Mind Wandering: good or bad? (it depends)
March 1, 2015
What is mind up to when we are not focused on the task at hand? Research suggests that we are highly prone to mind wandering. Given the long list of benefits from mindfulness, or being present, lack of focus or wandering must be an undesirable state we need to avoid. But like most things in life, the answer is far from black or white. A deeper dive into the research reveals the subtlety of this question.
Research by Matt Killingsworth reveals mind wandering is a common occurrence. Up to 47% of the time, we are lost in thoughts rather than focused upon the task at hand. His research reveals this occurs whether we like the current activity or not. Even when we do not like the activity, mind wandering results in less happiness than being present with the unpleasant experience. Score one for “no!” to mind wandering.
Amisha Jha’s research reveals our mind wandering tends to be comprised of self-reflection and negative affect. In other words, we think about ourselves and get depressed! Again, mind wandering looks like something to avoid.
But what about times when we find ourselves slipping off into a creative mode of wandering....
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Predicting Happiness (or at least the cessation of suffering)
February 1, 2015
Pick up an object, such as a pen, coffee mug or iphone. Pull back your arm and prepare to throw - now stop! Before the object leaves your hand, can you predict where it will land? Thanks to good ol’ Mr. Newton (of apple fame), we can predict where the object will come to rest.
OK, how about a coin toss? Surely a coin toss is too random to know the outcome. Again, thanks to the wonders of mathematics, once we know all the initial conditions prior to the toss, we can predict heads or tails (coin tossing machines can generate a predicitable toss 100% of the time).
OK, you say, maybe we can predict the outcome of some simple physical objects in motion, but surely my happiness is beyond prediction. Or is it?
In our life, we also experience causality (AKA Karma). Every action results in an outcome. My reaction to an event will lead to a particular outcome, resulting in another reaction and another outcome and the cycle continues. Just as we can predict that releasing an object will result in it dropping to the floor, we are capable of recognizing that clenching teeth all day results in...
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We stand at a threshold
January 1, 2015
Looking back, what shall be left behind?
What served me not in twelve months past?
What brought suffering upon myself and others?
What expectations now exposed unrealistic?
Now before me, an open hand, ready to receive.
What previously pushed away by fist held tight?
What vital needs denied?
What long hushed gifts shall now be claimed, shall be truly owned?
Looking forward, what myths do I see now truth lacking?
What threads added by another, weakened the tapestry of my life?
What story anew shall I weave in the twelve months to come?
With each breath in, I arrive in the present moment.
With each breath out, I open to freshness, clarity and Light.
May we be Happy,
May we be at Peace,
May we be free from suffering,
May we be free.
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Embracing (all) emotions
December 1, 2014
Upon receiving a sensation (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches and ideas) and weaving a narrative, we experience an emotion. Often, we are not even aware of this flow until we find ourselves in some unexpected mood. And our typical reaction, as thinking beings, we ask, “Why?” Why am I feeling this way? Sometimes, the answer is apparent - something deemed either good or bad just happened and we immediately connect the dots. Wonderful!
But what about the all too frequent occasions when the emotional math does not add up? How do we typically react? Do we double down on thinking our way out of this feeling, continuing to ask “why?” When that still fails, we start to pave our path forward with shoulds: “I should be feeling…!”
In the end, we dig a deeper hole as we try to think the feeling. If digging deeper fails to reveal the answer, perhaps a new approach is called for. Instead of a problem to be solved, emotions are an energy to be experienced.
Mindfulness invites us to linger a little longer with unpleasant emotions. In doing so, we discover a powerful shift in our...
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"That is MY story..."
November 5, 2014
…but do I really want to stick to it? Once we receive information through our six senses (taste, touch, smell, hear, see, think), the story-telling begins. The new information is not contained within a vacuum, but immediately referenced against our history. Our internal referencing is far from accurate, as we recall similar experiences from our past that seem relevant to this information received in the moment. Typically occurring at a level of awareness far too low to be consciously acknowledged, we weave a tale which may or may not accurately assess the current experience. In essence, we become script writers, spinning an internal narrative. Any downstream effects, be they emotional and/or behavioral, are dependent upon these internal narratives. We easily become lost in the emotional reactions deeply carved into these old stories, retold over and over, instead of opening to the fresh new scenario unfolding before our eyes (and ears, noses, skin, tongues, minds).
So, how accurate is your internal story teller? When the last time you reality-tested your internal narrator? The first step in reality testing requires a gap between receiving and reacting. Mindfulness creates just such a gap. By developing the capacity to witness our internal story-teller,...
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You are so 12 seconds ago!
October 11, 2014
Look around - what do you see? To our eyes, we appear to see solid objects before us, unchanging in this moment. But this stability is an illusion. Seeing is a creation of our brain. And recent research at MIT and Berkeley reveal this creation of seeing is an amalgamation of the information arriving at our eyes over the past 12 seconds.
Now take a moment to count: "1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi"… all the way up to 12 Mississippis. How long did you remain focused upon the task of counting? Did you drift off during a “Mississippi?” According to research by Matt Killingsworth, 43% of the time we mind wander or drift off. And where do we drift off to? Research from Amisha Jha reveals we drift into rumination about ourself and experience a negative mood.
What do we discover when we combine these findings: our current perception is created over the past 12 seconds; about half of those past 12 seconds we are not even present; during those 5 seconds of mind wandering, we are ruminating about ourselves and feeling depressed. Let’s extrapolate that out to 24 hours - now that sounds like a fun...
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Do Be Do Be Do, Be
September 3, 2014
Early in life, it’s simple. Our days are filled with playing, eating and sleeping. As we grow older, new tasks to do appear. With only twenty-four hours, we cut back on the play, eat and sleep to make room for these tasks - but we still make time for playing, eating and sleeping. We know, on an intuitive level, that playing, eating and sleeping are vital to our wellbeing.
At some point, like the proverbial boiled frog, our To Do list overflows and the tasks become a higher priority than playing, eating and sleeping. While the drivers for this flip are many, the outcome is the same: playing, eating and sleeping are relegated to the “Later List.” A funny thing about this list - like the horizon, we never arrive in Later land. Our field of vision becomes a narrow slit, focused on the ever-demanding tasks of the To Do list. Any activities that divert from these tasks receive the pre-requisite knee jerk of “I don’t have time for that!” Welcome to the “Too Busy” trap - where playing, eating, sleeping or any activity that...
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Does a bird in the hand really feel as good as two in bush? Nope!
August 3, 2014
A friend offers you three apples, but discovers they only have two to give. At another time, a friend initially offers you only one apple, but then discovers they actually have two for you.
Now the question: do you feel differently about these two exchanges? The outcome is the same – from a simple numbers perspective. But in multiple studies, the loss of the former item outweighs the gain of the latter one from an emotional perspective. Not only has this reaction been replicated several times with humans, but our primate cousins also demonstrate loss aversion. In other words, this tendency to feel loss more than gain goes way-back in our evolution!
We seem to be hardwired to avoid loss. We can easily see how this would be of benefit when our very survival depended on getting adequate food, shelter and clothing. Loss could easily mean death. But despite our nice cozy homes and overflowing grocery stores, this evolutionary fear remains. The same neurological circuitry is applied to any loss, be it tangible (“Who ate the Haagen Dazs?!”) or less tangible (“Why has he not called me?!”).
When these old emotional circuits begin to ring...
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In this moment, an opportunity to be free
July 1, 2014
How will you engage this moment? Will you flip the switch into autopilot? Or will you accept the invitation to step fully step into the here-now?
Within each and every moment, we have an opportunity. We can continue to reinforce the habitual, the tried and true, the known. And in doing so, we will continue to arrive at the same outcome of all the past moments.
Or we can accept the invitation to step fully into this moment. To completely inhabit body. What might we discover in this exploration of the here-now? Who knows? And this is exactly the point. For it is in this moment that Life is unfolding. It is only in this moment that the answers dwell. It is only in this moment that we experience all that Life offers.
Leaving the familiar of auto-pilot can be scary. Even though auto-pilot leaves us at the whim of our thoughts, at least the territory is known. At least the demons that dwell there carry no surprises as we have done battle time and time again. But what would it be like to drop the sword, expose those demons for the illusionary wisps of thought that they are?...
freedom, mindfulness, thoughts
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From Know to Go: How to get unstuck and move forward into Health and Wellness!
June 1, 2014
By now, most of us are aware of the benefits of eating healthier, exercising more and decreasing stress. And yet how many of us make these habits part of our daily routine? You two in the back can put your hands down now! For the rest of us, we struggle and slip back into too much of this and not enough of that. This reality reveals the gap between “knowing” and “going” with healthier behaviors. So how do we get unstuck and make the shift from know to go?
The secret to this stuckness lies in understanding the power of familiarity and the challenge of change. From studies of quitting smoking, Prochaska and DiClemente revealed the process of change is more than a simple shift, but a series of stages. Change begins with the acknowledgement that the status quo is in some way harmful to our well-being. Even with this acknowledgement, we tend to fall into “yes, but” - yes, we recognize the need to change, but the benefits of the current behavior outweigh the potential future benefits of the change. This current gains/future benefits hill seems like an insurmountable mountain. The sweetness of the chocolate cake or ease...
health behavior change
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