Saturday, May 28, 2011

It Doesn’t Take 127 Hours to Flourish

When I first thought about what to say about flourishing, it seemed important, but dry.  Martin Seligman’s new book, Flourishing, identifies 5 critical facets of well-being.  I’ve also been considering what I wanted to say about 127 hours, the amazing film about the amazing experience of Aron Ralston trapped in a canyon in Utah.  And then it came together.  The Ralston portrayed in the film displayed so many of the characteristics of happiness and flourishing. 

Positive emotion – James Franco as Ralston ventures into the Utah desert and exudes positive feelings like pleasure and joy.  They practically explode from his being.

Engagement – You can feel his experience of flow, as he practically flies through the difficult terrain on his bike or on foot.

Relationships – Ralston falls a little short in this department, one of the themes of the film.  Seligman says you have to have positive relationships, i.e., someone you can call in 4:00AM.  Ralston has his mother, but he shirks his responsibility to her a bit, recognizing this and his desire to relate differently with others.

Meaning – Finding meaning and purpose in one’s activities, something bigger then ourselves is something Ralston discovers during the course of his ordeal.

Accomplishment – Achieving goals for the sake of accomplishing something you desire is also so clearly presented.  Ralston just loves doing it.  You can tell.  It doesn’t matter what’s going to come of it.  He’s going to get out there and succeed. 

Flourishing is more than happiness (which is more than just feeling good).  It also includes other things that are important to us humans.   One of those things is accomplishing something for accomplishment’s sake.  Another is the importance of relationships; good things tend to involve others. 

Consider how you fare in each of the areas.  What can you add or change?  Do you need more activities that generate positive emotions?  More challenging projects?  Work on your relationships?  More meaningful pursuits?  A greater sense of accomplishment?

When you consider taking on a new task, relationship or project, consider how it might contribute to your satisfaction in one or more of the five areas.

Do something today to boost your well-being.  You can start with a listen:

Lovely Day.  Bill Withers

Friday, May 20, 2011

He Says She Says. Gossip is Protective

Does it come as a surprise that the human brain is wired for gossip?  The more we know about people, the more quickly we know whether or not we want to know them better.  Apparently, we’re just lazy.  Why bother to go to the trouble of asking someone about themselves when we can just find out from a friend?  The recent study by Lisa Feldman Barrett and her colleagues demonstrated that when we believe someone has done something bad, we actually look at them more carefully.  Presumably, this is to be better able to assess their threat.  Or possibly to figure out what’s wrong with them so we can use it against them.  It makes sense.

Does research provide carte blanche to gossip?  I think not.  Just because we’re wired to gossip doesn’t mean we have to secretively discuss people and their every flaw and faux pas.  There are those who believe that gossip has the additional purpose of alerting us to potential moral pitfalls and potential social missteps.  We hear about the mistakes of others via the grapevine and it gives us a heads up vis-à-vis our own behavior.

Naturally, some of us love to talk.  And gossip is a form of talk.  Didja hear about so-and-so?  It gives you a bit of an edge in the never-ending battle of one-upsmanship.  I know something you don’t know.

So what’s a thinking person to do?  How about an experiment?  Don’t gossip tomorrow.  When you’re tempted, consider the purpose.  Are you out to hurt someone?  Expose them?  Learn more about them?  Where’s the value?  What’s the good in it?  What’s an alternative?  Is it just harmless conversation?

Personally, I think we’ve evolved far enough to have a limited need for protective gossip.  If someone isn’t particularly nice, I’ll find out soon enough.  Most of us can probably figure out whether we’re about to make a mistake, without hearing about someone else’s.  Surely we can ascertain whether our behavior is moral or immoral, consistent with our values or not.

It took me by surprise I must say
When I found out yesterday…

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Happy Mental Health Month!

Mental Health Blog Party Badge

Do you know it’s mental health month?  According to the American Psychological Association, mental health is "the way your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect your life. Having good mental health helps you make better decisions and deal with daily stressors at home, at work, and in your family."

What does this have to do with you?  I can’t imagine a better time to take your mental health temperature.  Or think of it as a mental health self-exam, or self study.

I’m challenging you to examine where you stand in a number of areas identified by Robert Walsh as therapeutic lifestyle factors.  These factors represent all the things you know you ought to do to feel better about yourself and function better in the world.   Walsh has found that changes in these factors improve well-being and optimize cognitive functioning.  These factors include, not surprisingly:

*Regular exercise
*Healthy diet (lot of vegetables, fruit and fish)
*Spending time in nature
*Serving your community
*Having healthy relationships
*Engaging in recreation and relaxation
*Active spiritual life

On a scale of 1 to 10, where do you stand in each area?  Pick one area and deciding on one small change.   It could be walking for 10 minutes 3 days a week, eating veggies with dinner daily, calling a friend once a week…you get the idea.  Choose one thing and practice it regularly.  Try more if you can. Do it for your mental health.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Your Body Talks. Listen!

Athletes know, or they should know, that sometimes you have to rest.  The same applies to those of us whose work isn’t physical.  Creatives need rest too.  So do daters, parents, teachers and pretty much anyone else you can think of.  Or maybe you fit several of these categories.  We all have many roles.  And it can really get physically tiring. 

This is my take on some of Jayme Otto’s top 10 indicators, signaling the body’s need for rest, for runners and non-runners.

* Elevated heart rate creates physical stress that interferes with running.  It also interferes with thinking, reasoning and engaging with others.  We usually call it anxiety.  It gets in the way.  How do you de-stress?
* Insufficient sleep.  Need I say more?
* Lack of energy.  You just don’t have the get-up-and-go.  You can feel it.  You have to identify which factors may be depleting you (e.g., poor diet, interrupted sleep, stress) and take appropriate action, including REST.
* Moodiness.  Irritability, anxiety, depression and other negative mood states interfere with performance.  You may have to get to the core, but rest may also do the trick.
*Dehydration is a factor for athletes, but it also affects performance for all of us.  You just don’t have the energy if you don’t drink enough water.  Headaches can result from dehydration.  As Otto points out, you can tell if you pee is dark yellow.  Seriously.
* Physical state.  Illness, PMS or injury will affect how much energy you have to get the job done.  Recognize it and don’t push it.
* Performance.  Having a bad day at work or at home tells you something is wrong.  Try to identify what’s contributing to the difficulty.

Of course, you can’t just skip work (or maybe a day, call it a mental health day) or your job as a parent or partner.  But you may be able to catch some respite by getting some help or offloading some of your responsibilities.

Otto also points out that too much rest isn’t helpful. If you’re a runner, you try to cross-train on rest days.  When you take a rest from your usual work or activities, it makes sense to engage in something else that stretches and nourishes you in a different way.   Be creativeRead a novel, catch a few movies, go out with the friends, visit a museum.  Vacations, day trips and novel activities are ways to try to replenish and rest from your usual demands.

I’m So Tired.  The Beatles

Monday, May 9, 2011

Creative Work-Life Balance

Find your harmonious, happy equilibrium with creative work-life balance.

Check out my new eZine articleCreate Work-Life Balance with a Flexible, Intentional Plan

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Childfree Day

To those of you who are not mothers, we ought to include you in the celebration.  I heard a story today about Melanie Notkin‘s book about aunts.  This category of women includes “aunts by choice,” which would include a couple of my BFFs.  It would include godmothers.  Some of the aunts are women who weren’t able to have children and enjoy this contact with children.  Some of the aunts are women who, unbelievably, decide they don’t want the endless, and it is endless, responsibility of motherhood.  These women decide they will find their joy elsewhere, like from friends, lovers or work perhaps.  Crazy, huh?

I’m reminded of a book I read during the infertility days, Sweet Grapes.  How to stop being infertile and start living again, by Jean and Michael Carter.  It talked about things like identifying the advantages of living childfree, making a choice about whether to live childfree and still live a fulfilling life, and becoming childfree instead of remaining infertile.  It was very helpful at the time.

If you’re not completely satisfied with your childfree state, ask yourself whether you can make the choice to be happy and fulfilled without children.  Are you really unhappy being childfree, or is it just that you think you ought to be, because society dictates it or because it’s a habit of thought you’ve hung onto.  If you need a child, it’s time to figure out how to make it happen.  So many options, including aunt by choice.  If you don’t need a child, then it’s time to move on.  Figure out where you’re going and get on the road.

To all the aunts by choice or birth, have a great day! We couldn’t do it without you.  To all the childfree, more power to you and have a great day!  And to all the rest of you, happy mother’s day!

Do what you like.  Blind Faith

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hang Tough: Challenge Yourself

So this guy, Troy Espiritu, starts running ultramarathons at 35. The guy’s a podiatrist with 4 kids.  The article in Psychology Today is about getting tough, not so you can run 100 miles, but so you can handle challenges.   We know about the things you’re supposed to do to hang tough:  have a network to rely on, exercise, use reward and challenge yourself.  It’s this last one that caught my eye. 

What does it take you push your limits?  Charles A. Morgan, a psychologist at Yale, believes that tackling challenges makes us tougher.  You have to believe in yourself to tackle new challenges. And succeeding at new challenges makes us more confident.  But the first step is to be willing to give it a shot.  After all, you don’t have to succeed every time, do you?

Why bother?  Of course, whatever does not kill you will make you stronger.  So getting stronger and tougher means getting ready for the inevitable challenges life will bring.  But I think there’s also an element of joy in the process.  As you get stronger you realize you can rise to the challenge.  You realize accomplishing a higher goal is fun and a powerfully liberating experience.  You feel more confident in other things. 

I’m always wary when friends and clients say, when [fill in the blank] happens (usually it’s someone dying or your kid leaving for college or another loss), I’m going to fall apartI won’t be able to take itIt’ll be unbearable…or some variation on this theme.  What I usually want to say is something along the lines of, If you think that way, you’re surely setting yourself up for failure…Few things are that terrible…Come one, you’re tougher than that.

Challenging yourself is a way to inoculate against the inevitable calamity.  You can challenge yourself in any area: social, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, career, hobby.  Your challenges could include, among other things, running a half-marathon, publishing a book and becoming an accomplished yogini.  How would you like to hang tough?

Hoping I don’t lose readers, I’m liking The Climb, Miley Cyrus, for this.