Neuroscience has recently undergone an information explosion. Thanks to innovative technology like digital imaging such as fMRI’s, we know so much more about the brain than we did ten years ago.
One of the most exciting advances has to do with the plasticity of the brain. In other words, it’s ability to change. What is even more incredible is that the brain takes it’s shape in whatever you rest your mind on. And while the concept of focusing on the positive to attract the positive is not a new concept, we now have the science to back it up.
The brain takes to negative thoughts like Velcro. Since neurons that fire together, wire together, our sensitivity and reactivity to the negative increases. But we can alter that.
Rick Hansen, best selling author and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplation Wisdom (www.wisebrain.org) suggests ‘planting a garden in the mind of your brain.’ In other words, hardwire your brain for happiness.
To do this you need to focus on realistic standards, acknowledge your accomplishments and attributes. Remain non-judgemental. Positive emotions such as love and kindness can reshape the brain resulting in improved mood, an increase in positive emotions, decreased stress and increased resilience.
This is wonderful news for anyone who has suffered negative experiences that continue to weigh heavy on the mind. Even though thought circuitry may have been rewired by the incident, we have the ability to change it for the better. (For those who have experienced trauma, seek professional help.)
Techniques used to shift the brain into better balance involve mindfulness. By staying in the moment and assessing the feelings that come up, we can in turn, label the associated feeling. Research has shown that labelling negative emotions can decrease their severity.
As you think about the negative experience, bring forth a positive one. By doing so you will re-imprint the memory with some positive. Attitudes of kindness and acceptance also go along way in altering the memory. This is planting a garden where there might otherwise be weeds.
Although not a quick fix, it is estimated that it takes five positive interactions to override one negative. All the more reason to get started right away!
Self Compassion vs. Self Esteem
Over the last several years, so much focus has been on self- esteem. People strive for a healthy, positive sense of self worth with the hope of attaining a level of confidence that will help in relationships, career and life in general. We all want to
feel good about ourselves.
But the problem with self-esteem is, it tends to be a judgement on how we rate ourselves against others. Self-esteem is often reliant on societal norms, and what others think is important.
According to Kristen Neff, PhD, it is so much more valuable to focus on self-compassion. As a pioneer in the field, Dr. Neff has been researching self-compassion for many years and claims it is much more reliable, less apt to come with certain conditions the way self esteem does, and is directly linked with an improved sense of well being.
Self-compassion is all about being kind to yourself. It is about being supportive and even protective. It’s about taking the time to examine your feelings in a non-judgemental way and communicating with yourself in a way that you would with a dear friend. You wouldn’t demean, dismiss or belittle a friend who has turned to you in need, so why do it to yourself?
A good step forward in the journey towards self -acceptance is acknowledgement of who we are. The parts of ourselves we like, and those we don’t. We’ve all made mistakes, bad choices and handled situations in less than ideal ways. It doesn’t warrant beating ourselves up. Acknowledgement helps us examine what we want to change and what needs forgiveness. It helps us respond not react.
For more info on self-acceptance visit the website www.self-compassion.org
Set the intention today to be kinder to yourself.
You may be wondering why a blog about self care is proposing the idea of volunteering. So often people who struggle to find time to address their own self care needs feel inundated with the demands of a busy life, commitments, and responsibilities. Even thinking about adding another thing on the ‘to do’ list may sound ludicrous.
Naturally, the decision to volunteer is personal and one that only you can make. But chosen wisely, giving of your time, expertise and/or interests can actually become something you do for yourself.
Volunteering opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Time commitments can vary from as little as an hour or two each month to several hours per week. The variety of opportunities is unlimited. The key is to pick an area that aligns with something you are passionate about. Opt for opportunities that include hobbies and interests. Choosing areas that have little to do with your career can be a refreshing change, provide opportunities for increasing knowledge in areas you are interested in, and get you out meeting new people.
Many research studies cite the benefits of volunteering. Increased longevity and improved sense of happiness and well-being are among those benefits. So not only are you giving to others when you volunteer, you are doing yourself a favour as well.
I love the famous Kurt Cobain quote: “I’d rather be hated for who I am,
than loved for who I am not.” It screams courage, originality and the need to
live life embracing all that you are: the good, the bad and the ugly.
It’s easy to like the parts of ourselves we are proud of, not so easy to embrace qualities we know we need to work on. And so we hide or bury those parts. But chances are we aren’t fooling anyone. Admitting to ourselves we are a work in progress, choosing to examine our shadow side rather than ignoring it, can help in living a truly authentic life.
Embrace your quirks and spend time with people who accept you for who you are. Reflect on the qualities about yourself you like and those you don’t. Set your sights on becoming who you want to be, regardless of your age.
So many fall into the trap of being people pleasers, often at the expense of themselves. Not a great idea. It’s a no win situation. So be real, be honest and accountable for whom you are. Being authentic means being true to yourself.
In short, OWN it!