Being kind to yourself is a surefire way to improve your mental health and reach your goals, a growing body of work suggests. Now research has revealed an easy way to boost this self-compassion—by showing kindness to others.
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How do we do it? How do we cultivate more compassion with ourselves, for our customers, for our coworkers?
We talk about four steps to creating more compassion in ourselves. The first step is noticing more. When we all get busy, distracted, or overloaded, we stop paying attention to the quality of other people’s lives. So notice more and you’ll automatically be more compassionate because you’ll see that people are in pain.
The second step is to slow down enough to interpret more generously. When a colleague makes a mistake, for instance, your first interpretation if you’re under a lot of pressure might be, “Stupid.” If you slow down a bit and say, “They’re trying, just like me. They’re overloaded, just like me. I could understand how they might have made that mistake,” that brings out more compassion in the system.
The third step is to cultivate your empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel concerned for what another person is going through, and if you interpret more generously, then that leads to the fourth step, which is stepping in to take action. So if you have a colleague who’s so overloaded that they’re making mistakes and you see it’s likely they’ll continue to do that, you may step in and offer to help. You may have a conversation with them about whether they’re aware of the pattern that they’re in. You may ask them if something else is going on in their life that’s contributing to this, that you could help alleviate. Those are the personal steps. Noticing, interpreting generously, feeling more empathy, and then taking some action.
Empathy is our inherent ability to perceive and share the feelings and thoughts of another. It allows us to connect with others who seem different, making us more aware of our commonalities. When we tune into empathy for others, we are more likely to act with compassion and altruism to help reduce their suffering. And, when we increase our caring for the environment, we are more likely to make choices that help preserve it for future generations.
Although empathy is a vital element of our nature, our civilization has not created the essential spaces, practices, and supporting ecosystems where it can be intentionally nurtured and unleashed towards the greater good. Yet research suggests that empathy can be taught, and that contact with people who are different from us in a safe, empathic way is a first step toward reducing prejudice.
This is where museums have a role to play. Museums are safe and informal learning platforms, uniquely equipped to encourage visitors to imagine, explore, and experience our rich human heritage and our natural world firsthand. They have the capability to bring together arts, technology, sciences, and literature to show how all living things are interconnected. They can also help fulfill an increasing demand for empathy in our lives, our workplaces, and our institutions.
The ability to learn is about more than building and strengthening neural connections. Even more important is our ability to break down the old ones. It's called "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.
You can turn election stress into courage and compassion, says Kelly McGonigal. Here's how.
More than anything else, this election is eroding social trust. Most commentaries treat election stress like ordinary, everyday stress. But let’s be clear: The stress we’re feeling about this election can have profound effects on our individual and collective well-being.
Moral distress is no ordinary stress, and preserving social trust requires more than just taking a bath, watching comedies, or even meditating. Rather than turn to the usual stress-reduction strategies of distraction and self-soothing, it’s important to recognize what makes this election’s stress so toxic—and what we can do to turn that poison into good medicine. For ourselves, and for others.
This requires more than mindfulness. It calls for heartfulness—the courage to stay engaged, with an open heart and a determination to hold onto your faith in what connects us. In this spirit, I offer three strategies for transforming moral distress into moral courage, moral elevation, and compassion.
Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more and more common in schools. In fact, there are more than 4,000 teachers qualified to teach mindfulness in the U.K alone, and that number is growing rapidly. That’s because teachers are finding that mindfulness is helping children self-regulate and stay calm, translating into improved grades while reducing aggression amongst children.
A new study teases out the different benefits of four kinds of meditation. Mindful breathing isn’t the only place to start—and it’s not the end of meditation, either.
During every type of meditation, participants reported feeling more positive emotions, more energetic, more focused on the present, and less distracted by thoughts than they did before beginning—perhaps thanks to the attention training that’s common to all meditation. But that’s where the similarities ended.
“The type of meditation matters,” explain postdoctoral researcher Bethany Kok and professor Tania Singer. “Each practice appears to create a distinct mental environment, the long-term consequences of which are only beginning to be explored.”
Seventy years ago, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who had just emerged from years as a prisoner at Auschwitz, shed some light on the question with a now-classic teaching. “Between stimulus and response, there is a space,” he wrote in 1946. “In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Mindfulness — the practice of watching one’s breath and noticing thoughts and sensations — is, at its core, a practice of cultivating this kind of space. It’s about becoming aware of how the diverse internal and external stimuli we face can provoke automatic, immediate, unthinking responses in our thoughts, emotions, and actions. As the University of Virginia’s Timothy Wilson has argued, our brains are not equipped to handle the 11-plus million bits of information arriving at any given moment. For the sake of efficiency, we tend to make new decisions based upon old frames, memories, or associations. Through mindfulness practice, a person is able to notice how the mind reacts to thoughts, sensations, and information, seeing past the old storylines and habitual patterns that unconsciously guide behavior. This creates space to deliberately choose how to speak and act. Organizations, like individuals, need this kind of space.
How meditative breathing soothes your hyper-alert brain and restores calm.
Calm is your brain’s normal default setting. It allows your physiology to run smoothly in a state of “rest and digest.” This relaxed calm gives you a sense of internal composure and emotional balance. When you’re humming along in calm, you are serene, focused, and content. And after any "survival mode" stress reaction, your brain is also wired to automatically recover this calm state.
But what if you’re feeling moderately stressed-- perhaps on edge, high strung, excitable, irritable-- with no recovery in sight? Perpetual moderate stress is a result of modern life, which can keep you in “hyper-alert mode.”
Unfortunately, when moderate stress is perpetual, a moderate amount of stress hormones are coursing through our veins, and we aren't equipped with an automatic reset button that shifts us from hyper-alert back to calm. As a result, your brain can get stuck there, resulting in that feeling of chronic stress and anxiety.
Research conducted by Greg Feist of San Jose State University found that when people let their focus shift away from others around them, they're better able to engage in "metacognition," the process of thinking critically and reflectively about your own thoughts.
Where things get tricky, though, is figuring out what to do in order to encourage metacognitive thought in the first place. When we're routinely overwhelmed with outside noise, carving out space for unstructured daydreaming takes planning, structure.
Sometimes the most productive periods of contemplation come to us unawares and don't last very long—but that doesn't mean they aren't useful.
A recent series of ground-breaking neuroscience studies suggest that empathy and altruism are deeply rooted in human nature.
Each year, people in the United States give billions of dollars to charity. Every day, people volunteer their time to help complete strangers. Routinely, we hear of selfless acts where people put their own lives in danger to help someone else.
Economists and evolutionary psychologists have struggled to explain why people act in such altruistic ways. Typical explanations suggest that these behaviors involve suppressing our true, selfish nature and must instead be motivated by external factors, such as the possibility of future rewards or to avoid negative consequences, like appearing selfish to a potential love interest.
But what if helping others is an innate part of being human? What if it just makes us feel good to give?
In her latest book, author, technology critic, and clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle's central argument is that the easy, streamlined, emotionally risk-free technologies that entertain and keep people “in touch” without human interaction have diminished our capacity for empathy and self-reflection. Turkle is not just your grouchy friend from high school who won’t use Facebook because she’s “old school,” either. Her thesis is thoroughly researched and supported by legit academic studies suggesting not only that our smart phones are turning us into a——-; they are also making us less happy.
Turkle looks at how the unintended consequences of constant connectivity with little human connection have sullied our interactions in the areas of work, school, and our communities; and have removed opportunities for therapeutic solitude. But no aspect of the emotional distance and dissatisfaction wrought by the lure of social media and digital communication is as bleak as Turkle’s assessment of how our lack of conversation has impacted family life.
As grownups facing bulging inboxes, overflowing calendars, and a whole range of adult responsibilities, playing around isn't something we do much of, to say the least. But new research is tapping into the relationships between play, performance, and productivity—and showing us there may be real value to taking a break from our work to, well, go out and play.
Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, has spent his career studying play and its positive effects on adults.
"During play, the brain is making sense of itself through simulation and testing," Brown writes. "Play activity is actually helping sculpt the brain. In play, we can imagine and experience situations we have never encountered before and learn from them."
Playing, in other words, has a direct role in creativity. "The genius of play is that, in playing, we create imaginative new cognitive combinations," Brown continues. "And in creating those novel combinations, we find what works."
Most complex problems adults face in life as well as work require creative solutions, even if we don't see them that way. Not only can play help jumpstart that creative problem-solving process, it can shake us out of the cognitive habits that are holding back our performance at so many other levels.
The meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefit that is just now being confirmed with fMRI or EEG.
The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some of the most exciting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ.
Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultaneously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being.
Management professor Christine Porath makes a clear and compelling case that rudeness and incivility in the workplace do more damage than good to work relationships and efficiency, soundly dispelling the myth of the hard-nosed-yet-effective boss. Instead, she argues, we would do well to practice civility at work.
Civility in American society has declined in recent years but remains important to people, according to surveys. When employers or employees ignore people at work, walk away from conversations, answer calls in the middle of meetings, publicly mock and belittle people, or take credit for wins while pointing fingers when things go sour, it destabilizes relationships and creates hostile work environments, says Porath. And research shows that poor relationships at work increase stress in ways that can impact employees’ health and relationships outside of work, leading to decreases in workplace performance—all of which costs the organization in the long run.
Rudeness can have a toxic impact on creativity and problem-solving, says Porath. In one experiment, participants did 33 percent worse on a puzzle involving anagrams and had 39 percent fewer creative ideas on a brainstorming task after being belittled as a group. In another experiment, even just witnessing incivility caused participant performance on the same tests to decrease by 20 and 30 percent, respectively.
“Rudeness affects your mind in ways you might not even be aware of, disrupting your ability to pay attention,” writes Porath. And it can even be deadly. In a survey of doctors and nurses, 71 percent tied “abusive personal conduct” in the workplace to medical errors they knew of, and 27 percent tied it to patient deaths.
It’s one of the most commonly doled out nuggets of professional advice: "Go with your gut." But it’s a very challenging system to consistently implement. "We spend our workdays in our outer world. We’re interacting with our team members and clients. We don’t have enough time in our inner world where we can reflect on those experiences and listen to what our gut might have to say," says Hana Ayoub, a professional development coach.
Why is trusting your gut so powerful? Because your gut has been cataloging a whole lot of information for as long as you’ve been alive. "Trusting your gut is trusting the collection of all your subconscious experiences," says Melody Wilding, a licensed therapist and professor of human behavior at Hunter College. "Your gut is this collection of heuristic shortcuts. It’s this unconscious-conscious learned experience center that you can draw on from your years of being alive," she explains. "It holds insights that aren’t immediately available to your conscious mind right now, but they’re all things that you’ve learned and felt. In the moment, we might not be readily able to access specific information, but our gut has it at the ready."
"I’ve never heard a client say, ‘I regret going with my gut,’" says Ayoub. Think of all the time and mental energy that can be conserved by not having to overthink your next move.
Pamir Kiciman's insight:
I always find it interesting that instinct is put above intuition. This article has good information. At the same time, I wish there were more articles on intuition. Instinct is good, it has its place. It's a more animal level of feeling things. Intuition is much more refined and can give one access to whole bodies of knowledge, not just a subset of data to make decisions and choices.
A survey by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health predicts that 22% of Fortune 500 companies will use mindfulness or brain training at the workplace by the end of the year, as a way to improve employee health and productivity, decrease absenteeism, and enhance quality of life. And the survey suggests that this number could double in 2017.
Anders Ferguson, founding principal and partner at the wealth management firm Veris Wealth Partners, jumped on the mindfulness-at-work bandwagon three years ago when he wanted to enhance the work habits of his employees. Partnering with three other investment firms, Ferguson implemented a variety of mindfulness practices. They let employees decide whether or not they wanted to participate, and 100% of them do.
All meetings start with a minute of silence, basic mindfulness breathing, and meditation. Employees are also encouraged to perform daily acts of compassion and appreciation with the people in their work and personal life, as well as random acts of kindness for strangers. Additionally, they’re encouraged to put down their digital devices for at least an hour each day.
Ferguson says the technique seems simple, but the results have included an increase in productivity and a decrease in stress. "The way many of us work is not working," he says. "Mental effectiveness has two fundamental rules: focus on what you choose, and choose your distractions mindfully."
While meditation is often perceived as a solitary practice, experts say there are several reasons why it’s better done as a group.
"Silent retreats, silent restaurants and even silent dating events are on the rise. Now a new film aims to – quietly – spread the word."
Discomfort is precisely where the radical power of silence lies, says Matthew Adams, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton. “Silence is often something we experience as uncomfortable, as a rupture in the social fabric, an awkwardness we want to cover over with our voices.” Five of the best meditation apps Read more Adams has a long-term interest in the social, cultural and psychological significance of silence, and particularly in shared silence and electing to share silence. “Collective silence is about connecting with others in a way that gets underneath social conventions. It confronts us with what it feels like to be in the physical presence of other human beings without any games, strategies, reading or misreading of intentions. It is a temporary suspension of our reliance on talk.”
Silence assumes a new meaning in an era in which we are consuming information and engaging in conversation with each other endlessly, without ever opening our mouths. While we may watch The Pursuit of Silence and enjoy the absence of sound, how many of us will be tempted to check in with our emails, tweet our thoughts on the film? While we might find pleasure in those rare and cherished moments of peace and quiet, when it comes to silence and stillness, can we muster up the self-restraint at all?
Many cultures consider the human heart to be the seat of wisdom. Now scientists are finding some evidence for this, though the reality may be more complicated than it seems.
Previous research has suggested that higher heart rate variability (HRV)—the variability in the time between our heartbeats, which is a measure of heart health—is associated with better cognitive and emotional functioning. For example, higher HRV has been linked to better working memory and attention, higher levels of empathy and social functioning, and better emotional self-control. Could heart rate variability be linked to better moral judgments, as well?
Analyses showed that having high HRV was connected to wisdom, but only if individuals had been instructed to take a self-distanced perspective. Participants with high resting HRV (recorded before and after the experiments) who were assigned to the “self-distanced” perspective were significantly more likely to display wise reasoning and less biased judgments than those with high HRV assigned to the “self-immersed” perspective, while those with low HRV did not seem to reason or judge differently based on their assigned perspective. This suggests to Grossmann that having high HRV is not enough to improve one’s moral reasoning or to prevent bias, even if it has been tied to better thinking and emotional regulation in past research.
“The efficient processing of information or a lot of prefrontal cortex activity alone does not necessarily make you wiser. You also need to step beyond your own immediate self-interest for that,” he says. “So not everyone that has higher heart rate variability will suddenly be a wise person.”
In an adaptation from his new book, Dacher Keltner explains the secret to gaining and keeping power: focus on the good of others.
Whereas the Machiavellian approach to power assumes that individuals grab it through coercive force, strategic deception, and the undermining of others, the science finds that power is not grabbed but is given to individuals by groups.
What this means is that your ability to make a difference in the world—your power, as I define it—is shaped by what other people think of you. Your capacity to alter the state of others depends on their trust in you. Your ability to empower others depends on their willingness to be influenced by you. Your power is constructed in the judgments and actions of others. When they grant you power, they increase your ability to make their lives better—or worse.
In a society “where work is considered morally worthy,” being a workaholic might not seem like a serious problem, says Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist and the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego. “We live in a culture where work demands and deserves our undivided allegiance,” she says. And that sort of devotion does have its benefits. “You feel challenged by your work; you’re engaged by it; you’re learning new things; and you have the opportunity to shape other people’s careers. It’s extremely rewarding,” she says. But when you give all your attention to work, you eventually pay a steep price, according to Stewart Friedman, professor of management at the Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Working long hours, taking few vacations, and never truly being “off” — because of the ubiquity of digital devices — is “harmful to your relationships, your health, and also your productivity,” he says. Here are some tips to help you overcome your addiction.
Depression is already the leading cause of disability on the planet, affecting 350 million people of all ages, according to the World Health Organization. Despite its prevalence, the disorder is extremely difficult to study because it is so variable — which is why genetic research has so often failed. One psychiatrist likens it to looking for the genetic risk factors for fever.
Medication and psychotherapy remain the first-line treatments for major depression, though they help less than 40 percent of patients achieve remission of their symptoms. The state of the art in psychopharmacology remains the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, which were first patented nearly 50 years ago. These SSRIs target the neurochemicals that carry information between neurons in the brain, but no one knows exactly how or why they work, and because the medications can’t lock in on specific neurons or regions of gray matter, they are more blunt instrument than precision tool.
That shortcoming is one major reason why scientists have shifted from neurochemicals to neurocircuits — the networks of cells that are activated every time we think, feel or move — to unravel the mysteries of depression.
The scientifically backed way to become more mindful, more relaxed, and more engaged is to start practicing meditation.
"Twenty-three percent of teens have anxiety. Children as young as 6 and 7 have learning disorders. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers—and you know all of it is stress related." Those are troubling stats, but here's a more hopeful one: In one San Francisco high school horrifyingly nicknamed "Fight School," there was a 75% decrease in suspensions after the kids were introduced to "Quiet Time."
Mindfulness helps students cope with academic stress and the pressures of life outside the school gates.
In recent years, medical science has discovered the extent to which mindfulness can help treat a range of mental conditions, from stress to depression. While most studies have focused on adults, new research shows mindfulness can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people. Incredibly, neuroscientists have found that long-term practice alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling.
It's no surprise, therefore, that teachers are becoming increasingly interested in the potential benefits of mindfulness for students.
Pamir Kiciman's insight:
Have posted similar articles here and will continue to do so, as mindful kids are the solution. (Not sure why the accompanying photo seems to be showing kids giving Reiki, which isn't dissimilar!)
Practiced meditators tend to have distinct differences in eight brain areas compared with non-meditators.
The most dramatic difference is an increase in tissue in the anterior cingulate cortex — an area of the brain known to be involved in maintaining attention and controlling impulses. Other studies have found that meditators have thicker tissue in several other regions of the cortex implicated in attention control and body awareness. Extremely long-term meditators (in one study, Buddhist monks), meanwhile, appear to have stronger connections between various brain areas, which could further contribute to focus.
Interestingly, regular meditation has been associated with a reduction in the size of the right amygdala, a region of the brain linked to the processing of negative emotions, especially sadness and anxiety.
Some studies suggest that meditators have reduced activity in the insula — a brain region responsible for the perception of pain — which could explain why they report feeling lower levels of pain when exposed to the same painful stimuli (say, putting their hands in a bucket of ice-cold water) than non-meditators. Results in this area, though, are somewhat mixed.
Although the fine details of how these changes occur are still a mystery, they reflect a broader fact about the brain: a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. In general, the neural circuits that you use most are reinforced and strengthened over time, and those you don't use gradually atrophy.
Worrying can get the better of almost anybody. Work stresses, personal concerns, and sometimes even irrational thoughts can seep into your mind and interfere with your ability to concentrate on ordinary tasks. Unfortunately, stopping those worries isn't easy--there's no "off switch" that can shut your worried thoughts down. However, there are a handful of habits that, once integrated into your life, can force your worries to leave and free up your mind to focus on more positive, productive things.