How To Spend The First Hour Of Your Work Day On High-Value Tasks

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Don’t begin the activities of your day until you know exactly what you plan to accomplish. Don’t start your day until you have it planned. — Jim RohnEvery morning, get one most important thing done immediately.There is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you’re already in the flow.And the easiest way to trigger this feeling is to work on your most important task in the first hour.Use your mornings for high-value workLean to avoid the busy work that adds no real value to your work, vision or long-term goal.

Low-value activities, including responding to notifications, or reacting to emails keep you busy and stop you from getting real work done. Make time for work that matters.

In his book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen says, “If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

Research shows that it takes, on average, more than 23 minutes to fully recover your concentration after a trivial interruption.

Productive mornings start with early wake-up calls

“In a poll of 20 executives cited by Vanderkam, 90% said they wake up before 6 a.m. on weekdays.

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, for example, wakes at 4 a.m. and is in the office no later than 7 a.m.

Meanwhile, Disney CEO Bob Iger gets up at 4:30 to read, and Square CEO Jack Dorsey is up at 5:30 to jog.”

The first quiet hour of the morning can be the ideal time to focus on an important work project without being interrupted.

Don’t plan your day in the first hour of your morning

Cut the planning and start doing real work. You are most active on a Monday Morning.

Think about it. After a weekend of recovery, you have the most energy, focus and discipline to work on your priorities.

Don’t waste all that mental clarity and energy planning what to do in the next eight hours.

Do your planning the night before.

Think of Sunday as the first chance to prepare yourself for the week’s tasks.

Monday mornings will feel less dreadful and less overwhelming if you prepare the night before.

If you choose to prioritize …

There are one million things you could choose to do in your first hour awake.

If you choose to start your day with a daily check list/to-do list, make sure that next to every task you have the amount of time it will take to complete them.

The value of the of putting time to tasks is that, every time you check something off, you are able to measure how long it took you to get that task done, and how much progress you are making to better plan next time.

Get the uncomfortable out of the way

You probably know about Brian Tracy’s “eat-a-frog” – technique from his classic time-management book, Eat That Frog?

In the morning, right after getting up, you complete the most unwanted task you can think of for that day (= the frog).

Ideally you’ve defined this task in the evening of the previous day.

Completing an uncomfortable or difficult task not only moves it out of your way, but it gives you great energy because you get the feeling you’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

Do you have a plan from yesterday?

Kenneth Chenault, former CEO and Chairman of American Express, once said in an interview that the last thing he does before leaving the office is to write down the top 3 things to accomplish tomorrow, then using that list to start his day the following morning.

This productivity hack works for me.

It helps me focus and work on key tasks. It also helps me disconnect at the end of the day and allow time for my brain to process and reboot.

Trust me, planning your day the night before will give you back a lot wasted hours in the morning and lower your stress levels.

Try this tonight.

If you’re happy with the results, then commit to trying it for a week.

After a week, you’ll be able to decide whether you want to add “night-before planning” to your life.

Want to get more done in less time?

You need systems not goals. I’m creating a new course, Systems For Getting Work Done to help you create a personal productivity system to get 10X more done in less time. Sign up to be notified when it launches.

This article first appeared on Medium.

How To Prevent Morning Anxiety From Totally Ruining Your Day

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Anxiety has a very unwelcome way of popping up when you least expect it. It could happen at a party, just when you were starting to have a good time. Or in the middle of the night, making it that much harder to get a blissful eight hours of sleep. And, for some, anxiety has a habit of rearing its ugly head in the early morning—just to make sure your day starts off on a really stellar note.
Why—why?!—does morning anxiety happen? And how do you get rid of it? Here, Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine gives all the need-to-know facts.

What morning anxiety looks like (and why it’s happening)

There’s a difference between waking up and being in a bad mood because you don’t feel like going to work and having actual morning anxiety. Here are the signs of the latter, according to Dr. Saltz:

  • A rush in adrenaline, such as a racing heart or increased jitteriness.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • A sense of worry for no apparent reason.
  • Feeling on edge, but you aren’t sure why.
  • Exhaustion even though you’ve just slept.

As for why anxiety can strike in the morning, Dr. Saltz says there are a few factors at play that could cause morning anxiety:

1. You have higher amounts of stress hormones in the morning. “There’s actually a physiological reason why some people experience anxiety in the mornings,” Dr. Saltz says. “For one, it’s when cortisol levels are naturally at their highest.” She explains that cortisol is often called “the stress hormone” because high levels of it can lead to feeling stressed.

“There’s nothing you can do from stopping cortisol from raising slightly in the morning—that’s biologically what happens—but there are steps you can take to lower your cortisol over all so that it doesn’t peak as high,” Dr. Saltz says. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to it!)

2. Coffee can lead to feeling anxious. What you eat or drink in the morning can also lead to increased feelings of anxiety, according to Dr. Saltz. “The first thing many people do in the morning is drink a cup of coffee. Caffeine, particularly for people who already have anxiety, can definitely worsen the symptoms of that.” She explains that caffeine can lead to feeling jittery and having an increased heart rate. “Then our brain tries to come up with a reason to explain why we feel that way: I’m feeling jittery. I must be worried about X.” Dr. Saltz says this happens so quickly that it can feel like we have the thought first and thenthe physiological reaction, but it’s actually the other way around.

3. Sugar is another culprit. What are you normally eating for breakfast? If you’re going for something that has lots of simple sugars or carbs (like a smoothie bowl or toast), the quick energy spike could ultimately affect your morning anxiety. “Right after you have an insulin burst, blood sugar levels drop and that can make your anxiety feel worse,” Dr. Saltz says, adding that this can lead to feeling fatigued or on edge for seemingly no reason. Your blood sugar is also at a natural low point in the morning (since, you know, you haven’t eaten since the night before), which can contribute to feeling anxious.

4. Morning anxiety could also be a sign of having general anxiety disorder. If you experience morning anxiety several times a week, Dr. Saltz says you likely have generalized anxiety disorder, which she says is extremely common. (This means that you are consistently experiencing symptoms of anxiety over at least a six-month period.) If this is the case, the key will be finding ways to quell your anxiety as a whole.

If you suspect that you have generalized anxiety disorder, the next best step is to seek help from a mental health professional, who help you develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

5. You’re chronically stressed. “If you are overly stressed, your body will produce more cortisol,” Dr. Saltz says. That means that morning peak is going to be higher than it would be otherwise. Again, the only way to get to the root cause of this is to take steps to minimize the stress in your life.

How to fight back against morning anxiety

Anxiety is a frustrating condition, especially when it pops up first thing in the a.m. As mentioned above, if you have chronic anxiety or a diagnosed anxiety condition, you’ll want to work with your mental health practitioner to find the right treatment for you. But if your morning anxiety is more of an occasional annoyance, Dr. Saltz has some tips that could help cut down on its occurrence:

1. Make measures to minimize overall stress. If you have generalized anxiety disorder or are overly stressed, Dr. Saltz says it’s important to take steps to manage it, which could include the help of a therapist. “Meditationregular exercise, and having an overall healthy diet all play parts in minimizing overall stress,” she adds.

2. Cut back on caffeine and sugar. Because these are two culprits that often cause physiological responses that mimic anxiety, cutting them out or reducing your intake could help. Look for breakfast foods rich in protein and healthy fats (the latter is especially good for brain health) that won’t spike insulin levels, like eggs or a green smoothie, and consider switching your regular latte for a milder form of caffeine, like matcha or tea.

3. Take some deep breaths. This might seem like an “easier said than done” situation, but Dr. Saltz says taking slow, deep breaths truly can help calm the mind and body. “If there’s something you’re worried about on your mind that pops up while you’re taking your deep breaths, acknowledge it and let it pass; don’t try to push it away,” she says.

4. Write down everything you’re worried about. In morning moments where you feel consumed by everything you have to get done that day, Dr. Saltz says it can help to write them down. “Some people keep a ‘worry journal’ for this purpose,” she says. “Once they write it down, it’s out of their mind and they can move on with their day.” It can also help, she says, to make a to-do list so you know exactly when you’re going to get everything done. That way, you’re not spending your morning trying to figure it out in your head.

5. Get enough good quality sleep. Dr. Saltz says not getting enough quality sleep can also lead to feeling anxious when you wake up. Again, it’s because those pesky cortisol levels come into play; not getting enough sleep can raise them higher.

Morning anxiety can feel frustrating and overwhelming. But knowing the everyday factors that can contribute to it can help you take back control of how you feel. Here’s to actually enjoying our morning routines again.

Find out how having anxiety impacted one woman’s career. And here’s the difference between feeling anxious and stressed.

 

When You Have a Negative Thought About Yourself, Cancel It

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There are certain negative thoughts we have about ourselves that we replay over and over. If you’re trying to break the habit of thinking terrible stuff about yourself, here’s a helpful hint: cancel that thought.

This relates to a recent post on /r/LifeProTips, shared by u/Falcia, who wants everyone to stop shit-talking themselves all the time. In fact, if you do say something bad in your mind or out loud, say two nice things as a follow-up:

Every time you say one thing about yourself that you don’t like, accompany it with saying two things that you do like. You may begin to love yourself a bit more this way.

They expanded to say this was a New Year’s resolution, and the benefits showed themselves immediately:

I find this to be a good method of retraining my brain and the way I view myself. This allowed for the times that I was down on myself, to be overrid[den] by an immediate pick me up, and soon I found I was actually running out of things to say that I didn’t like about myself, and the list that I do like could still continue on.

This tip reminded me of a phrase I learned recently on my birthday: To celebrate, I like to go see a tarot card reader and inject a little magic into my life. My reader told me to draw a card, and when I flipped it over she grabbed it to hide it.

“That ruins my surprise,” she said.

Feeling embarrassed, I joked, “Oh, I’m sorry. You have to tell me everything—I can’t be trusted!”

“Cancel that thought,” she replied. “Say, ‘I cancel that thought. I am trustworthy. I can be trusted.’”

And because we were in a small room together filled with incense, I repeated the words, “I cancel that thought. I am trustworthy. I can be trusted.”

I felt immediately better! Even jokey self-deprecation can add up in your self-perception. The best tarot card readers tell you what you need to hear, and I needed to hear that I should be kinder to myself. Since then, every time I find myself thinking some negative “truth,” I cancel that thought, and say the opposite, positive truth instead.

If you fear that saying only positive things about yourself is delusional or will skew your view of the world, consider that it’s already skewed to see the worst side of everything. There is also a big difference between acknowledging reality and predicting a negative future that hasn’t come to pass. For example, saying “the house is on fire” when the house is actually on fire isn’t the same as saying “the house will catch on fire, because houses always catch on fire, why live in a house.”

Learning to acknowledge terrible thought patterns takes work and this phrase is a catchy way to remind yourself that they’re just thoughts, not fate. Don’t get stuck in an old story that’s no longer working for you. Be the TV executive in your mental network and cancel it.

Want to Have a Fantastic Day? Give Yourself These 11 Challenges

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Change doesn’t come unless you challenge yourself. Those challenges don’t have to be a thousand miles wide, though. In fact, it’s small, everyday challenges that can make the biggest difference over time. If you’re not sure where to start, try one (or all) of these.

1. Do something mundane.

I know it can be hard to downshift when you’re psyched about an opportunity or have a lot on your plate. But do the dishes like Bill Gates. Fold laundry. Wrap yarn into a ball. The idea is that you give the decision and critical thinking parts of your brain some time to downshift. This lets your thoughts wander, letting the areas associated with creativity be more active.

2. Check your progress.

It’s easy to let goals slide if you don’t give yourself some accountability for them. Assess what you did for the day toward what you’re aiming for. If you weren’t able to work on those goals, determine exactly what interfered and how you can that from happening again tomorrow. Recommit! Checking progress also can include acknowledging how you’ve grown, healed or changed for the better. A big area that’s great to track? Your personal budget.

3. Do something small that scares you.

Even if it’s just braving the cobwebs in your basement or finally saying hello to someone on the subway, this classic recommendation from Eleanor Roosevelt will teach you to move forward, even when the situation isn’t entirely comfortable for you. Eventually, you’ll learn that the little stuff isn’t such a big deal and improve your overall confidence.

4. Keep screens off when you don’t need them.

You don’t have to swear off tech, but the idea is that you control the devices, rather than having them control you. If you are really working toward something important, turn off your phone and other devices until you actually can respond in bulk to any notifications you might get. This way you won’t get distracted and can focus on the job ahead, rather than on yet another ping. Don’t give in to the temptation to turn them on if you have the opportunity to have a conversation in real life instead.

5. Get rid of something.

You don’t have to go all Marie Kondo on your stuff, but aim to toss, recycle or donate what doesn’t have purpose. Start with lightening your purse, deleting some files, tossing unneeded receipts or letting go of that T-shirt you never wear. The less clutter you have, the more space you have to be who you are, and the less you have to worry about and maintain.

6. Perform a good deed.

Acts of kindness don’t just help others. They remind you that you have a very real influence for good in the world, which is essential for your sense of purpose and self-esteem.

7. Contact or connect with someone.

Maybe this means calling your mom or an old friend. Or maybe it means finally sending that email or tweet to an entrepreneur you admire. Talking to someone new as you wait in line counts, too. Interaction can improve mental and physical health, provides opportunities and ensures that you don’t lose yourself too deeply in work.

8. Skip the lies.

Even if the truth is hard to swallow, it doesn’t stop having value. It is what helps people trust you, so just tell it like it is as kindly as you can. Don’t be surprised if this challenge is harder than you expect, because maintaining truth requires you to face just about every insecurity and fear you’ve got.

9. Learn.

The more you know, the more you can apply, and the more you understand the world enough to change it. Listen to an educational podcast, watch a fun instructional Youtube video, ask your smart speaker for some cool facts or take an afternoon to head to a museum. Doing some work by hand rather than taking a shortcut is perfect, too.

9. Rephrase something to be positive.

Consciously halt your knee-jerk tendency to complain and instead find the good in something in front of you. For example, instead of saying, “I couldn’t get in touch with Joe today,” you can say, “I was able to leave Joe a clear message so we can continue tomorrow.” The more you actively look for the positive, the easier it is for your brain to find it.

10. Say “I am” or “I have” rather than “I will”.

You admittedly can’t always get to a job immediately, and there’s definite value in having a clear vision and focus for your future. But with this subtle language shift, you force yourself to try to take some immediate action and not procrastinate. It also helps you look at what you’ve already accomplished toward your goals and can feel good about. For example, say “I am calling her to find a time to meet” or “I have put her on my calendar”, rather than “I will meet her tomorrow.”

11. Do something physical.

Whether it’s just taking the stairs or doing some seriously intense kickboxing, any kind of exercise keeps you agile and fit enough to do everything else you love. It also can help relieve stress, improve energy and boost your mood.

6 Simple Ways to Improve Your Life in 6 Short Days

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Want to improve your life? Considering that we spend more waking hours at work than we do at home, it would make sense to gain an edge over both our professional and personal lives.

For work, I glean wisdom from Steve Jobs and science to help us keep more focused and productive.

For improving one’s personal life, I called on Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and science to help us frame our lives with what’s most important.

Let’s look at both sides of the life-improvement coin, starting with your work life. Which of these habits can you start putting into play this week to elevate your game and be more productive?

1. Focus on doing the things that truly matter.

If you’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of overwork with an endless to-do list that won’t go away, try this to keep your sanity: Only do the things that create value in your life.

This prophetic quote by Steve Jobs 22 years ago hits the nail on the head. Here’s what he said at an Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Without focus, your very ability to think, reason, and make decisions will naturally suffer. You just can’t maximize your efficiency or go into a state of flow if your mind is wandering off in 1,000 directions.

2. Work in intervals.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness, co-authors of Peak Performancediscovered that what separates great performers is how they practice “with full attention, focused on high-quality work, and in chunks of 60 to 90 minutes separated by short breaks.”

In their research, Stulberg and Magness found plenty of evidence that adopting an interval-based approach to productivity isn’t just for gifted artists, jocks, and docs and other brainy types. It can transform the workplace for employees as well.

In one study, the most productive people apply the rule of 52 and 17: They spend 52 minutes engrossed in their work and then break for 17 minutes before getting back to work.

3. Master your morning routine.

You arrive at the office and, as if on cue, distractions start to pile up and fires need to be put out. If that sounds familiar, productivity psychologist Melissa Gratias recommends this morning routine the moment you sit down at your desk.

  • Map out the first 30 to 60 minutes of your day. What do you need to do to start the day well, and how much time should you allocate to each task?
  • Avoid jumping into email. Once you open your inbox, you may be sucked into a whirlpool of others’ needs. Do this last, even toward the end of the day.
  • Minimize interruptions. Mute your phone and make sure your email notifications are off. Schedule morning huddles rather than interrupting others (or being interrupted).
  • Avoid tasks that steal your productivity. Your “opening ritual” is a time to look at your calendar, update your to-do list, note your top priorities for the day, and clear off your desk.

Here’s the other side of the coin. Did you ever consider how these life strategies could drastically improve your outlook and put you on the path you’ve always imagined?

1. Measure your success in life by one word: love.

In Warren Buffett’s biography The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Buffett lays down sage advice counterintuitive to most of us:

Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.

I know many people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them.

That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.

The third-richest person on the planet says the most important lesson and “the ultimate test” of a life well-lived has nothing to do with money and everything to do with the most powerful emotion a human being can feel: love.

2. Treasure your friendships.

If you’re not aware, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are really close. Gates once said the biggest lessons he’s learned from Buffett over the years are more personal than dollars and cents. And the most important thing he’s learned from Buffett over 25 years?

What friendship is really all about.

Gates writes, “It’s about being the kind of friend you wish you had yourself. Everyone should be lucky enough to have a friend who is as thoughtful and kind as Warren. He goes out of his way to make people feel good about themselves and share his joy about life. To this day, every time I go to Omaha (which I try to do whenever I can), Warren still drives out to the airport to pick me up.”

Who are your true friends? Whom can you really count on in crisis or when the chips are down? Those are the friends you should treasure for life. Just remember: It’s a two-way street.

3. Give.

We’ve all heard the cliché that it’s better to give than to receive. Now science says the very act of giving away your money leads to more happiness. But there’s a catch.

Harvard Business School report concluded that the emotional rewards of giving are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others.

In other words, donating to an unfamiliar and anonymous charity doesn’t raise your happiness levels as much as contributing to a cancer-stricken friend’s GoFundMe campaign does.

The findings, published in the International Journal of Happiness and Development​, strongly suggest that “social giving” makes people happier, plain and simple.

This was the first study of its kind to examine how social connection helps turn generous “prosocial” behavior — the type that benefits another person — into positive feelings for the donor.

The bottom line? It’s the social connection tied to the giving that gives the giver the greatest psychological benefit and boost of happiness.

3 Ways Meditation Can Catapult Your Career

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Anyone that’s been to a yoga class recently has heard of the concept of meditation. Chances are, in 2019, you will start hearing about it more in the workplace, too. According to a report by the CDC, the number of American adults saying they meditated jumped from 4.1% in 2012 to 14.2% in 2018.

The benefits of meditation can help you in many aspects of your life, but here are three ways in which the practice can benefit your career.

  • It can help you realize what you really want. For the most fortunate of us, the hunt for a job meant finding out what truly makes us happy and turning that into a career. When that dream isn’t realized right away, it can cause depression and complacency, and ultimately result in the death of that dream. Meditation can not only help you practice self-awareness, but acceptance, as well.
  • It reduces stress. Work can be a huge stressor for most people, especially if there is a large sum of money on the line. When it comes time to grind, that stress can be a real hinderance. For example, a survey from EveryDay Health found that 57% of respondents say they are paralyzed by stress. Mindfulness meditation, even done for only a few minutes a day, can help reduce stress and anxiety, as demonstrated in a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study.
  • It gets creative juices flowing. If you work in a creative realm, you understand the concept of walking away and revisiting. Sometimes, when you’re stuck on an idea that you can’t seem to work yourself through, it is best to take a walk around the block and come back to it. When you don’t have that much time, however, focusing on your breathing and meditating for a few minutes allows your brain to do a soft reset.

While it may still seem like a foreign concept to some, the importance of meditation cannot be diminished. As I tell many of the entrepreneurs and job seekers I coach, even if it feels strange, what do you have to lose? I invite you to try it today and see how you feel.

Ashley Stahl is a career coach who helps job seekers find their purpose, land more job offers and launch their dream businesses. Visit AshleyStahl.com for free courses, resources and more.

How Self-Help Can Help The World

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Many meditators, yogis, and other spiritual practitioners will answer this question with a resounding yes. Critics – ranging from religious studies and management scholars to serious Buddhist practitioners – may disagree.

Mindfulness meditation, which has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years, is commonly associated with a wide-ranging set of contemplative practices aimed at training oneself to pay “attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally,” as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society.

Early leaders in the mindfulness movement, many of whom came of age in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, had a more activist bent; they hoped that mindfulness would lead to a wave of self-actualization, increased compassion for others, and democratic decision-making. With these tools, humanity would be able to collectively address the many complex social problems we collectively face, such as racism, overconsumption, economic inequality, and environmental degradation.

To investigate the spread of mindfulness across powerful social institutions in science, healthcare, education, business, and the military, I travelled around the country from 2010-2012, and again in 2015, talking with leaders of the mindfulness movement. The passionate, inspiring mindfulness advocates at top Ivy League and flagship universities, at Fortune 500 companies like Google and General Mills, at K-12 schools, and the U.S. military had personally benefited from meditating and felt bolstered by a wave of scientific evidence which has supported the practices’ beneficial effects on well-being, memory, attention, meta-awareness, cognitive flexibility, and emotional regulation. Above all, by sharing mindfulness, meditators believed they not only transformed themselves, but the world around them.

Yet, most meditators I spoke with revealed more self-centered effects from spending time in quiet contemplation. This was not surprising to some of mindfulness’ leaders.

Sitting in his office at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society in January of 2015 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, Executive Director Saki Santorelli told me that people loved to do mindfulness because they learned about who they were, and through the practice, they transcended who they previously were, and who they had thought they were. This process was intrinsically rewarding and exhilarating.

People come to their mindfulness program, he said, because they have “a Real. Life. Problem. Something is just not right,” he said. “And what keeps people engaged is . . . the most interesting topic in the world.” He paused and turned toward me.

“What is this most interesting topic in the world?” He paused again, waiting.

“The most interesting topic in the world,” he responded, “is me.” He continued, “People come here because they are interested in me. Meaning themselves. And something’s not quite right about me or I want to learn more about me including “how am I going to live with this condition for the next 20 or 30 or 40 years?”
In teaching mindfulness at the Center, they seek to “draw out,” rather than “pour in” knowledge. They seek to ignite “a fire with people to know more about ‘who’ or ‘what’ I actually am,” he said. He explained:

They start with practice. Practice reveals not because I say so, but because they discover it. They discover that they have a breath, they discover that it feels a particular way, they discover something about the relative present moment, whatever that is. They discover something about what happens in their viscera when they have a particular thought or a particular emotion . . . They discover the ways that they’re conditioned or limiting themselves or living today out of yesterday’s memory, about whom or what I am or what I’m capable of. And they love it. . . . And whenever people discover a little bit more about who they are, they transcend. And ultimately, I think that’s what’s transformative—is that sense of transcending. Transcend some idea about who you think they are, even if it’s a tiny little idea, and then you feel more room.

Others found meditation useful for different reasons. Neuroscientist Ravi Chaudhary (pseudonym used upon request) thought mindfulness practice provided him with a critical cognitive distance that enabled him to pause, reflect, and ultimately, have greater self-control in facing the challenges that arose in his life. He has learned “not be super reactive to unpleasant situations,” he said. “There’s difficult situations no matter what,” but with mindfulness, he now can take “a moment, sit back and accept that . . . I am not part of it, but rather it is there and I am here.” This helps him make decisions “as if it’s a presumed situation,” and he feels less entangled with difficult situations.

These effects of mindfulness meditation are no doubt important: they help people learn about themselves and, hopefully, engage in more thoughtful decision-making. Mindfulness meditation can also have a therapeutic effect for many people, helping them de-stress, calm themselves and provide openings to experience a sense of peace.

However, mindfulness’s impact off the cushion of the larger organizations and communities where it is practiced largely remains to be seen. Most mindfulness programs have never gotten around to confronting the many larger-scale social problems we face as a society; in fact many newer practitioners might be surprised to learn that founders of early mindfulness programs had sought out such activist-minded ends. In speaking with dozens of program leaders and mindfulness teachers, only a handful had any evidence at all that their programs’ impacts extended beyond the program’s direct participants and into the larger organizations they were a part of.

The impact of mindfulness practice, even among top CEOs and corporate leaders, is largely not trickling down into their larger companies and causing them to cut down expected work hours or loads or increase wages, which are the fundamental causes of the stress many Americans face today. While meditation practices may individually improve the lives of practitioners, and perhaps even those they regularly interact with, it is less clear how the practices lead to the collective action needed to address the complex social problems we face daily in our workplaces and in our democracy.

Yet, the myth that mindfulness will lead to a more progressive, utopian world continues to linger, as a mirage, that might appear just around the bend.

Featured image credit: “Take a seat photo” by Simon Wilkes. Public Domain via Unsplash.

Dispositional Mindfulness: Noticing What You Notice

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Many forms therapy and spiritual practice speak of mindfulness. Dispositional mindfulness (sometimes known as trait mindfulness) is a type of consciousness that has only recently been given serious research considerations.

It is defined as a keen awareness and attention to our thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and the research shows that the ability to engage in this prime intention has many physical, psychological, and cognitive benefits.

Mindfulness meditation is different. It has taken the Buddhist practice of mindfulness and introduced it to the western world as a form of preparing and training. Those who practice mindfulness meditation are often encouraged to have a “sitting practice,” where they have set aside time to meditate.

In the West, this practice is considered a means to an end. We will be calmer, have lower blood pressure, better relationships, and less stress if we use this practice. While all this is true, the mindfulness aspect of this practice — the essence of this style of meditation was not designed as a means to an end — it was designed to be a way of conscious living.

Mindfulness, when viewed in this way, becomes a quality in our life — a trait, not a state we enter into during practice.

Don’t get me wrong — mindfulness meditation and the wide variety of training programs and opportunities are all valuable exercises. But the original intention of mindfulness and the science now surrounding dispositional mindfulness may be at the very root of how we maintain hope, perseverance, and mental health.

Here is a sample of the research outcomes from nearly 100 studies using dispositional mindfulness:

  • Lower levels of perceived stress
  • Lower use of avoidance coping strategies
  • Fewer depressive symptoms
  • Greater perseverance
  • Less anxiety
  • More hope
  • Reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Improved adaptive coping strategies
  • Reduced rumination
  • Less catastrophizing about pain
  • Diminished neuroticism
  • Improved executive function
  • Decreased impulsivity
  • Increased emotional stability
Proof Positive

This is an impressive list as the intervention we are talking about is a non-judging awareness of our thoughts and actions. The non-judgment is an important aspect of this practice. Cultivating a witness, a self that views our own experience with a benevolent prospective, has importance and impact.

This means that even before we attempt to change our thoughts, there is value — exceptional value — in simply noticing them.

This wobbly space between perception and response becomes clearer once we are given permission to examine the gap. Dispositional mindfulness is an invitation to widen that gap simply by noticing it exists. As we step back from our moment-to-moment experience we are cultivating our mindfulness, which then opens the way to responsiveness and the possibility and potential to shift our perceptions for the better.

As the Beat poet Alan Ginsberg suggested, one way to enter this gap is to “notice what you notice.” The practice is simple enough. As you survey your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a present moment try to do so without judgment. This pause for thought is, in itself, the very dispositional mindfulness that research is showing has so many benefits.

In essence, the practice is strengthened when we catch ourselves thinking.

What Does It Take to Have a Healthy Personality?

Author Article

If you were to stop and think about what features constitute a truly “healthy” person from a psychological perspective, what would be your criteria? Is it necessary to be happy to be healthy? Do you have to be able to roll with the punches that life throws your way? Do you need to be in a good relationship? Does your record of truth-telling have to be squeaky clean? Should you steer clear of arguments? Try coming up with your own set of criteria and jot them down, or just list them in your head right now. Hold on to your answers before you read further.

University of California, Davis psychologist Wiebke Bleidorn teamed up with a distinguished group of personality psychologists from around the U.S. and Germany to investigate exactly this question. It would seem to take a massive effort to get even two people to agree on what constitutes “health” from a psychological perspective. After all, would the criteria you listed to yourself agree with the ones you believe your own partner would generate? Making matters worse, there isn’t even 100-percent consensus among psychologists about the qualities that make up “personality.” However, if you are willing to take a leap of faith on that second question, perhaps the jobisn’t as impossible as it might seem at first glance.

Assume, for the moment, that you can define personality. According to the Five-Factor Model, the approach that has received the most rigorous empirical treatment, personality consists of a set of 30 facets that form five basic dimensions. As defined in this way, your personality consists of relatively consistent ways of approaching the experiences you encounter in your life. Additionally, the Five-Factor Model proposes that your behaviors reflect your personality. As a result, not only can you describe your own personality qualities if asked to do so on a questionnaire, but other people will be able to describe you with a fair degree of accuracy. The people who know you the best, in particular, can rate you on qualities such as attentionto detail, willingness to try new things, ability to handle adversity, and general “niceness.” The qualities that make up the Five-Factor Model include such characteristics.

Traits may not tell the whole story, because they don’t apply to the deeper motivations that influence your behavior, nor do they specifically apply to emotions, but in terms of describing your basic personality, they can do a reasonably good job. The authors believe that “existing personality trait models are a viable avenue for describing the healthy personality . . . [they] capture both normative and extreme patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and . . . multidimensional trait models seemingly capture most of the important variation in human personality.”

Bleidorn and her collaborators go on to note that the Five-Factor Model is viewed as a useful perspective for understanding personality disorders. Why not, they propose, flip things around and see what the model can do for shedding light on the qualities that make up the desirable personality? The authors recognize that the healthy personality might be a moving target, but it can at least be a target that experts can generate, making it possible to compare their criteria with those that the ordinary individual can agree are also part of the equation. Together, the expert and lay perspectives can provide a road map for defining, once and for all, what it means to have psychological health.

Before describing their own trait-based approach to defining the healthy personality, the authors took into account diverse perspectives in psychology, ranging from Freud, who defined health as the ability to “loveand work,” to Maslow, who believed psychological health is synonymous with “self-actualization.” Rogers, for his part, theorized that psychological healthy people are “fully functioning,” and Frankl proposed that healthy people are able to find meaning in their lives. Across these diverse perspectives, though, Bleidorn et al. believe that they all propose the existence of a “specific personality prototype” that has certain characteristics, including the ability to love, to hold an optimistic view of the world, to be rational, have self-awareness, be able to take responsibility, be open to creative ideas. Positive psychology, they suggest, further emphasizes the good that healthy people are capable of doing.

The first step in the approach the researchers used was to ask personality experts to provide their own ratings of which of the 30 qualities in the Five-Factor Model comprise the healthy personality. Scholars outside the trait tradition, namely from the area of positive psychology, also provided their own ratings as did undergraduate students, who, presumably, are not personality experts, at least as yet. After obtaining these ratings, Bleidorn et al. then went on to test the statistical qualities of these composite ratings. Going into the process, the authors expected the healthy personality to be low in the facets of Neuroticism (N), and high on scales measuring Agreeableness (A), Extraversion (E), Conscientiousness (C), and Openness to Experience (O).

Using listservs of two professional associations that focus on personality, the authors requested that anyone interested profile the healthy personality using the 30 traits incorporated into the full Five-Factor Model (five traits X six facets within each). The sample of experts included 137 psychologists averaging 38 years old, with 60 percent identifying as female, 54 percent having a doctoral degree, and 71 percent involved with research. The other experts included 77 researchers working within the positive psychology tradition (average age of 49 with a similar profile as the first expert rating group). Student raters were drawn from campuses affiliated with two of the study authors, but both in the U.S. There were slightly over 500 students in these samples, with an average age of 21 years (76 percent female).

From experts to college students, the rating task provided strong convergence in the healthy personality qualities. The profiles they generated included low scores on all facets of N, and high scores on Openness to Feelings (part of O), Positive Emotions (a facet of E), and Straightforwardness (a facet of A). The only difference between lay people (i.e., students) and the experts involved Gregariousness and Excitement-Seeking (facets of E); students weighted these more heavily than did the experts in constructing the healthy personality profile. The second set of studies tested the healthy personality profile for stability over a two-week period and then, using a longitudinal data set from Germany, examined stability over the far longer period of five years. They also took advantage of data from the German study to examine the extent of agreement between identical twins as an assessment of the potential heritability of the healthy personality qualities. The results extended the findings from the first study to show that the high stability (and even heritability) of the healthy personality profile.

Extending from showing the existence of, and stability of, the healthy personality profile, the research team then went on to examine how adaptive to adjustment people high in these qualities would be. As expected, people whose own personalities closely matched the healthy profile were positively adjusted, as indicated by high self-esteem, positive self-concept, a clear sense of self, and high levels of optimism. They showed considerable self-control and had low scores on measures of aggression. Although overall narcissism scores didn’t relate to the healthy personality profile, there was a tendency for those at the healthy end of the scale to be somewhat grandiose and self-sufficient. They did not, unlike people who fit the narcissism personality disorder definition, have high scores on exploitativeness. In the psychopathy domain, on the two qualities considered “adaptive” (boldness and stress immunity), healthy people had higher scores, but they had low scores in the maladaptive areas of blame externalization and lack of control.

From a developmental standpoint, the authors maintain that in contrast to what midlife crisis theory would imply, “the healthy profile indicated that experts consider those traits as particularly healthy that tend to be most pronounced in middle adulthood.” If you don’t have a healthy personality now, the findings imply, you can still work on gaining qualities that will help you get there.

To sum up, the process of achieving fulfillment is one that you can work on over time if your personality doesn’t meet the profile of optimum health. With the knowledge that being emotionally stable, open to creative ideas, straightforward, and responsible all contribute to psychological health, working toward this fulfillment may very well be an achievable life goal.

Positive Thinking Can Help Your Health Later In Life, According To A Recent Study

Author Article
Life sure can have its ups and downs, but it looks like maintaining a strong sense of optimism could actually benefit your health in the longterm. According to a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), positive thinking can help your health in your later years. Who knows — positive thinking could just be the key to immortality. I’m kidding, of course (or am I?)

The study, conducted by Professor Andrew Steptoe and Dr Daisy Fancourt, analysed data collated between 2012 and 2016 from over 7,000 adults over the age of 50 as part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), as described by University College London.

When asked “to what extent they felt the things they did in their life were worthwhile,” participants were instructed to rate their answer on a scale from one to ten. Researchers found that those who rated higher lived life significantly better. From walking faster to sleeping well, those with a positive attitude exuded it in both mind and body.

Having an optimistic outlook on life has plenty of other benefits too, including an improvement on your ability to cope with stress, can boost your immunity, and can even lead to an increased lifespan, according to Verywell Mind.

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Taking other aspects of a participants life into account, the study was also able to determine that those who had higher ratings kept their lives pretty busy, surrounding themselves with strong relationships, socialising, and exercising. Participants who rated lower were “twice as likely to develop depressive symptoms,” and were also linked with living on their own and feeling overwhelmingly lonely.

“As more and more men and women live longer, we need to understand better what factors lead to healthier and happier older age,” Steptoe explained. “This is a two-way process. Not only do good social relationships and better health contribute to our sense that we are living meaningful lives, but this sense of meaning sustains social and cultural activity, health and wellbeing in the future.”

Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy

Even though this study focuses on those aged over 50, that doesn’t mean that those in their thirties, twenties, or even teens can’t adopt a more positive outlook on life. I mean, starting early is always the best thing in my book, especially if it can improve your health and mental wellbeing.

And even if you’re introverted or have mental health issues like depression, you can gain positivity from literally anything. For me, it’s always the little things like immersing myself in video games or just spending time with my family.

Jayme Burrows/Stocksy

“We do not know what activities the participants in this study thought were worthwhile,” Fancourt explained. “For some it might be supporting their families, for others a particular accomplishment in their work or hobby, enjoying nature or perhaps following a favourite sports team. What is important is that the individual finds these activities worthwhile and feels like they give a sense of meaning to life.”

If you want to start living your life to the optimistic full, here’s some advice. Pick one thing your absolutely passionate about, and fit it into your daily routine. Even if you’re having a rough day, it’ll be there to pick you up and spin your mind back into the positive.

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