Category: Neuroscience

“Have to” versus, “Get to,” or, The Power of Gratitude in Your Life!

Adding gratitude into your life can be powerful.
Adding gratitude into your life can be powerful.
Adding gratitude into your life can be powerful.

Today I had a session with a client who experienced a very powerful shift. During a family weekend away in a cabin, she stepped into a messy kitchen. Suddenly, she realized that instead of automatically thinking, “Oh, I HAVE TO clean this all up…” she reframed the thought as, “I get to do this for/with my family so that we can spend better time together.”

Once she switched the thought in her mind, she also noticed that the attitude spread to the other members of the family. Everyone worked together to get things done, and it kicked off a wonderful experience for the rest of the weekend.

How many times do we rush through our day thinking that “I have to do this,” when, if we take a step back, we can instead be grateful for the opportunities that we are able to do or have? Life, after all, tends to be made up of the choices we’ve selected for ourselves. There’s actually a saying: “If you don’t like your life, make better choices.”

Gratitude has a host of benefits across a wide spectrum, including a stronger immune system, being less bothered by aches and pains, lower blood pressure, better sleep, feeling more alert and alive, experiencing more joy, optimism and happiness, and being more forgiving and outgoing. These benefits can be obtained with just such a shift in thinking.

Sometimes if we’re mindful of the moment and think about what is going on, it can cause us to realize that we ARE too busy or stressed to enjoy what is going on. If the list of things for your day is a mile long, even enjoyable activities can start feeling like a “have to”, instead of a “want to,” or even, “get to”.

Here are some simple ways to cultivate gratitude in your life:

  • Savor moments of happiness: When something good happens, really enjoy the moment and make it last. Reflecting upon these moments later has also shown to have health benefits.
  • Express it: Simply saying, “Thank you”, benefits both the person who says it and the receiver of the thought. Make it a point for a day to state gratitude for things both small and large. Note how it makes you feel.
  • Keep a gratitude journal: Making notes of what we’re thankful for, either daily or once a week, can be an invigorating experience. This can also help guard against taking things for granted.
  • Meditate on gratitude: I’ve written about the benefits of meditation on a focused mind. There are many ways to meditate, and this includes concentrating on the things for which we are thankful.

Later, I realized I had mentioned during a chat with my sister that, “I have to walk the dog now.” Noting that this was something I normally enjoy, I reflected on my conversation with my client. I suddenly realized I had been preoccupied for most of the day.

So, I took a deep breath, looked out into the sunshine, and reframed the thought. “I get to walk with my dog on a peaceful evening and enjoy the scenery,” I mused. Due to that simple shift, instead of feeling bothered… I felt happy, smiled, and appreciated the time to head out the door with my pal.

Contact [email protected] if you’d like to open up your life to gratitude, and more!

Until then – Keep Running with Life! -Coach Amie

Is Your Social Network Killing You?

“Having a poor social network is as bad for your health as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day,” states Matthew Lieberman in his book, “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect”.  Lately, I’ve been picking up this pattern of importance in neuroscience books. TLDR: A lack of social connections is dangerous to health.

I’ve been researching what tends to keep people healthy versus what tends to increase risk for depression and declining health. Lieberman states that people are becoming increasingly disconnected from one another in the modern world. Yet, humans are social beings, wired to be around others since the beginnings of time. We banded together to survive – to hunt together, share community work and live in the safety of numbers. If someone was sequestered from the group, it was a signal that something was wrong. Even today, quarantining is used as a form of punishment. Studies have shown that not only is the risk of depression increased for those who are isolated, but it also increases the chance of an early death as well as dementia. [1]

When we feel down it is often contradictory because we don’t feel like doing the things that may help the most. Being around others is one example. But according to author and psychology professor/researcher Dr. Steve Ilardi, sometimes literally just being in the presence of people can help lift mood. Go to a café, take a walk at the mall. Go to a group run. Do work you were going to do anyway in a place where others are present.

And, research on social connectedness shows that it’s quality over quantity. Alex Korb, in his book, “The Upward Spiral”, writes that someone who has five people in whom they can confide is in a better position than an individual with 1,000 Facebook friends who feels they have no one they can really trust.

How would you rate your social connectedness? Is it something you’d like to improve?


The News and Your Health

Many of us are aware of the terror attacks that struck Belgium, and thoughts go out to those involved. This morning, media programs splashed headlines across the news, with channels running special report streams with in-depth analysis. Images of fear-stricken faces scrolled across television screens, online and in print.

Yet studies have shown that these types of attacks not only affect the people directly involved, but can also impact those who are at a distance from the attacks who constantly watch the intense media coverage [1]. This can cause increases in depression as well as PTSD, even if the viewers are a continent away from the event.

On the other extreme, purposefully blocking out our reactions to sad events or denying whatever level of internal grief it can cause can have health impacts as well. It’s human nature to show concern for others. It’s fine to stay keyed in to what is happening, but like many things, moderation is key.

Integrative medical doctor Andrew Weil has suggested limiting news exposure as there tends to be a negative bias in the stories covered that can affect health and create a pessimistic view about life [2]. And once started, it can be hard to look away. Weil suggests that occasional “news fasts” can be helpful. At the same time, others may cite the stories of hope and positive news that can evolve in later coverage.

Rather than blindly taking in information day to day, note what effect media has on your well-being. If you are having issues with feeling down in general, make some adjustments and see if it helps.

Turn on the news to catch the headlines, but then shut off the TV or internet as you have a meal. Focusing on what we’re eating versus including it in our multitasking can also help increase mindfulness, which is being aware of what we’re eating. This can help to feel more satisfied and consume fewer calories [3]. Later on, skip the constant updates and take a walk out in nature instead, which tends to be healing [4]. Then, evaluate how you feel.

Do you think that media can affect your health? How do you stay tuned in with moderation?


What’s Stopping You?

You are only confined by the walls you build yourself

Do you ever feel down? Stuck in a rut?

What have you been pondering for too long?  Alex Korb, Ph.D., relates in his book, “The Upward Spiral”, that indecision can contribute to a consistently muddled state of mind, even depression.

Sometimes the important thing is to just choose. Korb states that any resolution you come to releases dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical in your brain. That encourages more decision-making, and begins to rewire neural networks so that future conclusions become easier. It also stimulates focused action.

A client felt stuck from deciding upon a career track. Two previous occupations that hadn’t panned out. As a result, they’d been fearful of devoting themselves to something else.

They’d been applying a cognitive distortion to this situation. These thinking ‘errors’ and their corrections are central to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has been shown to successfully treat maladies such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and binge eating. This particular type of distortion, known as “overgeneralization”, asserts that just because something happened before, it will recur. Just because something didn’t turn out the way someone expected long ago, doesn’t mean it will necessarily recur in a new situation with a different journey.

However, even if a new career path doesn’t turn out as they currently desire, isn’t that just life? Many things in our lives weren’t meant to be forever, and things change in ways we can’t control or predict. I’ve read that the average person now changes careers four to seven times. So looking at it that way, twice doesn’t seem that bad. And any experience we have adds to our repertoire of what we can do in the future. Realizing these things, they were able to let go of the negative thought and move on.

Reframing cognitive distortions can lead to a more realistic viewpoint. It opens us to new possibilities and can help see things in a more positive light. Besides the impact on or lives, Positive Psychology shows a more positive way of thinking can improve health.

Which situations can you reframe in your own life? What’s stopping you??