|Have you ever walked past a mirror or shop window and glanced at the reflection, not realizing for a moment that it’s you?|
Most of us see our lives like that, as there’s a perception of who we are and then some happier, healthier, more successful, and just plain better version of ourselves that we have yet to become.
Most of us will never even come close to realizing that full potential. But, sadly, most of us won’t even try.
I encourage you to read these 12 ways to become the best version of yourself. By going through this authentic journey of self-discovery, you’ll be able to tap into that fulfilled, maximized life.
So, the next time you walk past your reflection, you’ll recognize it as the version of yourself that you’ve always wanted!
1. First, take responsibility for your life
The first step of any self-improvement – whether it’s straightening out our finances, trying to lose weight, or even becoming the best version of ourselves – is always to take a good, honest look at yourself. Identify where you are in life, why, and what the “best version” of yourself even looks like.
Only then can you start taking 100% responsibility for your own decisions and outcomes and hold yourself accountable throughout this beautiful journey.
2. Give up your limiting beliefs
We all have beliefs, biases, and entrenched negative thoughts that sabotage our development in life. Often deeply entrenched that go back to childhood or stem from trauma, I’ve spent a lot of time outlining these limiting beliefs, as I wrote about in a previous blog.
“We all have past experiences, memories, filters, emotions, and more – together referred to as cognitive biases – that distort our accurate portrayal of life. But by understanding these psychological and behavioral mechanisms, we can make better allowances for them, aligning our worldview more precisely while also eliminating the things that have always been holding us back.”
You can read more here. In a nutshell, you’ll want to identify and shed those limiting beliefs and biases in order to evolve into the best version of yourself!
3. Amplify your strengths
Too often, we focus, stress, and ruminate on our weaknesses or shortcomings. If only we didn’t lack in these areas, we often tell ourselves, as we judge ourselves negatively yet again. We even try to push a boulder up a hill by trying to work on improving our weaknesses, which is admirable.
However, we have to remember that people are remembered for their strengths – those talents, characteristics, or even personality traits that stand above the rest, not their weaknesses. So, double down and focus on accentuating and nurturing your strengths!
4. Develop a growth mindset
They say that “You either win or you learn,” which also can be applied to the hard times and challenges in your life. Those never go away – and are usually out of our control!
But by developing a growth mindset, you’ll see them as opportunities to grow from the experience and become happier, getting closer to the best version of yourself.
5. Give up expectations
The fastest way to make yourself miserable is to compare and measure yourself against others. You’ll always perceive yourself as a big loser if you’re in competition with everyone else (or what they post on social media). Likewise, we put huge expectations on ourselves, and then judge ourselves negatively if we don’t measure up.
But the good news is that by letting go of those inherent expectations and comparing yourself to others, you’ll be an actualized, mentally healthier version of you!
6. Be willing to recreate your identity
Just like those expectations we mentioned above, we all have a firm vision of what our life should look like and who we should be. That may come from many places, including the pressures from parents, society, and our own need to reach our potential.
But like a caterpillar that becomes a butterfly, we need to fully strip ourselves of that old, un-useful identity to become the newer, better version of ourselves.
7. Face your fears
“Life is either a grand adventure of nothing,” is one of my favorite quotes, uttered by someone who knows about fear, Hellen Keller.
No matter who you are and what you’re facing in life, we need to squarely confront our fears and smash through them in order to shift into the best version of yourself.
It’s not that you will never feel fear again or that everything will always work out perfectly, but you’ll learn to embrace the process of taking risks and not being deterred by your failures. Once you start taking bigger, bolder risks on a regular basis, your dreams will be within reach!
8. Focus on your daily habits
What will your life look like five, ten, or twenty years from now? It doesn’t take a psychic to read the future, since your life down the road is just a function of your current daily habits. It’s easy to daydream about this shining, perfect version of ourselves sometime in the future, but the way to actually achieve that is to knuckle down on the minutiae of your daily habits and routines.
Start with your morning habits here!
9. Change your brain!
This isn’t an exaggeration – you can literally change the physiology of your brain by breaking through old patterns and substituting them for new, empowering rituals and processes. Called ‘neuroplasticity,’ it’s one of the most unique aspects of human psychology, as the choices we make can actually create and strengthen new neural pathways, essentially rewiring how your brain works.
Read more about how to rewire your brain here.
10. Practice self-love
To be the best version of yourself, start being better to yourself. Practice more patience, compassion, and even forgiveness in every aspect of your life. Treat yourself at least as well as you treat others. After all, you deserve it!
11. Stay positive!
The average person has up to 60,000 thoughts per day, but 80% of those are negative and 95% of them repetitive! No wonder why we feel stuck in a rut! But you can turn that around, identifying your negative self-talk, consciously replacing those thoughts, and eventually reversing that trend.
It’s a process and takes work, but will really turns things around in your life!
12. Take time to rest and relax
These days, most of us are overworked, overstressed, and overanxious about the first two! Take some time to recharge your batteries, thinking of it as an investment in your health and happiness that will yield a monumental ROI.
There are many ways to do this that may be right for different people: exercise, yoga, meditation, reading, music, laughing, getting together with others, celebrating your faith, journaling, practicing gratitude, or deep breathing. (And if in doubt, just get more sleep!)
I assure you that doing these things on a regular basis will help you become the best version of yourself, one that you’re proud of and truly love!
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but the conversation around our collective challenges with mental illness and promoting mental health is one that should go on year-round.
Remember that mental illness doesn’t discriminate – it can affect anyone, no matter their age, race, religion, income, or social status. Mental illness can emerge based on a complex and overlapping set of factors, including our genetic disposition, brain chemistry, personality, outlook, lifestyle, and traumas that occur.
Simply put, mental illness is a legitimate medical condition that changes the way a person thinks, feels, their mood, and ability to relate to others or even function in daily life.
There are many manifestations and indirect consequences to mental illness (and a lack of focus on improving mental health), from the workplace to our relationships and social lives, and even further public health effects. For instance, more than 25% of U.S. adults who suffer from serious mental illness also deal with substance abuse.
So today, I wanted to outline some quick facts and stats about mental health and mental illness that will boost awareness and help us all understand the gravity of the problem.
- Just about 1 in 5 (19%) of every adult in the U.S. experiences some form of mental illness every year, or approximately 43 million people.
- And each year, 1 in 20 (5%) of all U.S. adults experience a serious mental illness.
- The most prevalent mental health issue is some form of anxiety disorder, which affects about 40 million adults in the U.S. every year, or 18.1% of the population.
- All-too-common conditions like anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering from anxiety ever get help or treatment.
- Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand, with almost 50% of people diagnosed with depression also diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
- It’s estimated that 5 to 10% of the population suffer from clinical depression at any given time.
- Young people and teens largely feel the brunt of mental illness and mental health problems. Almost 1 in 10 (9.7%) of all youth in the U.S. suffer from major and severe depression.
- Identifying mental illness and providing tools and resources to promote mental health is such an important issue with young people.
- In fact, 1 in 6 U.S. kids and teens ages 6-17 suffer some sort of mental health disorder each year. Globally, about 1 in 5 (20%) of youth suffer some kind of mental illness or disorder.
- Awareness and identification of mental health issues among youth is critically important, as 50% of all mental illnesses start by age 14 and 75% by the age of 24.
- 2020 was definitely one of the most challenging years in memory with the Covid 19 pandemic as well as lock downs and the economic fallout. In fact, from 2019 to the start of 2021, the share of adults reporting symptoms of serious anxiety or depression skyrocketed from 11 percent in 2019 to over 41 percent by the beginning of 2021.
- Even before the pandemic, serious depression on a regular basis was reported by 4.7% of U.S. adults, and doctors diagnosed depression on 9.3% of all patient intakes, or 11.2% of all emergency room visits.
- Across the globe, depression is the leading cause of disability.
Over any 12-month period, the prevalence of mental illnesses among all U.S. adults is as follows:
- 19% Anxiety disorders
- 8% Depression
- 4% Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
- 3% Bipolar Disorder
- 1% Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- 1% Schizophrenia
Treatment for mental health disorders is still woefully lacking in the United States and across most of the world. In fact:
- 56% of U.S. adults with mental illness receive no care
- 34% of adults with serious mental illness do not receive care
- 49% of youth (6-17 years old) with a mental health condition get no treatment
It’s important to be able to identify the warning signs of mental illness, which include:
- Extreme mood swings or changes.
- Drastic changes in eating habits and sudden weight loss or gain.
- Irrational and excessive fear or worry for no valid reason.
- Problems with focus and concentration.
- Withdrawing socially from family, friends, and coworkers.
- Excessive feelings of sadness or hopelessness that last more than two weeks.
- Thoughts of self-harm.
- Undertaking risky, reckless behavior that can lead to hurting you or others.
- Excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
Where can you turn for help? If you or someone you know or love is struggling with mental health, there are plenty of tools and resources available to you, such as:
- Talking with a health care professional.
- Reaching out to family or close friends and share what you’re going through.
- Reporting any issues to your HR representative at work or boss if need be.
- Studying up on mental health and illness.
- Joining a free mental health education class or seminar.
- Calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline at any time at 800-950-NAMI (6264).
I also would like to offer you my well-researched Trigger Management Plan for free, which will help you identity and cope with the things that derail you from living the life you truly want.
You can find it here: https://bigvoicesrise.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/06-BV-Trigger-Worksheets.pdf
Thanks for reading today and remember that mental health IS health!
These days, we have far more information available about the world around us than at any other time in human history. We read countless media reports, see news from the corners of the world almost instantaneously, watch documentaries, and read scores of books to educate ourselves. So, our vision of the world (and our place in it) is probably 100% accurate, right?
Not so fast, as behavioral psychologists say that the average human being holds a world view that may overlap or parallel reality but is far from the truth.
Instead, we all have past experiences, memories, filters, emotions, and more – together referred to as cognitive biases – that distort our accurate portrayal of life. But by understanding these psychological and behavioral mechanisms, we can make better allowances for them, aligning our worldview more precisely while also eliminating the things that have always been holding us back.
This isn’t about being “right” – it’s about operating from a place of clarity so you can feel happier, less stressed, less anxious, more motivated, and generally on track for the life you really want to live.
So, here are 7 such cognitive biases that are probably keeping you from accurately seeing the world:
- Negativity Bias
Human beings are far more strongly influenced by bad news than by good news. It’s a trait that’s instinctual, as part of our evolutionary response to identify threats. “Our brains have become Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones,” according to neuropsychologist Rich Hanson.
Researchers have found that when presented with positive, neutral, and negative images, our brains light up far more in response to negative stimuli. In another study, it was discovered that people are more upset with LOSING $50 than they feel positive about WINNING $50.
2. Availability Heuristic (and you probably won’t remember that name!)
The easier it is to recall something from our memory, the more importance our brain assigns to that information. Basically, the more memorable it is, the more likely it is to impact our perceptions of the real world, even if that’s not always an accurate assessment.
For instance, studies show that when surveyed, people think that tornadoes kill far more people than asthma every year. In reality, asthma kills 20x as many people as tornadoes every year, but the respiratory ailment is far less memorable. Likewise, 8 out of 10 people surveyed said that accidents cause more deaths than strokes annually, but strokes actually take 200% more lives.
3. Affect Heuristic (Emotions over Facts)
A similar cognitive concept, Affect Heuristic documents how we tend to form our worldview based on feelings, not facts. That’s because all external stimuli are filtered through our emotional “animal brain” before reaching our more evolved “human brain.”
We see evidence of this by our “love or hate” nature of how we adopt an opinion. Once our emotional perception validates something, we’re unlikely to change our minds no matter how many facts we’re presented with.
4. Confirmation Bias
The moment we subscribe to a certain belief or ideal, we commit to it wholeheartedly, leaving little room for dissenting opinions. From that point, we actually start filtering out external facts and information that are not consistent with our internalized belief, no matter how credible they may be.
Research shows that when hooked up to MRI scanners, our brains go haywire when we’re presented with information that’s contradictory to our chosen belief system. This can be attributed to our animal brain once again, which revolts at anything that threatens our sense of security in the world.
No wonder why people get so crazy with fighting about politics instead of being open to civilized debate!
Our actions and viewpoints are based on conscious choice, right? Not so fast, as the cognitive phenomenon of anchoring has been shown to have a strong influence om behavior.
Take the case of a study conducted by researchers Kahneman and Tversky, who told subjects to spin a wheel with numbers going from 1-100, then to write down the result. However, the study participants didn’t know that they’d rigged the wheel to stop only on the numbers 10 or 65 every time.
Next, they asked these participants to estimate two totally unrelated percentages for a separate question.
But what they found is that subjects who’d landed on #10 when spinning the wheel had an average percentage estimate of 25%, while subjects who had landed on #65 estimated 45% on average.
Anchoring is real and is being used on you every time you walk into the supermarket, as an example. Long ago, marketers found that when they put a sign up that said “Limit 12 per customer” over soup cans, the average purchase went from 1-2 cans to 4-10 cans!
6. Referential Thinking
Of course, our brains formulate a vision of the world based on the totality of references and experiences we’ve experienced. So, all of the external stimuli we’ve seen, heard, read, and internalized over time become the puzzle pieces by which we assemble our reality.
That reality dictates all of our opinions and beliefs, further perpetuating a cycle that isn’t necessarily based on the total facts available.
For a good example of Referential Thinking, remember that before Roger Bannister, it was largely considered physically impossible to run a sub 4:00 mile, and no one had ever done it. But after Bannister accomplished the feat in 1954, running a 3:59, another runner did it only 46 days later! A little more than a year later, three runners did it in the very same race, and since then, thousands of runners have broken the elusive 4:00 mile barrier, thanks in part to Referential Thinking!
7. Projection Bias
We make decisions big and small that impact our future based on our present state and viewpoint. While that may sound natural, being entirely immersed in the present moment when we make choices for the future discounts the big picture of where we want to go/who we want to be/what we want our life to look like, etc.
Basically, we project our current state on the rest of our life, even though we should know logically that financial circumstances, feeling depressed or stuck, or “bad luck” is just a temporary condition. But we can’t get past that and make choices as if those conditions will be permanent.
Instead, it’s crucial to gain some perspective and rise above our current thoughts and emotions to make better decisions that foster the growth and advancement we really wish for!
|March is Women’s History Month, a period to examine the tumultuous history of female rights and conditions in the United States, celebrate our pioneers who sacrificed so much for women’s suffrage, and a time to look forward with optimism. |
Today, I wanted to bring you 9 quick facts about Women’s History Month and the state of females across the country, who make up more than 50% of our U.S. population today.
1. The very first Women’s History Day was launched in 1909
On February 28, 1909, the very first Women’s History Day was held in New York City. That date marked one year since the garment workers’ strike in Manhattan, when 15,000 female workers and supporters marched for better conditions, fair wages, and safety considerations.
2. It became Women’s History Week and finally, Women’s History Month in 1987
In 1978, an education task force in California conducted a whole week for women’s history, starting March 8. President Jimmy Carter formally recognized Women’s History Week in 1980, and in 1987, activists and supporters lobbied Congress for a whole month dedicated to the cause. Congress declared March 1987 the first official Women’s History Month.
3. There is a theme to each Women’s History Month (WHM)
Each WHM is assigned a theme to highlight a certain cause, movement, or certain pioneers. For instance, the WHM theme for 2020 was “Valiant Women of the Vote,” recognizing “the centennial of the 19th Amendment, we will honor women from the original suffrage movement as well as 20th and 21st-century women who have continued the struggle (fighting against poll taxes, literacy tests, voter roll purges, and other more contemporary forms of voter suppression) to ensure voting rights for all,” according to the National Women’s History Alliance.
In 2021, the theme for WHM is Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced,” expanding the focus on women who pushed the right to vote through political methods, protest, and leadership.
4. The first right to vote
New Zealand was actually the first country in the world that allowed women the right to vote in 1897, followed by nations like the UK, Finland, and more. In fact, 20 countries around the world granted women full and equal rights to vote before the United States!
In the U.S., women gained the right to vote in Wyoming Territory all the way back in 1869. (Wyoming also elected the first female governor in the United States in 1924, when Nellie Taylor Ross to office!)
5. The 19th amendment granted the right for women to vote – but not all women
In history class, we often learn that the 19th amendment to the Constitution granted women the right to vote as of August 26, 1920.
That is partially true, as during that era, many women were still excluded from voting, including Native America, Black, Asian American, and Latin women. For instance, only in 1924 were Native American women first considered U.S. citizens under the law, winning them the right to vote – at least on paper. Standard voter suppression practices and Jim Crowe laws prevented most women of color from voting for many decades.
6. The Voting Rights Act of 1965
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, making it law. Under the new act, discrimination and suppression tactics meant to keep women and minorities from voting were deemed illegal across the entire United States.
7. But women’s rights still lagged far behind
The Voting Rights Act was an important piece of universal legislation, but it certainly didn’t level the playing field for women’s rights. For instance, did you know that U.S. women couldn’t even take out a credit card by themselves until 1974?! Before that, they always needed a man to co-sign or be a joint account holder.
It’s true – Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, giving women, minorities, and other under-served groups expanded access to credit cards, mortgage, banking, and credit.
8. Today, the gender pay gap is still real
As I wrote about last March for Women’s History Month, there is still a vast discrepancy between men and women when it comes to employment and compensation.
“Currently, only 4.8% of all CEOs for the Fortune 500 are women. That means women make up nearly half of the workforce (47%), yet less than 1 out of every 20 CEOs is female,” as I documented in that article.
Likewise, when it comes to bringing home the bacon, women now earn 80.3% of the income men receive for the same position. That means women earn an average of only $806 weekly compared to $1,004 for men for the same job, experience, qualifications, etc. For professional or white-collar jobs, women earn only 68.7% of that of men, and that falls even further to 66.2% for women with advanced degrees.
This March and beyond, let’s keep up the fight for women’s advancement in business and equal pay!
9. Advancement and reason for optimism
Women’s voices are being heard across all aspects of society like never before. Currently, 143 women hold seats in Congress, comprising 26.7% of the 535 total members and marking the highest percentage of Congresswomen ever. In January, Kamala Harris was sworn in as the first U.S. woman vice president and VP of color. There are more female activists and pioneers fighting for rights and social progress across all ages and segments of society.
I hope you enjoyed these facts about Women’s History Month, and thank you for sharing or reposting this article so we can gain more awareness for this important movement!
|“Man [or woman] is what he [or she] believes.”|
Are you a believer? We all believe in something bigger than ourselves, like religion, a certain world view, or even our own capabilities and limitations.
But research shows that the power and commitment of our beliefs is probably the single most important factor in the quality of our lives, above even external circumstances.
Basically, if we can change our mindset and our beliefs, we can rewrite the story of our own lives any way we wish!
Upon reflection, I came up with these five new beliefs to adopt that will do just that.
1. Focus on a growth mindset
We all face setbacks, obstacles, and even tragedies in life. While we can’t usually control what happens to us, we can choose to reframe how we perceive those events, turning the tide in our favor. To do that, start seeing every problem or challenge as an opportunity to grow.
They say that “You either win or you learn,” and that can be applied to just about any circumstance or event in your life. But by transitioning to a growth mindset, you’ll still process these challenges, but instead of trying to think about them less and move on, you’ll invest more time in yourself and think of how you can grow from the experience, inevitably increasing your level of joy and success.
2. Become goal-oriented
Don’t think of your day just in terms of tasks, workload, or your never-ending To Do list, but broken down into goals. No matter how small or seemingly mundane, when you switch your mindset to focus on goals, you’ll notice a pretty significant shift.
Just by checking off these daily or weekly goals and taking action to reach them (whether you achieve them or not), you’ll encourage your brain to release powerful feel-good hormones. You’ll also feel far less unfocused, as everything from going to the gym to working for your next promotion to paying off debt will have clear stepping-stones and established plateaus of success along the journey.
It will become routine to review where you are, where you want to go, and what you can do to make progress every single day. Goal setting will increase your feelings of success, achievement, and happiness!
3. Control your thoughts = control your life
According to medieval English poet John Milton, “The mind is a universe and can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
That’s even more true today, as the modern person is more stressed, anxious, and depressed than ever before in history. But if you can learn to manage your thoughts and emotions, you’ll make amazing strides to shaping your own reality.
It takes practice and focus at first, but once you are adept and identifying and quieting negative, harmful, and unwanted thoughts (which we all have), the universe within your ears will no longer steal your joy or threaten your inner peace.
Remember that your authentic self doesn’t produce thoughts of guilt, shame, blame or fear, and or any disempowering thoughts that do not serve you – so get rid of them!
4. Give yourself permission to think/feel in joy
When a reporter once asked the Dali Lama what the meaning of life was, he gave a surprising answer: joy. Joy is so important in our lives, he reasoned, because when we feel happiness and love we both emit those same emotions into the world, and openly accept them. We do no harm and tend to operate at our highest and best potential as human beings when we operate from a place of joy, not fear, loss, or scarcity.
Yet too often, we don’t give ourselves permission to feel joy, thinking that if we’re not serious, struggling, or feeling stressed, we’re not doing enough or somehow being selfish. Quite the opposite is true!
Of course, we have to accept that we cannot please everyone and that no one is free from suffering. But by switching to a mindset of joy, we’ll cultivate the resilience, trust, and faith to get us through even the darkest of days.
5. Take full responsibility for your own life
Repeat after me, “I am completely responsible for how I experience life.”
Just by uttering those words and internalizing their meaning, we empower ourselves to take control of our lives completely. Only we are responsible for our outcomes, our happiness, and writing our own story.
To take full responsibility doesn’t mean we blame ourselves for everything, but acknowledge our power. We realize that we can generate the energy and discipline needed to stay on the path to emotional and physical well-being. We won’t just rely on motivation or need external inspiration, but will simply choose the right habits, regardless of how we feel.
We also don’t give others permission to steal our joy or derail us from what we want. Of course, we understand that everyone is just doing the best they can, but the manifestation of our lives isn’t up to them, but us.
With responsibility comes freedom, and that all starts with belief!
Scientists used to think that our brains were hard-wired, born and developed with a physical structure that could never be altered. In decades past, patients with brain damage or traumatic injuries seldom showed improvement, and there was certainly no way to observe the brain’s activity or inner workings.
But dramatic advances in science, healthcare, and research, really just in the last decade, have propelled us to a new understanding of the human mind. We understand more of how it functions, and also what we can do to directly influence its processes.
Far from being hard-wired, your brain is actually malleable, able to change and adapt. This “neuroplasticity” (“neuro” = brain and “plasticity” = changeable) is the key that allows us to literally rewire our brains. Basically, the brain is like a muscle which can be trained and strengthened like any other.
But why would we even want to rewire our brains?
Rewiring your brain helps you:
- Learn a new language
- Change careers or start in a new industry
- Develop new skills
- Adapt to new environment and deal with change
- Form a new mindset
- Break bad habits
- Lose weight
- Get in shape
- Make money
- Feel happier
- Gain confidence
Even more important, rewiring our brains allows us a method to treat addiction, depression, mental illness, and traumatic brain injuries. That field has evolved exponentially in just the last few years, bearing great results for doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists, counselors, and their patients.
But today, we’re talking about re-training your brain for practical uses in your life, like setting goals and getting “unstuck” from negative ruts.
What does “rewiring your brain” mean?
The term “rewire” just means to encourage and promote neuroplasticity (not that you have to open up the hood and get in there with a screwdriver or anything!).
The miraculous aspect of this is the choices we make, activities we pursue, and even our mindset have a significant impact on our neuroplasticity, helping our brains create and strengthen new neuropathways.
We can do that by setting new goals or engaging in healthy habits. Those establish and promote those new pathways, which soon become entrenched as those positive behaviors become habits.
As your brain’s neurons continue to fire in unison with a new habit, experience, or some form of learning, they’ll eventually form a physical connection. “Fire together, wire together” is the geeky-but-true mantra among neuroscientists!
Triggers, addiction, and negative spirals
Reframing your attitude to get gratification or take pleasure from these new goals and pursuits is a key step in the process. However, while the brain can be rewired to adopt positive new habits and changes, it can also easily slip back into established negative pathways.
Therefore, it’s crucial we look for the warning signs and avoid those “triggers.”
Stress is a big one. Research shows that acute or chronic stress alters our brain by entrenching habits, good or bad. So, when we’re faced with serious stressors, we’re more likely to revert to the easiest and most established neuropathway, which is falling back on our habits and familiar ways.
Depression, anxiety, and other emotional strife are more triggers, as the negative thought patterns that ensue can impair or sabotage the brain’s neuroplasticity process.
More triggers that inhibit neuroplasticity:
Emotional triggers: depression, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, loneliness, isolation, stress, and even memories
Social triggers: family, friends, coworkers, cohorts, enablers, and others
Environmental triggers: certain places, sights, sounds, smells, etc.
Escape triggers: drugs, alcohol, violence, abuse, and others
Practical methods to help rewire your brain
Ok, now let’s get down to 10 things you can actually do yourself to encourage neuroplasticity and rewire your brain for positive changes:
1. Performing specific brain-training exercises
Specific training that revolves around problem-solving or other cognitive tests can strengthen positive neuroplasticity. For instance, a study of London taxi drivers found that their hippocampus (a portion of the brain responsible for mental mapping) actually grow larger because they had to memorize every street and detail of the city!
2. Mindful meditation
Meditation has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to strengthen neurological pathways, opening up a whole host of benefits such as improved clarity, focus, less stress, anxiety, or depression, better sleep, and more.
3. Cognitive behavioral therapy
For those who have brain injuries or serious emotional trauma, cognitive therapy conducted by a professional may be necessary to rewire the brain, but it is effective.
4. Learning a new language
Studying a new, non-native language is proven to improve cognitive function by increasing gray matter, as well as white matter. Those two areas of the brain are associated with increasing memory, attention, emotional intelligence, motor skills, and increasing communication and interconnectivity within the brain.
5. Making music
Playing instruments and making music promotes positive brain function and boosts our ability to learn, memory, focus, concentration, and also has been found to slow cognitive decline in seniors. In fact, research shows that musicians have 130% more gray matter in their brains than the average person!
6. Art and creativity
Artistry and the process of creation create new connections in the brain, as well as strengthening existing neural pathways. Art challenges us to see the world from a different perspective, which helps expand subjective interpretation and overall cognitive function.
As you can imagine, hitting the road to see new countries, cultures, and have new experiences boosts your cognitive flexibility, which offers the same neurological rewiring as art, music, and other creativity.
The great thing about travel is that you don’t actually have to get on an airplane and go somewhere to enjoy the brain benefits. Simply planning an epic trip, researching new parts of the world on YouTube, or even exploring your own city can do the same thing.
8. Playing video games?!
Many of us have scolded our kids that they should put down the video games and go outside to play sports or read a book instead. But studies show that video games (in moderation) actually offer cognitive benefits like problem-solving skills, improve memory, spatial navigation, and other gray matter boosters. But maybe you want to keep this one to yourself and not tell them!
Getting a good workout in, doing yoga, or just taking a brisk walk not only has plenty of physical benefits, but activates your brain, too. Studies show that exercise (especially aerobic exercise, or cardio) helps grow cognition function with improvements to memory, learning capacity, and even reduces stress, anxiety, and the instance of depression.
It’s not just a cerebral task that can stimulate our gray matter and form new neuro-connections, but the simple act of being with others. In fact, these social connections foster brain health and decrease the symptoms and seriousness of depression, anxiety, and stress. Social connection is a key component in the quality of both brain functions and mental health!
Now that you understand the art of rewiring your brain, I hope you use this to become healthier, happier, and change your life any way you wish!
I’ve heard it from many different people in different forms, from Navy drill Sergeants to motivational speakers, celebrities like the Rock and even our positivity superstar, Hal Elrod in his Miracle Morning series.
But the gist is always the same: he (or she) who masters their morning masters their day.
If you’re a late riser, “not a morning person”, or tend to stumble around the in AM hours but stay up late into the night, you may cringe to hear this. But everything from cutting edge neurological studies to ancient wisdom dictates that all hours are not created equal. In fact, those who wake up early and keep a consistent, positive routine see huge changes in their lives.
I know I have.
For years now, I’ve been following the exact routine I’m going to share with you below. Sure, I’ve missed a day or two here or there, and it’s easy to get derailed – even with good intentions.
In the routinely crazy scramble we call life, it’s all about priorities, and sometimes you have to take care of a sick child, work early or late, or even hit pause and support others. And once I get rolling with those priorities, I have a hard time stepping away and returning to taking care of myself or making myself the priority. That’s something you may experience, too.
So, this morning regiment isn’t perfect, but a north star to help me keep walking in the direction of the best version of my life. It’s also so ingrained in my existence that I’d be completely lost without it.
Since focusing on starting each and every day the right way, I’ve experienced a transformative shift in mind, body, and soul…as well as my career, relationships, and more.
But before we even get into the nuts and bolts of my daily habits, I want to mention that God is always my top priority, and I choose to honor that with everything I do.
My morning method actually starts the evening before. I often exercise in the evening, which is a perfect way to end the day with a healthy activity, literally sweating out the stress while reflecting as I walk, cycle, or lift.
Prior to bedtime, I also quickly review the next day’s schedule, mentally preparing so my head can hit the pillow with the knowledge that I’m organized and ready for the next day.
This is also my time to linger in gratitude a bit, feeling thankful for anything great that happened that day.
And if I have evening events that preclude me from exercising (like they often do), I make sure to schedule a workout or brisk walk in the morning.
My morning ritual:
1. I always wake up at least two hours before my first appointment or when I need to be in the office. That allows me one hour just for me so I can engage in my morning steps without feeling rushed.
2. Once I rise (after taking out my puppies and making my tea), the first thing I do is make my bed. This may seem like a trivial chore, but it serves a fundamental purpose. Making my bed allows me to gain momentum by accomplishing my first task of the day, as well as helping me feel mentally organized.
If you don’t believe me that a small thing like making your bed can make a difference, listen to this speech by a US Navy Admiral William McRaven, entitled “If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed.”
3. One important aspect of my early morning program is that I never pick up my phone, check social media, or turn on the TV. Studies show that checking our smartphone and scrolling through social first thing in the morning sets the stage for increased levels of anxiety, stress, depression, and negative thoughts throughout the day.
If I pick up my phone, I’ll inevitably start checking emails or answering calls and texts, and pretty soon, I’m in full work mode. So, I make sure my phone is off or in a different room during my cherished morning time.
4. I mentioned that my faith is a priority in my life, and that’s why I read a devotional and my bible every morning. It’s become one of the bright spots in my life, and I look forward to it every day.
5. An extension of that morning study is reviewing my affirmations, which I do next. I set goals, go over my Bucket List, and actually visualize as if I’ve already achieved those items.
6. I end this segment of my morning by journaling, documenting my feelings, observations, and hopes from everything I’ve just read and thought. From bible study to journaling takes me about 30 minutes.
Putting pen to paper is crucial, and studies show that just writing down your goals allows people to achieve them at a 78% higher rate.
7. At this point in my morning, I meditate for about 5- 20 minutes. There’s no one “right” way to meditate, although most people sit quietly and focus on their breathing as they clear their mind. For me, watching meditation-inspired videos on YouTube or Abide is my favorite.
Research shows that meditating even for 15 minutes helps promote mental clarity, emotional health, soothes anxiety, and improves the quality of sleep. I know it works like a charm for me!
8. From quieting introspection to fast-paced cardio activity, I take a walk or hit the weights at this point of my morning. I absolutely love the feeling of getting a great workout in before preparing for work, and if I don’t have time to do it in the morning, I will exercise the night before or that same evening.
As long as I get a great workout in, it’s a victory!
9. My morning ritual concludes with a healthy breakfast to fuel my busy day, and I definitely include a hot cup of coffee or tea – which is well earned by this time!
10. The last thing I do before I leave the house or start work is to set my attitude to gratitude and service because that’s the mindset I want throughout the day.
I encourage you to try this morning routine for a couple of weeks and see how you feel. Even better, adapt it to create your own daily ritual that works best for you.
I can’t wait to hear about the results!
1“But are you happy?”
That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer, which sometimes makes us squirm when people put us on the spot. I mean, the default answer is “yes,” but that’s not always true, is it?
We all have ups and downs; good days and bad, and it’s impossible to be happy 100% of the time (especially these days!).
But scientists and researchers point to something called “baseline happiness,” which is a consistent, long-term range of our positive emotional state. And the great news is that we can do things to improve our baseline happiness – there are tangible strategies to boost our mood, joy, and outlook in life.
If you want to feel happier TODAY, try these 10 techniques. Do these things regularly, and you’ll see a vast improvement in how much you enjoy your life!
1. Go work out
Exercise and physical activity are one of the most impactful ways to produce natural endorphins, or “good mood chemicals” in the brain. In one notable study, three groups of depressed individuals were treated with either medication, exercise, or both.
They found that all three groups showed short-term improvement in their levels of happiness, but the long-term prognosis was starkly different.
Six months later, those who just took medication relapsed into depression at a 38% rate. Even the medication + exercise group relapsed at a 31% rate. But only 9% of the group that treated their depression with exercise fell back into that state, a remarkable finding!
2. Spend time with a friend or family member
Did you know that one of the top regrets from seniors when they’re on their deathbed is that they didn’t spend enough time with family or friends?
Numerous studies point to happiness levels and the quality (not necessarily quantity) of our social connections, especially with family or close friends.
Men especially have a tough time connecting and forming meaningful relationships with friends. But research shows interesting data points on that topic, such as that a man’s relationships at age 47 are an accurate predictor of their health and happiness later in life!
3. Get outdoors
Most of us just feel better with a little sunlight and fresh air, but science backs that up. Studies show that even 20 minutes outdoors in pleasant weather boosts mood and other brain functions. And while you may guess that we get happier as temperatures climb, the American Meteorological Society discovered that the happiness-boosting effect of the outdoors is maximized at 57 degrees – positively brisk!
4. Practice gratitude
I said “practice” instead of just “be grateful” because encouraging a mindset of gratitude takes work and diligence before it becomes a habit. But the sunnying effect across just about every aspect of your life is profound.
According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat review, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
5. Meditate (and breathe deeply) every day
There’s an overwhelming amount of research that now proves that meditation and deep breathing literally rewire your brain, improving mood, clarity, focus, outlook, and yes, happiness. Meditation is also one of the best ways to treat anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness naturally.
A study published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found that after an eight-week course of meditation, the part of the brain associated with compassion, empathy, and self-awareness actually grew in size, while the part of the brain associated with stress shrank in size.
6. Volunteer and give back (according to this specific number)
One of the single most powerful ways to help ourselves feel better is to help others. Charity work, volunteering, or just performing a random act of kindness all go a long way towards boosting our own happiness.
But emerging research also points to an optimal amount of time for our philanthropic efforts: 100 hours, or approximately 2 hours per week. More or less than that, and we may still be helping others, but may not experience the same proportionate increase in our own joy.
7. Plan an epic vacation (even if you never hit the road)
We’d all love to hop on a plane (first class) and fly off to some tropical locale right now, taking the vacation of a lifetime. Whether it’s time, money, or this pesky pandemic, that may not be possible. But the good news is that we can launch our happiness just by planning that trip.
In fact, a study by the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life found that we feel the most joy just by planning a vacation before we ever say bon voyage, and those happiness levels drop sharply once we return.
8. Grow older
Yes, you read that correctly – we demonstrate higher levels of happiness as the birthdays add up. This isn’t just based on anecdotal evidence, but scientific studies where people of different age groups were shown photos of faces in both positive and negative situations. The researchers found that the older we are, the more we focus on the happy faces and tend to remember the negative details less.
Other research concludes that the simple things – like taking a walk or seeing a friend – will enhance our mood more significantly the older we are. Perhaps it’s because we learn coping mechanisms and techniques to lift our own spirits as time goes on, but we just need get older to be happier!
9. Step away from social media
We’re the first generation in the history of human beings who have had to deal with addiction to technology (unless you count Atari and cordless phones), and that’s taking a serious toll on our mental health.
If you don’t realize how much we’re slaves to our smartphones and social media, just watch The Social Dilemma, or consider this finding by clinical psychologist and MIT professor Sherry Turkle, which she wrote about in her book, Alone Together “Online life tends to promote more superficial, emotionally lazy relationships, as people are drawn to relationships that seem low risk and always at hand.”
So, if you want a near-instant emotional pick-me-up, just turn off the smartphone and log off of social media for the rest of the day or make it a habit to scroll only once per day.
10. Smile more
Far from campy optimism, the physiological practice of smiling has been proven to improve mood, mental clarity, levels of optimism, and even reduce pain.
Called the facial feedback hypothesis, psychologists posit that even when we force a smile despite feeling less-than-stellar, it will make an almost immediate and moderate (yet significant) impact on our mood.
But the real trick is backing up that smile with positive thoughts simultaneously, as a University of Michigan study found that the combination was far more powerful.
Please try the items on this list and let me know how they improve your happiness – I’d love to hear from you!
“Nothing brings me more happiness than trying to help the most vulnerable people in society. It is a good and essential part of my life, a kind of destiny.”
-Diana, Princess of Wales
July 1, 1961 – August 31, 1997
Things are not easy right now for many people, and it’s starting to dawn on us that it may be this way for a while.
And even if we’re not personally dealing with the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, or food insecurity, the echoes of suffering in our world still reverberate within us since we are fundamentally good-hearted, empathetic human beings.
In fact, rates of anxiety and depression have reached unprecedented levels in the U.S. and across the world, up threefold since just the start of the year, before the pandemic. In a recent KFF tracking poll, 53% of U.S. respondents reported being increasingly anxious or depressed – and that was just in July.
Likewise, the levels of substance abuse, suicide, and other health conditions due to the mental health crisis may eventually cause more long-term damage than the Coronavirus itself.
So, whether it’s exercise, pursuing old hobbies or rekindling new passions, or endless Zoom chats with friends and family, we’re all struggling to stay mentally healthy and add some joy and light to our lives.
(Note: online shopping may or may not be a positive coping mechanism, but it sure works great for me!)
But there’s another method of boosting our happiness and enriching our lives these days: giving.
Can giving to others enrich our lives, keep us healthy, AND help the world?
Even before the pandemic, we were giving back, donating, and volunteering more than ever. In 2019, charitable giving reached $449.64 billion in the U.S., which was an increase of more than 5% since the previous year, 2018.
And while corporations and foundations made up a significant portion of that total number, it was actually individual, hard-working Americans who gave the most. In fact, giving from individuals reached $309.66 billion in 2019 or 69% of total charitable gifts and donations.
And that just covers monetary donations or financial support. But remember that we’re seeing a whole host of ways people can give of themselves and help others: we’re offering our time, voices, focus, energy, and skills like never before.
If there are any rays of hope during these times, it’s the small stories emerging the reconfirm our humanity:
- Giving a call to talk or going grocery shopping for a lonely senior who lives alone.
- Mentoring someone young, offering to teach them new skills online.
- Mowing the yard and taking out the trash cans for our neighbors.
- Using social media to raise awareness for different causes and charities in need.
- Children with lemonade stands to collect money not for themselves, but to give to their people in their communities.
- Supporting teachers, healthcare workers, and other front-liners who take risks every day to keep us all safe.
Of course, we know it feels good when we do something nice for someone else, even if it’s in a “warm and fuzzy” theoretical sense.
But it turns out there are some significant and proven benefits when we donate to charity, help someone in need, or just volunteer.
According to numerous credible studies, the tangible benefits of giving include increases in:
- Feelings of connection and engagement
- Affirmation of our value to others
- Levels of life satisfaction
- Lasting improvements in overall happiness
- Reduced mortality rates
- Longevity rates
- Levels of learning and mental awareness
- Feelings of daily gratitude
- Prosocial behaviors
The physiology of charity
When we look at that list, I can’t help but notice these benefits are some of the same offered by anti-depressant medications, exercise, or even being in a loving relationship.
That’s no coincidence, as scientists have mapped a neural connection in the part of the brain that registers reward processing, like when we eat our favorite food, win a sporting match, or even hit the lottery.
In a research study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, scientists tracked the brain images of participants, paying close attention to how their brain activity changed as a response to altruism.
They found that our brain activity is stimulated in two profound ways when we get in a philanthropic mood and give to others.
One is in the mesolimbic pathway, the area that dispenses “feel good” hormones and chemicals like dopamine. The second area of our brain that is stimulated by charitable giving is the subgenual region, which helps us form social attachments.
Why do people give?
Now that we understand the physiological basis for why we feel great when we help our fellow woman or man, let’s look at the common motivations for doing so. And beware – it’s not always just out of the goodness of our heart, but has a more primal or utilitarian basis.
One of the best studies into the topic comes from a Professor William Harbaugh at the University of Oregon, who isolated three theories as to why people give to charity or good causes:
- People give to be altruistic, focusing on making a positive impact or solving a problem, like volunteering at a soup kitchen to help feed the hungry.
- The next theory may call into question our motivations, as Harbaugh claimed that some people enjoy the feeling of making “autonomous decisions” about who to help, when, and to what degree, experiencing pleasure from that control or even feelings of power.
- Thirdly, people also give to charities because it enhances their social value or boosts their social status. We see evidence of this when we donate to a cause and then share that fact on social media, feeling the reward two-fold.
Who gives the most?
We mentioned that individuals gave almost $7 out of every $10 in 2019, but who among us gives the most? A study by the University of Notre Dame conducted a study and found these characteristics and demographics of the biggest givers:
- Higher levels of education
- More religious or faith-based
- Live in smaller towns – not big cities
- The study also found that people are also far more likely to donate to charitable causes when they understand and can relate to the cause or organization they’re supporting.
Additionally, studies show that women tend to increase donations when they are single, the head of the household, or when they earn higher incomes.
When it comes to income distribution, you may be surprised to hear that lower-income brackets give a larger proportion of their assets than middle or upper-class households!
The joy of giving never diminishes
No matter who you are, how you choose to help others, or what your motivation, there is some more good news about the psychology of altruism: it doesn’t diminish.
In fact, the pleasure center in our brain typically releases fewer feel-good hormones and chemicals as a good thing becomes routine. Such is the case when we stockpile nice material things, chase superficial goals, or do things simply because society tells us it should make us happy.
So, if we purchase that expensive sports car, win at the casino, or eat delicious food, the level of pleasure we receive diminishes as time goes on – and pretty rapidly, research shows.
However, when donating to charity, volunteering, or giving to help others in some form, the opposite is true. The pleasurable effect and mental health benefits actually do not diminish, but maintain and even grow over time.
I guess it’s true when they say the more love you give, the more you get back!
Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University
The NonProfit Times
National Academy of Sciences
National Philanthropic Trust