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The Island Where People Forget to Die: Dan Buettner

The Island Where People Forget to Die: Dan Buettner | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Unraveling the mystery of why the inhabitants of Ikaria, an island of 99 square miles that is home to almost 10,000 Greek nationals, live so long and so well.

 

In 1943, a Greek war veteran named Stamatis Moraitis came to the United States for treatment of a combat-mangled arm. He’d survived a gunshot wound, escaped to Turkey and eventually talked his way onto the Queen Elizabeth, then serving as a troopship, to cross the Atlantic. Moraitis settled in Port Jefferson, N.Y., an enclave of countrymen from his native island, Ikaria. He quickly landed a job doing manual labor. Later, he moved to Boynton Beach, Fla. Along the way, Moraitis married a Greek-American woman, had three children and bought a three-bedroom house and a 1951 Chevrolet.


One day in 1976, Moraitis felt short of breath. Climbing stairs was a chore; he had to quit working midday. After X-rays, his doctor concluded that Moraitis had lung cancer. As he recalls, nine other doctors confirmed the diagnosis. They gave him nine months to live. He was in his mid-60s.

 

Moraitis considered staying in America and seeking aggressive cancer treatment at a local hospital. That way, he could also be close to his adult children. But he decided instead to return to Ikaria, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a cemetery shaded by oak trees that overlooked the Aegean Sea. He figured a funeral in the United States would cost thousands, a traditional Ikarian one only $200, leaving more of his retirement savings for his wife, Elpiniki. Moraitis and Elpiniki moved in with his elderly parents, into a tiny, whitewashed house on two acres of stepped vineyards near Evdilos, on the north side of Ikaria. At first, he spent his days in bed, as his mother and wife tended to him. He reconnected with his faith. On Sunday mornings, he hobbled up the hill to a tiny Greek Orthodox chapel where his grandfather once served as a priest. When his childhood friends discovered that he had moved back, they started showing up every afternoon. They’d talk for hours, an activity that invariably involved a bottle or two of locally produced wine. I might as well die happy, he thought.

 

In the ensuing months, something strange happened. He says he started to feel stronger. One day, feeling ambitious, he planted some vegetables in the garden. He didn’t expect to live to harvest them, but he enjoyed being in the sunshine, breathing the ocean air. Elpiniki could enjoy the fresh vegetables after he was gone.

 

Six months came and went. Moraitis didn’t die. Instead, he reaped his garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up when he felt like it, worked in the vineyards until midafternoon, made himself lunch and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he often walked to the local tavern, where he played dominoes past midnight. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of rooms to his parents’ home so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard until it produced 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, three and a half decades later, he’s 97 years old — according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.

 

More @ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?_r=1&

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Rochester's underground justice system

Rochester's underground justice system | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Whenever Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard is asked to explain this year's surge in violent crime, he answers that many of the city's altercations are the result of "ongoing disputes." It's a response that some people find wanting — after all,...

 

couldn't most shootings, stabbings, and assaults be attributed to a dispute of some kind? People don't shoot each other because they're getting along, right?

 

Sheppard's explanation points to something deeper, however. The act of violence, the retaliation to that act, the unwillingness of witnesses to talk to police: it's a closed system, but a system nonetheless. And it's incredibly difficult for outsiders, including the police, to penetrate that system — which could help explain why police have made so few arrests over the course of this violent year.

 

The parallel justice system functioning on the streets of Rochester is not effective and certainly not desirable, says Dominic Barter, director of training for the Brazilian Restorative Justice pilot projects. But people who distrust the traditional system view it as the only option to achieve some measure of justice.

 

"There's been a break in faith with the current justice system, which is important for all kinds of reasons," Barter says. "If people start breaking away from the justice system, it reveals a larger split within society, and the giving up of hope that mainstream society will actually treat everybody as equal and take care of everyone."

 

Barter pioneered a form of restorative justice called restorative circles, which brings together the people involved in and impacted by a conflict — including community members — to promote understanding, self-responsibility, and action. The process ends when the parties reach agreement on how the offending party can heal the rift with the person directly injured and with the wider community, which has also been damaged by the act, Barter says.

Restorative circles and processes are used in schools, prisons, neighborhoods, and many other places, he says. Judges sometimes factor-in offenders' participation in a restorative process when handing down their sentence, Barter says.

 

In Rochester, progressive activists, including those who served on the committee to revamp the process for filing complaints against the police, called for restorative practices to help deal with the violence plaguing the inner city. Awareness of restorative practices is growing locally, Barter says.

 

There are restorative programs at Monroe High School, Wilson Magnet, the University of Rochester, and the Rochester Police Department is doing a pilot program with young people in southwest Rochester.

 

"There is a lot of movement in Rochester in restorative practices — in schools, in the police department, in the courts," says Janelle Duda, assistant director for the Center of Public Safety Initiatives at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "This is absolutely the time for this."

 

Rochester responded to the last two big spikes in violent crime with police crackdowns. Zero Tolerance essentially flooded the city with cops. And Police Chief Sheppard says a big part of Operation Cool Down — the current initiative — is proactive policing. He's unapologetic about stopping people for minor offenses —for not having a bell on your bicycle, for example — to try to get guns off the street.

 

Barter says he supports the intensity of the response, but he's concerned about unequal enforcement. It's a fear shared by many local activists and civil libertarians, as well as some community leaders.

 

"Are there other communities where people are not treated the same way?" Barter says. "If there are, then even as you do justice, you're creating an experience of injustice. Why am I stopped for riding a bicycle without a bell in this neighborhood and not in that neighborhood?"

 

But blaming the police is too easy, he says, because law enforcement is empowered and sanctioned by the community it serves. And people need to understand that all conflict belongs to the community as a whole, Barter says, even if the conflict manifests between select members only.

 

"It's not a shooting that happens in the Crescent, where I don't live," he says. "It's a shooting that happens in Rochester, where I live. So it's mine. It's my conflict. I have a responsibility in this thing that is happening."

 

And that, he says, is the essence of restorative justice.

 

Barter says he knows there's temptation to dismiss restorative justice as a bleeding-heart approach to criminal justice. But he says it's actually a much more robust response than the traditional criminal justice system, because offenders must face up to their actions when they confront the people they hurt.

 

"We put the person who committed this act really on the spot," Barter says. "They're really exposed. Restorative justice is not the soft option."

 

In Barter's system — restorative circles — the offender and the victim meet in a location that's significant to the community. Barter says the space should inspire respect and symbolically convey to the participants the importance of what's about to take place. The participants also choose the other people they want to participate in the circle — people indirectly affected by what's happened.

"They need that third member of the community, the invisible participant in every conflict," Barter says. "They need those people to say, 'Hey, it may work for you to carry on squabbling like this, but it doesn't work for us. We need you to work this out.'

 

"That's why it's not bleeding heart," he says, "because it's actually initiated by community members who are dissatisfied, ironically, with the weakness of just locking someone up. A lot of people say, 'I want him to be in the circle because I want him to feel real pain. The real pain is what happened to my life as a consequence of what he did. If he's locked up, he never has to look at me.'"

 

The circle tries to get to the meaning behind what happened, Barter says. The victim gets to ask why, and the offender has an opportunity to apologize — though that doesn't always happen, Barter says.

 

"There's a very big place for that kind of thing" in Rochester, says John Klofas, professor of criminal justice at RIT. "It fundamentally deals with the difficulty victims have when things are really sort of torn asunder. It really restores the victims, because they get a choice of an active role in this, and I think that's very important. And the person who commits these acts has to really confront their position in the community, the effect of what they've done on the community, and their role in the community moving forward."

 

The circle ends when both parties agree on how the offender can make restitution. Duda, from the Center of Public Safety Initiatives, says the agreement can be something as simple as the offender agrees to pay to replace something he broke, or agrees to help clean up the mess he made.

 

"I think it's a lot more difficult process for an offender to go through," she says. "He's directly told, 'This is what you did, and this is what will make it right.'"

 

In the worst cases, offenders may never be able to do enough to physically compensate their victims, but the process does help victims heal and to regain some of the power they lost when they were victimized.

 

Duda and Klofas say that data on restorative justice does not exist to the depth necessary to fairly evaluate the concept. But they say the research that does exist is promising.

 

A study commissioned by the British government showed that the more serious the act, the more effective restorative justice is, Barter says.

 

"Superficially you could say that means that a gang shooting in a community is likely to produce a more cohesive, restorative process than petty theft because there's more buy-in," he says.

 

But that doesn't tell the whole story, Barter says, recalling an incident at a school that used a restorative circle after one student snatched another's pencil from her pencil case. It seems ridiculous to call a circle for such a minor thing, he says, until you learn that the pencil case was the student's last gift from her now-deceased parents.

 

"So, is it still a pencil?" Barter says. "It's not the act; it's the symbolic value that act has. It's the significance of what we do to each other, not actually what we do that really impacts our lives."

 

The restorative processes used in Brazil have reduced offenders' participation in prison rebellions, he says. And because of their cooperation in the process, the offenders are more likely to earn a place in the few education programs the prisons offer, Barter says.

 

RIT's Klofas says having a restorative process available can introduce continuity into a young person's life. Many small acts are either dismissed or ignored by the criminal justice system, he says, and the young person skates by sans consequences until his record builds up and then the hammer comes down. Having a restorative system means there's consistency, Klofas says: action equals consequence.

 

Klofas and other criminal-justice experts have often remarked on the disproportional nature of cause-and-response when it comes to the violence in Rochester's inner city. Seemingly minor slights like calling someone a name or "he looked at me funny" can provoke an ultraviolent reaction.

 

Barter says those kinds of insults go right to a person's pride and generally cannot go unanswered.

 

"What has been violated when someone looks at you funny?" he says. "My dignity. My power. My authority. My value to the community has been diminished by what you've done. That's a nonnegotiable value.

 

"I agree with them. That's an injustice. And not responding to injustice is dangerous. It sends a message that no one counts, nothing matters. No community. No social cohesion."

 

Barter says he's learned that one of the things victimhood is about is recovering power. People can't stand feeling vulnerable and powerless to control their own well-being, he says.

 

"Suddenly I'm reminded that something can come in from left field and take away my ability to take care of myself," Barter says. "There's an immense sense of vulnerability, and there's a corresponding energy to close that wound."

 

Victimhood can occur as a sudden shock, he says, or as a gradual, creeping sense of disenfranchisement: there's something about you that makes you less worthwhile than others in the community.

Restorative circles try to use that shock, that energy that goes into craving punishment and vengeance to create a change in behavior, Barter says.

 

"The change in behavior happens because empathy occurs," he says.

 

"It might seem strange to think of vengeance as being an attempt to

create empathy, but if you look at it in terms of proportional pain, that's what it's really about. 'I want you to know how I feel,' is what people often say as they are hurting others. 'You'll learn not to do that again,' is something that people often say to justify violence imposed on other people. 'I want you to get a taste of what it was like to be me.'"

 

Barter says he doesn't see a victim's thirst for vengeance as a bad thing, necessarily.

 

"I just want to dialogue with them about what will create that sense of what they're calling closure," he says. "That sense of changed behavior, the sense that this person lived to know what it felt like. It's very unusual that someone continues to believe that more pain is going to resolve pain."

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Exercise Improves Cognitive Health: Edward Laux

Exercise Improves Cognitive Health: Edward Laux | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Exercise can enhance cognitive abilities and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, depression and general cognitive decline.

 

Whether you want to improve your memory[1][2], enhance your problem solving abilities[3], reduce your risk of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s[4][5][6][7], or bend metal and shoot lasers with your mind – exercise has an important role to play in all but two of those activities. In particular, richer exercise regimens – regimens consisting of aerobic and resistance training methods[8][1], produce the greatest overall improvements in cognitive performance. Note, however, working out for sixteen hours each day won’t turn you into the next Stephen Hawking. There are diminishing returns[9], and the favorable cerebral environment promoted by exercise is only as good as the active learning that accompanies it.

 

A quick word before diving deeper: for most fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders, athletes etc. it is enough to know that certain actions can, with some degree of reliability, produce certain reactions. E.g. I want to improve my cardiovascular health, so I go swimming and my cardiovascular health improves. Or, I want to put on muscle mass, (simplifying out the nutrition and lifestyle aspects) so I pick up and put down heavy things repeatedly. We have confidence that these activities will produce results without referencing the underlying cellular and chemical processes. That said, compared to our understanding of exercise’s impact on cardiovascular health and general fitness, our understanding of exercise’s impact on cognitive health is still very much in its infancy. Despite very compelling research up to this point, the cause and effect relationships which seem so obvious in other areas still seem almost farcical in relation to the mind (bro, I’m gonna go exercise and get hella smart bro). In order to establish and popularize a tighter framework then, and not only because these systems are wildly interesting (caveat: the author’s opinion may or may not be a representative sample), we’ll cover these systems in some technical (but by no means extensive) detail. With that in mind, if the text starts to read like hieroglyphics, feel free to scan ahead to the summary figures or play around with the suggested workouts.

 

More at http://www.bodbot.com/Cognitive_Health.html

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Why are Americans so easy to manipulate?: Bruce Levine

Why are Americans so easy to manipulate?: Bruce Levine | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
We may be loathe to admit it, but behaviorism and consumerism are cut from the same cloth...

 

"What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism!"

— psychologist B.F. Skinner

 

The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.

 

In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.

 

During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“The Case Against B.F. Skinner”) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview—a society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”

 

As a psychology student during that era, I remember being embarrassed by the silence of most psychologists about the political ramifications of Skinner and behavior modification.

 

In the mid-1970s, as an intern on a locked ward in a state psychiatric hospital, I first experienced one of behavior modification’s staple techniques, the “token economy.” And that’s where I also discovered that anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behavior modification. George was a severely depressed anti-authoritarian who refused to talk to staff but, for some reason, chose me to shoot pool with. My boss, a clinical psychologist, spotted my interaction with George, and told me that I should give him a token—a cigarette—to reward his “prosocial behavior.” I fought it, trying to explain that I was 20 and George was 50, and this would be humiliating. But my boss subtly threatened to kick me off the ward. So, I asked George what I should do.

 

George, fighting the zombifying effects of his heavy medication, grinned and said, “We’ll win. Let me have the cigarette.” In full view of staff, George took the cigarette and then placed it into the shirt pocket of another patient, and then looked at the staff shaking his head in contempt.

 

Unlike Skinner, George was not “beyond freedom and dignity.” Anti-authoritarians such as George—who don’t take seriously the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities—deprive authoritarian ideologies such as behavior modification from total domination.

Behavior Modification Techniques Excite Authoritarians

If you have taken introductory psychology, you probably have heard of Ivan Pavlov’s “classical conditioning” and B.F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning.”

 

An example of Pavlov’s classical conditioning? A dog hears a bell at the same time he receives food; then the bell is sounded without the food and still elicits a salivating dog. Pair a scantily-clad attractive woman with some crappy beer, and condition men to sexually salivate to the sight of the crappy beer and buy it. The advertising industry has been utilizing classical conditioning for quite some time.

Skinner’s operant conditioning? Rewards, like money, are “positive reinforcements”; the removal of rewards are “negative reinforcements”; and punishments, such as electric shocks, are labeled in fact as “punishments.” Operant conditioning pervades the classroom, the workplace, and mental health treatment.

 

Skinner was heavily influenced by the book Behaviorism (1924) by John B. Watson. Watson achieved some fame in the early 1900s by advocating a mechanical, rigid, affectionless manner in child rearing. He confidently asserted that he could take any healthy infant and, given complete control of the infant’s world, train him for any profession. When Watson was in his early forties, he quit university life and began a new career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.

Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.

 

Who are Easiest to Manipulate?

 

Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy are control freaks, addicted to the buzz of power over other human beings, and so it is natural for such authorities to have become excited by behavior modification.

 

Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards (1993), documents with copious research how behavior modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people. And so for authorities who get a buzz from controlling others, this creates a terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people.

 

Many of the most successful applications of behavior modification have involved laboratory animals, children, or institutionalized adults. According to management theorists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in Work Redesign (1980), “Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.”

 

Similarly, researcher Paul Thorne reports in the journal International Management (“Fitting Rewards,” 1990) that in order to get people to behave in a particular way, they must be “needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behavior.”

 

It is also easiest to condition people who dislike what they are doing. Rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, according to researcher Morton Deutsch (Distributive Justice, 1985). This helps explain why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-labeled kids perform as well as so-called “normals” on boring schoolwork when paid for it (see Thomas Armstrong’s The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, 1995). Correlatively, Kohn offers research showing that rewards are least effective when people are doing something that isn’t boring.

 

In a review of the literature on the harmful effects of rewards, researcher Kenneth McGraw concluded that rewards will have a detrimental effect on performance under two conditions: “first, when the task is interesting enough for the subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious.”

 

Kohn also reports that at least ten studies show rewards work best on simplistic and predictable tasks. How about more demanding ones? In research on preschoolers (working for toys), older children (working for grades) and adults (working for money), all avoided challenging tasks. The bigger the reward, the easier the task that is chosen; while without rewards, human beings are more likely to accept a challenge.

 

So, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society—be they psychologists, teachers, advertisers, managers, or other authorities who use behavior modification. Specifically, for controllers to experience the most control and gain a “power buzz,” their subjects need to be infantilized, dependent, alienated, and bored.

 

The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification

Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”

 

For Skinner, all behavior is externally controlled, and we don’t truly have freedom and choice. Behaviorists see freedom, choice, and intrinsic motivations as illusory, or what Skinner called “phantoms.” Back in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky exposed Skinner’s unscientific view of science, specifically Skinner’s view that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces.

 

In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.

 

What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society.

 

Researcher Mark Lepper was able to diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalized certificates for coloring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can kill interest in it for weeks.

 

Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Kohn offers several studies showing “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are less cooperative and generous [children] than their peers.” Children of mothers who relied on tangible rewards were less likely than other children to care and share at home.

 

How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate.

 

Today, the mental health profession has gone beyond behavioral technologies of control. It now diagnoses noncompliant toddlers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and pediatric bipolar disorder and attempts to control them with heavily sedating drugs. While Big Pharma directly profits from drug prescribing, the entire corporatocracy benefits from the mental health profession’s legitimization of conditioning and controlling.

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Nutrition for the Mind: Gordon Shipley

Nutrition for the Mind: Gordon Shipley | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Some people watch what they eat, but how many are careful about how they nourish their minds?

 

In the United States, arguably the epicenter of the obesity epidemic, nearly all packaged food is labeled with nutrition information, listing ingredients and specific amounts of various nutrients such as protein, fat, sugar, and various vitamins. While not everyone takes advantage of these labels, one could construct a diet that would help keep one healthy and trim well into old age.

 

The art and science of good nutrition is in matching up food with well-defined human needs for the various nutrients. While experts may quibble about specific vitamin levels, there is strong agreement on basic parameters of healthy nutrition, such as the total number of calories needed to sustain a person of a certain weight at a certain energy level, and which fats promote heart disease. In the US, we’ve even given basic nutritional needs a name: “Recommended Daily Allowance” (RDA), or more currently, “Recommended Daily Intake” (RDI).

 

Missing out on one or more essential nutrients over the long run leads to disorders and disability. Most people are familiar with scurvy and its cause: a vitamin C deficiency. More recently, folic acid deficiency has come to popular attention for its association with neural tube birth defects. The deeper we look at nutrition, the more symptoms and syndromes we seem to link with different nutritional deficiencies.

 

Whether we heed nutritionists’ advice or ignore it, the fact that nutrition greatly affects health and wellbeing is not up for debate. I am puzzled as to why we don’t draw similar conclusions about mental health. I’m not speaking of the effects of physical nutrients on mental health (although that is a worthy topic in its own right) but the effects of particular experiences, thoughts and emotions on mental health.

 

And whereas we have a guide in the form of the RDA to enumerate all the essential nutrients and set a minimum level for each of them, we lack a guide as to what sorts of mental nourishment are essential, and how much we need of each one. In a moment, I’ll do my best to remedy this.

 

There also seem to be a couple of attitudes that get in the way of creating and accepting an “RDA for mental health.” The first obstacle is the idea that mentally nourishing experiences and states of mind are optional, in a way that we rarely attribute to physical nutrition. While we may chide one another for over-indulging in sugary sodas or failing to eat vegetables, if we’re overcome by stress or fatigue, the common sense remedies of rest and relaxation somehow seem less important.

 

A second attitude that interferes with the “RDA for the mind” metaphor is the concept that poor care for our minds can be overcome by force of will alone. While people of both sexes subscribe to this mindset, there is a distinct macho element of this belief, most famously captured by the motto “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

 

Unfortunately, while this might actually work in the short-term, willpower is a limited commodity, and ironically enough, weakened by a lack of self-care, both physical and mental. In the long run, it is more correct to say that good self-care increases willlpower than to say that willpower can cover for a lack of self-care.

So, supposing you reject the idea that taking care of your psychological health is any more optional than taking care of your physical health, and furthermore that it’s a weakness to fail to care for yourself, not some mark of machismo, then what are the minimum daily requirements for good mental health?

 

Safety: More is Better, Ideally All the Time

 

Human beings have two waking modes of existence: one is the normal, relaxed, thoughtful way we’d like to go about our business. The other is the stressed, panicked, enraged or terrified state we enter when under threat. The cruel hand of natural selection has gifted all surviving human beings with the ability to cope with extreme danger and stress using the “fight or flight” mechanism, but only for a limited time. Sadly, when a threat (perceived or actual) sticks around for more than a few minutes, our bodies and minds start to break down under the unrelenting demand. Safety is, at a minimum, the absence of immediate threat that allows us to turn off our fight-or-flight systems long enough to rest and recover.

 

Socialization: Some Combination of Family, Friends, and Romantic Partners

 

Another one of those macho ideals is the idea of the loner who can do everything by himself. The truth is that most people do badly when isolated from supportive people in their lives. Depending on our circumstances, that support could come from our parents, our peer group, our community, our romantic partner, or our children.

Sleep: Seven to Nine Hours of Sleep per Night (for Adults)

Here’s a nutrient for both body and mind. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t getting even the minimum amount of sleep needed for health. In fact the CDC calls insufficient sleep a “Public Health Epidemic.” In addition to the obvious lethargy and mental fogginess sleeplessness brings, lack of sleep also weakens memory, decreases immune function and can even raise blood pressure.

 

Play: Daily; Especially Critical During Childhood

 

Child development experts know that play is serious work. Children learn as much, if not more, from unstructured play than they do in their lessons. Lack of play is associated with poor social and intellectual development in later life. And while the research may not be as definitive on play during later life, anecdotally, play seems to boost creativity and cut stress for most people.

 

Meaning: Constantly Developed and Renewed

 

Life can be confusing and discouraging at times. Meaning is the compass that allows people to navigate ambiguity and obstacles over decades. Without an overarching meaning or purpose, it is easy to give in to depression or nihilism. While some will throw in with common causes, purpose, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Furthermore, as people reach their goals or move from one stage of life to another, meaning and purpose may need to be reevaluated and revised.

 

Challenge: Matched to Current Ability Levels

 

The mind is like muscle, we are told. And like a muscle, it can grow weak without appropriate exercise. While the jury is still out on the latest crop of brain games, it is known that reading for pleasure and using two or more languages over the years delays senility.

Beyond just staving off senility, an appropriate level of challenge, one that’s not too difficult and not to easy, is also associated with the pleasurable sense of being “in the zone” or “flow” as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Being challenged at just the right level is also essential for learning and developing skills.

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Why We Need To Get Rid of Class Lectures:Salman Khan

Why We Need To Get Rid of Class Lectures:Salman Khan | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
If students can only focus for 15-minute intervals, shouldn't we devote precious class time to something more engaging?

 

Each school day, millions of students move in unison from classroom to classroom where they listen to 50- to 90-minute lectures. Despite there being anywhere from 20 to 300 humans in the room, there is little actual interaction. This model of education is so commonplace that we have accepted it as a given. For centuries, it has been the most economical way to “educate” a large number of students. Today, however, we know about the limitations of the class lecture, so why does it remain the most common format?

 

In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University — Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish — described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students’ focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study’s authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then — no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter — there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would “lose it.” Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer packets, falling “to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture,” according to the report. This study focused on college students, and of course it was done before the age of texting and tweeting; presumably, the attention spans of younger people today have become even shorter, or certainly more challenged by distractions.

 

Middendorf and Kalish also cited a study from 1985 which tested students on their recall of facts contained in a 20-minute presentation. While you might expect that recall of the final section of the presentation would be greatest— the part heard most recently — in fact the result was strikingly opposite. Students remembered far more of what they’d heard at the very beginning of the lecture. By the 15-minute mark, they’d mostly zoned out. Yet these findings — which were quite dramatic, consistent and conclusive, and have never yet been refuted — went largely unapplied in the real world.

 

Even Mittendorf and Kalish themselves did not take these findings to their natural conclusions. Having established that students’ attention maxed out at around 10 or 15 minutes, they did not question whether hour-long lectures should be the dominant use of class time. Instead, they recommended that teachers insert “change-ups” at various points in their lectures, “to restart the attention clock.” This may have been a pragmatic incremental step, but if attention lasted 10 or 15 minutes while passively listening, it is questionable why valuable time in classrooms with teachers and peers should be devoted to lecture at all.

 

With the Internet, lectures can in fact be divided up into shorter, sub-15 minute sessions, and be delivered outside the classroom. So what do we do with that class time? Here we can take inspiration from the humanities seminar, where any “information delivery” happens outside the classroom through student reading, allowing class time to be entirely devoted to teacher-moderated discussion. This also happens in many business schools, where students read a case study ahead of time and the teacher leads a conversation about the issues facing the company or executive described in the case. With engineering or science, class time can be used for students to collaboratively tackle more challenging questions or projects. The main point is that when humans get together to learn, we should replace passivity with interactivity.

 

When we free ourselves from the notion of one person delivering information at the front of a classroom at a set pace, it allows us to completely rethink our assumptions of what a classroom or school can be. We could then consider having multiple teachers in the same room working with students of multiple skill levels and age groups. A bell would no longer need to be rung to artificially stop one subject and to start the next. Ironically, by removing lecture from class time, we can make classrooms more engaging and human.

 

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2012/10/02/why-lectures-are-ineffective/#ixzz291VmoHQl

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Police Jumper Squads Spend Tense Hours Trying to Save People From Themselves

Police Jumper Squads Spend Tense Hours Trying to Save People From Themselves | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
On bridges and rooftops, police officers in the Emergency Service Unit reach out for that one emotional chord that will change a suicidal mind.

 

ON a concrete ledge off the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge, more than 200 feet above the swift and leaden Hudson River that November night, the two detectives gingerly approached the despondent man as he contemplated jumping.

The plunge, at a speed of more than 60 miles per hour, would surely kill him.

 

Detectives Marc Nell and Everald Taylor, tethered to the bridge and to their rescue truck with nylon harnesses and heavy rope, knew to resist the urge to pull the man to safety. It was not time yet.

 

“Tell me your name,” Detective Nell said, tapping into the emotional and psychological arsenal that he had acquired in training. “Talk to me.” “Think of your family.”

 

Sometimes the detectives do most or all of the talking. It does not always matter. What the detectives are probing for is not necessarily conveyed in words. They are looking for an opening. A moment of doubt.

 

“Once you see that light, you see their facial expression change, their body posture change, and you think: ‘Oh, I got them. O.K., they are not going anywhere,’ ” Detective Nell said. “It’s like when a boxer gets that shot and he knows that the opponent is wobbly and he just keeps going at that same spot.”

 

In this case, Detectives Nell and Eddie Torres, a third officer who had joined the rescue, did what they refer to as the Grab. They seized the man, pulling him off the ledge and over a guardrail.

 

Each year, the Police Department receives hundreds of 911 calls for so-called jumper jobs, or reports of people on bridges and rooftops threatening to jump. So far this year, that number is on track to surpass last year’s total, 519.

 

The opportunity to help people, affording them a second chance, feels like a privilege, said Detective Dennis Canale, of Emergency Truck 5 on Staten Island.

 

Read the whole article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/07/nyregion/police-jumper-squads-spend-tense-hours-trying-to-save-people-from-themselves.html?_r=3&hp&pagewanted=all&

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BPS Research Digest: Cope with pain by changing how you picture it

BPS Research Digest: Cope with pain by changing how you picture it | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

Most people who suffer from serious pain have one or more mental images that they associate with the discomfort and what it represents to them. A new study by Clare Philips and Debbie Samsom has shown that these pain-sufferers can be taught to re-imagine this pain imagery in a more positive light, bringing them instant relief and emotional comfort.

 

Of 73 volunteers at an occupational rehab centre in Vancouver, 57 had pain and said they experienced imagery associated with that pain, and so they were recruited into the study (there were 24 men, the average age was 45).

 

After being interviewed about their baseline pain and their psychological state - including feelings of mental defeat, anxiety and depression - the participants were asked to select their most powerful and distressing pain-related mental image. "I see myself on all fours - like a dog but unable to move," said one. All participants spent time forming this "index image" in their mind before answering more questions about how they were feeling. Focusing on the unpleasant image increased pain and emotional distress. Remember, this is an image that the participants experienced spontaneously in their everyday lives (for nearly half of them, it came to mind several times a day).

 

Next, after a six-minute gap talking about where they grew up (as a distraction), 26 of the participants were taught to re-picture their pain. They were asked to think "how would you rather see the image?" and to describe in detail what this would entail. They then focused on this new image - for example, the participant above who'd previously described the dog-image now imagined: "I am at the start of a race….the gun goes off and the crowd cheers as I take off." The remaining participants acted as controls and spent the same time focused on their original, unpleasant index image.

 

After picturing a "re-scripted" pain image, the participants in that group experienced a dramatic drop in their pain levels. In fact, 49 per cent of them said they felt no pain at that time, compared with 11 per cent of them feeling no pain after imagining their index image. "The pain decrements were fast, easily produced and dramatically large," the researchers said. The re-script group also exhibited improvements in anxiety, sadness, mental defeat and beliefs about their own fragility. The control participants, by contrast, experienced none of these improvements.

 

There was another six-minute gap and the re-script group again pictured their positively re-imagined pain image. The controls were now also taught how to re-imagine their pain image - the local research ethics committee had insisted on this. The original re-script group continued to enjoy reduced pain and psychological benefits, which counts against the idea that the novel image had merely served as a temporary distraction. The controls now also enjoyed the benefits of re-picturing their pain.

 

Philips and Samsom said that the participants found it easy and pleasurable to re-script their pain images. Of course there is a need now for research to see whether these benefits of re-picturing pain can last into the long term. It would also help to have a different kind of control group - for example, one that merely visualised random positive images, to see if the effects of specifically re-picturing pain are more powerful. Where this study focused on the sensory detail of pain images, future work could also look into the re-writing the images' cognitive meaning.

 

The findings add to a broader literature showing that our experience of pain is affected by many psychological factors, such as our beliefs about our ability to cope. This doesn't mean the pain isn't real, but it does mean that psychological techniques can be incredibly effective at bringing relief and improvements to people's quality of life.

 

Posted at http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/ by Christian Jarrett

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In search of the super-humane: Christian Jarrett

In search of the super-humane: Christian Jarrett | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

The pages of psychology's journals are filled with sorry tales of people's intolerance and prejudice towards one another. Against this darkness, Sam McFarland and his colleagues urge us not to forget the brighter stories - the heroes of the past who put themselves at risk because they felt empathy towards outsiders.

 

Consider the French Pastor Andre ́ Trocme ́ and his wife, who helped save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust. "We don't know what a Jew is," Trocme ́ said when instructed to hand over the names of all the Jews. "We only know people."

 

The ability and inclination to identify with all of humanity was touched on by some of psychology's pioneers. Alfred Adler wrote about the innate potential of people to achieve

"gemeinschaftsgefuhl", literally translated as "social interest", but also taken to mean "oneness with all humanity". The founder of humanistic psychology Abraham Maslow invoked the concept of "self-actualised individuals" - people able to identify with and have a concern with all mankind.

 

Yet despite these early ideas, there's been little subsequent research on the ability to identify with all humanity. One reason is the lack of an explicit measure. Some psychological scales come close - for example, there's the "Social Interest Scale" (measuring interest in community) and there are measures of "moral identity" (how central morality is to self-identity) and "universalism" (a oneness with the world), but none quite targets identifying with all humankind. Until now.

 

McFarland and his team have devised the Identification With All Humanity Scale (IWAH), consisting of 9 three-part items, including: "How much do you identify with (that is, feel a part of, feel love toward, have concern for) each of the following: a) people in my community, b) Americans, c) All humans everywhere". This version is aimed at US participants, hence the option for (b). The full version is online.

 

The researchers tested their new IWAH scale exhaustively across ten studies involving hundreds of participants. The researchers found:


-a high score on the IWAH was more than just a lack of in-group bias and a disposition for empathy; the IWAH also taps into something other than Shalom Shwartz's broader and more abstract concept of "universalism" (the goal of "understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for all nature").
-high scores on IWAH correlated more strongly with people's concern for human rights than existing compassion measures
-scores on the scale were stable across 10 weeks
-close friends and family had a good idea of a person's score on the IWAH
-members of Human Rights Watch and the Church World Service scored particularly high on the scale, just as you'd expect if it's measuring what it is supposed to
-high scores on the IWAH correlated with the personality factors agreeableness, openness to experience and neuroticism (the researchers were baffled by this last association)
-high scorers on IWAH valued American and Afghani lives more equally
-high scorers had a greater knowledge of global humanitarian issues
-and finally ... research via the your morals.org website, involving thousands of participants, showed that high scores on the IWAH predicted people's willingness to donate money to international charities, beyond traditional measures, such as of ethnocentrism.

 

McFarland and his colleagues concluded that their new scale has "substantial merit" and that it's now important to question why some people develop a deeper identification with all of humanity than others. They predicted that children who are neglected or spoiled will fail to develop this form of empathy for all mankind. "A lack of punitiveness coupled with affection may provide a foundation for later concern for humanity at large," they said. "Understanding how identification with all humanity develops is worthy of direct and extensive investigation." Let's hope their new scale helps inspire more research on this vital issue.

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Debates … NVC style | CNVC Trainer Dian Killian

Debates … NVC style | CNVC Trainer Dian Killian | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

Your co-worker is listening to political commentary by someone whose opinions do not mesh with yours. Your Uncle has begun talking about “those people”… again. Your daughter has mentioned she wants to spend the holidays with her partner’s family. In moments of “impact,” when we are surprised, triggered, confused, or upset, old stories or judgments about ourselves, or the beliefs or actions of others can surface and get in the way of our expressing ourselves effectively or hearing others.

 

What can help us recall the powerful skills of Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication in such moments? Some NVC practioners have used the following strategies:

- put a notecard in your wallet with reminders to yourself, for example to stay in curiosity and out of judgment.

- create a shortlist to remind you of needs that often come up for you.

- have an empathy buddy on speed dial; someone you can call for “emergency empathy” when you are triggered. This is especially helpful to set up in advance when you know you’ll be in a challenging situation. You may want to have more than one e-buddy on call.

- have a stock question you always ask, which can help you stay present while you gather yourself. Try “Can you tell me more about why you think _______?” or “I’m confused/curious by ______, can you tell me why its important to you?”

- prepare in advance by doing role plays and/or guesses at what feelings and needs may come up for you and for others

 

Freelance writer and new NVC student Mike Radice talks about the powerful languaging skills that Compassionate Communication gave him, “What helped me the most was to understand the power of language, and how words we use all the time — words we think are harmless — are actually subtle forms of agitation and create angst in all of us. Some of those words include cheated, overlooked, and alarmed. And then there are words that calm and open up relationships, such as harmony, support, and hope. On the surface, these words seem neutral, but they have real impact on the human spirit.”

 

These words – naming feelings and needs – can help create authentic space in upcoming debates you might be in, making them both more easeful and more connecting. When we take time to find out where someone else is coming from, we allow them to be heard and give ourselves an opportunity to be heard as well. Neem Karoli Baba, beloved guru of Baba Ram Das and Krishna Das said two things over and over: “Tell the truth” and “love everyone,” and NVC give us practical skills to do both – for others and ourselves.

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The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc: Maria Popova

The Neurochemistry of Empathy, Storytelling, and the Dramatic Arc:  Maria Popova | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
What cortisol and oxytocin have to do with a 19th-century German playwright.

 

This week, I’m headed to the Future of Storytelling summit, an unusual cross-disciplinary unconference exploring exactly what it says on the tin. Among the presenters is neuroeconomics pioneer Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. In this short film on empathy, neurochemistry, and the dramatic arc, directed and edited by my friend Kirby Ferguson and animated by Henrique Barone, Zak takes us inside his lab, where he studies how people respond to stories.

 

What he found is that even the simplest narrative can elicit powerful empathic response my triggering the release of neurochemicals like cortisol and oxytocin, provided it is highly engaging and follows the classic dramatic arc outlined by the German playwright Gustav Freytag 150 years ago.

 

Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but, in doing that, they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry — and that’s what it means to be a social creature.

 

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/10/03/paul-zak-kirby-ferguson-storytelling/

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How Awe Stops Your Clock: Sarah Estes and Jesse Graham

How Awe Stops Your Clock: Sarah Estes and Jesse Graham | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
The experience of vastness slows perception of time...

 

It might be time to pencil in "awe cultivation" on your to-do list. Although religious thinkers like Søren Kierkegaard cast awe as a state of existential fear and trembling, new research by psychologists at Stanford and the University of Minnesota shows that experiencing awe can actually increase well-being, by giving people the sense that they have more time available. That sounds much more enjoyable than trying to power through one more hour on Redbull and fumes. Just what is this elusive emotion, and how can one nurture it in our time-pressed world?

 

Although awe has played a significant role in the histories of religion, art, and other transcendental pursuits, it has received scant attention from emotion researchers. Noting the paucity of data, social psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt developed a working prototype in a 2003 paper, delineating awe's standing in the research taxonomy. After reviewing accounts of psychological, sociological, religious, artistic, and even primordial awe (awe toward power), the researchers surmised that awe universally involved the perception of vastness and the need to accommodate the experience into one's present worldview. That is, awe is triggered by some experience so expansive (in either a positive or negative way) that one’s mental schemas have to be adjusted in order to process it.

 

Nearly ten years later, awe research is beginning to come into its own. The self-help market has continued to grow quickly, and research on positive emotions has kept apace. Even corporations and politicians have taken note of some of the ways that emotion research links into everything from productivity to voting and buying behavior. So it should come as no surprise that psychologists are now experimenting in domains formerly left to clergy, clinicians, and artists.

 

More @ http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-awe-stops-the-clock&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_MB_20120926

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Jim’s take on Presence | Pathways to Liberation

For me, if there is one skill underlying all of the others presented in these pathways to liberation, it is presence. Without presence, we can not deliberately engage the other skills because we lack real-time awareness; similarly, the practice of the other skills support the cultivation of presence. Presence is the foundational skill of maintaining moment by moment awareness of our unique personal human experience. With insufficient presence, our “aliveness” falters and suffering results.

 

For me, presence is an ever-increasing openness to the immediacy of experience, (i. e. what I see, hear, smell, taste, touch; from both external and internal sources). It is also an ever-growing capacity to cultivate choice about where I place my attention. Attention is the brush we use to “paint” our lives. Presence is the cultivated skill of consistently directing our attention in ways that create a life of beauty in the world around us.

 

The state of presence is characterized by a consciousness that is tuned in to what is actually happening, focusing clearly on the ever-changing flow of life. When presence is practiced with the other skills of personal liberation, the result is a natural opening of the heart and mind allowing access to the abundance of resources supporting our well-being. From presence, actions intuitively emerge that harmonize with our integrity, naturally expressing our deepest vision and mission. This growing consciousness supports a deepening awareness of our mutual interdependence with other people and expands our sense of belonging within the larger community and the ecosystem of life.

 

Sometimes, we can clarify our understanding of a concept or experience by noticing its opposite. The opposite of presence is absence. We become absent when our mind drifts away from the present moment into thinking about the past or the future. We become distracted from what is actually happening and instead get caught up in habitual patterns of thought often characterized by moralistic judgments, comparisons and fears. These patterns hijack our experience of the present moment and isolate us from our source of aliveness.

 

A first step in cultivating increased presence consists of training yourself to notice absence. As you have read these words, it is likely your mind has drifted at least once or twice, distracted by something else competing for your attention. Did you notice that?

Noticing absence stimulates presence. Simply by focusing one’s attention on whatever is distracting you has the paradoxical effect of fostering an awareness of what is actually happening. This shift in awareness opens up more choice about where you center your attention and how you can more fully open to the experience of the present moment.

 

Let me share a very personal account of this struggle. We’ve recently made a major life transition, moving from a city that we lived in for almost thirty years. We arrived in our new location to find that the home we had purchased would not become available to us until things beyond our control were accomplished by others. We entered an untethered phase, with no secure place to call home and no clear timeline in place.

 

During this period of floating from one friend’s house to another, I began noticing that I forgot appointments and the location of important things more often than usual. I noticed my mind easily slipping into anxious patterns: alternately “gnawing” on the feeling of loss caused by missing past comforts and then slipping into the anxiety of wondering “what will be?”, “when will it be…?”, and “how will I get there?” As I heightened my awareness of this mental drifting, each episode became an opportunity to awaken once again to what was actually happening. I trained myself to notice the slips, then to get curious about them – “…what are these anxious thoughts telling me about what is important to me right now? “

 

For example, when I remembered an appointment, I would reflexively activate a negative inner monologue characterized by judging myself severely for blowing it yet again. However, noticing this old pattern of self blame awakened me to the opportunity of centering on my present experience and so opened my mind to the possibility of other ways to handle the situation; constructive ways that allowed me to reconnect with the person I had the appointment with and avoid doing mindless damage to myself during a personally challenging time. So, for me, even slips out of presence have become opportunities for choosing once again to engage the present moment, and so increase the depth of my presence.

 

This gentle nudge to presence often awakened in me an appreciation for what was actually happening in my life, even as I mourned the lack of home or temporary access to the memory of the location of my lost car keys. By refocusing my mind and heart on my present experience, I engaged once again more fully with my life, often awakening to new options.

 

Here are the elements of a practice you can use to cultivate more presence for yourself:

1. Set an intention to become more present. Contemplate why presence is important to you.
2. Focus your attention on something specific. For example, you could use your breath or watch the second hand moving around the clock face or the seconds changing on a digital watch.
3. Notice that in spite of your intention, your attention is likely to wander. Simply notice that your attention wanders, and gently refocus on the object of your attention.
4. Become aware of the clues of absence. How can you notice your mind has wandered? Noticing the wandering mind can become a gentle reminder to return to presence.
5. Continue this exercise for 5 to 20 minutes.
6. Complete the exercise by considering what you learned through your practice.

 

As you develop your presence “muscle”, you can try this exercise in almost any context. For example, you can try it while watching TV, attending a movie, in the midst of conversation, or any other common activity.

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Self Healing Benefits of Meditation: Susan Piver

Self Healing Benefits of Meditation: Susan Piver | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

We all know that regular, moderate exercise is good for us. But imagine what it would be like if all you did was exercise: if you ran, walked, jumped, or lifted 24 hours a day. After only a very short while, exercise actually wouldn't be that good for you because without rest, exercise becomes counterproductive and even risky…and so it is with your mind. We spend all day (and sometimes all night, too!) in a whirlwind of thought. When there isn't something particular to think about (what to eat for breakfast, the tasks of the day, or what you're going to say in an upcoming meeting), we search restlessly for something to fill the gap-worries, hopes, television, and so on. We never allow our minds to rest. And without this precious self-healing time, our minds become exhausted and thoughts less trustworthy. Just as we need to stop moving our bodies every once in a while, we also need to stop moving our minds. But how? The idea can actually seem terrifying, not to mention impossible.

 

But it is quite possible. The practice of self-healing meditation is just this: resting the mind in silence and space, allowing it time to recover and rejuvenate. Meditation does not mean sitting in a perfect state of peace while having no thoughts. Big misconception! Instead, meditation is about establishing a different relationship with your thoughts, just for a little while. Instead of attention being drawn off by whatever thought happens to present itself, in meditation, you watch your thoughts from a different, more stabilized perspective. You're training yourself to place your attention where and when you want. This is very powerful. It gives you the ability to direct your thoughts (and mood) in more productive and peaceful directions. And, as has been demonstrated in the last few years, this ability has profound self-healing implications for physical and mental health.

 

Over the last 10 years, Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama has been engaged in formal top-level dialogues with leading scientists and brain researchers from M.I.T., Harvard, the University of Wisconsin, and others. Until several years ago, these annual conversations were held in private as simple but powerful inquiries into each other's methods for understanding the mind. Recently, the results of this dialogue, and resulting studies into meditation, have been made public, and they're fascinating.

 

When studying the brainwaves of meditating monks, Dr. Richard Davidson, director of the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, found that brain circuitry is different in long-time meditators than it is in non-meditators. Here's how: when you are upset - anxious, depressed, angry - certain regions of the brain (the amygdala and the right prefrontal cortex) become very active. When you're in a positive mood these sites quiet down and the left prefrontal cortex - a region associated with happiness and positivity - becomes more active. In studying meditating monks, Davidson found they had especially high activity in this area.

 

One of the things that is so amazing about this finding is that for a long time, scientists thought that each individual was wired with certain "set-points" for happiness, depression, and so on. This study shows that the brain can rewire itself and alter its set points - simply by the self-healing power of thought.

 

We've all read reports that stress can affect health and immunity; Dr. Weil has emphasized this repeatedly. An ulcer, for example, has direct correlation with emotional stress. An ulcer, simply defined, is the presence of certain bacteria in the stomach, plus stress. Other conditions have a noted relationship to stress, such as heart disease, lowered immunity, diabetes, and asthma. The acute stress that results from almost being hit by bus or thinking your house may have been broken into is not the kind of stress that has deleterious affect. This kind of stress mobilizes your emergency responses and capabilities. But, according to neuroendocrinologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky, Professor of Biological Sciences, Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford University, chronic stress is a different story. There is evidence that it shrinks neurons on the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in learning capacity, memory, and positive mood. The self-healing hippocampus has the ability to regenerate, if stress is discontinued. And meditation reduces stress, as shown in Dr. Davidson's research.

 

Medical research has shown that there are two main contributing factors to depression: a genetic predisposition, and environmental factors such as stress, loss, and trauma. The first factor, genetics, is not within our control. The second, however, is. We can't prevent loss and difficulty, but we can significantly alter our reactions to them. Zindel Segal, Chair in Psychotherapy in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, a pioneer in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has shown that MBSR participants are 50% less likely than other patients to relapse once depression is alleviated through medications and other therapies. This is because meditation teaches us, thought by thought, to alter our responses to stress, thereby increasing serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that influences mood, sleep, and appetite. Anti-depressants such as Prozac and Paxil, so-called SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are drugs that increase serotonin.

 

As mentioned, meditation is often viewed as a way to relax -- and it is. But it's also a very precise strategy for maintaining health and training the mind in keen observation, increased power of concentration, and emotional stability.

 

 

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A Simple Fix for Farming: Mark Bittman

A Simple Fix for Farming: Mark Bittman | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
An ignored but hugely important study shows that we can grow food on a large scale, profitably, with far fewer chemicals.

 

IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

 

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, the three leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

 

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

 

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

 

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticidesare used each year in the United States.

 

No one expects Iowacorn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsantoabout agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science, Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences all turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)

 

Debates about how we grow food are usually presented in a simplistic, black-and-white way, conventional versus organic. (The spectrum that includes conventional on one end and organic on the other is not unlike the one that opposes the standard American diet with veganism.) In farming, you have loads of chemicals and disastrous environmental impact against an orthodox, even dogmatic method that is difficult to carry out on a large scale.

 

But seeing organic as the only alternative to industrial agriculture, or veganism as the only alternative to supersize me, is a bit like saying that the only alternative to the ravages of capitalism is Stalinism; there are other ways. And positioning organic as the only alternative allows its opponents to point to its flaws and say, “See? We have to remain with conventional.”

 

The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.

 

Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors — who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities — are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”

 

THIS means that not only is weed suppression a direct result of systematic and increased crop rotation along with mulching, cultivation and other nonchemical techniques, but that by not poisoning the fields, we make it possible for insects, rodents and other critters to do their part and eat weeds and their seeds. In addition, by growing forage crops for cattle or other ruminants you can raise healthy animals that not only contribute to the health of the fields but provide fertilizer. (The same manure that’s a benefit in a system like this is a pollutant in large-scale, confined animal-rearing operations, where thousands of animals make manure disposal an extreme challenge.)

 

Perhaps most difficult to quantify is that this kind of farming — more thoughtful and less reflexive — requires more walking of the fields, more observations, more applications of fertilizer and chemicals if, when and where they’re needed, rather than on an all-inclusive schedule. “You substitute producer knowledge for blindly using inputs,” Davis says.

 

So: combine crop rotation, the re-integration of animals into crop production and intelligent farming, and you can use chemicals (to paraphrase the report’s abstract) to fine-tune rather than drive the system, with no loss in performance and in fact the gain of animal products.

 

Why wouldn’t a farmer go this route? One answer is that first he or she has to hear about it. Another, says Matt Liebman, one of the authors of the study and an agronomy professor at Iowa State, is that, “There’s no cost assigned to environmental externalities” — the environmental damage done by industrial farming, analogous to the health damage done by the “cheap” standard American diet — “and the profitability of doing things with lots of chemical input isn’t questioned.”

 

This study not only questions those assumptions, it demonstrates that the chemicals contributing to “environmental externalities” can be drastically reduced at no sacrifice, except to that of the bottom line of chemical companies. That direction is in the interest of most of us — or at least those whose well-being doesn’t rely on that bottom line.

 

Sadly, it seems there isn’t a government agency up to the task of encouraging things to move that way, even in the face of convincing evidence.

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BBC Column: Psychological self-defence for the age of email

BBC Column: Psychological self-defence for the age of email | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it

Here’s a pretty safe assumption to make: you probably feel like you’re inundated with email, don’t you? It’s a constant trickle that threatens to become a flood. Building up, it is always nagging you to check it. You put up spam filters and create sorting systems, but it’s never quite enough. And that’s because the big problems with email are not just technical – they’re psychological. If we can understand these we’ll all be a bit better prepared to manage email, rather than let it manage us.

 

For this psychological self-defence course, we’re going to cover very briefly four fundamental aspects of human reasoning. These are features built into how the human mind works. If you know about them, you can watch out for them and – most importantly – catch yourself when one of these tendencies is leading you astray.

 

Pay it back

 

First up is reciprocity – our tendency to want to return like for like, whether that is a smile for a smile or a blow for a blow. Persuasion-guru Robert Cialdini cites reciprocity as being one of the six basic principles of influence: do something for someone, so they’ll feel they have to do something back. Suddenly freebies from salespeople make a lot more sense (and seem a lot more sinister).

 

Reciprocity works in email because we’re not just sending information through the ether, we’re communicating social information. Each email contains simple meta-messages, things like “I’m interested in what you’re doing”, or “This really matters to me”. Reciprocity means that each email is an invitation to a social encounter, and you know what that means – more emails sent back to you in reply.

 

Just think back to the last time you were away from email for a week: most likely the majority of the emails waiting for you in your inbox were from the first few days of your absence. Lots of our email is self-generated, responses to emails we’ve sent, a natural reaction oiled by the social grease of reciprocity. And this leads to another aspect of human reasoning, which is…

 

Reaping rewards

 

A part of us loves getting email – it provides basic proof that we’re part of society (and often more – it’s concrete evidence that someone wants to talk to us, invite us out, or tell us something). Our animal brains use some simple rules for processing rewards. The most fundamental of these rules is the so called Law of Effect, which simply states that if something is followed by a reward, then animals tend to increase the frequency with which they do it.

 

But the way email is structured to reach us taps into another basic rule the brain uses for processing reward. Irregular rewards have a special power to enforce repeat behaviour, something discovered by psychologists in the early twentieth century, and known for centuries by people who organise gambling (would anyone play slot machines if they just predictably gave you back 80% of the money you put in each time?).

 

Email drips into your consciousness during the day. Each time you check it you don’t know if you’ll be getting another boring work email, which isn’t very rewarding, or some exciting news or an opportunity, which is very rewarding. The schedule of these constant opportunities for surprise hooks us into checking email. To avoid it, you just need to fix your email so that you collect it all at once at regular intervals, such as every hour or twice a day, rather than checking each email as it arrives.

 

Close thrill

 

Hyperbolic discounting is another feature of how we’re wired to think about rewards. Discounting is the diminishing value of rewards as they get further away in time. It’s the thing that means that being offered 100 euros today is far more exciting than being offered 100 euros in ten years time. That discounting is hyperbolic means a reward that is very close gets drastically more attractive.

 

To see this, try thinking about whether you’d like 10 euros now or 20 euros in a year’s time. If you’re an impatient person maybe you’ll favour the 10 euros now, if you’re patient you can maybe wait for the 20 euros in a year’s time. But if we shift both rewards backwards in time by 10 years, the choice stops being ambiguous: 10 euros in ten year’s time, or 20 euros in eleven year’s time is an easy call. Almost everyone would go for the second option.

 

What this shows is that the choice of a smaller amount of money only seemed attractive because it was closer in time. Hyperbolic discounting is why people will pay money to pick up today’s news, but won’t even bend down to pick up yesterday’s news. Immediacy creates value in our brains.

 

Going back to email, think of a time you didn’t check your email for a week. If you’re like me, you probably opened your email expecting lots of exciting news – a sum of all the excitement you experience with each individual email. But actually, a week’s worth of email isn’t very exciting. The interest that email generates as you see it arriving in your inbox is an illusion generated by hyperbolic discounting.

 

Every technology has its own logic, and part of the logic of email is the speed with which it is delivered, with the new mails always pushing their way to the top of the pile. This pull is as insidious as it is intense – apparently 59% of people surveyed by AOL are so addicted to keeping track of their email that they check it in the bathroom.

 

This is what makes me think that the very speed of email delivery is a handicap – email delivered with a half-hour delay would be easier to judge at its true value, and so be far less distracting.

 

Responsibility pressure

 

Finally, a fourth fundamental principle of human reasoning is our sense of ownership or responsibility. I’ve written recently about how we can be tricked into valuing something more by accidents of fate that put that thing in our possession. Email is prey to this bias: once something is there, it is natural to decide that it deserves our consideration, it is somehow our responsibility to read and respond.

 

Nowhere is this more apparent than the group email and the avalanche of replies that invariably ensues. Strike back by reminding yourself that not all email has to be replied to, that lots of issues will be – and should be – dealt with by other people. Ask yourself: “If I didn’t have this information in my inbox, would I go out looking for it?” Most of the time the answer is probably “no”, and that’s a sign that someone else is controlling your attention.

 

Unless you diligently maintain the boundaries of exactly what you are responsible for, email becomes a system for letting other people control your time. So delete that email and move on!

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How the Power of Expectations Can Allow You to ‘Bend Reality’: Gareth Cook

How the Power of Expectations Can Allow You to ‘Bend Reality’: Gareth Cook | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Journalist Chris Berdik explains the many ways that what is expected shapes what happens...

 

Chris Berdik, a science journalist and former staff editor at The Atlantic, begins with a simple premise: expectations matter. The notion is well-known in medicine, where doctors have known the power of the “placebo effect” for a long time. But it turns out that this same psychological machinery holds sway in many realms, that what we bring to a situation can, in some sense, bend reality. Berdik answered questions about his new book, “Mind over Mind,” from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

 

We've all heard of the placebo effect in medicine, but you take this idea even further. Can you explain?


Traditionally, the placebo effect has been thought of as triggering self-healing using fake drugs. So, for instance, if I take a sugar pill believing that it’s a pain reliever, that belief causes my brain to release endorphins, which brings pain relief. But now, the placebo effect is being looked at as more than the ability of fake medicine to fool people into feeling better. Research into placebos is broadening out to examine everything that affects a patient's expectations for treatment — how the doctor talks and acts, the side effect information they read online, the news reports of killer diseases — and how, when, and to what extent those expectations can help or hinder healing.

 

And placebo effects in medicine are just one example of how our expectations can bend reality. For instance, brain scans reveal that expectations about a wine's quality (based on price or a critic's review) actually change the level of activity in the brain's reward centers when a person takes a sip. Highly-trained weight lifters can out-do their personal bests when they believe they've taken a performance booster. People who wear taller, better looking avatars in virtual reality behave in ways that taller and better looking people tend to act. For example, they approach better-looking potential dates and they are more aggressive in negotiations, both in the virtual world and after the headgear is removed. In lab and field experiments, people who stand in powerful poses (think Superman) for a minute or two, have similar hormonal changes to people who are given actual power and authority over another person, and they exhibit the same sorts of behavioral changes.

 

What do you mean by expectations “bending reality”?


The expectations I write about don’t become reality, but they can shift it in small but often important ways.

 

Hardly any of the effects are guaranteed or one-size-fits all. For instance, at some point, a wine will taste lousy enough that we’ll spit it out even though the premium price tag suggests it’s delicious. In medicine, there’s no evidence of placebos curing diseases, shrinking tumors, or mending broken bones. In athletics, there are physical limits that no amount of positive thinking will supersede.

 

But subtle and conditional effects can make a big difference, because expectations bend reality in so many areas of life. Our minds are constantly jumping to conclusions about the world we live in and who we are. Instead of just accepting them, we can examine some of those expectations and maybe put them to the test by trying out some alternatives.

 

Why the title, "Mind over Mind"?


A lot of the expectations that affect us – the assumptions that shape what we see, hear, smell, and taste, for instance, or the expectations we may have that a more expensive drug will work better than a cheap one – happen on automatic. We don't spend a lot of time wondering about our expectations and considering the alternatives, and that lack of attention helps give their effects an aura of permanence and inevitability. From time to time, it may be worthwhile to examine and question our expectations, to look for the connections between what we think and what we experience, and to try using our mind to shake things up.

 

More @  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-the-power-of-expectations-can-allow-you-to-bend-reality

 

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If You're Too Busy to Meditate, Read This

If You're Too Busy to Meditate, Read This | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Doing nothing for 20 minutes a day actually increases your productivity.

 

This morning, like every morning, I sat cross-legged on a cushion on the floor, rested my hands on my knees, closed my eyes, and did nothing but breathe for 20 minutes.

 

People say the hardest part about meditating is finding the time to meditate. This makes sense: who these days has time to do nothing? It's hard to justify.

 

Meditation brings many benefits: It refreshes us, helps us settle into what's happening now, makes us wiser and gentler, helps us cope in a world that overloads us with information and communication, and more. But if you're still looking for a business case to justify spending time meditating, try this one: Meditation makes you more productive.

 

How? By increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.

Research shows that an ability to resist urges will improve your relationships, increase your dependability, and raise your performance. If you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions. You can be more intentional about what you say and how you say it. You can think about the outcome of your actions before following through on them.

 

Our ability to resist an impulse determines our success in learning a new behavior or changing an old habit. It's probably the single most important skill for our growth and development.

As it turns out, that's one of the things meditation teaches us. It's also one of the hardest to learn.

 

When I sat down to meditate this morning, relaxing a little more with each out-breath, I was successful in letting all my concerns drift away. My mind was truly empty of everything that had concerned it before I sat. Everything except the flow of my breath. My body felt blissful and I was at peace.

 

For about four seconds.

 

Within a breath or two of emptying my mind, thoughts came flooding in — nature abhors a vacuum. I felt an itch on my face and wanted to scratch it. A great title for my next book popped into my head and I wanted to write it down before I forgot it. I thought of at least four phone calls I wanted to make and one difficult conversation I was going to have later that day. I became anxious, knowing I only had a few hours of writing time. What was I doing just sitting here? I wanted to open my eyes and look at how much time was left on my countdown timer. I heard my kids fighting in the other room and wanted to intervene.

 

Here's the key though: I wanted to do all those things, but I didn't do them. Instead, every time I had one of those thoughts, I brought my attention back to my breath.

 

Sometimes, not following through on something you want to do is a problem, like not writing that proposal you've been procrastinating on or not having that difficult conversation you've been avoiding.

But other times, the problem is that you do follow through on something you don't want to do. Like speaking instead of listening or playing politics instead of rising above them.

 

Meditation teaches us to resist the urge of that counterproductive follow through.

 

And while I've often noted that it's easier and more reliable to create an environment that supports your goals than it is to depend on willpower, sometimes, we do need to rely on plain, old-fashioned, self-control.

 

For example, when an employee makes a mistake and you want to yell at him even though you know that it's better — for him and for the morale of the group — to ask some questions and discuss it gently and rationally. Or when you want to blurt something out in a meeting but know you'd be better off listening. Or when you want to buy or sell a stock based on your emotions when the fundamentals and your research suggest a different action. Or when you want to check email every three minutes instead of focusing on the task at hand.

 

Meditating daily will strengthen your willpower muscle. Your urges won't disappear, but you will be better equipped to manage them. And you will have experience that proves to you that the urge is only a suggestion. You are in control.

 

Does that mean you never follow an urge? Of course not. Urges hold useful information. If you're hungry, it may be a good indication that you need to eat. But it also may be an indication that you're bored or struggling with a difficult piece of work. Meditation gives you practice having power over your urges so you can make intentional choices about which to follow and which to let pass.

 

So how do you do it? If you're just starting, keep it very simple.

 

Sit with your back straight enough that your breathing is comfortable — on a chair or a cushion on the floor — and set a timer for however many minutes you want to meditate. Once you start the timer, close your eyes, relax, and don't move except to breathe, until the timer goes off. Focus on your breath going in and out. Every time you have a thought or an urge, notice it and bring yourself back to your breath.

 

That's it. Simple but challenging. Try it — today — for five minutes.

 

And then try it again tomorrow.

 

This morning, after my meditation, I went to my home office to start writing. A few minutes later, Sophia, my seven-year-old, came in and told me the kitchen was flooded. Apparently Daniel, my five-year-old, filled a glass of water and neglected to turn off the tap. Oops.

In that moment, I wanted to scream at both Daniel and Sophia. But my practice countered that urge. I took a breath.

 

Then, together, we went into action mode. We got every towel in the house — and a couple of blankets — and mopped it all up, laughing the whole time. When we were done soaking up the water, we talked about what happened. Finally, we all walked together to our downstairs neighbors and took responsibility for the flood, apologized, and asked if we could help them clean up the mess.

 

After that, I had lost an hour of writing. If I was going to meet my deadline, I needed to be super-productive. So I ate a quick snack and then ignored every distracting urge I had for two hours — no email, no phone calls, no cute Youtube videos — until I finished my piece, which I did with 30 minutes to spare.

 

Who says meditation is a waste of time?

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Violence Containment: 2.16 TRILLION DOLLAR "industry"

Violence Containment: 2.16 TRILLION DOLLAR "industry" | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
The Institute for Economics and Peace provides a new methodology to categorize and account for the economic activity related to violence.

 

The size of economic activity that is devoted to inflicting, preventing or dealing with the consequences of violence is known as the Violence Containment Industry (VCI). In the U.S., Violence Containment costs around 15% of Gross Domestic Product each year and is the largest discrete industry.

 

Violence Containment Spending in the U.S., produced by Institute for Economics and Peace, provides a new methodology to categorize and account for the public and private expenditure on containing violence.

 

While some spending on Violence Containment is necessary, the question is what is the optimal amount to spend on containing violence while cost effectively investing in future reductions of violence?

 

A few Key Findings:

 

-Violence containment cost the U.S. $2.16 trillion per year, that’s one in every seven dollars.


-If violence containment were an industry it would be the largest industry in the U.S.


-Federal expenditure has expanded in the last ten years, increasing by 15%


-The size of Violence Containment is equal to the entire UK economy

 

-A 5% reduction in Violence Containment spending for 5 years would provide the capital to rebuild the nation’s levees systems, update the energy infrastructure and complete the upgrading of the nations school infrastructure.


‘The study evidentiates that even small reductions in Violence Containment spending would result in a meaningful stimulation to the U.S. economy’-Steve Killelea.

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Positive Thinking Can Help Brain Health: Aileen Pablo

“Think positive!”

 

If you’re like me, having someone say this to you mostly makes you want to roll your eyes and groan. After all, what’s the point of thinking positive? Are rosy thoughts full of unicorns and sunshine really going to help you out when you’re stressed because you’ve got twenty things to finish and only enough time to get through two or three of them?

 

Well, as it turns out, apparently they do help. Happy thoughts have been shown to raise your attentiveness, increase your mental productivity, help nerve connections to grow, improve the way that you think and analyze things, affect how you look at your surroundings, and cause – you guessed it – more happy thoughts, which repeats this cycle.

 

How does it work? Those of us not inclined to Pollyanna-ish behavior will be “happy” to hear that there is real science behind the power of positive thinking rather than it being some enlightened higher-state-of-consciousness thing. Positive thoughts actually have the power to make physical changes to the structure of your brain and alter the way that it functions.

 

It is able to do this because whenever we have thoughts, they cause our brains to release chemicals. Negative thoughts are related to cortisol, which can slow down your brain and make it more difficult to function normally. In some people, this can even lead to severe depression.

 

Focusing on negative thoughts leads to fear, which decreases activity in your cerebellum. This means your brain has more trouble processing new information, making solving the problem that got you so negative in the first place even more difficult.

Positive thoughts, on the other hand, produce the feel-good chemical serotonin. But it doesn’t just make you feel good, serotonin promotes brain function and growth so that you can use your brain to the best of its ability. But you’re probably wondering, what does positive thinking do precisely? Let’s walk through the chain of events.

 

Thinking positively helps to reinforce the synapses you have in your prefrontal cortex (PFC) as well as create new ones. Because your PFC is the brain’s integration center, it regulates those signals that your neurons are sending out into your body and to the rest of your brain, so having plenty of strong synapses means your brain will have an easier time with this.

But it even goes beyond that because your PFC is the part of your brain that gives you the ability to actually consider what you’re doing and reflect on it, maintain control over your emotions and behaviors, decide what you want to focus on, and learn about your own thinking processes. Essentially, a high-functioning PFC is what makes us into the people that we want to be by helping us to define and achieve goals in our life.

 

Want some practical, concrete examples of why it’s better to think positively? Studies of those with differing personalities have shown time and time again that those who tend to be more pessimistic in their outlook generally suffer for their inability to see the good in life:

-They die earlier than their optimistic counterparts.
-They tend to believe good events are fleeting, but bad events are normal.
-They have a much higher chance of suffering from depression – eight times more likely than optimists!
-They don’t do as well in school.
-They don’t enjoy as much success in their careers.
-Their relationships go through more ups and downs.

 

In contrast, those prone more to positive thoughts reap a number of rewards:

-They live longer.
-They’re more confident.
-They engage in healthier habits.
-Their immune systems are stronger.
-They socialize more and tend to have more friends.
-Their relationships are strong.
-They feel fulfilled and happy.

 

The good news is (if you negative thinkers out there can see fit to believe me!) it’s possible to train your brain to limit the amount of negativity you feel. How? By thinking happy thoughts (seriously) and forcing yourself to stop and readjust your focus if you find yourself headed down a negative path. The more positive we are in our thoughts and actions, the easier it becomes!

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Study: Meditation Can Make Us More Empathetic: Lindsay Abrams

Study: Meditation Can Make Us More Empathetic: Lindsay Abrams | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Turning the inner eye outward activates the brain area responsible for empathy and improves our ability to read the facial expressions of others.

 

PROBLEM: Reading people's emotional expressions when they're more nuanced than an emoticon can be difficult, particularly for people with autism or depression. The ability to accurately gauge the feelings of others, however, is crucial to our ability to empathize and connect with them.

 

METHODOLOGY: A team at Emory University developed and tested a form of meditation called Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT). While secular in nature, the program is derived from the logong, or "mind training" tradition of Tibertan Buddhism. The purpose of the meditation is to refocus thoughts and behaviors from being "self-centered" to "other-centered" through eight steps:

(1) Developing attention and stability of mind through focused attention training; (2) cultivating insight into the nature of mental experience; (3) cultivating self-compassion; (4) developing equanimity; (5) developing appreciation and gratitude; (6) developing affection and empathy; (7) realizing aspirational compassion; and (8) realizing active compassion.
For eight weeks, 13 subjects were randomly assigned to weekly meetings where they participated in instruction, guided meditation, and group discussions. They also completed CBCT meditation on their own. The eight control subjects participated in health discussion classes that covered mind-body topics but did not include any meditation.

Both before and after the training, researchers tested the participants' ability to empathize with others by showing them photographs of people making various expressions that had been cropped so that only the eye region was visible. While the participants attempted to intuit the emotional states of the people in the photographs, they underwent fMR imaging of their brains to measure their neural activity.


RESULTS: The participants who had practiced eight weeks of meditation showed significant improvement in their ability to identify the expressions in the photographs, and their improved "empathic accuracy" was accompanied by increased activity in specific parts of their brains (the inferior frontal gyrus and the dorsomedial prefontal cortex) that are associated with empathy. Many of the control participants' scores on the empathy test actually worsened.

 

CONCLUSION: Cognitively-Based Compassion Training can enhance one's empathic abilities, and it appears to be able to do so by increasing activity in key parts of the brain.

 

IMPLICATIONS: The researchers see opportunity to use the CBCT technique to help those who struggle with empathy. With further development, it can be a good alternative to proposed pharmacological solutions. But it's not just people with mental disorders or disabilities who can benefit from meditation -- enhanced compassion and connectivity can contribute to individual and societal well-being.

 

The full study, "Compassion meditation enhances emphatic accuracy and related neural activity," is published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

 

 

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Your Brain Can Fool You Into Hating Something You Actually Like: Adam Dachis

Your Brain Can Fool You Into Hating Something You Actually Like: Adam Dachis | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Our brains love playing tricks on us, and the results can be detrimental. Because of how we remember certain events, even a good experience can be recalled as an awful one because of one little problem.

 

Dr. Peter Noel Murray, writing for Psychology Today, explains:

[A] consumer could have a great experience with a product or service, but only have bad memories when thinking about it later. Here's how. Let's say you are on vacation and have dinner at the best restaurant recommended to you. Perfect table. Food is exquisitely prepared. Wonderful wine. The experience is fantastic. However, when clearing the table the waiter spills coffee into your lap. Odds are that the coffee spill will degrade your memory of the food and wine, no matter how exceptional you otherwise would have remembered them. And if the hot coffee burned a leg or damaged an expensive dress or suit, the wonderful dining experience may not be remembered at all.

 

Basically, when something bad happens it overwrites the good portions of your memory. As we learned with bad days, your brain likes to focus on the negative stuff. To counteract this, the best thing you can do is remind yourself of the good parts of the experience as soon as possible. Think about everything good that happened instead of the one bad moment. Perhaps the bad moment is enough to deter you, but if not you can use it as an opportunity to remind your brain to store a positive memory instead of a negative one.

 

http://lifehacker.com/5948851/your-brain-can-fool-you-into-hating-something-you-actually-like

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See Me Beautiful: Cultivating Strengths in Young Children: Elizabeth Elizardi

See Me Beautiful: Cultivating Strengths in Young Children: Elizabeth Elizardi | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
I was sitting at dinner with my husband and two daughters, ages seven and four, when I was caught in a firestorm of sibling rivalry.

 

Having two very feisty children, what starts out as jovial banter can very quickly descend into mudslinging mayhem without the appropriate channeling and redirection.

 

In the midst of the battle, one word was uttered that caused the whole table to pause in disbelief: “Stupid.” This is one of those words that many parents proclaim is a bad word, a cuss word, a never-to-be-uttered-within-these-walls word. I stole that teachable moment like a bandit and waved it wildly in front of my children. What transpired amidst the redirection was a fascinating discussion about people and their inherent goodness.


I was quick to point out that there is no “stupid” person because every human being is capable of goodness and every human being has something good within. I wanted my children to understand that there are strengths and beauty in all of us. We just have to hunt for the good stuff. One of the most inspiring stories of the power of the belief in human goodness is Tayyab Rashid’s story of finding strength in trauma. With his life on the line, he asked his assailants, “What are you good at?” and his life was spared.

 

My children were behaving as many of us behave when we are interacting with people in the world. They were pointing out each other’s weaknesses, what was wrong, what bothered them about each another, instead of recognizing what is right, good, and strong. How easy it is to slide down that slippery slope of “Stupid.”

 

Over the past two months I have seen countless posts on positive psychology list servers, as well as LinkedIn and Facebook groups asking about reliable measures for identifying character strengths in young children. As a parent coach and Positive Psychology practitioner, I believe that the most reliable measure for identifying character strengths in children ages three to nine is discussed in Park and Peterson’s 2006 study, Character Strengths and Happiness in Young Children. In the study, parents’ written descriptions of children between the ages of 3 and 9 years were analyzed for the presence of the 24 VIA character strengths as well as the children’s levels of happiness.

 

Findings from the study showed that love, zest, and hope were associated with happiness in very young children, and gratitude was associated with happiness among older children. The most common strengths identified by parents were love, kindness, creativity, and humor, while the most uncommon were authenticity, gratitude, modesty, forgiveness, and open–mindedness. Perhaps some strengths require greater psychosocial maturation to become evident.

In a follow-up study, Park and Peterson found a modest convergence between the character strengths of parents and those of their children, which was also validated by a related 2007 study of the genetic and environmental influences on positive traits of the VIA by Steger and colleagues. While certain character strengths, hope, zest, and love, are strong in all young children, they don’t always stay strong.

 

Given that genetics and environment play a role in developing children’s character, how can you identify, cultivate, and support your child’s unique constellation of strengths?

 

More @ http://positivepsychologynews.com/news/elizabeth-elizardi/2012092024191

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Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, study finds

Compassion meditation may boost neural basis of empathy, study finds | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
A compassion-based meditation program can significantly improve a person's ability to read the facial expressions of others, finds a new study.

 

This boost in empathic accuracy was detected through both behavioral testing of the study participants and through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brain activity.

 

"It's an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioral intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy," says lead author Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow in anthropology at Emory University. "Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships."

 

The meditation protocol, known as Cognitively-Based Compassion Training, or CBCT, was developed at Emory by study co-author Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership. Although derived from ancient Tibetan Buddhist practices, the CBCT program is secular in content and presentation.


The research team also included senior author Charles Raison, formerly a psychiatrist at Emory's School of Medicine and currently at the University of Arizona, and Emory anthropologist James Rilling.
When most people think of meditation, they think of a style known as "mindfulness," in which practitioners seek to improve their ability to concentrate and to be non-judgmentally aware of their thoughts and feelings. While CBCT includes these mindfulness elements, the practice focuses more specifically on training people to analyze and reinterpret their relationships with others.


"The idea is that the feelings we have about people can be trained in optimal ways," Negi explains. "CBCT aims to condition one's mind to recognize how we are all inter-dependent, and that everybody desires to be happy and free from suffering at a deep level."

 

Study participants were healthy adults without prior meditation experience. Thirteen participants randomized to CBCT meditation completed regular weekly training sessions and at-home practice for eight weeks. Eight randomized control subjects did not meditate, but instead completed health discussion classes that covered mind-body subjects like the effects of exercise and stress on well-being.


To test empathic accuracy before and following CBCT, all participants received fMRI brain scans while completing a modified version of the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test (RMET). The RMET consists of black-and-white photographs that show just the eye region of people making various expressions. Those being tested must judge what the person in the photograph is thinking or feeling.
Eight out of the 13 participants in the CBCT meditation group improved their RMET scores by an average of 4.6 percent, while the control participants showed no increase, and in the majority of cases, a decrease in correct answers for the RMET.


The meditators, in comparison to those in the control group, also had significant increases in neural activity in areas of the brain important for empathy, including the inferior frontal gyrus and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. These changes in brain activity accounted for changes in the empathic accuracy scores of the participants.


"These findings raise the intriguing possibility that CBCT may have enhanced empathic abilities by increasing activity in parts of the brain that are of central importance for our ability to recognize the emotional states of others," Raison says. "An important next step will be to evaluate the effects of CBCT on diverse populations that may particularly benefit from enhanced empathic accuracy, such as those suffering from high-functioning autism or severe depression."


Findings from the current study add to a growing database indicating that the CBCT style of meditation may have physical and emotional effects relevant to health and well-being. For example, previous research at Emory found that practicing CBCT reduced emotional distress and enhanced physical resilience in response to stress in both healthy young adults and in high-risk adolescents in foster care.

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The Only Three Reasons You Went To Work Today

The Only Three Reasons You Went To Work Today | Radical Compassion | Scoop.it
Contrary to popular opinion, money is not what's driving most of us.


This was a conclusion reached by Psychologists Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer after analyzing 12,000 employee diary entries. This and similar findings are featured in an essay on motivation by Walter Chen at buffer. Employees tend to be motivated by emotion and not by financial incentive. Financial incentive has even been shown to have a negative effect on performance.


So what really gets us out of bed? Psychology author Dan Pink boils it down to three things:


Autonomy: Our desire to direct our own lives. In short: “You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of your way!”


Mastery: Our urge to get better at stuff.


Purpose: The feeling and intention that we can make a difference in the world.

 

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-only-three-reasons-you-went-to-work-2012-9#ixzz285cCJxoX

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