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Spread Some Happiness Today

May 2, 2011

Recently I got a fan email from a reader of This Year I Will... named Tyler. I want to share with you because it is such a powerful example of two things I care deeply about—the fact that we can truly change and the power of appreciation. Here’s what he wrote:

“I decided on the eve of my 20th birthday in 2006 that I would no longer be content with all the areas of disappointment in my life, and have been experimenting with several different ways of making self-improvements ever since then. I feel like the ideas presented in your book really helped me fill in a lot of the gaps that I had been missing up to this point….

“My main problem through the past five years has been that I have moments of accomplishments split up by long periods of disappointment in myself and depression.  I think that with the knowledge I have acquired and the notes I made from reading your book, I will finally be able to make some permanent habits and changes in my life.

“Two habits I have succeeded in developing over the years is to sincerely share my feelings of appreciation to those that have helped me, and to give encouragement to anyone doing something with good intentions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with me and others who struggle to make positive changes in their lives. Your work with this book and faith in our ability is inspiring, and truly appreciated.”

If you haven’t already guessed what kind of a wonderful guy Tyler is, when I wrote and asked if I could publish his email, he responded, “Of course you can use anything you want…I wouldn’t be taking your advice if I tried to monopolize happiness!” Who can you compliment today? Like Tyler, the happiness you spread can’t help but fall on you too.

The Brain Lowdown on Creative Thinking and Good Decision Making

April 21, 2011

  Current research in brain science reveals   a  fascinating new awareness: we vastly overrate our conscious minds! Here’s  what I mean: it turns out that only 4%     of our brain is dedicated to conscious decision making. The other 96% is used   to digest, mull and/or distill information unconsciously. The best decisions a person can make is through these unconscious processes. The same is true for coming up with creative ideas.

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon—you leave the office and on the drive home, while thinking about “nothing,” the answer to the problem you’ve been working on pops into your head. Or you come up with a great new solution in the shower. Or on the golf course. Now we know that it’s precisely because you stopped thinking about it with the 4% of your mind that the 96% had a chance to work on it!

I first observed this decades ago when I was working with writers. They would get all excited about starting their book and then suddenly find themselves “having” to wash the kitchen floor or straighten their desk or rearrange their closet. Each and every one of them labeled this as procrastination. But, I wondered, why did every single one of them do the same thing? I began to give talks on the creative process and polled hundreds of writers. They all reported similar behavior. I began to encourage people to see this mindless activity as an essential part of the process of creativity. Now I know why!

So what does this mean for you? Give yourself permission to mull over decisions, rather than forcing yourself to solve the problem or come up with a new idea.

 

Current research in brain science reveals a fascinating new awareness: we vastly overrate our conscious minds! Here’s what I mean: it turns out that only 4% of our brain is dedicated to conscious decision making. The other 96% is used to digest, mull and/or distill information unconsciously. The best decisions a person can make is through these unconscious processes. The same is true for coming up with creative ideas.

We’ve all experienced this phenomenon—you leave the office and on the drive home, while thinking about “nothing,” the answer to the problem you’ve been working on pops into your head. Or you come up with a great new solution in the shower. Or on the golf course. Now we know that it’s precisely because you stopped thinking about it with the 4% of your mind that the 96% had a chance to work on it!

I first observed this decades ago when I was working with writers. They would get all excited about starting their book and then suddenly find themselves “having” to wash the kitchen floor or straighten their desk or rearrange their closet. Each and every one of them labeled this as procrastination. But, I wondered, why did every single one of them do the same thing? I began to give talks on the creative process and polled hundreds of writers. They all reported similar behavior. I began to encourage people to see this mindless activity as an essential part of the process of creativity. Now I know why!

So what does this mean for you? Give yourself permission to mull over decisions, rather than forcing yourself to solve the problem or come up with a new idea.

The True Dangers of TMI

April 14, 2011

Last time I wrote about how the vast proportion of our brain is dedicated to unconscious processing and when we allow ourselves to put things on the back burner, we tap into this well spring of creative thinking and come up with our best ideas.  Wonderful, right? Yes, but without our realizing it, technology is now interfering with this amazing capacity of our brains.

 

Here’s how: all the data and information we are receiving from emails, twitter, texts, tv, radio, books, magazines, etc. overwhelms the brain and interferes with its ability to see the big picture and recognize the pattern in all the clutter. And it’s not just the amount of information, but the rate it’s now coming in that interferes. It trains the brain to favor the fast and urgent over the important and right. We keep searching for more information rather than stopping and noticing how it fits together and what is actually relevant. As a result, we lose the ability to see the forest for the trees and make wise choices in our work and personal lives.

So what’s a brain to do? Some suggestions from my wise friend Dawna Markova who alerted me to this research:

  • Think through important issues first thing in the day before your brain is tired from all the input.
  • Deal with emails and texts in batches rather than intermittently.
  • Regenerate the brain’s energy through exercise, rest, “relaxing.”

And one of my own:

Choose wisely what input and how much you take in. You do have choice in the matter

 

Surprising News You Can Use on the Brain-Body Connection

April 1, 2011

 

If you’ve read any of my books or blog entries, you know that I often incorporate the latest in brain science. My analytic mind loves to understand the “why” of everything. So for the next few entries, I will be sharing the latest on what I’m learning from neuroscience on being happy, healthy and more successful in life.

 

First up is one of my biggest personal challenges—prioritizing exercise. Frankly I’d rather do anything else. But I just read something that has sent me running to my elliptical. Aerobic exercise actually helps you make the changes you want in your life!

 

Here’s how: aerobic exercise increases BDNF, which stands for “brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” Think of BDNF as miracle grow for your brain. According to research, for up to 24 hours after exercise, it’s easier to grown new neurons and make new connections in your brain.  In other words, exercise makes it easier to learn any new behavior, like being more organized or becoming more patient or every learning French, because it stimulates brain growth.

And if you’re struggling with decision making, focus, or conflict resolution, pick up a barbell. Weight training has now been shown not only to build muscles and improve bone health, but improve cognitive functioning, particularly in these areas.

Gym membership anyone?

 

I was recently on the “glassdoor” blog

March 23, 2011

The Most Important Skills For Today’sEmployee

Posted by Vickie Elmer • January 10th, 2011

Work today is a whirlwind of activity and change. So workers need to stay flexible and able to switch their priorities and focus as quickly as a short order cook moves from eggs and bacon to veggie burgers.

In the year ahead, you may have to accept and adapt to a myriad changes: new software or systems; a new boss; new duties or hours; a new initiative or priorities at your organization or even, a new employer. Some companies may merge or file for Chapter 11; others will outsource departments and jobs will disappear. Even if your employer is growing nicely, it may hire someone who outshines you or shakes up your department.

No wonder then that adaptability and flexibility were rated the most important skills for both experienced and new workers in a Society for Human Resource Management survey ((Critical Skills Needs and Resources for a Changing Workforce, 2008)). It ranked higher than critical thinking, collaboration or any other skill.

If you need to bring out your inner change agent or cultivate your adaptability, M.J. Ryan, author of AdaptAbility, How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For and an executive coach, has suggestions:

  1. Remind yourself of previous times when you came through change all right. Focus on your inner resources and lessons learned from the end of a long relationship, relocating to a new city, losing a job.
  2. Go into reporter mode and learn all the facts. Find out as much as you can about the new boss or the change to your job duties.  Ask good questions. Gather information and insights – for they help neutralize the anxiety and anger that change can instill.
  3. Use gratitude and appreciation. Ask yourself: How am I growing through this experience? What qualities am I developing? Or say to yourself: “At least the gift of this experience is ____________________.”
  4. Let go of your emotions. Give fear, anger, sadness, anxiety a ticket out of your life and you’ll have more energy and room to respond to changes.

 

“Becoming less emotionally involved in it all is one of our greatest areas of growth for most of us,” Ryan said.

It also helps if you build small changes into your life. Take a different route to work, or go to a new restaurant for date night. Decide on a new skill to learn – and then sign up for a class or seminar.  Find a friend whose work is ever changing and who loves new things. Volunteer for a new committee at work or at a charity you support. These are like warm-up exercises that will help you run the distance when something bigger comes along.

If the change at work is a huge and unpleasant one, give yourself a little time to adjust to it. But try not to get stuck for long in the woe is me, why is this happening outlook. Ryan found that the best change masters are those who learn to move quickly.  Their speedy, adaptable mindset could become yours: “That’s over; what’s next?”

 

AdaptAbility (Unplugged) M. J. Ryan with Moe Abdou

March 19, 2011

I don’t want to do that again. I don’t want to go down this path. Today is a newday, I’m staring again. She didn’t turn into anything more than one time.And then the last A is
A
dmire yourself for restarting. “Hey, look at me, I’ve done it again, hurray. I can get back on and get going.”
You’re a master at this. I’m really glad we’re having this conversation. Notonly obviously is it timely and that’s why you have been engaged in theseconversations throughout the month but it’s something that has to almostcontinually register in our brain so we can keep moving forward.
Absolutely. One of the other things, one of the tricks that I have learned fromathletes; long distance runners, they are thought early on in their careers thatyou never look at how far you have to go because you would give up becauseit’s really far. You look at how far you have come.That is such an important idea for all of us, “Okay, how far have I come? I usedto never workout. Now, I’m working out at least some times. Isn’t that good?Hurray.” Look how far you have come rather than how far you go.
Measuring backwards, that’s really powerful.
Exactly. There are implications for helping other people change. If its our lovedones or employees that work for us, how do we support change in other people.If you have noticed, kind of just telling them what to do doesn’t usually workespecially with loved ones. But it also can be tricky with employees. If youbring people in and you trash them, you go, you’re really not performing. Youhave to do this. Actually, research shows this diminishes their performance.
It diminishes not only their performance but just their entire self esteemand self worth.
Yes. Guess what the bunny brain is also tracking, what it determines  it’slooking at four categories, the social things that it’s looking for danger about.One is status. One is certainty. Is my life going to count on what’s happening inmy life? Autonomy, do I get to be in charge of myself. Relatedness, are we okaywith each other or I’m going to get kicked out of the tribe? And fairness. Itstands for SCARF. Is this fair or not?Any time you have a performance evaluation where you’re being negative, youare triggering one or two or all of these things. So the person is actually in fightor flight so that makes the prefrontal cortex not work as well and therefore theperformance goes down.
If you emphasize performance weaknesses you get more weakness. How do youhelp somebody change? If you nag husband saying, “You said you weren’t goingto eat that cookie and you’re eating it.” It doesn’t create change right becauseit triggers their autonomy issue. “Hey, I’m in charge of me, butt out.”So what do you do? You praise, you help them track success. So whether this isemployees, friends, relatives, or children; you praise their efforts, theirchoices and their strategies. You catch them doing it right or an approximationof right. “Hey Fred, that report you did, you really put more effort in there thistime and you have the details in there that I have been looking for” like that.The more you praise what they are doing right, the more right you create.
The power of words is evident in everything you are saying.
Absolutely. What we’re saying are either triggering the turning on of thisyounger more primitive part of our brain that is scared or the powerful thinkingbrain that can work on our behalf to solve the kinds of business and lifeproblems that we really need to be solving.This doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge that there are issues to work on.It’s just that you then say, how can I help this person grow in that direction?When I notice anything that’s close then I’m going to say do more of this andhere are some examples how you could do more. I can really notice how muchbetter you’re trying now. All of that it will be hotter, hotter, hotter…you’ll getmore and more and more of what you want.
I want to praise you. Somehow or another, you trigger my emotional sidebecause the relevance of what you do it’s purely relevant to every singleperson out there in the world.
Thank you.
How can people continually keep up with what you’re learning? How canthey keep up with the work that you’re doing besides just reading some of the books that you have?
Go in to my blog which you can get from my websitewww.MJ-Ryan.com. I’mpositing a couple of times a week there; all these kinds of stuff up-to-date onwhat I’m learning and using with folks. Of course I would be delighted to doany kind of teleclass or anything that you might want to put together.
We believe that the best version of yourself is when you don’t have tochoose between doing what you love and making a living. So if you’restuck or simply want an extra spark of inspiration, please tell us howwe can help.

I Hate Myself When I Get Mad

March 11, 2011

Many women are afraid of their anger. We’ve all been taught that “nice girls don’t get mad.” In our attempts to be nice, we tend to fall into one of three styles:

  • The Exploder: She holds it in as long as possible, then vents in fury and collapses in shame
  • The Ruminator: She goes round and round in her mind, fuming internally, unable to either express herself effectively or let it go
  • The Deniers: I’m not mad, says this woman, who proceeds to take it out on you in passive aggressive ways.

 

Does any of these sound familiar? Anger, whether you explode or not, does have destructive effects. Did you know that when you get mad, you flood your body with stress hormones that suppress your immune system and tax your heart? And that those destructive hormones stay in the body at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours?

 

However, inside this destructive emotion is an important message, usually that some boundary of ours has been violated. And it’s vital to our emotional and physical well-being to understand what the message is.

 

If you are an Exploder, your job is to catch yourself when you’ve been hijacked and take yourself off line to calm down before you engage. Otherwise you will be acting from your more primitive brain rather than your highest self. A simple technique is the Stoplight: As soon as you are aware you are angry: Red light, stop. Leave the room. Calm down. Wait till you can think rationally again, then yellow light: proceed with caution. What’s really important to you here? What’s your part in what happened? What’s your request of the other person? Once you’ve figured that out, Green light, go and re-engage.

 

If you are a Ruminator, get the problem out of your head and down on paper. Write about what is bothering you and answer the same questions I offered to the Exploders. Then challenge yourself to take action, whether verbally or in writing to express yourself. Do what’s easiest for you.

 

If you tend to be a Denier, be willing to consider that you are indeed mad when someone suggests it may be so.  Try it this way: if I were angry, what would I be angry about? When I’ve been mad in the past, how has it shown up in my behavior?

We can learn to mine our anger for its important messages and communicate them effectively. The rewards are not only less relationship tension, but actually getting more of our needs met.

I was on Laura Kemp’s Blog.

February 26, 2011

Family mis-fortunes: Laura Kemp

 

Ah, new year, new me. January makes me feel optimistic about life. Taking down the Christmas decorations spurs me on to think about doing some emotional de-cluttering and for once, the sight of boxes of chocolate and blocks of cheese make me turn to Ryvita.

Not that it lasts for long, though.

However, this time, I have a fresh mantra inspired by a new book written by self-help guru MJ Ryan, entitled This Year I Will… How To Change A Habit, Keep A Resolution Or Make A Dream Come True, which promises to reveal the secret of making changes stick.

So, here we go, this year I will…

1 Rigorously apply the ‘five-a-day’ mantra to fruit, vegetables, units of alcohol and number of nags I dish out to my husband.

2 Think positive affirmations when I catch sight of myself starkers in the mirror after a shower. So when I see my pot belly, I will tell myself ‘that is a sign of the absolute dedication you have put into scoffing most of the Roses over Christmas’ and when I view my stretchmarks, I will announce ‘those silvery lines are badges of honour that are testament to the love you feel for the ungrateful little devil who says he’s bored even though he has millions of toys’.

3 Live for the moment rather than wish my life away. Even if it means forcing a smile when a shop assistant is having a chat with her mate behind the counter about her weekend plans when I’ve been stood there for 10 minutes and my lunch hour is already over.

4 Understand that my husband’s snoring is a biological function and not a subconscious act to irritate me. I will no longer send him to the spare room. I shall just go there myself.

5 Appreciate that swearing at inanimate objects such as computers, ticket machines and mobile phones is a pointless waste of energy. Also to not be consumed by irrational anger at the sight of next door’s tree that has had a Tesco plastic bag caught up in its branches for the last six months, which I can often hear laughing at me. Negative outbursts are far better conserved for people like my husband.

6 Spend an hour a day playing with my son rather than making excuses to do the housework such as emptying the washing machine, making tea or changing the duvet covers. Games will include hanging up wet clothes on the radiators, hunt the fishfingers in the freezer and changing the duvet covers.

7 Restrict the amount of TV my son watches. He can watch DVDs instead.

8 Go out for a run three times a week. Unless there’s a particularly gripping storyline going on in Coronation Street, EastEnders or any other programme I start watching to avoid exercise.

9 Take more pride in my appearance. Which justifies being able to spend two hours at the hairdresser mid-way through the school holidays on a day of my choosing and at a time which clashes with making lunch.

10 Count my blessings every time I curse the fact I was born female and into a live of domestic drudgery and meal-planning. My blessings are being able to blame grumpiness on PMT, to spend money on a new top that will make my life complete and to justify serving up chips three nights in a row because I can’t be expected to run a kitchen like a restaurant.

I was on Cindy Baldwin’s Blog

February 19, 2011

Breaking it Down

Our home on Christmas Eve, before the move

Last week I read the perfect New Year’s book. Called This Year I Will… by M. J. Ryan, it was all about how to make real change in our lives through effective goal-setting. Some of the advice was stuff I’ve heard before, but a lot of it was new to me, including all of the fascinating scientific information Ryan used to back up her principles.

One of the science facts she included helped to explain why it’s important to break our goals down into small, manageable, specific tasks with a concrete deadline. She used the example of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, which focus on sobriety as a one-day-at-a-time issue. Instead of committing to being sober for a year, participants in AA commit to being sober just for today. The next day, they make the same commitment, and so it goes until they’ve stayed sober for years or even decades.

The reason this works, Ryan explains, is because our brains (as well as those of all other sentient species) have two contradictory evolutionary responsibilities: both to adapt to our surroundings, and to stay the same. Historically speaking, we have to adapt or we will die off. However, if we were to adapt to everything that changed around us, we would have no integrity—we would constantly be changing. Therefore, our brain gets panicked whenever we think about making a really big change. When we say “I am going to exercise every day for a year,” an alarm goes off in our brains and we feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, unable to enact our resolution.

However, if we break our goal into small pieces that have concrete deadlines, we “trick” our brain into leaving us alone to make our change. If we say “I am going to exercise ten times in the next two weeks,” or “I am going to exercise three hours a week for the next month,” our brains don’t recognize this as a threat to our integrity, and so the alarm bells stay silent. This enables us to go about fulfilling our resolution. Once we finish that month of exercise, we can set another goal for the next month, and so on.

This week as I’ve begun the long job of unpacking and organizing our new home, I’ve been putting this principle into effect—and let me tell you, it’s worked. I am a very big-picture person, and I don’t deal well when my house is a chaotic mess. I like neatness, order, and peace. All of these things combine to make it difficult for me to tackle an enormous job like unpacking and cleaning a new apartment. A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about moving. “I can’t stand having everything in boxes,” she told me, “so I usually have everything unpacked within a few days of moving.” (If you said this, I apologize for quoting you on my blog, since I can’t remember who said it!) That’s easy for you to say, I thought to myself, but it doesn’t work for me. I can’t stand having anything in boxes either, but if I try to get it all done right away—which is my natural inclination—I run my body into the ground.

Every day, as I’ve contemplated the wealth of boxes that need to be unpacked and put away, I’ve felt overwhelmed and exhausted just thinking about it all. I never know where to start. It doesn’t seem like there’s any point at which the gargantuan task can be broken into easy, manageable, day-sized portions.

So, at the beginning of every day, I’ve tried to take M. J. Ryan’s advice and “trick” my brain into seeing this job as something that’s doable, even easy. Every morning, I give myself one small task to do that day. Tuesday it was unpacking my clothes; Wednesday it was unpacking Mahon’s clothes; today it was getting all of the bathroom stuff into the appropriate drawers. Each morning I’ve finished my allotted task and gone on to do a lot more as well—after I unpacked my clothes I washed and dried two loads of laundry; after I unpacked Mahon’s clothes I tackled the shoes and folded the loads of laundry from the day before. After only three days of working like this, I’ve got the kitchen and bedroom—about 1/3 of the house—into great shape. The key has been assigning myself one very small task each day. Every day I’ve gone on to do more, but the very act of pinning my day’s responsibilities to one small, specific job has made it much easier for me to see what needs to be done and how I can do it. Anytime I step back and contemplate all that still needs to happen, I get overwhelmed—but as soon as I narrow it down to just one box, just one task, it becomes easy again.

This seems like obvious and overly simplistic advice, but knowing the science behind why this technique works has helped me a lot. Quietly and efficiently, order is making it’s way into this apartment. I’d tell you that I’m pretty sure I’ll be done by the end of next week, but hey—that thought is too overwhelming to contemplate right now. What I cansay is that by tomorrow evening, I’m absolutely confident that I’ll have unpacked my books.

 

I was recently on MOODSTR.

February 12, 2011

How To Be Happy Yourself

Description

Experience the Joy in Life!We all want the things that we’re sure will make us happy—money, success, independence, love. But when we finally get them, we can find to our surprise that we are the same miserable, moody, or just neutral people we always were. Why is that? Is it us? Is our ability to be happy genetically programmed in us like the color of our eyes?Luckily not. You can teach yourself to be happy and enjoy every day, and M. J. Ryan, bestselling author of The Power of Patience and Attitudes of Gratitude, shows you how. In her international coaching practice, M. J. Ryan has shown hundreds of clients how to find and really feel the joy in their lives. She gives them tools to unearth what stands in their way and revolutionize the way they experience life. Now it’s your turn for a Happiness Makeover.Ryan’s own desire to be happier first led her to study what is known about happiness from brain science, psychology, and the wisdom traditions of the world. The Happiness Makeover draws on this wide-ranging knowledge and presents a plan that will help you:Clear away happiness hindrances like worry, fear, envy, and grudgesDiscover happiness boosters like flow, meaningful work, challenge, and gratitudeLiterally rewire your brain to experience contentment—even joyLearn to think optimistically (it really is possible!)Find daily ways to truly enjoy, even relish, the moments of your lifeFull of moving stories, inspiring quotations, and the wisdom of one who has been there before, The Happiness Makeover offers the means to find elusive happiness at last.

Description

We all want the things that we’re sure will make us happy—money, success, independence, love. But when we finally get them, we can find to our surprise that we are the same miserable, moody, or just neutral people we always were. Why is that? Is it us? Is our ability to be happy genetically programmed in us like the color of our eyes?Luckily not. You can teach yourself to be happy and enjoy every day, and M. J. Ryan, bestselling author of The Power of Patience and Attitudes of Gratitude, shows you how. In her international coaching practice, M. J. Ryan has shown hundreds of clients how to find and really feel the joy in their lives. She gives them tools to unearth what stands in their way and revolutionize the way they experience life. Now it’s your turn for a Happiness Makeover.Ryan’s own desire to be happier first led her to study what is known about happiness from brain science, psychology, and the wisdom traditions of the world. The Happiness Makeover draws on this wide-ranging knowledge and presents a plan that will help you:• Clear away happiness hindrances like worry, fear, envy, and grudges• Discover happiness boosters like flow, meaningful work, challenge, and gratitude• Literally rewire your brain to experience contentment—even joy• Learn to think optimistically (it really is possible!)• Find daily ways to truly enjoy, even relish, the moments of your lifeFull of moving stories, inspiring quotations, and the wisdom of one who has been there before, The Happiness Makeover offers the means to find elusive happiness at last.