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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There’s an age-old question out there: Is it better to be a “nice” leader to get your staff to like you? Or to be tough as nails to inspire respect and hard work? Despite the recent enthusiasm for wellness initiatives like mindfulness and meditation at the office, and despite the movement toward more horizontal organizational charts, most people still assume the latter is best.
The traditional paradigm just seems safer: be firm and a little distant from your employees. The people who work for you should respect you, but not feel so familiar with you that they might forget who’s in charge. A little dog-eat-dog, tough-it-out, sink-or-swim culture seems to yield time-tested results and keep people hungry and on their toes. After all, if you’re a leader who seems like you care a little too much about your employees, won’t that make you look “soft”? Won’t that mean you will be less respected? That employees will work less hard?
New developments in organizational research are providing some surprising answers to these questions.
As the holiday shopping season moves into high gear, it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of spending. But consider this conclusion from recent scientific research: Materialistic people are less happy than their peers. They experience fewer positive emotions, are less satisfied with life and suffer higher levels of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Why is this the case—and how can we avoid falling into the unhappiness trap of materialism this holiday season?
One answer has been emerging from social science: Cultivate a mind-set of gratitude. Gratitude is proving to be about much more than the occasional “thank you.” Instead, the principles of Thanksgiving give rise to a unique way of seeing the world.
The latest evidence suggests that, rather than simply being about good manners, the emotion of gratitude might have deep roots in humans’ evolutionary history, sustaining the social bonds that are key not only to our happiness but also to our survival as a species.
Brain scientists have long believed that older people have less of the neural flexibility (plasticity) required to learn new things. A new study shows that older people learned a visual task just as well as younger ones, but the seniors who showed a strong degree of learning exhibited plasticity in a different part of the brain than younger learners did.
When many older subjects learned a new visual task, the researchers found, they unexpectedly showed a significantly associated change in the white matter of the brain. White matter is the the brain’s “wiring,” or axons, sheathed in a material called myelin that can make transmission of signals more efficient. Younger learners, meanwhile, showed plasticity in the cortex, where neuroscientists expected to see it.
New research suggests that curiosity triggers chemical changes in the brain that help us better understand and retain information.
What, exactly, is curiosity and how does it work? A study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain's chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.
"There's this basic circuit in the brain that energizes people to go out and get things that are intrinsically rewarding," Ranganath explains. This circuit lights up when we get money, or candy. It also lights up when we're curious.
When the circuit is activated, our brains release a chemical called dopamine, which gives us a high. "The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning."
Indeed, when the researchers later tested participants on what they learned, those who were more curious were more likely to remember the right answers.
Self-help videos tell women to learn to love their bodies by saying nice things to themselves in the mirror. Can shushing your harshest critic actually rewire the brain?
David Sarwer is a psychologist and clinical director at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. He says that, in fact, a mirror is one of the first tools he uses with some new patients. He stands them in front of a mirror and coaches them to use gentler, more neutral language as they evaluate their bodies.
"Instead of saying, 'My abdomen is disgusting and grotesque,' " Sarwer explains, he'll prompt a patient to say, " 'My abdomen is round, my abdomen is big; it's bigger than I'd like it to be.' "
The goal, he says, is to remove "negative and pejorative terms" from the patient's self-talk. The underlying notion is that it's not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn't also change the way her body looks in her mind's eye.
This may sound weird. You're either a size 4 or a size 8, right? Not mentally, apparently.
When people increase their daily diets of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life. They also find that they receive more social support—or perhaps they just notice it more, because they’re more attuned to the give-and-take between people. They report fewer aches and pains, headaches, and other physical symptoms. They show mindful awareness of the present moment and increased positive relations with others. They feel more effective at what they do. They’re better able to savor the good things in life and can see more possible solutions to problems. And they sleep better.
James W. Pennebaker has been conducting research on writing to heal for years at the University of Texas at Austin. "When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health," Pennebaker writes. "They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function."
Why? Pennebaker believes this act of expressive writing allows people to take a step back and evaluate their lives. Instead of obsessing unhealthily over an event, they can focus on moving forward. By doing so, stress levels go down and health correspondingly goes up.
Pamir Kiciman's insight:
This is why I'm a big proponent of journaling. I suggest it to everyone, and have journaled myself for many years. It's the time alone with one's inner realm that counts. It makes for interesting and revealing reading later on, and makes use of our ability to self-reflect in the best way. We must communicate with ourselves!
While you may be aware of the physical benefits of dancing, perhaps you didn’t know that it has an even more beneficial effect on your brain.
We have been dancing since prehistoric times, as a form of expression, celebration, or ritual. Dancing in a social setting causes the release of endorphins – the chemical in the brain that reduces stress and pain – resulting in a feeling of well being similar to what is known as “runners’ high.”
Anticipation of a new experience is the best part, new data shows.
All of the studies indicated that anticipation of an experience is more exciting and pleasant than the anticipation of a material purchase — regardless of the price of the purchase.
One reason the research is important to society is that it “suggests that overall well-being can be advanced by providing an infrastructure that affords experiences—such as parks, trails, beaches—as much as it does material consumption."
If you want to boost your productivity, focus, creativity, or sanity, you need to leave your desk and take a walk.
Research published in Diabetologia medical journal shows that the average adult spends 50% to 70% of his time sitting. Today we live in a world where most working professionals suffer from what the scientific community calls the sitting disease, and research shows that the longer you sit, the more likely you are to develop heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
In addition to staying healthy, there are so many other good reasons to get up and move around that this advice is hard to ignore.
Psychologist and behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of the upcoming book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, says information overload creates daily challenges for our brains, causing us to feel mentally exhausted before the day's end.
“Our brains are equipped to deal with the world the way it was many thousands of years ago when we were hunter-gatherers," says Levitin. "Back then the amount of information that was coming at us was much less and it came at us much more slowly.”
The pace at which we’re exposed to information today is overwhelming to our brains, which haven’t adapted fast enough to easily separate relevant data from the irrelevant at the speed we’re asking it to. As a result, our brains become easily fatigued, and we become more forgetful. By using principles of neuroscience, Levitin says we can regain control over our brains by organizing information in a way that optimizes our brain’s capacity.
Researchers in the fairly new field of music neuroscience are finding that kids who learn to play a musical instrument also develop important skills related to literacy, math and mental focus.
Ani Patel, an associate professor of psychology at Tufts University and the author of “Music, Language, and the Brain,” says that while listening to music can be relaxing and contemplative, the idea that simply plugging in your iPod is going to make you more intelligent doesn’t quite hold up to scientific scrutiny.
“On the other hand,” Patel says, “there’s now a growing body of work that suggests that actually learning to play a musical instrument does have impacts on other abilities.” These include speech perception, the ability to understand emotions in the voice and the ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
Patel says this is a relatively new field of scientific study.
“The whole field of music neuroscience really began to take off around 2000,” he says. “These studies where we take people, often children, and give them training in music and then measure how their cognition changes and how their brain changes both in terms of its processing [and] its structure, are very few and still just emerging.”
Patel says that music neuroscience, which draws on cognitive science, music education and neuroscience, can help answer basic questions about the workings of the human brain.
In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves.
The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool. It has four steps:
Recognize what is going on;
We each have the conditioning to live for long stretches of time imprisoned by a sense of deficiency, cut off from realizing our intrinsic intelligence, aliveness, and love. The greatest blessing we can give ourselves is to recognize the pain of this trance, and regularly offer a cleansing rain of self-compassion to our awakening hearts.
Someone once said it’s not what kind of world we’re leaving for our children, but what kind of children we’re leaving for our world. Kindness and a sense of gratitude are core values that we need to help encourage in children.
Studies have shown that children who cultivate gratitude in their lives have better social relationships and do better in school. Being grateful actually contributes to our overall sense of well-being and helps increase our happiness. But, as any parent of a young child knows – especially during the holidays – encouraging gratitude in the midst of pressure for expensive or numerous gifts can be challenging.
Since at least the time of Greek philosophers, many writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing.
When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.
Scientific evidence shows that we can teach our brains to feel more compassion, both for others and ourselves. Many of us know that if we want to become more physically healthy, we can exercise. What if we want to improve our emotional health? Are there ways to train emotional “muscles” such as compassion? Would such training improve our lives?
In a study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, after only two weeks of online training, participants who practiced compassion meditation every day behaved more altruistically towards strangers compared to another group taught to simply regulate or control their negative emotions. Not only that, the people who were the most altruistic after receiving compassion training also were the individuals who showed the largest changes in how their brains responded to images of suffering. These findings suggest that compassion is a trainable skill, and that practice can actually alter the way our brains perceive suffering and increase our actions to relieve that suffering.
Kids read emotions better after spending several days without electronic media, according to new research.
The UCLA researchers studied two groups of sixth-graders from a Southern California public school. One group was sent to the Pali Institute, an outdoor education camp in Running Springs, Calif., where the kids had no access to electronic devices. For the other group, it was life as usual.
At the beginning and end of the five-day study period, both groups of kids were shown images of nearly 50 faces and asked to identify the feelings being modeled. Researchers found that the students who went to camp scored significantly higher when it came to reading facial emotions or other nonverbal cues than the students who continued to have access to their media devices.
Angela Stimpson donated a kidney to a complete stranger. Why did she do it? Researchers found that the brains of Stimpson and other altruists are sensitive to fear and distress in a stranger's face.
People like Stimpson are "extraordinary altruists," according to Abigail Marsh. She's an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University and one of the country's leading researchers into altruism.
Marsh wanted to know more about this type of extraordinary altruism, so she decided to study the brains of people who had donated a kidney to a stranger.
The amygdala was significantly larger in the altruists compared to those who had never donated an organ. Additionally, the amygdala in the altruists was extremely sensitive to the pictures of people displaying fear or distress.
Musical training doesn't just improve your ear for music — it also helps your ear for speech. That's the takeaway from an unusual new study published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers found that kids who took music lessons for two years didn't just get better at playing the trombone or violin; they found that playing music also helped kids' brains process language.
The brain depends on neurons. Whenever we take in new information — through our ears, eyes or skin — those neurons talk to each other by firing off electrical pulses. We call these brainwaves. With scalp electrodes, Kraus and her team can both see and hear these brainwaves.
Using some relatively new, expensive and complicated technology, Kraus can also break these brainwaves down into their component parts — to better understand how kids process not only music but speech, too. That's because the two aren't that different. They have three common denominators — pitch, timing and timbre — and the brain uses the same circuitry to make sense of them all.
Clearing your mind and living in the moment isn't about putting productivity on hold. You can be more profitable with less brain clutter.
A stretched-thin, stressed-out workplace is not the workplace of the future. It falls on business managers to change this culture and promote focus and compassion--a concept making the rounds in workplace circles known as “mindfulness.” This is the technique of tuning out the noise and focusing deliberately on what is important.
Studies have found that mindfulness at work can increase engagement, productivity, innovation, and measurable business results.
Focus, well-being, happiness, and compassion are skills that complement executive behaviors and can be learned, practiced, and mastered.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could hack into our own brains and rewire them to be happier?
Science has shown we actually can thanks to a phenomenon called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. "It’s a fancy term to say the brain learns from our experiences," says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness. "As we understand better and better how this brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind for the better."
Understanding how our brains function can help us better control them.
Grounded leaders are able to do away with traditional leadership stereotypes based in gender roles.
Sure, there are differences between men and women. But I would argue that not all men exhibit what we’ve come to acknowledge as male leadership, and not all women exhibit what we’ve come to see as female leadership.
A whole new group of strong, competitive, and powerful women, and evolved, collaborative, and humane men walk the hallways of organizations every day across industries, sectors, and countries. And they come from every generation.
If we look back 20 years and reflect on the evolution of both men and women, we can see that both “male leaders” and “female leaders” had a piece of the solution necessary for today's workplace. Each brought a specific strength and vulnerability to our current understanding of great leadership.ful women, and evolved, collaborative, and humane men walk the hallways of organizations every day across industries, sectors, and countries. And they come from every generation.
Research says meditation can unlock our most creative ideas -- if sitting still and quiet doesn't stress you out in the first place. Yet the word meditation itself also has a unique power to freak people out. For some, the thought of sitting still and quiet in a room without even the ping of a Smartphone is enough to ratchet up the stress level and suppress any creative thought other than how to benefit from meditation without actually meditating.
I think it’s because we make too much of it. The first few months I meditated I either hyperventilated, while paying attention to my breath, or obsessed as to whether I was meditating correctly.
I also mentally thumbed through my day planner thinking of the stuff I should have been doing. But eventually, I realized meditation actually made me more productive and less of a worry wart.
And, like the studies suggest, I’ve rarely meditated without having some grand idea or solution emerge after the fact. We have so much background noise in our daily routine that it’s nearly impossible to notice the new and innovative ideas we have in the first place.
What if searching for happiness actually prevents us from finding it? There’s reason to believe that the quest for happiness might be a recipe for misery.
In a series of new studies led by the psychologist Iris Mauss, the more value people placed on happiness, the less happy they became.
When we want to be happy, we look for strong positive emotions like joy, elation, enthusiasm, and excitement. Unfortunately, research shows that this isn’t the best path to happiness. Research led by the psychologist Ed Diener reveals that happiness is driven by the frequency, not the intensity, of positive emotions. When we aim for intense positive emotions, we evaluate our experiences against a higher standard, which makes it easier to be disappointed.