Category Archives: fitness

How to HEAL (With a Challenge)

Hardwiring Happiness


Hardwiring Happiness is a book about taking your everyday experiences and using them to build inner strengths. When you have certain characteristics like self-compassion and curiosity, you can call upon them during times of frustration and difficulty–but more importantly, they serve you well in everyday moments. Learning to appreciate the small things your partner does, pulling back on an argument with your child, and taking courageous steps towards accomplishing your goals all become easier when you have a wealth of inner resources.

How it Works

If you have a passing familiarity with pop neuroscience, you know the phrase “neurons that fire together wire together.” Your brain is an association machine and when we make associations, we learn. In his book, Dr. Rick Hanson calls upon you to use the brain’s knack for association to resource yourself–to H.E.A.L. the parts of yourself that are wounded and thrive in your daily life.

Metta meditation asks you to cultivate compassion. You do this by focusing on your heart, repeating the same phrase, and being aware of what compassion feels like in the body. The sustained attention to the emotion helps it grow and fill you up.

Hardwiring Happiness is asking you to apply the same general practice to your other inner strengths.

(In the Alert Authentic Mindful Group on Facebook, we are doing a 21-day challenge inspired by Dr. Rick Hanson’s book. Hardwiring Happiness. Please join us!)

Why You Should Do It

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Dr. Hanson spends the first part of the book going over some of the science and answering the question Why we want to learn the skills he is going to teach us in the second half of the book.

Our brains have a negativity bias. This is in our evolutionary past *not* noticing a pretty flower is okay; *not* noticing a tiger means death. Hardwiring Happiness is not about ignoring tigers. There are and always will be negative things in our lives that we need to pay attention to–and actually, some experiences that feel bad are good for us in the long run.

That does not mean that we should ignore the positive or leave it to our brains to notice it. We want to help our minds pay attention to the lightness and the dark–to quit giving undue attention and power to the negative.

The Human Default

Our world is vastly different today than in our evolutionary past. For our ancestors, serious stress was related to serious stress. Tigers, fear of banishment, and snakes. Sadly, our brains cannot tell the difference between these very real threats to our lives and too much traffic on the highway. We have so many stressors today, including but not limited to the intense and frequent technology stress that we get from renewing our Facebook page. Stress reactions used to be occasional but they are now frequent. Our bodies are now in a constant state of reactivity which is not good for our health, mental or physical.

Responsiveness, as opposed to reactivity, used to be our norm. There weren’t lions around every corner. In social situations, we were less knee-jerk and more of the present and open.

This book will help give you the tools to return to that state or responsiveness by paying attention to the positive around us and turning mental states into neural traits by helping strengthen the bonds between neurons that focus on the beneficial in your daily life.

The Method

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Follow this simple acronym: HEAL

H: Have an experience

E: Enrich

A: Absorb

L: Link

Have an experience: This is the easy part. This month, some experiences will just crop up during the course of your day; some you might have to create for yourself.

Enrich: Think of moments when you naturally feel complete. People often have them on vacation or during the holidays–they look around at their family members and their surroundings and are overwhelmed with gratitude.

You can create this kind of feeling by taking time out of your day to enrich positive experiences. While it may not envelop you in the way it does when it comes naturally, you can make it a much bigger part of your life.

Absorb: This step will often happen at the same time as enrich. As you are making the experience bigger and more embodied, visualize it sinking into you. Maybe you like the idea of gold dust sinking into your center; or maybe you want to picture electricity pulsing in your brain and creating your experience. Whatever it is, try to make the beneficial feeling more apart of you.

Link: One of the reasons that our memories of the past are so bad is because each time we recall them, we can modify them. We can use this little quirk of our brain to heal parts of us that are hard to handle.

When you “link,” you hold the positive experience in the forefront of your mind and call up a negative experience–holding it on the sidelines. Over time, this will gradually make those parts sting less.

HEALing is not about denying the negative in our lives, just paying the beneficial its due. 

(Please join us! We are already on day 4 of our challenge!)

If you have the time, listen to Dr. Rick Hanson go over some of the concepts on his podcast.

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Self-Care Isn’t Fun

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I am making friends.

I am making friends because they are something my children and I will need.

I am making friends even though it is draining and often feels like a waste of time.

I am making friends even though the results won’t start to really shine for a couple of years.

I am making new friends as a form of self-care.

What do you think of when you hear the term self-care?

If you think of chocolate covered strawberries and $150 massages, then you are thinking the wrong thing.

True self-care is not about what feels good in the moment. It is often the things that we don’t want to do. It is about restructuring your life so that you don’t feel you have to run away from it. It is about creating habits that make you a healthy, energetic, centered person.

Self-care is about reducing the influence of people who you love dearly who are unhealthy and unhappy. Even if they’re not toxic to you, personally. Because they are dragging you down physically and mentally. And it isn’t correlation.

It means delaying gratification. It means working 10 to 20 minutes a day on some project or skill and seeing no results for a long time. It means reframing your thought process and not being able to take a picture of it. It means focusing on immeasurables with little to no short-term payoff and no end in sight.

While meditation may some day feel good, you might hate it. But it doesn’t matter.

While exercise may some day feel good, you might resent it. But it doesn’t matter.

While journaling may some day feel good, you might look down on it. But it doesn’t matter.

Self-care is about doing these things that make you happier and healthier in the long run.

 

Many of the people who do them regularly do not enjoy them. Most of the people who work out 5 times a week are not thrilled to be going to the gym again; and many of the people who meditate feel like idiots with racing minds half the time when they sit down.

But they do it any way. Not because it is fun or because they’re disciplined, but because they know they need to in order to have a life that doesn’t scare and exhaust them. They do it because they’ve created automaticity for all of these healthy habits—they’ve set up a systems that make them feel odd if they don’t do these unexciting practices.

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Self-care is about creating those systems.

About adding extra steps between yourself and the easy, destructive thing you want to do; and creating fewer steps between the difficult, healthy thing you know you need to do. It means putting the soda in the garage and putting the toothpicks out right next to your toothbrush.

It means getting rid of things that clutter your house, the stuff that reminds you to be sad or to have a drink. It means setting upper limits on your sugar consumption and setting lower limits on how much time you spend walking each day.

Self-care is about recognizing the things in your life that matter and take work, and then working on them, even though you can let them slip by on any given day and it would be hard to notice.

It means putting work into your relationship each day so that you aren’t just coasting along on comfortable until your partnership succumbs to entropy.

It means seeing that you’ve addressed the healthy mind platter to make sure you’re getting all of your little mind-nutrients so that you can be fulfilled.

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Treating yourself can be nice. Go get the massage, have a piece of chocolate, take a vacation.

But this is not what self-care is. Self-care is making the decision to build up the nitty gritty habits that take away what makes you feel frazzled, hectic, and beaten down, and replacing it with things that make you feel full.