The Power of Silence

“Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

– Francis Bacon

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Silence. What does that word bring up for you? Does it bring up fear? No TV, no internet videos, no talking! Or does it bring up a craving? No distractions, no barrage of noise.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about silence and sleep lately because of some neuroscience studies I’ve read about recently. Research shows that sleep and silence are much more important for our brains than we imagined.

Much of this research corroborates the research I did for my Creative Positive Reframing (CPR) process. In this process there are three main steps: Identify, Reframe and Embed.

Identify the negative – and then do some ‘Synaptic Pruning’

Reframe with positive messages

Embed with visualization, meditation and silence

We all have lots of negative, limiting beliefs about ourselves and our abilities that exist in our brains.  One of the best ways to stop these beliefs from having a free reign in your brain is to stop focusing on them and focus on something positive instead. But once we are able to stop focusing on them, how does the brain get rid of those negative thoughts that exist in old neural pathways?

Our brains get rid of old pathways with a process scientists call ‘Synaptic Pruning’

“Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain—they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?

Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy—or prune—the synapse.

This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.”

Perhaps you are not as interested in the science, so suffice it to say, that the more you use a neural pathway, the stronger it becomes. But the opposite is also true, when you use it less, it gets weaker.  So once you identify the negative belief system, STOP focusing on it! But then the brain needs time to do some clean up, getting rid of the old synaptic pathways.

Our brains need time to prune a lot of those old connections away and build more streamlined, efficient pathways. It does that when we sleep. Our brains do this clean out when we sleep—your brain cells shrinking by up to 60% to create space for your glial gardeners to come in take away the waste and prune the synapses.

And in fact, you actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It’s the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

So be mindful of what you are mindful of. Replace the negative with something positive, Reframe it. Be conscious of what you focus on.

There is a saying in neuroscience that neurons that fire together wire together. This means the more you run a neuro-circuit in your brain, the stronger that circuit becomes. Rick Hanson explains this well in his article in Greater Good.  So if you want to take limiting beliefs and creatively transforming them so that they become supportive rather than destructive, this is how you proceed. Hanson explains that ‘You can change your mind, to change your brain, to change your mind for the better!’

Then finally we need some silence to help embed these new neural pathways. Visualization and meditation are key factors. I often talk about the power of visualization and meditation in this blog. So much has been written about it, there is no question that both of these practices are hugely beneficial to the brain and to life!  But what about silence?  More and more research is showing just how important silence is for our brains.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons. “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system. In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.  The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence.

I’d like to close with a wonderful TED Talk by Nick Seaver called The Gift of Silence.

I hope you’ll take some time today and give yourself the gift of silence, and the gift of a great sleep as well. I’d love to hear about your experience with silence.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

Creative Positive Reframing

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
― Voltaire

Creative Positive Reframing:  Taking limiting beliefs and creatively transforming them so that they become supportive rather than destructive.

This is what I am calling the process that I outline in my book – This Way Up.  So today, the second of August, 2016, I’m letting all of my readers know that Creative Positive Reframing is now *named! (*kinda trademarked, if you will)

The process involves several steps, but one of the central points is the use of questions. We are often advised to use affirmations when we are trying to rid ourselves of a bad habit or in getting out of a negative thought spiral. And it’s a wonderful, helpful tool. However, sometimes if we are using affirmations that do not feel real to us, our brain rejects it, and challenges us on it. For example, if I am struggling to save enough money to buy a car, and I say to myself, ‘I am wealthy and have plenty of money for a new car’, my head will say, ‘that’s not true’ – and then my brain will work to prove that I am wrong.  Affirmations sometimes work brilliantly, but sometimes they don’t; and if they don’t seem to be working on certain problems, there is a body of research that shows that the use of questions instead of affirmations works very effectively. Questions spark the brain’s tendency to work to solve problems. Ask a question and your brain will toil to find an answer, so that your brain is working with you, instead of against you.

I read a great article in Daily Good the other day called Living by Questions.  In it, poet Jane Hirshfield explains:

To ask a good question is a way to carabiner yourself to intimacy, a doorknob that turns only one direction, toward open. A good question can send you on a long journey in rain and cold. It can terrify, bringing you straight into your own fears, whether of heights or of loss or of all the mysteries that never go away—our own vulnerability, the heart’s utter exposure, the capriciousness and fragility of events, of relationships, of existence.

In times of darkness and direness, a good question can become a safety rope between you and your own sense of selfhood: A person who asks a question is not wholly undone by events. She is there to face them, to meet them. If you’re asking a question, you still believe in a future. And in times that are placid and easy, a good question is a preventive against sleepwalking, a way to keep present the awakening question that’s under all other questions: “What else, what more?”

What a stunning description, so, well, poetic!

I will go into more deteail about Creative Positive Reframing in future posts. But for now, I’d like to close with a TED talk – ‘How to Ask Good Questions.’

 

I’d love to hear what you think about the name I’ve chosen for my process – ‘Creative Positive Reframing.’ And any thoughts you have about the use of questions.  And as always thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

Turning Mountains into Mole Hills

“The attitude that every day is a gift helps to turn the mountains into mole hills that this old boy can climb!

– Doug Haussler


Giving thanks and expressing gratitude is the best way I know to turn mountains into mole hills.

My friend Doug said the attitude that every day is a gift helps to turn the mountains into mole hills that this old boy can climb!

Every day is a gift!  But so often we forget to say ‘Thank You!’ Thank you for the day and thank you to each other for things that are done for us.  A couple of years ago, Harvard Gazette published an article about The Power of Thanks.  The article describes an experiment done at Harvard Business School. The experiment was conducted by Professor Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Professor Adam Grant of The Wharton School of Business.

“Receiving expressions of gratitude makes us feel a heightened sense of self-worth, and that in turn triggers other helpful behaviors toward both the person we are helping and other people, too,” Gino said. She described the scope of the “gratitude effect” as “the most surprising part” of her research.”
The work behind her book, she said, “really makes me think more carefully every time I am the one expressing gratitude to others. I don’t want to miss opportunities. … I learned from my own research and now try to say ‘thank you’ much more often.”
So not only keeping an attitude of gratitude, but also expression gratitude makes a difference.  So Doug, let me say Thank You to you right now, for your wonderful line about ‘making mountains into mole hills’, but much more importantly, Thank You for being a good friend for all these years.
I’ll close with a lovely short video clip about the power of saying thank you.

Please let me know who you’ve thanked today.

And as always thank you for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Unfold Your Own Myth!

“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.”

– Rumi


Unfold your own Myth! In a previous post I talked about moving toward the best version of myself, which feels like the unfolding of my own myth.

The only way that I know how to move toward that best version is to allow my own myth to unfold. And the only way that can happen in my life, is to create a sacred space with intention.

The myth that is unfolding right now in my own life is my book, This Way Up.  This week I received the final design for my cover, which I now use as the banner on the site:

 

ThisWayUpCover

 

I’m in awe – this is mine! This will be on my own book! I feel – no – I know that I am being led, that my myth is unfolding perfectly.

Caroline Myss explains that:

One of the most beautiful ways to understand the essence of Spiritual Direction is that you enter into a dialogue with the intent of letting your spirit reveal to you the story you are living that is your life.

I am humbled as I engage in this dialogue, as my myth unfolds.

Caroline Myss’s new clip on You Tube, ‘Spiritual Direction’ is rich and full.  It is long, but so worth the time.  Please do take the time to listen.  And take the time to create the sacred space to allow for the intention to unfold your own myth.

 

 

I’d love to hear about how your own myth is unfolding.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

 

 

 

When One Door Closes . . .

“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

– Alexander Graham Bell


In an excellent article from Positive Psychology Program, seven concepts are explored for increasing a person’s feeling of well-being. It’s a great list:

  • When a Door Closes Another Opens
  • Gratitude by Mental Elimination
  • Similar Strengths – Group activity
  • Flow Experiences
  • Walking Meditation
  • 3 Positive Things a Day
  • Chasing Happiness

It’s a helpful article with exercises to explore each concept.  The first concept – When one door closes, another one opens – is one I think we’ve all had, and I think most of us would agree that the second door does eventually open, but waiting in the hallway is a drag!

Using these questions to look at that closed door can help:

  1. What led to the door closing? What helped you open the new door?
  2. How long did it take you to realize the new open door?
  3. Was it easy or hard for you to realize the new door open?
  4. What prevented you from seeing the new open door?
  5. What can you do next time to realize the new open door sooner?
  6. What were the effects of the door closing on you? Did it last long?
  7. Did the experience bring anything positive?
  8. Which character strengths did you have to use in this activity?
  9. What does a closed door represent to you now?
  10. What did you learn from the door closing?
  11. Is there more room for growth from these types of experiences?
  12. Is there a closed door that you still wish to see open?

One thing that has helped me during those ‘closed door times’ is the idea of Living Curiously. I recently discovered a wonderful website, ‘Living Curiously Lifestyle.’

The website is by a woman named Becki Saltzman – she and I share the same publicist, Joanne McCall.  One door closing led me to McCall, and what a great new door opening that turned out to be. I really recommend you spend some time exploring Saltzman’s website. It is interesting, fun and she has great boots!

The article in Positive Psychology Program is really wonderful. I suggest using the seven activity exercise for seven days, one a day.

It is thought-provoking and positive-inspiring.

What better way to close than with a clip from the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman.

I’d love to hear about your experience using the seven positive psychology activities.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Insights from 2014

Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it.
Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin.

– Hermann Hesse


One of the things I love about starting a new year is making intentions. One of the intentions I usually make is to pay better attention. Which means that for the first few weeks of the year anyway, I’m paying closer attention to life, being more mindful in what I do. Wish it lasted longer than just a few weeks, but baby steps, right?

And along with intentions for the year to come, I love to look back on the past year and see what insights I’ve gained. One of my insights from 2014 is that I always feel better, more connected when I’m paying closer attention to the present moment. Another insight from this year is how much better I feel – body, mind and spirit – when I’m alcohol free.  So once again, I’ve decided to abstain from any alcohol for awhile.  This is not a new behaviour for me. Alcohol and I have quite a history. This isn’t a typical ‘New Year’s Resolution’ – this has been coming for quite awhile, I’ve been alcohol free for several months now. It just feels like alcohol doesn’t fit within the context of who I’m becoming.

I like reading the articles that come out in the new year about the ‘bests’ of the year that has passed.  And I love learning about other people’s insights from the previous year. So it’s no surpise that my favorite article is from The Greater Good Website.  Not only do I love that site! But the article combines those two things, the best of and insights gleaned. The article is based on the annual list of the top scientific insights produced by the study of happiness, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude – the science of a meaningful life. The article –  The Top 10 Insights from Science of a Meaningful Life in 2014  – is wonderful. It’s well worth reading the whole article, but for those of you who like things put in a nutshell, here you go:

  1. Mindfulness can reduce racial prejudice—and possibly its effects on victims.
  2. Gratitude makes us smarter in how we spend money. (Makes us better in all we do!)
  3. It’s possible to teach gratitude to young children, with lasting effects. (see the video within the article on the GG website)
  4. Having more variety in our emotions—positive or negative—can make us happier and healthier.
  5. Natural selection favors happy people, which is why there are so many of them. (So Be Happy!)
  6. Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering.
  7. People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy.
  8. To get people to take action against climate change, talk to them about birds.
  9. Feelings of well-being might spur extraordinary acts of altruism
  10. Extreme altruism is motivated by intuition—our compassionate instincts.

Each of these points is explained in depth in the article and is based on studies done in 2014.  As I said, well worth a read, helping us all work toward leading a more Meaningful Life.

I’ll close with a lovely short video about gratitude –

The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude

 

 

I’d love to hear about your insights from 2014. Or some of your intentions for 2015.

And as always thanks for taking the time to visit, I appreciate it.

Meditation, Intuition, Inspiration and Changing Behavior

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift. We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

– Albert Einstein


The final point in  Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits, involves hooking into your highest self through meditation to find inspiration and support:

9. Connect with your Higher Source for inspiration and support.

10. Transform and make the shift.

I have written many posts about meditation and neuroplasticity, two of my favorites are Your Brain on Meditaion and Meditation and Happiness. Meditation creates new neural pathways and brain changes. Many studies have been done to show meditation’s effect on neural circuits of the brain.

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) is doing ground-breaking work on the subject of Meditation and the brain.  Dr. Richard Davidson is world renowned:

Richard J. Davidson, PhD, is a renowned neuroscientist and one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of contemplative practices, such as meditation, on the brain. He is the founder and chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work in studying emotion and the brain. A friend and confidante of the Dalai Lama, he is a highly sought after expert and speaker internationally. Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world.

As Einstein so eloquently puts it – We will not solve the problems of the world from the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.  And studies have shown the same is true with old habits we want to break.  The way to change behavior calls for a different level of thinking than when they were created.

There is an excellent article on Belief.net on how to strengthn your intuition by Dr. Kristen Harrell, well worth a read.

And finally the transformation.  This is usually gradual and can often be frustrating not to see changes immediately. The important thing here is to pay attention. The changes may be subtle, but the brain is changing and so are the habits.

I’d like to close with a great talk by Dr. Richard Davidson.  It’s a long one, over an hour, but really excellent.  If you want to change behavior, of all the videos on neuroplasticity, this is the one to watch!

Transform Your Mind, Change Your Brain:  Neuroplasticity and Personal Transformation

 

 

I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this video.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Want to Change a Behavior? Make a Plan!

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes  open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want.  No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.”

-Paulo Cuelho


No one will argue that bad habits are hard to break, but making a plan on how you will achieve it is half the battle.

Continuing the posts on Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits, looking at steps seven and eight:

7.  Create a specific plan and choose what to do instead.

8. Transform the obstacles.

I’m a big fan of goal setting.  I believe that heart centered goal setting is life changing. As I say in one of my past posts, A Fine Balance:

In my 7 Tools,  I discuss Heart-Centered Goal Setting.  In order to really focus on true goals, you have to find out the deepest WHY of the goal, the emotion behind it. Work to discover WHY you want that particular goal, journal about it, question it. When you understand the deeper emotion of why your want that particular goal, the emotional need behind it, then you have hit the WHY.  You can FEEL the why in heart-centered goal setting.  And in order to feel it, you have to be paying attention and be present to the moment.  That ability to stay present actually helps to define a direction for the future.

By setting a definite goal and getting specific, it helps to build new neural pathways. You are engaged in what Rick Hanson calls Self-Directed Neuroplasticity. For example, I have a friend who is trying to watch less TV, she knows it is mind numbing, but it feels so addictive (According to several studies, TV is addictive!) Decide if you want to exercise or read a book or journal instead of watching TV. Focus on the new choice. The more you decide to read at 7pm after dinner, instead of watch TV, the more your brain expects that behavior.  Self-Directed Neuroplasticity kicks in, the behavior starts to change.

Sometimes it feels like you are trying to trick your brain, and maybe that’s exactly what it is.  In an article in a great website, Greater Good, it is argued that:

Ultimately, what this can mean is that with proper practice, we can increasingly trick our neural machinery to cultivate positive states of mind.

The second point, transforming the obstacles is really more of “tricking the brain” again. Look at the obstacles, at what is in the way of you changing the behavior. What have you been getting out of the old habits or pathways? Going back to trying to break the TV habit – it feels like a treat, to just blob out, numb out.  But often after a couple of hours of TV, the numbing out feels negative and kind of yucky, and a waste of time. So before the TV goes on, transform the lure of the TV (the obstacle is the old belief that it is going to be a treat) – but you know it becomes a burden. Identify that obstacle, that lure, and make the decision before the TV goes on to do something else.  Get your mind in the place of possibility. Begin that process of changing your brain by remembering the truth about the situation and transforming the obstacles.

I’m going to close with an old favorite.  Zig Ziglar on Setting Goals.  This is part 1 of 3, if you have a chance, watch all 3, they are inspirational and fun!

 

 

I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

Using Your Imagination to Break Bad Habits

“I do believe, and I have seen in my own life, that Creative Visualization works!”

– Oprah Winfrey


Continuing the posts on Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits.   Now on to step four:

4. Use your imagination.

Creative Visualization is one of my favorite topics!  Using Creative Visualization works.  It is a tool for what  Dr. Rick Hanson calls self-directed neuroplasticity

You can build new neural pathways not only with new behaviors, but through the imagination. Just imagine the new behaviors over and over and over. Keep repeating that in your mind so you build new pathways. Focus your mind and retrain your brain.

The woman who wrote the book Creative Visualization,  Shakti Gawain explains that:

“Creative visualization is the technique of using your imagination to create what you want in your life.  There is nothing new, strange or unusual about creative visualization. You are already using it every day, every minute in fact . . . whether or not you are aware of it.”

I have written about Visualization many times.  But my favorite story comes from a post I did in September 2012:

I remember the first time that I was actually aware that I had used visualization. It was at my 10 year high school reunion.  As I mentioned above, this was way before I did any of the work around personal growth.  The reason I became aware of it is that before the reunion, I thought to myself, it would be really cool to get ready with a group or my friends, have a few drinks around a pool somewhere and laugh and get dressed and put on make up together.  I saw the picture really clearly in my mind, I could picture a group of us laughing and having fun prior to the actual reunion – all sitting in the sun around a pool.  The problem was, I was picturing this from Japan where I was working at the time, and I had lost contact with most of my friends from high school.  When I went home for the reunion, I called my old high school friend Carol (whom I had not seen in almost 10 years) and she offered – how about if we all get ready over at my house, and we made a plan.  I had never been to the house that she now shared with her partner.  Carol called a few old friends and we met at her house in the afternoon before the reunion.  And when I walked through her house and got to the back yard, there in front of me was the vision I had pictured – four other friends from HS, all sitting around the pool, drinking cocktails and laughing.  It was exactly as I had pictured it from Japan!  It was eerie! But it was incredibly powerful, and luckily, I paid attention.  Several years later when I first read Gawain’s book, I got chills and thought – yes!  That’s what happened!  And again luckily, I paid attention. That’s an important piece – paying attention.

So when I want to break old habits and build new neural pathways, practicing self-directed neuroplasticity, I use Creative Visualization. Like Oprah Winfrey, I know it works!

I’ll close with a clip from Shakti Gawain about Creative Visualization.

 

 

I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And if you do use Creative Visualization, I’d love to hear any stories you have.   And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

 

Retraining the Brain – Shifting Focus

The world is full of a lot of fear and a lot of negativity, and a lot of judgment. I just think people need to start shifting their focus onto joy and happiness. As corny as it sounds, we need to make a shift.

It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins133182.html#cRzVZOHjpM8tGpjB.99

Ellen DeGeneres


Continuing the posts on Neuroplasticity and getting rid of bad habits.   Now on to steps two and three:

2. Observe what the old habit or pathway is doing in your life.

3. Shift your focus.

Habits are hard to break, we all know that, but one thing that helps immensely is observing, really paying attention to how destructive the habit is. Whether it’s spending more money than I can really afford; biting the cuticles around my nails; or drinking more alcohol than I want to. By observing and really paying attention to the consequences, I can start to realign my focus.

The way I do this is by firstly focusing really hard on the bad habit, I shine a spot light on it, brutally.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive but hear me out.  By writing down and clearing out all the negative stuff that is part of the bad habit, it helps make room for positive change. Recent research published in the journal Psychology Today shows that writing down negative thoughts and negative past experiences and then ripping them up and throwing them away actually helps to change those thoughts and habits.

In Figjam Workshops Creative Empowerment Workshop, participants consistently say that doing this exercise has a remarkably healing effect.  Try it!  Take a big sheet of paper and write down all the negative effects associated with the bad habit, everything you can think of. And when you feel like you have gotten everything out, rip it up.  Stamp on it!  Scream NO at it! Burn it!  You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

Then, Shift the Focus.  To create a new neural pathway, you need to focus on what it is you want. Start focusing on all the positives associated with not having that habit.  For example, healthy cuticles or healthy nails.  When I wanted to stop biting my cuticle, I rubbed lotion into my cuticles several times a day.  I kept my nails shaped, and focused on how much better my hands looked.  Yes, I know it sounds really simplistic, but in a way it is.  This is how neuroplasticity works.  It’s just about getting new neural pathways started. Remember what Dr. Rick Hanson says about self-directed neuroplasticity – it is ongoing. Our brains are changing all the time. We can choose what we focus on and what new neural pathways are being created!

I want to close with a fascinating TED talk by neuroscientist and inventor Christopher deCharms. A wonderful look inside the brain.

 

 

I’d love to hear about any bad habits you’ve broken, and how you changed the behavior.  And if you do use the ‘Write and Rip’ technique – how it worked for you.  And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.