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Surprising Insights About Lasting Happiness

We all want to be happy, but happiness can be fleeting. These surprising insights hold the key to lasting happiness.

Happiness Doesn’t Last Long

On Sunday mornings, I work out with my trainer, Emily. This is a pretty recent and very positive development in my life. With her unwavering support and perfectly timed pushes, she’s teaching me, building my strength and my confidence, and helping me reach my goals (Michele Obama arms and 10 push ups). I find myself (surprisingly) looking forward to the creative tortures she designs for me each time. Today’s wrapped up with a grueling round of conditioning: 6 45 second intervals of explosive exercises. At the end, with my heart slamming and breath panting, we fist bumped, and I prepared for my short walk home. My heart continued to pound the whole way, and it took a solid 15 minutes or so for my breath to fully return to normal and for my body to achieve homeostasis. But I’m so glad it did.

Homeostasis is defined as a self-regulating process by which an organism maintains a relatively stable internal environment in the face of external changes. In other words, it’s our body’s ability to return to baseline when things throw it for a loop. It’s the reason my heart rate and breathing slowed this morning. Can you imagine what would happen if our bodies weren’t designed to do this? If our heart rates didn’t settle back down after being elevated by exercise or adrenaline? At this morning’s intensity, I’d be dead within the week!

So homeostasis is a good thing…and it’s one of the reasons lasting happiness is so hard to find. 

It’s Impossible for Happiness to Last

Homeostasis isn’t just a goal for our physiological systems. It applies to our psychological ones as well. That means that when something happens that makes us happy, say we get something we really want like a new item or achievement, the high fades pretty quickly, our brains seek homeostasis, and we return to baseline. This makes happiness elusive. We’re not going to get – and keep – happiness indefinitely, contrary to what a lot of people believe is possible. 

When you stop and really think about it, this is a brilliant design feature from Mother Nature. If happiness were something we could easily get and keep forever, we’d lose our drive. We’d have no reason to strive for anything again and would basically become big lumps of nothing. Thus, happiness, by nature, is fleeting. 

Yet, the title of this post is surprising insights into lasting happiness. And, yes, I do believe lasting happiness is possible. It just requires a complete reengineering of how we think about it.  

What Is Happiness? 

Through a series of luck and good fortune, I ended up being able to attend the TEDxKC event on Friday. If you’re not familiar, this kind of event involves a series TED style talks in which dynamic speakers spread big ideas in 18 minutes or less. It was inspiring and expansive. One of my favorite talks was by Arthur Brooks, a professor at Harvard School of Business, prolific author, podcast host, and happiness expert. Dr. Brooks spoke about the keys to lasting happiness, and I could not wait to share his insights. 

The first adjustment in our thinking we have to make when it comes to lasting happiness is how we even define what happiness is. Dr. Brooks made the point that happiness is multi-faceted and that it includes so much more than the pursuit of pleasure or the experience of the simple emotion we call “happiness,” both of which so many people equate it to. According to him, there are three components to real happiness: enjoyment, meaning & purpose, and satisfaction. 

Without spoiling his entire talk (it’s well-worth watching when it’s available online), he highlighted a couple paradoxical points. Besides the one we’ve already covered – that we are designed to return to baseline so a perpetually elevated state is biologically impossible – he challenged another widely belief: unhappiness is bad. The cultural myth that we can – and should – be happy at all times is backwards and harmful. It’s not possible, for one, and it diminishes the role of pain in happiness. 

Wait. Isn’t happiness really the absence of pain? No. Pleasure is the absence of pain, and pleasure is just one tiny slice of the happiness pie. Pleasure is a sense of “I like this” in this moment. It factors into the enjoyment aspect of happiness if you think of enjoyment as pleasure + a recognition and appreciation of the moment and a cognitive appraisal that “this is good.” Enjoyment alone, however, is not enough for lasting happiness. We get sated and return to baseline. Think of the first bite of a yummy pie with ice cream compared to the 100th. You get bored of the flavor and bloated with fullness. Enjoyment decreases over time. More is not better, and the constant chase of pleasure will actually end in pain.

That’s why all of the leading thinkers and researchers in the field of happiness, from ancient philosophers to modern scientists, know that lasting happiness includes more than just feeling good in the moment and that pain is unavoidable and, perhaps, even beneficial. 

When we consider meaning and purpose, a foundational contributor to our happiness and wellbeing, we must consider that it often arises from pain or hardship or, flatly put, unhappiness. It is often our struggles that illuminate our path toward purpose. Heartbreak and hardship can provide the impetus for our passion and for work that gives us a sense of meaning. And without that preceding pain, we may not find this important component of happiness. 

Pain, struggle, and unhappiness are integrally interwoven with satisfaction as well. I can tell you that I decidedly did NOT enjoy struggling through pull-ups this morning with Emily. It was physically hard and uncomfortable. Mentally, it made me aware of my current weakness, and I had to fight the urge to give up (not that she would let me). Yet, I endured that displeasure, that discomfort because I know that on the other side of it lies a sense of satisfaction. I know that I will be happy when I can knock out those push ups in the not so distant future. That feeling of pride, worth it-ness, and accomplishment contributes to our happiness and wellbeing, but it demands a measure of unhappiness to get there. 

If we can take these insights into account – embracing the fleeting nature of happiness and its intricate link to unhappiness – we may become freer, especially in the face of inevitable pain and discomfort, knowing that it is an important and recurring stop on the path to lasting happiness, a prerequisite to meaning and satisfaction. We can challenge ourselves to expand and be willing to embrace this dark side knowing that pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. And in doing so, we may just find more happiness overall. 

“The key to happiness is not being rich; it’s doing something arduous and creating something of value and then being able to reflect on the fruits of your labor.”
– Arthur C. Brooks

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How to Get More Appreciation

Feeling and expressing appreciation are critical for healthy relationships. Here’s how to get more appreciation if you feel taken for granted and how to make others feel more appreciated.

The Importance of Appreciation

When was the last time you felt so appreciated that you just wished it would stop? “I get it. You value me and the effort I’m putting it in. it makes a real difference to you. You’re grateful for me and can’t imagine what you’d do without me. Stop it already. I’m over it!” Said NO ONE EVER.

Appreciation is a driver – something that motivates us, fuels us, connects us – that we can’t get enough of. Our appreciation tanks don’t get full. There’s always room for more. 

Appreciation – both feeling and expressing – is important for a number of reasons. It has an impact on performance and behaviors. People who feel appreciated are going to be more willing to work hard and are going to be more engaged than those who feel taken for granted, whether that’s at home or the office. It’s the whole “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar” bit of Southern wisdom.

There’s also an important relationship aspect to consider as well. Feeling appreciated by and for others in your life is something that can enhance the bond between you, foster positive and healthy connections, and buffer you against the negative effects of inevitable tension or conflict. Unfortunately, we don’t always feel recognized, valued, or appreciated, and, as difficult as it might be to admit, we’re not always great at giving those things to the people we care about.

Why We Don’t Always Express How We Feel

Sometimes we just expect others to know how much we value them. Trust me, though, unless you are point blank telling them in some way, they don’t fully realize it. We all need to hear “good job,” “you matter,” “what you do makes a difference in my life,” “I see your hard work.” Without it, we can feel taken for granted or devalued, and those are recipes for resentment, disengagement, and hurt feelings.  

Sometimes, people have the thought, “I shouldn’t have to express appreciation for every little thing.” We have expectations about what others should or shouldn’t do. Those expectations are demands from our minds about how reality should be and are not necessarily realistic or helpful. They don’t take into account that expressing appreciation isn’t a fluffy, frivolous thing to make someone feel good. While it typically will have that effect, it also has a functional purpose in that heaping on the recognition is likely to get you more of that very thing you’re recognizing and appreciating. Assuming that’s desirable, check that unhelpful expectation at the door and accept that appreciation can be a powerful tool.  

Finally, it can also feel a little forced or fake to express appreciation, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you. The good news is that this is a skill, and skills can be learned and mastered. It just takes willingness to put in the effort to practice and some experimentation to find the style that works for you. 

Our Brains Are Working Against Us 

Here’s where it can get really interesting. Because our brains have to process so much information so quickly to keep us alive and functioning in the world, they’ve had to develop some short cuts that lead to some biases in the way we think and contribute to a lot of problems. One of the most well-known of these biases is the negativity biasOur brains have a natural tendency to notice and hold onto negative information. That means that negative stuff stands out to us significantly more than positive stuff does. It’s like there’s a spotlight on the bad, and the good is obscured by shadow.

It gets worse than that, though. The negative stuff gets encoded in our memories 10 times faster than the positive stuff. Not only are we more likely to notice the negative, but it gets stored in our memories pretty much instantaneously, while the good stuff takes a solid 10-12 seconds to really register. That might not sound like long, but the implications are huge.

Overcoming the Negativity Bias to Express and Feel More Appreciation

When it comes to appreciation, there are some real considerations to overcome our mind’s negativity bias and some practical action steps that can help.

First, keep in mind that it’s easy to gloss over things that are going well, but you will naturally notice problems – things that need to addressed or resolved. Thus, we tend to give more feedback when there’s a problem rather than when there isn’t. This means you’re going to have to intentionally train your mind to look for opportunities to slather on appreciationA nice side effect here is that in looking for more opportunities to express appreciation to others, you will also be training your mind to be more grateful and balanced, which can increase your own happiness. 

Second, when it comes to expressing appreciation, up the frequency. Every piece of correction, criticism, and constructive feedback weighs so much more than any expression of gratitude, appreciation, or praise. That’s why parenting and business leadership books alike recommend a much higher ratio of positive to negative comments (a good rule of thumb is 5 positives for every 1 negative, and remember that what you intend as constructive or helpful feedback is going to land as a negative even if you don’t see it as or intend it to be “bad.”). 

If you’re feeling under-appreciated, under-valued, or taken for granted, it could be the case that people in your life are not good at expressing appreciation. That’s definitely worth a vulnerable conversation in which you can share how vital it is for you as an individual and for your relationship for you to feel appreciated. It might also be worth making a concerted effort to notice the expressions of appreciation or thanks. It’s quite possible that they are there and that your negativity bias is discounting them. 

Because it takes a full 10-12 seconds for positive stuff to register and have a chance of getting saved in our memories, we have to really savor expressions of appreciation. Think about how much time it actually takes to say, “Thanks for doing that. I appreciate it.” Speaking slowly, I clock that at 2 seconds. Nowhere near long enough to really count in our minds unless we make an effort to savor it. On the receiving end, that means pausing and really registering that the other person appreciates you, sees your efforts or strengths, and values them. You have to hold it in mind for 10 Mississippis or it’s like it didn’t even really happen. 

On the giving end, keep that in mind and expand your expression. Be more detailed about what you appreciate and why. Not only will that help the other person register it, but it’ll come across as more genuine. It’s a win-win. 

In the spirit or practicing what we preach, thank you for being a part of the Peak Mind community. Dr. April and I appreciate you subscribing to our newsletters and podcast, sending us messages, and working diligently on building your psychological strength. We see you, and we value you!

“The deepest principle of human nature is a craving to be appreciated.”
 – William James 
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Unexpected Wisdom to Get Better Results

Small actions, done consistently, pay off huge dividends. It’s an effective way to get better results whether we’re talking about working out, increasing happiness, or fostering healthy relationships.

Getting in shape

My little brother is a beast. He is incredibly in shape, and it’s not genetic luck. He’s put in the years of hard work to figure out his optimal nutrition, and he puts in serious time at the gym. He’s experimented enough that he knows what to eat and how to workout to increase strength or cut to show off definition or bulk up, whatever. He’s a whiz at sculpting his physique.

I, on the other hand, try to be active but, like so many, struggle to be disciplined. In my head, I believe wholeheartedly that strength-training is critical for health and wellbeing. My actions, however, speak the truth – that I’d rather do anything but. Besides, I get overwhelmed sifting through all of the advice out there to figure out what I actually should be doing to get the results I want. Should I do tons of reps with little weights? Fewer reps with heavy weights? Functional training? Isometrics? Kettle bells? I don’t even know where to start! 

My brother is also one of the most inspiring people in my circle. I always leave our conversations feeling ready to take on the world and to be a better version of myself. For these reasons, I was really looking forward to asking his advice when we were together in Fort Worth a couple weeks ago for our nephew’s graduation.

“Hey, kiddo. I want to get buff fast. What should I do?”

His answer blew my mind a bit.

Unexpected wisdom

I was looking for a plan, detailed instructions on what to eat and how to exercise. Instead, what I got was actually beyond useful.

“Honestly, Ash, the best advice I can give you is ‘whatever you can do consistently’.”

His advice was like a light bulb going off. Duh! Of course, consistency is the highest priority. I could have the optimal fitness plan, but if I can’t (or won’t) follow it, for whatever reason, I’m not going to get results. It was freeing to cut through all of the noise and feel good about focusing on one top priority: just be consistent. Walk, yoga, run, dance, regret catching the occasional HIIT class. All of these will move me toward my goal. 

That conversation helped me realize that I was letting the pursuit of the best get in the way of progress. 

It got me thinking about how many other places and in how many other ways this mindset might apply. Where do we tend to seek out the best, the perfect, the right, the big pay off, or the grand gesture to our detriment? Where does focusing on big moves lead us to be ineffective or, worse, take no action at all? 

The Danish secret to happiness

Right around this same time, I stumbled across the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”). Denmark consistently ranks as one of the happiest nations on Earth despite having long, dark winters. I’d venture to say that a culture based on hygge is one of the main reasons. 

Hygge is cozy, warm, connected moments. It’s candlelight instead of harsh overheads. It’s snuggling up with a warm blanket in a welcoming nook to read or board games with your best buds. It’s comfort food and comfortable silence, laughter and intimacy. It’s coffee shops with close friends over bars with strangers. And it’s a priority, built into every day. 

In the U.S. (where I live), I think we often look to big, noticeable outside things to bring us happiness – shopping, vacations, dream dates and jobs, promotions or achievements – and we underestimate the cumulative effect that little moments of cozy pleasure may have on us.

What if we took that same “whatever you can do consistently” mentality and applied it here? What if we made efforts to design our daily experience – our activities and our environments – to promote hygge? I can’t help but think that would pay dividends in terms of happiness. 

The foundation of strong close relationships

Similarly, small things often trumps grand gestures when it comes to relationships. John and Julie Gottman are psychologists and the world’s leading experts in couple relationships, with about 40 years of research under their belts. They can predict with near-perfect precision which couples will stay together happily and which will not simply by observing them talk for a few minutes. Based on all of their research and knowledge, the Gottmans advocate for small things often. 

It’s the little moments that build – or break – your relationships. A grand gesture of rom-com proportions might make for a good story, but it won’t erase the damage of speaking unkind words or ignoring your partner’s bids for attention on a daily basis. When it comes to healthy, happy relationships, it’s the small things, repeated frequently – a habit of relationship-boosting interactions, if you will – that matters most.  

Life design and positive habits

At Peak Mind, we’re big proponents of life design – a process for experimenting your way toward a life aligned to you. A key aspect of life design is iteration – designing an experiment, testing it out, then tweaking. It hinges on a bias toward action. Take the step, have the experience, let that experience be your guide, then take another step. Let’s carry this attitude and my little brother’s wisdom forward to every domain of life. 

  • Consistency matters most if you’re looking to change habits and get better results.
  • Small changes are easier to maintain than big ones.
  • Small things, repeated often, pay off with big results. 

Can you imagine what life might feel like if we did that?

“Success is the product of daily habits – not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.
James Clear
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How and Why to Control Your Attention

What you focus on matters. Being able to intentionally direct and control your attention can make a big difference in the quality of your life experience.

Psychological resources

When you think about your important resources and how they influence your life, what comes to mind?

Most people think of money or other financial resources. Those are important, for sure. They’re the key to some aspects of stability, freedom, and pleasure. I’d argue, though, that we expend too much time and energy acquiring and protecting that particular resource at the expense of others that have a dramatic impact on our life experience. 

Just as your financial assets may make a tangible difference in the quality of your day-to-day experience, so will your psychological resources. Yet, we often overlook the importance of these resources and how the ways in which we choose to “spend” them will shape our life experience. Today, let’s focus on one important psychological resource: attention.

Attention

Simply put, what we focus on matters. The information we take in and the relationships, activities, and aspects of experience that we spend time on will have a big effect on us. What we focus on day in and day out shapes who we are, our outlook on life and the world, and, ultimately, what we do with our time on this planet. 

Attention is a limited resource, though, so it’s important to think about where and how you “spend” it. Unless you’re a fellow psychologist or really into mindfulness, you probably haven’t thought a lot about where your attention goes and why. 

Internal and external distractions

Our attention gets hijacked all the time, with and without our direct permission, We are constantly being bombarded by demands for attention. Things come at us from the outside (like notifications or loud noises) and from the inside (internal distractions like urges, thoughts, and emotions). Our minds, awesome little jerks that they can be, often don’t help us out because they happily chase any and every distraction unless we have the awareness and ability to stop them.

Being able to consciously direct your attention is an important skill and one that can be developed. Think about the implications here. Rather than having your attention jerked around by any internal or external distraction, what if you could choose where to focus and sustain your attention? What if you could hone in on something and filter out everything else? What if you could stay focused on the things, people, and tasks that you deem worthy? What a difference that would make! Strengthening your attentional control muscle gives you an advantage in virtually every area of life.

Get intentional with your attention

One of my favorite authors, Mark Manson, introduced the concept of our attention diet, comparable to nutrition. If we eat the super appealing, highly addictive, easy junk foods like candy and chips, we may find momentary pleasure. But at what cost? Repeatedly, over time, eating junk makes our bodies incredibly unhealthy. Manson argues it’s the same thing with our minds. If we repeatedly consume junk, there will be a negative impact on the quality, strength, and health of our minds. That makes sense to me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good Netflix binge. But, if I’m being honest, what actually happens after more than a day of heavy TV watching is that my motivation goes down. It’s that much easier to hang out on the couch the next day and to lose steam on the projects that are actually important or value-adding to me. What’s more is that the quality of my thoughts and mood are impacted, too. My enthusiasm is dampened, and things in general feel a little more blah. I know this isn’t just me. 

Guarding your attention

In addition to having the ability to control our attention, being intentional about where we choose to direct our attention is critical. Here are a few tips for protecting and maximizing this precious psychological resource.

1. Take up a mindfulness practice

Mindfulness, a core element of psychological strength, is essentially attention training, and I believe that’s part of why it’s such a beneficial practice to cultivate. There are a ton of ways to build mindfulness, and I’d encourage you to experiment until you find some that work for you. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into this topic, join us at our next Quarterly Workshop (it’s virtual), Mindfulness: It’s Not What You Think, in July.  

2. Be ruthless with distractions and ntifications

You expend less energy and waste less of your limited attention if you set yourself up for success. Be brutal when it comes to notifications. Ask yourself, do I really want to let this app interrupt me and hijack my attention at any point? Do I really need these notifications on my watch? Put your phone on silent or do not disturb when you need to focus or, better yet, leave it in another room. Same thing goes with being available online for direct messaging. Remove distractions and attention hijackers from your environment when possible.

3. Reflect on what you take in

Spend some time regularly reflecting on what you’re taking in and the quality of your attention diet, so to speak. Are you gorging yourself on junk information and relationships or are you taking in high quality, nutrient rich ones? 

Bottom line: It’s important to consider how your attention shapes who you are and what your life is like. Being able to intentionally direct and control your attention can make a big difference in the quality of your life.

“Remember: What gets attention is not always important. And what is important rarely gets attention.”
Mark Manson
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Supporting Someone with Mental Health Struggles

It can be difficult to support a loved one with mental illness. These tips and strategies from a therapist will help.

There is no one size fits all

Statistically speaking, 20 – 25% of people over 18 have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, and that’s not taking into account the rampant levels of self-reported anxiety, stress, and depression that have skyrocketed over the past two years. When we consider these numbers, it is incredibly likely that someone you know and care about is struggling with their mental health. You may not know what to do or how to best support them, and you might find that your best efforts fall flat, don’t seem to help, or maybe even make things worse. That can lead to feeling powerless, confused, frustrated, and sad. Fortunately, there are things you can do.

First, it’s important to keep in mind that “mental illness” is a really broad term. Mental illness comes in a variety of flavors and forms. That means that two people with mental illness are likely to be very different, which means they have very different needs. Compare it to this: If your loved one had a health condition, how would you support them? 

Well, it depends.

Do they have severe allergies? Cancer? Diabetes? Chronic pain? The specifics of their condition would heavily influence how you supported them. It’s the same thing with mental health. Find out their diagnosis if they have one and/or get a good understanding of their experiences and the symptoms that get in the way for them. Then seek out treatment options. It can be difficult to find the right kind of treatment or the right provider(s). If you can take on some of that research, you might remove a barrier to getting the needed help.

Things to keep in mind: Tips from a therapist

In the nearly 20 years that I’ve been practicing psychology, I’ve talked with a lot of parents, partners, and friends about their desire to help their loved one. These are some conversations I find myself having frequently.

Be patient: It’s a marathon, not a sprint

While effective treatments exist, many mental illnesses are chronic conditions, so it’s best to think of management rather than cure (like allergies or diabetes). The long-term, day in and day out nature of symptom management can make it hard to be patient and supportive, especially if it looks like your loved one isn’t trying to do what they need to. Keep in mind that it’s human for motivation to wax and wane, so your person may not be fully motivated every single day to use the strategies or interventions that they know work for them.

There’s also a really good chance that they’re working harder than you realize. A lot of the work to manage anxiety or depression, for example, happens on the inside, which you just can’t see. You’ll only see the symptoms that break through. Assume that they are sincerely trying and want to get better. 

Know that it isn’t your fault

You didn’t cause this. Parents, I’m looking at you especially. But, there may be things that you’re doing that inadvertently make it worse. I call this feeding the dog. Going down the “If only” path won’t change anything. You can only focus on moving forward. 

It’s not their fault either

They didn’t ask for anxiety or depression or addiction or neurodivergence or any other label. Remember that when you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated. This was not their choice and not their fault. 

They are not their disorder

There’s a therapeutic technique that I find incredibly helpful called externalization. This means separating the individual from their disorder. Doing so opens the door for you to be on the same team, working to beat the disorder. Think about someone with cancer. We instinctively know that they are not their cancer, that cancer is something that happened to them, and is something that they are working to overcome. Mental illness is no different.

What not to do when your love one has a mental illness

You can’t guilt, shame, or criticize someone out of mental illness. While I understand the desire to pour those on at times (Why can’t you just…? If you truly loved me, then you’d… No one else…). Deep down we think we can get them to choose to be different. These tactics just don’t work that way and, in fact, might actually make things worse. 

Refrain from unhelpful advice

Don’t worry” or “Don’t be sad” are just not helpful things to hear. If it were as simple as Nike’s Just Do It, they would have done it eons ago. 

“You should…” Even if your intentions are positive and your advice is actually helpful, phrasing it as a should often lands as a criticism. Find another way to say it. Better yet, do it with them

Don’t bury your head

Denial also isn’t helpful for either of you. It is generally beneficial to acknowledge reality as it actually is. Minimizing or downplaying or pretending things don’t exist gets in the way of taking effective action. Besides, early intervention is often easier and faster than waiting until things get critically bad.

Do this instead: How to support a loved one with mental illness

In general, try to operate as a compassionate collaborator – someone who accepts them and understands how hard this is, is willing to work together to come up with game plans and offer accountability, and is accepting of them as a whole person.

Learn about their mental illness

Knowledge is power. Once you have an idea of the condition or symptoms that your loved one is experiencing, learn about it! The better understanding you have of the condition or struggles, the better able you’ll be to help.

For example, in my practice, I work mostly with anxiety and OCD. Good Parenting 101 says do whatever you can to make your kid feel healthy, happy, and secure. When it comes to OCD and anxiety, though, that approach completely backfires. When parents provide reassurance that worries will not come true or help the child avoid something they find scary, the child feels better…temporarily. But the worries keep coming back. It’s important to have a solid understanding of how anxiety works to feel confident responding to your child’s worries by saying, “That’s just a worry. Be brave.” 

Similarly, if your partner has ADHD, they may have trouble with time management. If you don’t understand that ADHD is a brain-based condition that affects executive functioning (planning and carrying out tasks), you might get angry and interpret chronic lateness as a sign of disrespect when it’s anything but. 

When it comes to learning about mental illness, the internet can be a wonderful place. It can also be a source of complete junk. Look for reputable sites like these:

www.adaa.org

www.nami.org

www.childmind.org

Go there: Talk about hard things

Ask questions and be curious about their experience. And when they answer, listen. Really listen. With the intent of understanding, not fixing or giving unsolicited advice. Don’t shy away from difficult topics or asking hard questions (it’s a myth that asking someone about suicide will make them have suicidal thoughts). Opening the door for discussions about tough topics is a wonderful gift. Even if they don’t want to talk at that moment, you’ve given the message that you are there, that you care, and that you are not afraid of what they might be thinking/feeling/experiencing. You’ve just shown yourself to be a safe, supportive ally. 

Be a pushy cheerleader

Encourage your loved one to do things that are healthy for them. Broadly speaking, most people need to move, socialize, do enjoyable things, accomplish tasks, and get outside. And there may be additional things that your loved one needs to do for their own treatment or mental health support. Invite your loved one to do it with you, even if they don’t want to. And heap on the praise and positive reinforcement for any effort they make. Sometimes just getting out of bed when depression is strong is a victory that deserves to be celebrated!

Positive reinforcement can help

You call it bribing. I call reinforcing desired behaviors. Make a deal with your loved one. If they will go to treatment appointments, use their strategies, do one thing every day that supports their mental health, or fill in the blank, then you’ll do fill in the blank. Kids love working for rewards…and so do adults. Many of the adults I work with set up their own reward plans to support their therapy goals

Take care of yourself

It’s important for you to take care of yourself. It can be really challenging to love someone who is struggling with mental health, especially if their symptoms have a direct impact on you. It does not make you selfish or weak or uncaring to do self-care or set boundaries. Being a compassionate collaborator does not mean that you let your loved one treat you poorly, even if their behavior is driven by mental illness.

Have hope

Finally, have hope. It can get better. Incredible people do incredible things every day, even with (or perhaps even because of) mental illness. 

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Making Sense of the Senseless

How can we make sense out of tragedy, trauma, and loss? How do we move forward in the face of unthinkable events?

Coping with tragedy, trauma, and loss

It’s Memorial Day in the U.S., which is celebrated with 3 day weekends, BBQs, and the opening of swimming pools. The true meaning of the holiday, however, is much more somber. It’s a day dedicated to remembering those who died during military service, for honoring their sacrifice and that of their loved ones. For me, personally, it marks the anniversary of my brother’s unexpected death 11 years ago. This year, in the wake of events centering on violence in schools and in my neighborhood, it feels particularly heavy, weighted by the unnecessary loss of life and those who must carry on with broken hearts. 

I intended to write this week about supporting someone with mental health issues to close out Mental Health Awareness month. That’s a worthwhile topic, and one the Peak Mind community asked for. I just can’t bring myself to do it, though, given everything else. 

Instead, I find myself thinking about how we make sense out of tragedy, trauma, and loss. How do we move forward in the face of unthinkable events?

I don’t have the answers for addressing the systemic issues that lead to such horrific tragedies as war and school shootings. I don’t even have all of the answers for how to cope with the fallout of these events or the loss of a loved one or the myriad other bad things that can leave scars on our lives. I do, however, have a knowledge base that sheds some insights, and I’m willing to share some of my own experiences on the off-chance that it helps someone find hope in the darkness. 

Understanding what causes tragedy and trauma

It’s human nature to want the world to make sense. We like nice, neat explanations for events, and we want our cause-and-effect to be linear and straight forward. We like to think that good things happen to good people and that people who do bad things are evil. We like to think that it won’t happen to us and that there is always a clear, easy to understand reason why things happen.

We like to think the world is just and logical. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

When things happen that violate our idea of how the world works, our foundation gets shaken. We desperately need things to make sense again.  

In the aftermath of tragedy, our minds look for an explanation. They want to assign blame. If we can finger point to something that is clearly at fault, better yet if that some one or some thing is evil or greedy or broken or flawed, it restores our sense of balance. It rights the topsy turviness that happened in our worlds. 

The issue is that it may not be that simple. 

The assumptions we make about who is to blame may be faulty or myopic. They may not take into account all of the possible contributing factors. As tempting as it might be to put all of the blame on one person (or group) or one factor, my experience is that it’s rarely that simple. 

We need to understand what happened in a way that allows us to move forward. That likely means that we must expand our thinking and question our assumptions. We must side-step faulty logic that leads to inaccurate or unhelpful conclusions. We must be intentional about meaning making because the story we tell ourselves about what happened, why it happened, and what it means about us, others, and the future will greatly shape our path.  

It’s not black or white

There is a kind of therapy called DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) that is based on the concept of dialectics, which are two opposing things that are both true.

Dialectics are hard for our minds to navigate because they seem contradictory. Logic holds that if one is true then the other is not. Yet, they both are. The challenge is to simultaneously hold these contradictions and seek the broader truth, the one in which they both exist. We must resist the urge to throw one out in the interest of simplicity. We must resist the EITHER OR and embrace the BOTH AND mentality instead. 

Today, I am embracing the dialectics. I find myself torn between seeing the world as utterly f*ed and seeing the incredible opportunities ahead, between being angered, disgusted, and devastated by the realities that our world is terrible and simultaneously awed and grateful for the wonder of that same reality.

Bad things happen to good people AND there is justice.

People are suffering AND there is beauty in the world.

We are on opposing sides AND we can collaborate.

I will never be the same AND I will find a way to have joy again.

Feel your feelings

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions following a foundation-shaking experience. We may feel sad, angry, guilty, anxious, confused, disgusted, and/or dozens of other ways. We may feel like we are going to be crushed by our pain or feel a strong urge to numb. As difficult as it may be, we must feel our feelings but not wallow in them. We must make space for them but not be buried by them. We will not be able to heal otherwise.

I remember walking in the hospital parking lot with my dad while my brother was on life support. “Do you want a xanax?” he asked me. “No,” I told him. “This is supposed to hurt.” 

I’m not a masochist, but I am a psychologist. I had spent years at that point teaching people how important it is to experience rather than avoid even the most difficult, painful emotions. I am not judging my father for needing a xanax in that moment. I have no idea the magnitude of a parent’s pain in the face of losing a child. I’m not a parent myself. All I know is that I viewed my pain as important. It signaled to me how much I loved my brother and how much my world was being devastated. And in that moment, I had the capacity to hold my pain and weather the storm. In the moments since, I have continued to embrace the pain when it arises, to acknowledge that love and pain are two sides of the same coin, and to use that pain to fuel some of my actions and efforts. 

In the face of personal or collective tragedy, it is important that we feel our emotions, that we heed their message, and that we consider what they are directing us to do. Perhaps that means finding a way to honor our lost loved ones, finding a way to take meaningful action to affect real change, or finding the courage to experience joy again even with the heartache.

Wise mind

One of the concepts I appreciate from DBT is called Wise Mind, which is the overlap of logic and emotions. When we operate from Wise Mind, we acknowledge and feel our feelings but are not ruled by them, and we listen to and are guided by logic but are not irrational, cold, or devoid of feeling. Finding this place of inner wisdom in the aftermath of tragedy or loss is important. Feel your feelings and take their message. Challenge your assumptions and faulty logic, but do let reason guide you. Take your next step with your head AND your heart. 

The choice point

Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote a famous book called Man’s Search for Meaning. In it, he says “Between every stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Modern day psychologists often refer to this as the Choice Point. This is the fork in the road. We do not necessarily get to choose what happens to or around us, but we do get to choose what we do in the face of it. We get to choose who and how we want to be. We may not get to choose what we feel, but we can choose to feel it. We may not have the power to affect the change we want to see in our world, but we can decide to point fingers and play the blame game or we can take meaningful action. We can choose to go down the path of nihilistic despair or the one of growth and strength, if only we have the courage. We can channel our pain into a life that is worth living, even in a world that doesn’t make sense

“Between every stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Victor Frankl
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9 Tips for Taking Care of Your Mental Health

I have some questions for you. How important is health to you? What do you do to take care of your health? 

Take a sec to think of all the things you do to protect your health. What comes to mind? Diet, exercise, sleep, routine medical and dental care, vitamins, fitness trackers?

How many of your health behaviors are focused on taking care of your body? 

What do you do to take care of your mental health? Does that get the same level of consideration? 

It should!

Here are 9 tips to help you protect and promote your mental health.

Tips for supporting your mental health and wellbeing

Fortunately, a lot of the basics that are good for our bodies are also good for our minds, but let’s hit two big ones: sleep and exercise. 

1. Get enough, consistent sleep.

Sleep is one of the most under-rated tools you have for protecting your mental health. Poor sleep is associated with so many negative outcomes that it really deserves its own post. Suffice it to say that it’s really, really hard to have positive mental health and psychological wellbeing without it.

2. Exercise.

Similarly, exercise is as good for our mental health as it is for our bodies. Exercise has antidepressant and antianxiety effects on par with medications (at least for some people). Again, it’s hard to have really positive mental health if you’re not getting in movement.

Beyond those basics, here are a few other lifestyle practices to adopt to maximize your mental health and wellbeing.

3. Develop a mindfulness practice.

There are few other things that pack as powerful of a punch as mindfulness when it comes to mental health. If you’re into meditation, great, do that. If you’re not, don’t worry. It’s not your only option. If you keep in mind that mindfulness really just means paying full attention to the here and now, there are a TON of ways to practice mindfulness without meditating. Two of my favorites are brushing your teeth with the wrong hand and doing a routine activity (like washing the dishes, folding laundry, or walking) at half-speed. Both of these techniques help you get off autopilot and get into the present. It’ll feel different, trust me. Just try it out. 

4. Intentionally look for the bright side.

Our brains our wired to focus on the negative, so that’s what they do unless we intentionally point them in a different direction. That’s what a gratitude practice is, pointing your brain toward the good stuff in life, and it’s a powerful strategy. The good stuff is there. We just sometimes have to look really hard. There’s no right way to do a gratitude practice. As long as you are intentionally trying feel grateful or appreciative or savoring something positive, you’re good. You can write down what went well, take a photo of the best moment of the day, or take turns sharing your daily “bright spots” with someone else. 

5. Foster healthy relationships and connections.

Healthy relationships are one of the biggest contributors to psychological wellbeing. Spend time connecting in a real way with people who care about you and who you care about. And don’t neglect one of the most important relationships there is: the one you have with yourself. Make sure you’re treating yourself with kindness and compassion, just like you do with everyone else. 

6. Play to your strengths.

Doing things that allow you to use your strengths helps you thrive. Similarly, embodying your values does as well. For example, if curiosity is a strength of yours, use it to learn about a new topic, a process, or a person. If you value courage, do something that challenges you. 

7. Separate yourself from your mind.

This might sound a little silly if this a new concept to you, but it’s tremendously helpful. Recognizing that you and your mind are two separate entities can be really empowering. This lets you start to realize that those negative, unhelpful thoughts you’re having aren’t reflections of reality. They are not capital T Truths or commands that must be followed. They’re just your mind telling you stuff and seeing what sticks. I find saying things like, “My mind is telling me that I’m not good enough” feels VERY different than “I am not good enough.” Our Ascend program includes a lot of information and exercises along these lines, or check out Dr. Russ Harris’s book The Happiness Trap

8. Do things that energize you.

What energizes you might be different than what energizes me, but start to pay attention. Do you feel more vital and present when you’re learning something new? Taking care of someone? Being creative? Crushing a goal? Pinpoint a few things that consistently make you feel energized, like you’re growing or expanding, and build those into your days as often as you can. 

9. Get help sooner rather than later.

We all have doctors or nurses who care for us. I wish everyone viewed therapists and coaches the same way. Getting help when you’re struggling with mental health is critical, and doing so sooner rather than later is ideal because it may keep symptoms from getting worse, and you’ll suffer less. To find a therapist or provider, check with your primary care doctor or your insurance company, or you can search herehere, or here for therapists in your area.

“Mental health affects every aspect of your life. It’s not just this neat little issue you can put into a box.” 
— Shannon Purser
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Handle Stress Better: It’s Not All Bad

The end of my first semester in graduate school was probably the most stressed out I have ever been. It was finals week, and I had a ton of writing assignments due within an 18 hour window. Did I work ahead and plan my time out accordingly? No! Of course not! My best friend and I watched Beaches (so we’d have an excuse to cry) then hit the library afterward, leaving us less than 24 hours to write a 15 page paper and a few 3-4 page ones. Our plan was to rely on Dr. Pepper and adrenaline to write all night. As you can imagine…it did not go well.

At 5 a.m., I found my way-over-caffeinated-beyond-stressed-out-in-desperate-need-of-sleep self in the bathtub trying to relax enough so I could finish those papers. I seriously thought I was having an aneurysm. It was terrible. Somehow, I got it all done by the deadline, but I was a wreck, completely convinced I wasn’t cut out for graduate school or being a psychologist. I even called the school district in my hometown to find out if I could become a teacher instead. Fortunately, they never called me back, and I got to recoup over the holiday break. That experience taught me some hard-won lessons, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten near that level of stressed out again. Thank goodness because that really sucked.

Is Stress Bad?

After that little gem I just shared, you might expect me to answer with a resounding YES! And you might say the same thing. It seems that we’ve been taught to think of stress as a bad thing to be avoided, and that’s problematic for a few reasons. One, stress is unavoidable. Absolutely and completely unavoidable. Any demand for your time, attention, or energy is going to cause some measure of stress. So even if you withdraw from life completely – no work, no relationships, no nothing – you’re still going to get hungry, and that requires your time, attention, and energy to resolve. Viola, stress! Albeit, that would likely register as a very minor amount of stress (assuming you have ready access to food). Still, the idea that we can avoid stress is faulty because it just isn’t possible. 

The notion that we should avoid stress because it is harmful or bad for us is also faulty, but it’s a little more complicated. Yes, stress can be quite harmful for us, when it is chronic and poorly managed. That caveat is an important one, so keep it in mind. 

Unchecked, chronic stress can lead to all kinds of health issues and even premature death. It affects the quality of our minds, making them more negative and less effective problem-solvers. Stress can impact our moods and turn us into snappy unpleasant people to be around. All considered, chronic poorly managed stress has a negative impact on virtually every area of our lives and functioning. 

But Stress Can Be Good for You

Here’s the interesting thing to consider…stress can actually be good for us under the right circumstances. 

My little brother and Dr. April, my co-founder here at Peak Mind, have something in common. They both lift weights. Not like I do, taking a strength class here and there, working enough to be a little sore. They lift heavy. They intentionally put their muscles under a lot of stress to hold that heavy burden, causing tiny tears and microtraumas in the tissue…and that is absolutely necessary for building muscle mass and increasing strength. Our muscles must be taxed – they must be stressed – to get stronger. 

It’s not just our muscles that benefit from being stressed, though. A growing body of research suggests that other stressful conditions such as cold and hunger (e.g., intermittent fasting) can have a positive impact on our bodies and brains as well, triggering biological responses that help optimize our DNA.

Other Benefits of Stress

Beyond the increases in strength and health that can come from taxing our bodies, stress can be good for us psychologically as well. Consider the hero from your favorite action or fantasy movie. Did they have an easy, stress-free life? Doubtful! The journey for most heroes includes adversity and challenge, which they learn from and overcome, and it often becomes the source of their strength or power. We are no different. By overcoming challenge (aka stressful situations), we can build mental toughness, resilience, and find wells of inner strength we did not know we had.

How to Handle Stress Better 

Whether stress is good or bad for you depends on a few factors like how much stress you’re experiencing at any given point in time (stress compounds – it adds up), how much stress you can handle (your psychological strength and stress management skills), and your mindset (turns out, believing that stress can be good for you can make it so). You may or may not be able to control how much stress life throws at you at any given moment, but you can definitely do something about the last two factors. Rethinking your relationship with stress and taking intentional action to improve your ability to manage stress is critical. After all, stress is an inevitable part of life. It’s time to develop the tools, skills, and mindset necessary to prevent those freaking-out-in-the-bathtub stressed out moments.  

In honor of this being Stress Awareness month, we are making our Stress Management mini-course available for the first time. This little powerhouse of a product will help you redefine your relationship with stress and learn to manage it skillfully, transforming your experience when under pressure. This mini-course is multi-faceted to help you learn and grow more. You’ll get:

  • A short educational video
  • A beautifully designed digital workbook that includes additional information and 6 hands on exercises to help increase your awareness and understanding of your stress response and develop your own personalized stress management plan
  • A 2 week email challenge that will introduce you to a wide range of stress management strategies and tips
  • 3 in the moment tools to use any time you feel stressed, tense, or are having a difficult time

In addition, only through this link, you can get our popular Self-Care [by Design] mini-course for only $10 (normally $29) when you bundle the two courses.

Remember, stress is inevitable. Being stressed out is optional.

“You cannot remove struggle from life, but you can improve your ability to handle challenge.”
– James Clear
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How to be Happy: 15 Practical Tips

You may not know this about me, but I’m a giant nerd, truly a scientist at heart. That means that when I got really serious about figuring out what it takes to be happy in life, I delved fully into the science of happiness by reading, learning, thinking about, and testing out everything I could get my hands on – studies, theories, philosophies, memoirs.

There is still much to learn, but certain themes keep coming up again and again. While I don’t believe that the quick fix/instant gratification route is necessarily the one to lasting happiness, this cheat sheet will get us well on our way.

1. Be nice!

Don’t be a jerk, and don’t let your children be jerks. That statement right there sums up a lot of the ones below, but let’s be a little more specific.

2. Do something for someone else.

Small scale, big scale. Doesn’t matter. Acts of kindness make you feel good mentally and physically. Believe it or not, altruism can even lower your blood pressure! You’re also making someone else’s day, so there may be ripple effects. 

3. Move!

Seriously, you have to move your body. Our lifestyles are so sedentary these days, yet our bodies weren’t designed that way. You can’t expect your brain, a (very important) part of your body to work optimally if you’re not maintaining the system. Besides, tons of data coming out suggest that exercise has antidepressant and antianxiety effects. 

4. Similarly, eat real food.

Real foods (with ingredients you can pronounce and without added sugar) will nourish you and keep you full longer. Hanger is real. You’re not happy, and neither is anyone around you. Moreover, see above for the whole brain/system running optimally argument.

5. Stop complaining.

Complaining brings you down and trains your brain to notice all of the negative things. Besides, complaining doesn’t usually change or fix anything, does it?

6. Instead, be grateful.

Gratitude is more about choice and mindset than it is about external circumstances (e.g., physical possessions). You can be a billionaire yet unhappy if you’re not grateful, or you can be a prisoner with nothing and yet be happy. Look around. There are so many things to be grateful for! Try focusing on all the things you appreciate, that went well, and that made you happy instead of all the reasons why today sucked, or try this simple exercise. 

7. Connect with people. 

Reach out to loved ones. Talk to strangers. Don’t worry about feeling weird about being judged or stepping out of your comfort zone (which is actually really good for you to do, by the way). And, if you are worried, DO IT ANYWAYS! We’re all navigating this thing called life and probably have more in common than we realize. Taking a minute (or more) to connect with another human being helps us feel less lonely and gives a mood boost. Here are two easy ways:

Basic manners, please.

Make eye contact. Smile (or nod or wave if you’re masked). Hold the door for someone. Say “please.” Say “thank you.” Like you actually mean it. It feels good.

Give someone a compliment.

It takes 2 seconds, and I guarantee it will boost your happiness and theirs. By the way, say “thank you” if someone gives you a compliment. Thank you is the appropriate response. Do not let your mind dismiss it with some self-deprecating, “Oh, I’m not really XYZ” comment.

8. Practice mindfulness. 

It’s been around forever, for good reason, and neuroscience and all sorts of other research is now confirming what yogis have known for millennia: a mindfulness practice is good for you. (Please know that I say this as a former skeptic. It took compelling data and arguments for me to really embrace this practice. Now I think it is one of the most critical practices for success and wellbeing.)

9. Get off social media, or, better yet, screens in general.

Maybe not all together, but definitely set some limits. You’ll have more time for other things that are more meaningful or more likely to boost your happiness, and you won’t be getting all the input that increases the icky “not good enough” feelings and concern for the state of the world.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

10. Sleep

It’s hard to be happy when you’re tired. It’s hard to manage stress, anxiety, depression, and anger when you’re tired, and inadequate sleep can compromise our health. Get your Zzzzs.

11. Learn something. Anything.

Be an active participant in life rather than a passive consumer. I firmly believe that stimulation is critical for happiness. Technology makes it possible to learn absolutely anything these days. Don’t tell me it’s boring. Don’t tell me you can’t.

“In this world, you are either growing or you’re dying.” – Lou Holtz (and a bunch of other people) 

12. Speaking of, start looking for the reasons why you can, instead of the reasons why you can’t, do things. 

Don’t let limiting beliefs, circumstances, or other people hold you back. YOU are in charge of your life, and you CAN make choices to improve it, even when the deck seems stacked against you. It is up to you to choose to be happy!

13. Practice compassion.

For yourself (silence that Inner critic) and for others. Operating under the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can really cuts down on anger and negativity. It may not change events or circumstances, but it definitely makes me happier.

14. Spend less. 

There’s a widely accepted cultural myth that money leads to happiness. The happiness that comes from acquiring is fleeting at best. Besides, if you spend less, you need less money, and how many people would be a whole lot better off if they didn’t stress so much about money?

15. You do you, and let me do me.

This is two part. One: be yourself! You’ll be happier if you’re not trying to fit some mold or live up to someone’s perceived expectations. Two: don’t worry about what I do (as long as it doesn’t actually hurt anyone or prevent you from doing you). Accepting others rather than trying to control them leads to a lot more peace, internally and externally.

Simple steps, right? At least in theory! What are your favorite tips and tricks to be happy?

“Happiness is not a goal…It’s a by-product of a life well lived.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt
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Mindfulness Practice, by a Former Skeptic

My mom and I are close. I’ve always adored her but, when I was younger, I scoffed a bit at (what I used to call) her Zen-Buddha-karma hippie interests. Like meditation. She had a mindfulness practice before people even knew what that was. She was into yoga before it was cool, so I was exposed to it as a teen in the mid-90s. I didn’t mind yoga as a physical practice, but the meditation piece, though, no thank you. 

In fact, I turned down a trip to Costa Rica with her about 10 or so years ago because of it. She called to tell me about this amazing yoga retreat she was going on. I was in until she shared the schedule, which included an early morning meditation class. That was a hard pass for me.

Keep in mind that when I rolled my eyes at her meditation, I wasn’t some young kid who couldn’t sit still. I was a full-fledged doctoral level licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders. I knew a lot about the human mind and how it works, and I. Was. SKEPTICAL.

Make your mind go blank? I called B.S. MINDS DON’T GO BLANK!

Which is true, they don’t. The mind wanders if you don’t focus on the present, but it doesn’t just go blank. The issue was that I didn’t really understand what mindfulness meant. I didn’t get the point of meditation.

And that was a HUGE oversight on my part.

Thankfully though, as a scientist at heart and a clinician who continually strives to learn and stay current, I couldn’t help but delve into this world, and I am now a fully reformed skeptic. I’m 100% on the mindfulness bandwagon and strongly encourage everyone to hop on it with me. It is for your mind what working out is for your body…nothing short of transformative.

Here are some of the factors that made me change my tune.

The Data

Hardcore research studies may not do much for you, but they do for me, and the results are compelling. Scientists and researchers have been studying the effects of mindfulness practices (such as mindfulness based stress reduction or MBSR), and it is nothing short of a miracle. Regular mindfulness exercises:

  • Decrease anxiety, depression, anxiety
  • Decrease stress
  • Increase happiness
  • Increase focus and concentration

I’m into all of those effects. Mental health and wellbeing is my business! But here’s where it gets even more crazy cool and convincing. Mindfulness – a mental practice involving awareness of the present moment, simply paying attention to the here and now – affects your body. too. Studies have shown that mindfulness has done amazing things like:

  • Decrease physical pain
  • Turn off 7% of the genes involved in your stress response. Literally switches them off.
  • Boost your immune response (for example, researchers injected people with something known to cause skin rashes, but the people who had been practicing mindfulness didn’t get one!)
  • Even slow down the aging process on a cellular level

Seeing data like these was enough to convince me that this practice, which has been around in various forms for thousands of years, was legit. My direct experiences, though, keep me believing.

My Own Experiences

The actual details of how I incorporate mindfulness and meditation into my life vary over time, from informal to formal guided practices, and I’m not always consistent. Fortunately, there is always the option to simply begin again when I get off track. For me, personally, the top changes and benefits I’ve seen from this lifestyle practice include:

Self-awareness and understanding

Mindfulness has allowed me to observe my inner workings, gaining a better understanding of myself and my patterns of thinking and reacting. My ability to see these processes unfold in the moment has increased, too, which leads to…

Less emotional reactivity

I seem to be much more even-keel emotionally, less reactive in the moment, which is great because I feel more in charge and in control. I’m also much better able to sit with my emotions (to observe those sunsets, if you caught this previous post).

Pleasure in small moments

Because mindfulness is essentially an attention training process, there are some, perhaps, surprising side effects. One is that I’m more attune to the small pleasures and joyous moments in life. I noticed that I literally stopped to smell the roses on a walk not too long after starting my practice. Pre-mindfulness and meditation (Pre-M), I most likely would’ve just glanced at those flowers, if I had noticed them at all.

Patience

Another benefit, for me at least, is patience. Pre-M Ashley was ants-in-the-pants restless on a 3 hour road trip. Post-M Ashley handled a 13 hour flight…with an extra 3 hour delay…in stride. Very little misery. A surprising amount of pleasure. I blame mindfulness.

I’ve heard that boredom is an attention issue, that nothing is boring if you pay close enough attention to it. My own experiences echo that. I have rarely found myself feeling bored since starting a mindfulness practice, even when there’s very little apparent stimulation. I can be quiet and still (believe it or not).

Develop Your Own Mindfulness Practice

There are an endless number of ways to start to build your own mindfulness practice, ranging from apps like 10% Happier to Peak Mind programs like Ascend and our Quarterly Workshops (and, of course, you’re welcome to join those), but where I really want to direct you is to this amazing FREE online summit coming up in January 2022. 

Dr. April, Peak Mind co-founder, is teaming up with Dr. Fleet Maull of the Heart Mind Institute to host the 2022 Best Year of Your Life Summit. It’s 10 days of free content from THE leading psychologists, meditation teachers (including one of my personal favorites, Sharon Salzberg), and visionaries. (Seriously. I flipped when I saw the line up). It’s way more than mindfulness, but what a great place to start (or strengthen) your practice. See you there!