receive this injection, the following things happen.” That is, a reduction in tremors and muscle stiffness, plus the neuroscientists observe corresponding activation of neurons in the brain. Each day strengthens their experience and thus strengthens their belief.

One of the most important advances in the neuroscience of the placebo effect is that in studies so far, belief, or expectation, shifts biochemistry, causing the brain to produce what it needs to produce to deliver the result the person believes is supposed to happen. Experience strengthens beliefs, so with PCDR, the weight of their experience is enough to allow the complete replacement of the drug with the placebo.

The same kind of thing has been done with the immune system. With the goal in mind of supressing the immune system for the potential treatment of organ transplant patients or people with autoimmune conditions, scientists have been able to completely replace an immunosuppressant drug with a placebo over about 4 or 5 days.

This shows us that the mind can impact the immune system. In this case, supressing it. Can the mind also boost the immune system?

The Mother Theresa Effect is the name given to the observation where over 100 volunteers watched a video of Mother Theresa on the streets of Calcutta carrying out acts of compassion and kindness. Our state when we observe compassion and kindness is often referred to as elevation, in that compassion and kindness induce an elevated state.

Scientists measured levels of an important immune system antibody known as secretory immunoglobulin A (s-IgA) before and after. At the end of the video, levels of s-IgA had increased by around 50% and stayed high for a time afterwards as the volunteers continued to feel elevation as they discussed what they had witnessed in the video. Feeling elevated seemed to elevate the immune system.

Research by the HeartMath Institute in Boulder, Colorado, showed something similar. Asking volunteers to generate and hold feelings of care and compassion for about 5 minutes, they found that s-IgA levels also increased significantly and stayed elevated for about 5 hours, before they gradually returned to baseline levels.

Some of the effect is due to the fact that feelings induced by compassion and kindness are opposite to those of stress, insofar as they generate many opposite psychological and physiological effects. I describe this more fully in my books, The Five Side Effects of Kindness and The Little Book of Kindness.

As we replace stress with kindness, we take some of the pressure off of the immune system, allowing it to operate more efficiently. But these positive feelings themselves may be having direct physical effects.

In a study of over 700 patients attending their doctor for symptoms of the common cold, those given an ‘empathy enhanced visit’, where the doctor spent more time listening to the patient, such that the patient scored the doctor 10/10 on a CARE questionnaire afterwards (Compassion and Relational Empathy), recovered almost 50% faster than those who received a ‘normal’ consultation, and their immune response to the cold was also significantly higher. This has been interpreted as the positive feelings the doctor induced in the patients then impacting their immune systems.

But scientists have been exploring the link between the mind and the immune system in more direct ways. People visualising increasing levels of s-IgA were found to be able to increase them quite substantially.

The visualisation involved spending 5 minutes relaxing before spending 5 minutes imagining s-IgA levels increasing, before doing another 5 minutes of relaxation. Critics suggested that the increased levels of s-IgA were not due to visualisation, but due to relaxation simply taking pressure off the immune system, as I described above. 

A repeat of the experiment then compared people relaxing for the full 15 minutes with people doing the 5 minute section of visualisation embedded within the relaxation session. Levels of s-IgA increased in both groups over the first week, but then those who did the immune system visualisation started to increase their s-IgA levels at a faster rate than those only doing relaxation. At the end of 3 weeks, those who visualised their immune systems had increased their s-IgA levels significantly more than those only doing relaxation, demonstrating that while relaxation can improve s-IgA levels, visualisation is doing something differently and impacting the immune system in a different way.

There is a growing body of evidence that shows that in many different ways, the brain (and body) doesn’t distinguish real from imaginary. When comparing making simple finger movements with imagined movements, scans show brain changes in the same regions and to the same extent in those who do the real movements and those who do the imagined movements. As far as the brain was concerned, real and imagined movements were the same thing.

This has now been extensively tested in mechanics and sports, where similar gains in strength have been shown when people lift real objects compared with imagining lifting them. Studies even show athletes can recover faster from injury when they visualise attending the gym while they are in recovery. When returning to training after the injury period, they have lost less muscle strength than those not visualising and so are better able to ‘hit the ground running’, so to speak.

Studies with stroke patients show something similar. In several studies, patients received physiotherapy for several weeks, but half were taught to imagine making repetitive movements that they are familiar with after the physio sessions, while the other half did relaxation sessions for the same duration. Those who did visualisations recovered more and faster than those who didn’t visualise.

Studies on eating have even suggested that imagining eating activates part of the brain that senses when a person has eaten enough and so supresses appetite for more.

Studies have extended the idea of imagining the immune system to patients with cancer. In a randomised controlled trial (RCT) published in the journal, Breast, scientists invited women receiving treatment for newly diagnosed large or locally advanced breast cancer (chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, and hormone treatment), to use visualisation as well.

Half of the women visualised their immune systems destroying cancer cells while the other half didn’t. The women were shown cartoons depicting the process but were also encouraged to make up their own images. They rated the clarity of their visualisations on a 1-10 scale. Blood samples were taken 10 times over 37 weeks and several immune substances were analysed.

In the women who visualised, immune activity was elevated compared with the women who didn’t visualise. Specifically, T-cells, activated T-cells, and LAK cells (lymphokine activated killer cells) were higher in the blood of those who visualised. In addition, the women who reported the highest visualisation clarity had much higher levels of NK (natural killer cells) activity during, after treatment, and again at follow up. The researchers noted that, “Guided imagery beneficially altered putative anticancer host defences during and after multimodality therapy.”

This pattern of observing elevated immune system activity when visualisation has been used in addition to cancer treatment has been shown in three other studies. 

To be clear, visualisation was not used instead of medical treatment, but in addition to it. Visualisation is something that we practice in addition to treatment, not instead of it, just like we don’t meditate instead of sleeping, but in addition to sleeping, and the meditation tends to enhance our sleep. Similarly, in these cancer studies, visualisation seemed to be enhancing the effect of the treatment by supporting the activity of the immune system.

It may well be that visualisation can be used to positively impact a larger number of conditions, especially if we target the immune system with our visualisations. But visualisation can target other systems too. In a study of total knee replacement, visualisation of healing speeded up the healing for some patients. Similarly, asthmatics have gained benefit from imagining reduced bronchospasm and inflammation, and women with interstitial cystitis experienced reduced pain when they visualised healing the bladder, relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, and quietening the nerves.

There is no question that the mind impacts the body. Research now clearly shows that the mind can impact the immune system, in ways that increase activity and in ways that decrease activity. With more research and practice, it may be that we can learn techniques that can help us to maintain our health much better by optimising our immune systems, or develop techniques for selectively targeting different systems of the body for speeding recovery from injury, illness and disease.

References

All references can be found in ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’, by David R Hamilton PhD (Available on Amazon in all countries)

You are made of stardust

subatomic particles in atom smasherEvery atom in your body was made in a star!

That means those that make your heart, brain cells, skin, hair, teeth, bones, even the air you breathe, plus those that compose the trees, dogs and cats, rabbits and horses, lions, tigers, and bears, Oh my!; plus the insects, birds, fish, roads, buildings, and cars. The basic components of everything within you and around you were made in a star and you are deeply connected to all of it. Your body is the remnants of a star after it took its last breath.

Stars begin their lives as invisible clouds of mostly hydrogen. The atoms of hydrogen are gradually pulled together under gravity and squashed together to form helium, the stuff that makes balloons go upwards and that makes your voice squeaky. This is nuclear fusion. It releases vast amounts of energy; so much, in fact, that the star essentially ignites, like a large cosmic match being lit.

But while it burns, more and more atoms are squashed together, eventually forming heavier elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, and iron, and even larger stars produce gold, silver and platinum.

And just as a log fire goes out when it uses up its fuel, so stars do the same. They burn for usually millions or billions of years, and when all of their fuel is expended many of them blow up (a supernova) and the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, iron, gold, silver, platinum, and all the other elements are blasted into space as stardust.

Eventually gravity draws this stardust together to form planets like the Earth. Everything on Earth, from rocks, stones, water, crystals, to all living things like people, animals, insects, birds, fish, grass, trees and flowers, is made of this stardust. Every atom of your DNA is stardust. Every atom in your skin, blood, and bones is stardust. Every atom of the oxygen you breathe is stardust.

You are an intimate part of the whole universe. You are made of stars. The universe gave birth to you and you contain its essence within yourself. You might say that you are a form that the universe is currently taking.

And you are deeply connected with the whole universe in another way. The phenomenon known as entanglement shows that when two particles or fields interact, they remain connected no matter how far apart they are. This is also true of particles and fields that were created at the same time. Cosmologists believe that all particles and fields were created about 14 billion years ago in the big bang and thus all particles and fields are connected today.

That is, although it doesn’t look like it or feel like it, you are connected to – entangled with – the entire universe.

In the deepest way, you are connected to a leaf on a tree, a stone in a garden, a raindrop, other people – your loved ones, friends, colleagues, and even your enemies – to animals, plants, insects, birds and fish, to a crystal of ice on one of Saturn’s rings, and even to a piece of dust on the surface of a planet in a galaxy far, far away.

Anyway, just something light to ponder. 🙂

Three ways that kindness impacts the brain and body

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve found myself speaking and writing a lot more about kindness recently. You can catch loads of my videos on my social media pages, plus I share lots in my Personal Development Club monthly live talks and in my free online course, ‘The Biology and Contagiousness of Kindness‘.

One of the things I’ve spoken much about is how kindness produces many beneficial effects in the body, mind, and spirit, some of which is the opposite of what stress does. In many ways, we are helping to counter some of the stress and worry during these times by the kindness and care we show each other. So as a summary, I thought I’d share three of the important healthy consequences of kindness.

1) Kindness supports the immune system

Research shows that kindness (due to how it feels when you’re kind) boosts levels of an important immune system antibody known as ‘secretory immunoglobulin A’ (s-IgA for short). One of the most amazing facts of this research is that the effect is turned on simply by watching kindness. Yes, ‘watching’ kindness. It works because the immune boosting effect is due to how kindness feels, which is the same whether you do kindness or witness kindness. The opposite is in how stress supresses immune function and, similarly, that’s due to how stress feels, whether you experience something stressful or whether you’re feeling stressed from watching negative online content.

So, in addition to being kind, why not reduce your exposure to negative online content, or even reduce how much News you watch! Increase the amount of inspiring content you watch instead. Watch and share videos and clips showing acts of kindness and compassion. Follow social media accounts that lift you.

This isn’t just a psychological feel good. It has immune boosting consequences.

2) Compassion reduces inflammation

Compassion is close to kindness. It’s the feeling that usually motivates a kind act. Amazingly, compassion has anti-inflammatory properties. It rests on the fact that compassion stimulates the vagus nerve, also known as the ‘caretaking nerve’. Since human infants are born technically premature compared with the young of other animal species, human parents have to care for their babies for long periods of time before they are able to fend for themselves. Just as the nervous system has evolved to respond to stress and so protect us in times of danger, over millions of years of evolution, a portion of the human nervous evolved in concert with the caring and compassionate feelings of parents such that, today, we have a portion of the nervous system that responds quickly to compassion. It turns out, that this portion also controls the ‘Inflammatory Reflex’, which helps control inflammation levels in the body.

Modern research confirms that compassion stimulates this portion of the nervous system (the vagus nerve) and also reduces inflammation.

3) Kindness supports mental health

Lots of research shows that kindness increases happiness. Studies that compare people asked to do more kindness versus people acting as normal show that those doing more kindness usually feel happier as a consequence. Other research shows that kindness offers some protection against depression. Studies comparing people who do regular volunteer work with those who don’t show much lower rates of depression in the volunteers.

The happiness-boosting and depression-countering effects seem to have their roots in the neurological effects of how kindness feels, but in addition kindness taps into something deep and spiritual in us.

Brain imaging studies indicate that kind and compassionate feelings cause physical changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, biased to the left-hand side. That’s the portion of the brain behind and above the eyes. This left hand portion is known to be an area associated with positive emotion. With kindness and compassion practice, the area grows much as a muscle grows when we exercise it. The result is that anything that area is used for becomes easier to access, just as anything that a muscle is used for becomes easier if it’s been strengthened through exercise. And so kindness and compassion build this brain region, making positive emotion easier to access.

But kindness can be a spiritual act too. Being kind taps into something deep inside of us, a knowing that what we are doing is the right thing to do. Perhaps that is the real root of why kindness feels good and perhaps, on some deep level, the physical effects on the body are nature’s reward to us for expressing the best in us.

References
All studies mentioned can be found in my two kindness books, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness‘ and ‘The Little Book of Kindness‘.

The most contagious thing is kindness

We’re all thinking of contagion right now due to the coronavirus. Let’s not forget that kindness is also highly contagious.

Scientists at Harvard and Yale measured the contagiousness of kindness out to three social steps. That is, when you be kind to someone, that person will be kind or kinder to someone else (1 social step from you), because of how you made the person feel, and the recipient of that kindness will be kind or kinder to someone else (2 social steps from you), and the recipient of that kindness will be kind or kinder to someone else (3 social steps from you).

In practice, kindness is ‘circularly contagious’, like the way a wave travels outwards in a circle when you drop a pebble in water.

What actually happens is that the person you are kind to ends up being kind or kinder to about 5 people (the number varies but this is an average) over the course of the next 24 hours (1 social step), and each of those 5 people are kind or kinder to 5 people over the next 24 hours (2 social steps), and each of those 5 are kind or kinder to 5 people (3 social steps).

That’s 5 x 5 x 5 = 125 people benefitting from a single act of kindness. Each time you are kind, you really are impacting far more people than just the person you help! I’m saying this because many of us wonder if our actions are insignificant. They’re are! Kindness matters greatly and you make a difference even with the smallest of acts.

In these strangest of times, we’re being encouraged to keep our physical distance, but let’s reduce our emotional distance. Pick up the phone, send a text, use Facetime, WhatsApp or Skype. Be there for family, friends, co-workers, neighbours, others in your community, if you can.

One thing I’ve learned over the years of trying to be a little kinder is that what might seem like a small act for you might mean the world to the person you help.

Other things are contagious too. Emotions are contagious. You can actually infect someone with a good mood (or even happiness) down a phone line. One of my friends phoned me a few days ago just to tell me a joke. I was chuckling to myself for hours afterwards. But even just being upbeat on the phone can activate the mirror neuron system (MNS) of the person’s brain. If you’re using the phone then it’s the auditory component of the MNS or if you’re using video, then it’s both the auditory and visual components. Either way, your upbeat tone specifically activates their brain regions for positive emotion and improves their mood. In a very real and scientific way, your mood is contagious! It’s known as mood contagion or emotional contagion.

Healthy lifestyle is also contagious and it works through what’s called social contagion, where we are inspired to take up certain behaviours of others. In these times, one of the best ways to support your immune system is to eat a healthy diet containing fruit, vegetables, fibre, nuts and seeds. Try to incorporate over 30 different plant ingredients a week (try counting them) to optimally support your gut microbiome, which supports your immune system. This is according to Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at Kings College in London, and author of, ‘The Diet Myth’. If you have a handful of nuts, for example, containing peanuts, cashews, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts, then that counts as 4. If you dip bread in olive oil then that’s two (the bread grain plus the olive oil, coming from olives).

So if you eat well, you can not only help support your immune system but also that of some of your family and friends who might follow suit due to social contagion, especially if you communicate how healthy it is, and even do so in an upbeat way. Ultimately, if you do this partly to help them, then you’re also practicing kindness.

So while we increase our physical distance to help reduce the likelihood of contagion of coronavirus, let us increase the contagion of kindness instead.

 

 

20 ways to self love

Do you feel you need to work on your self love? Here’s 20 simple and powerful practices that can help you develop a healthy sense of self love.

1) Strike a power pose

Your body language not only shows how youre feeling in any moment, research shows that it also creates how you feel. Its circular! So make regular adjustments to your body language throughout the day so that your body is saying, Ive got this! or even, I have an inner sense of worthiness and value. Making this a daily practice will soon train your muscles and your nervous system for self love.

2) Visualise your best self

In many ways, your brain doesnt distinguish real from imaginary. If you imagine yourself in your best light your brain will process it as real and cause changes in your self-belief and confidence. So visualise yourself in a variety of situations, acting as your best self would act, and seeing the results you want. The key is to do this often. Its the repetition that wires the brain.

3) Use Positive self-talk

Negative self-talk can bring us down and eat away at our self love. So catch yourself as often as you can in the act of negative self-talk and say something positive about yourself instead. It might be regarding your appearance or something about your nature, or it might even be a reminder of something good you once did. It’s a good idea to create a stock of positive things to draw upon, which makes it much easier to change a negative into a positive.

4) Shrink it down

The mind responds to internal images and these images can affect how we feel about ourselves. When we feel afraid or something seems too challenging for us, it seems bigin our minds. It’s like the thought or feeling is ‘in your face’. Negative feelings like this can erode self love. A simple trick, and it does trick the mind, is to take the image or feeling and imagine shrinking it down to almost nothing. It even helps to take your thumb and forefinger and slowly join them together as if making something smaller.

5) Love thy selfie

Say, I love youor I am enoughevery time you see your reflection in a mirror. Say it when you brush your teeth, do your makeup, dry your hair, and even when you catch your reflection in a shop window.

6) Choose gratitude

One of the practices that erodes our self love is when we focus predominantly on our faults or what weve done wrong. A practice of gratitude has the opposite effect, lifting us up instead of pulling us down. Start a gratitude practice that focuses on your good points. Start with 2 or 3 things on day 1 and then add 2 or 3 new things every day until youve practiced for at least 3 weeks and your list has several items on it.

7) Repetition! Repetition! Repetition!

Whatever your self love practice, practice it every day. Repetition is how to wire brain networks for self love. This is how to learn the habit of self love.

8) Celebrate your uniqueness

Dont try to be like everyone else. Conforming sends a signal that says, who I am is not enough so Im trying to be like someone else instead. Make a choice to celebrate whats unique and special about you. Let the world see your uniqueness and individuality and learn to be proud of it.

9) Be authentic

Be your Self. Live your own life. Dont be concerned about being liked or accepted. Be concerned with being yourself. Being authentic is a massive statement of self-love. It’s like declaring that “I am enough just as I am.” Speak your mind, and do it with compassion where you can.

10) Be kind to yourself

Treat yourself in ways that show that you matter. Take some time out, have a hot bath, take a walk in the park, treat yourself to something new that makes you feel good and declare that you are doing it because youre worth it.

11) Dont be afraid to show weakness or vulnerability

Be courageous enough to show your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Let yourself be seen. If you want people to like you, then let them see You! Everyone feels weak and vulnerable at times so the courage to not hide is a strength. And in having that courage, you inspire others to let themselves be seen too.

12) Be compassionate to yourself

Give yourself a hug a few times throughout the day. Remember that nobody is perfect. You cant succeed or win all the time. You cant even be happy all the time. We are all human, with our humanness showing as we stumble and fumble through life, trying to find our way. Everyone has worries and problems, even if they appear outwardly confident and self-assured. Remember that you are only human.

13) Dont compare your behind the sceneswith everyone elses highlight reel

We mostly see people at their best, or at least what we think is their best, but were all too aware of what we look like first thing in the morning, or how scared or vulnerable we feel at certain times, or how much we might lack confidence on the inside. As Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church, says, we shouldn’t compare our ‘behind the scenes’ with everyone’s else’s ‘highlight reel’. Everyone has stuff going on.

14) Tend to your wants and needs

Learn to look after your own needs. Many of us get into the habit of looking out for everyone but ourselves. A mark of self love is to care for your own needs too. You can do both! Self love doesnt say to love yourself instead of others, before others, or even after others. In fact, it doesnt say anything about others at all. It simply says, love yourself and you can do that while you go about your business of living our life, being kind to, and loving others.

15) Have courage to ask that your needs be met

We all have needs that have to be met, whether these are at work, in our relationships, or in life in general. When we are lacking a healthy self love we become fearful of asking that our needs be met. Practice having the courage to ask. It might mean risking rejection sometimes, but its better knowing that you had the courage to ask than living in fear of rejection. Who knows what might happen

16) Design some self love affirmations

You dont always have to repeat, “I love myself. I love myself. I love myself!” hundreds of times. Design an affirmation that fits where you are in your life right now and how you want to feel. You can even design one thats a stepping stone to where you want to get to.

17) Pull silly smiles

Practice pulling huge silly smiles at random times in the day. Make sure you also do it in the morning, preferably shortly after you get up and also late at night before you go to sleep. Smiling like this sends signals to the emotional centres of your brain and increases positive emotion, especially because youre doing it on purpose.

18) Push out your comfort zone

Self love often lies at the edge of your comfort zone. Push yourself as much as you can with the intent not only to succeed in what you apply yourself to, but in the knowing that the attempt itself is a declaration of self love.

19) Dont take it personally.

Try not to take things too personally, especially seeming criticism or when things dont go to plan. Things only seem personal when were lacking in self love. When things are not working, it’s not a flaw in who you are. Set an intent to be more resilient and your self love will grow as a consequence.

20) Act As If.

Just for today, act as if you had a healthy self love. In varying situations and interactions throughout the day, ask yourself, “How would I be or what would I do right now if I had a healthy self love?” Then do it! If it works out today, try it again tomorrow.


As you give, so you receive

I have written a lot about side effects of kindness, that when you give you also receive. Sometimes receiving can be in the form of acts of kindness done for you, or of seemingly random blessings showing up in your life, but they also come in the form of physiological effects. I had an experience in Peru several years ago that first pointed me towards considering the physical effects of kindess.

I was having a tidy up recently and found my diary from a trip I made to Peru in 2001 with group of 17 people, led by my friend Stephen Mulhearn, a shamanic teacher. We did a series of spiritual and other meditative practices in sacred sites and in the jungle.

We did a 4-day trek to Machu Picchu, walking through jungle and up through mountainous scenery. It was a beautiful experience.

Several porters were assigned to carry our rucksacks. I remember feeling so sorry for them as each porter had 3 or 4 full rucksacks on their back, and some also had heavy gas canisters strapped to them for cooking our meals.

I felt terrible and insisted on carrying my own, however, the tour guide made it very clear to me that this is the only work some of the men could get and if we carry our own bags then the tour operator will simply hire fewer porters, depriving some of work. I understood his point, but it didn’t make it easier.

I remember one man, who was slight of build with an enormous burden of rucksacks and canisters. I wondered how he could even lift it off the ground. As we walked up steep parts of hills on narrow paths, I could see his legs literally trembling with all the weight.

It was very hot and we were all told to drink copious amounts of water. I realised that the porters had little or no water.

So every time I passed a porter or one passed me, I stopped and offered some of my own water (and food) I did this dozens of times over the following 20 km hike, giving all of my water away, not taking a single drop myself to ensure that I had enough to offer the porters.

When we reached our destination at over 4,000 metres altitude, I’d not taken a drop of water or food all day as I had given it all away. Yet, I felt exhilarated! I didn’t feel dry nor tired. I felt great. Energised, in fact.

It taught me on a practical level that you receive when you give, and that the receiving often comes in a form that you require. Of course, the body requires hydration, but I believe that I received energy that day in other ways, including emotional, that more than served my immediate needs.

Just as feeling stressed produces stress hormones, giving produces ‘kindness hormones’. Yes, there are such things, which I wrote a lot about in my books, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness’, ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, and ‘Why Kindness if Good for You’. Kindness hormones are substances produced in the body due to how kindness makes you feel, just as stress hormones are substances produced due to how stress makes you feel.

When we give, it is the feeling of warmth, connection, even love or affection, that generate the kindness hormones. Research even shows that oxytocin (a kindness hormone) helps protect muscles from damage, which may even contribute to the effect of kindness increasing endurance. At the same time, the emotional high (known as ‘Helper’s High’) can produce a psychological state of exhilaration.

Combined, this is why giving to others can make us feel good even when conditions might normally see us feel bad, why we can be energised when circumstances would normally leave us feeling tired, or why we can feel resilience even in the face of testing events.

Indeed, scientists examining the relationship between kindness and stress found that when a person is doing more kindnesses, they tend to experience less stress. It doesn’t mean that stressful events don’t happen during these times, but that kindness seems to take the edge off them; in effect, kindness helps build resilience.

So it is certainly true that that giving leads to receiving in one way or another. However, it’s best we don’t look for what we might receive. Expecting to receive on account of what you are giving can take away the genuine feeling of warmth and connection that kindness produces, thus removing the potential for healthy effects. I call this ‘Nature’s Catch 22’. You only receive when your motivation for giving is genuine.

This is because it is genuine kindness that creates the feelings of warmth, connection, or affection and it is these feelings that produce any physiological or even psychological effects. In a sense, you have to mean it to feel it, so you have to mean it to get the rewards. Which also means you need to not be looking for the rewards. This is why I call it Nature’s Catch 22.

Had I been giving water to the porters as a strategy for boosting my own energy, I would likely have felt dehydrated and drained.

Of course, not all acts of kindness need be genuine. Helping another out of a sense of duty is still helping the person, even if you resent doing it. The downside for yourself is that if you resent it then you might feel stressed, which might not do you good in the long-term. There are times, therefore, when the best act of kindness, at least in terms of preserving your own health, is to say no.

Kindness is sometimes easy. Sometimes it’s not. There is no ‘one size fits all’. We each have our own lives, circumstances, relationships, environments and contexts. Sometimes things are complicated, sometimes they are simple. Kindness for one person might look very different to kindness for another.

All I can say is that if we each do the best we can, then I think we can make life a little easier for ourselves, for others, for our societies, and even for our world.

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Trust that what happens is for the best

I broke my wee toe about three weeks ago. I have such a dangerous job – I was preparing to give a talk, walking around my office speaking aloud as I refined how I was going to describe one particular topic, and I hit my toe on the radiator.

I’ve been surprised since then just how much we use our little toe. At first, I thought it would be fine in a week or so. I mean, it’s only my wee toe; the smallest one, out there on the outside. But I found it surprisingly difficult to stand with my foot flat, which actually made walking quite a challenge. It’s much better now, but much of that is due to one day in particular.

It was a week and a half ago, and I hadn’t been able to wear shoes for the previous 10 days since it happened, only trainers. But I had a corporate presentation to deliver in London so I thought I should look my best for it.

I had to catch an early morning flight, so walking from the drop off area at the airport to the terminal building was the furthest I had walked until then, but as the day went on, a series of unusual events left me surrendering and trusting in the way things are meant to be. Let me explain.

So I flew into London City airport. Every time I’ve flown into City, the aircraft parks in its usual stand and it’s barely a handful of steps until we’re inside the main terminal building. This time, we had to park at the opposite end of the airport, get a bus, then walk what felt about a half mile from there, to inside and through the airport. It’s by far the furthest I’d ever walked at City airport.

I took the underground as the venue was less than 100 metres from Marylebone tube station. But due to a line fault or building works or something (it wasn’t entirely clear), I had to get off at one station and walk to another, which eventually turned out to be between half and one mile and took me about 15 minutes. Finally at the venue the day went well and my talk was very well received.

I considered getting a taxi to my hotel, but decided on the tube again, however, due to a broken down carriage, I had to get off and change at Paddington station. The tube let us all off at a section of Paddington I didn’t even know existed, way out back, beside a river. At this point, I decided that there was no way I was going to walk all the distance into the main station and get another tube. I was taking an Uber.

I walked to the nearest road, a couple of hundred metres, but due to extensive building and demolishing work, the whole road was closed to all but buses, which meant I had to walk to the next road. That turned out to be closed too. By the time I actually got onto a road that cars could drive on, I’d walked around two thirds of a mile (according to Apple Maps).

Now, I consider myself a really positive person, but with my broken toe, this was testing me just a bit. I don’t think I’d ever walked so far in any one day on a trip to London. I remember thinking, what are the chances that all these travel mishaps forcing me to walk everywhere would happen on the day I have a broken toe and have to wear shoes for the first time? I could easily have slipped into feeling sorry for myself, or complaining, or some other kind of negative feeling. I burst out laughing instead.

This is how things needed to go. I was being directed. I knew that the odds of all this happening on the day I had a broken toe were just too outrageous, so there had to be a reason for it. Either it was to set my injury back or it was because doing all this walking was actually a good thing.

Later that night at my hotel, my toe was quite painful, and again the following morning. But by lunchtime, it felt like a miracle had happened. I could walk with hardly any pain or discomfort. It was amazing, the difference even from that morning. I was walking around in total disbelief.

I’m guessing that all the walking had actually increased blood flow to the area and helped the injury to heal faster. So walking all that distance had been a good thing.

I’d never have voluntarily elected to walk what amounted to about 2 miles in shoes, with a broken toe. If I’d have said I was going to do that, most people would have thought I was joking.

The moral of the story is this. There are times when life presents us with a set of circumstances that seem wrong, or painful at the time. Maybe we have to walk a long way around, maybe we are rejected by a person or group, maybe we lose out on something we had our heart set on, maybe we lose a lot of money or something valuable, or any of an infinite number of seeming problems or mishaps.

But maybe it’s not karma, maybe you’re not being punished, maybe God doesn’t have it in for you, maybe you’re not unlucky. Maybe you are simply being guided, re-directed because there’s a better way that you’re just not seeing right now. Or even it’s as if your higher self, soul, or God, is saying, “I have something (or someone) better in mind for you.”

So next time things seem to be going in the wrong direction, maybe it’s not the wrong direction at all. Maybe it’s just the best way to get to where you need to be.