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Changing Negative Beliefs or Patterns

The first emotional styles we have is resilience to adversity. The adversity can be a wide range of so-called setbacks – from the most trivial things such as someone cutting you off in traffic to the more significant setbacks such as the passing of a loved one. The second emotional styles is outlook – meaning whether you have a positive or negative view on life.  The emotional styles of I’m discussing here is how our patterns persist or change.

With brain patterns, these questions may come to mind: How long have they been there? It is a brain pattern that existed (or that was established) during childhood as the brain develops? Was it present at birth? Can it be changed?

When Dr. Davidson did research on day-old infants, in the experiments he found that even at birth, there were clear individual differences and left/right asymmetry in terms of activation. Everyone’s genetic makeup is different, but the big question is do these differences persist? Dr. Davidson helped discover that what you are born with is not necessarily what you are dealt with as the brain and behavior can change.

Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain can change – either for better or worse. The brain has the ability to change in both structure and function. Consider learning and memory – these are constant examples of how our brains are able to change form. When you learn something new and also when a new experience enters your memory, this is the brain changing – expanding and retaining.

Brain structure and function can change in response to two forces:

  1. The life you lead
  2. Thinking yourself into a different brain.

The life you lead, meaning the experiences you have – physical as well as emotional or mental – are signals from the outside world. This is similar to your brain collecting memories and learning new information. The other way the brain can change structure and function is in response to purely mental activity. This is similar to the second brain emotional style of outlook. Higher left activity is associated with a more positive outlook; higher right activity is associated with more negative outlook.  To change the brain grooves, you can think yourself into a different brain by working on a more positive outlook (or negative, as the door does swing both ways).

 

Photo courtesy of sattva and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Is Your Outlook on Life Positive or Negative?

Your outlook on situations and experiences can be broken down to be defined as either a positive outlook or a negative outlook. The left prefrontal cortex in a resilient person can be 30 times that of someone who is not as resilient – this means that there is a a pretty big difference in brain activity within people who are clinically depressed and those who are not clinically depressed. For people who suffer from depression, activity in the right prefrontal is much higher. For people who are healthier and have an overall positive outlook on life, activity is the left prefrontal is greater. In other words, left side activity equals positive and right side equals negative.

The thing to remember about these specific findings is that everyone has ups and downs in their lives, so the left and/or right asymmetry can change. This relates back to the first style – adversity – under certain difficult periods of people’s lives, they may behave and/or react differently during these times. This is simply just part of the ebb and flow of life as a human.

Dr. Richard Davidson has been doing research on the emotional styles of the brain for over twenty years. Dr. Davidson’s research has been on all kinds of walks of life, including everyday hard-working Americans, undergraduate volunteers, children and infants, and also a Tibetan monk community. These monks lent their time and brains to science by having Dr. Davidson run MRI’s and EEG’s on them. In his findings, Dr. Davidson has found that these monk’s left prefrontals were off the chart compared to his other findings making this evidence for the stark difference in the brain activity that underlie emotional and personality differences. The monks are constantly smiling, people of good will and constantly help one another. And their brains can prove it.

Photo courtesy of Ambro and www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Having Holiday Self-Compassion

During the holiday season, we sometimes find ourselves emotionally distraught, distressed or just run down due to the overwhelming amount of events going on.  We likely will turn to others (partners, friends, parents, children) for comfort and guidance, and visa versa as the relationships we have with one another are one of our most important sources of well-being.  A great way to navigate dealing with any holiday stress is to have compassion.  Not only compassion for others and the situation, but compassion for yourself.

Self-compassion is when you are aware and honest, with a willingness to be non-judgemental, towards yourself.  No one in the world knows your feelings as well as you do. Because of this, you are the one most qualified person to bring compassion to yourself, which includes care, sensitivity, warmth, awareness, and kindness.  Having compassion for yourself will help you to bring compassion to others and your relationships with acceptance, unconditional love, and understanding.

Having Self-Compassion During The Holidays

Remind yourself to slow down.  
Take notice of when you become irritable or angry, maybe at a large line in the toy story or in rush hour mall traffic.  Especially take notice if you are angry towards yourself.  Meeting yourself where you are in the moment will help to you to accept the situation, calm yourself, and slow down.  Also remember to breathe!

Ask yourself how can you be happy right now.  
Enjoy what you want for the fact that you like it or the activity of it.  This brings in self-compassion by helping bring more awareness about yourself and what makes you happy.  Counting the things that you are grateful for is also another wonderful way to stay present.

Keep a sense of humor.  
Remember that all of the holiday stress you are under now will likely lighten up as soon as the holidays are over, and back to your more regular schedule.  If things go a little awry, try to laugh with it and keep it light.

Learn to generate a kind voice in your own head.  
Think of something that you do not like about yourself – as if you have a critic.  What is the critic saying and what emotions are rising as you hear them?   Invite and acknowledge all of these feelings and emotions, whatever they are – anger, sadness, fear, resentment, envy.  Try not to judge any of it as they are simply just thoughts and feelings moving through you. It is neither bad nor good, just awareness.  The compassionate self must be built – this is a great awareness exercise for building it up.

During this holiday season as you practice self-compassion, you will likely discover the awareness of being present.  You will feel more freedom to show up as you are and a greater sense of well-being, for yourself, your work, and  your relationships – which will benefit everyone involved.

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How to Bring Heartfulness Into Your Marriage

We often hear the words “mindfulness” and “compassion” as interchangeable, positive attributes to embody and integrate into our lives. Although complimentary, mindfulness and compassion are not the same.

Mindfulness is about maintaining a moment-to-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, physiology, and surrounding environment. When we talk about mindfulness, we also hear the term “loving kindness.”

So, what do these words really mean, how are they interwoven, and why is practicing them within marriage so important?

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. explains, “In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So, if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”

Simply put, by practicing mindfulness and compassion, you powerfully bring your heart and mind together as one.

Mindfulness in marriage is about being receptive to your relationship experience and being present without judgment, while loving kindness and compassion are about embracing the fact you want to be free of pain and suffering and that your true wish is to alleviate yourself, as well as others, from this suffering.

Why Do You Need Heartfulness?
So, why do you need heartfulness – that melding of mindfulness and compassion – in your relationship? Because relationships are hard! Applying heartfulness in your marriage can help you, as Dr. John Gottman explains, to soften your startup. You are more able to be present, aware, and attentive of what you communicate and how it impacts your partner when you are talking to them. Practicing this on a daily basis helps you to see things clearer, view interactions through a lens of kindness rather than judgment, and act with calm wisdom instead of reacting. Softening the startup of your communications with your partner in this way will lead to a more stable and happy relationship.

The Benefits of Heartfulness
Approaching your marriage with heartfulness will produce numerous long-term benefits. Here are a few of the positive effects it can have on you and your spouse:

• The ability to handle difficult emotions with greater ease
• New perspectives on stressful situations
• More fluid communications
• Improved emotional well-being
• Transformation of your potentially difficult relationship

Integrating Heartfulness Into Your Marriage
The key to being heartful is to actively listen to your partner with an open heart and without judgment. Instead of thinking of the next thing that you’re going to say, be present and compassionate to what your partner is going through and what they are trying to communicate. The only way to do this is to step out of your own story so that you can fully take in and acknowledge what your partner is experiencing.

Now, I’m not saying that stepping out of your story is easy. By human nature, we’re all susceptible to falling prey to our own self-defeating narratives. Getting unstuck from this place takes yet another level of heartfulness – one that is focused inward.

I’ve certainly experienced the challenge of focusing heartfulness inward. There were times in my marriage where I became frustrated and critical with my late husband, Steve, saying things to him that could have been delivered more mindfully. Luckily, he dabbled in eastern practices and psychology himself, so when he saw I was triggered he had the wisdom to gently guide me towards having more self-compassion. In these instances, Steve would remind me to get in touch with my feelings and say, “Why don’t you take a moment and give yourself some compassion and then we can revisit and talk about what’s bothering you a bit later?”

Stepping back and changing my attitude towards myself first allowed me to calm down. I could then, in turn, be more trusting toward my husband and move forward communicating more openly.

The next time your buttons get pushed, or you start to blame your partner for something, take the opportunity to give yourself some compassion first. Then, after you are calmly refocused, make the space and effort to re-focus some of that compassion and kindness on your partner.

Heartful Affirmations
Practicing heartfulness can be as simple as expressing loving kindness and compassion through short and thoughtful affirmations. The next time you are upset, try saying the following out loud:

To yourself:
• “I am filled with loving kindness.”
• “I am safe and protected.”
• “I will get through this.”
• “I accept myself just the way I am.”

To your partner:
• “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you find peace.”
• “May you accept yourself just as you are.”
• “May you be filled with loving kindness.”
• “May you live with ease and peace.”

The key is to find affirmations that resonate with you. Say these phrases softly, with a spirit of kindness towards yourself and your partner. Adopting a spirit of caring and kindness will make you feel more connected and most likely trigger a significant shift in your relationship. This shift will cause new pathways of understanding to open up, making you feel cared for, connected, safe, and protected.

Whatever your experience, commit to moving forward with mindful acceptance. Practice non-judgment and remember to extend equal amounts of compassion to your partner and yourself. Even though you may not always agree with or even understand what your partner is saying, integrating heartfulness into your marriage will enable you to be compassionate with each other in times of struggle and embrace the imperfections of your relationship with loving-kindness. Collectively, this is a powerful force for overcoming the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

As you can see, injecting your marriage with heartfulness – that powerful blend of mindfulness and compassion, towards your partner and yourself – doesn’t have to be complicated.  As Dr. Gottman says, “It’s the small things done often that make the difference!”

 

Resource: Gottman Blog

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Negativity and Relationships The None-Too-Subtle and Destructive Force of a Negative Attitude

Negativity is like cancer. Even if you do not notice the negativity from the start, it eats away at you, inside, until it affects every aspect of your life. Once this happens, it is difficult to find peace, contentment, or happiness, or even to see the bright side of a gloomy situation. Negativity not only ruins your mood and outlook, it adds undue stress that can lead to an untimely demise, and negativity has a lasting effect on your relationship as well. Negative and relationships is not a good mix. A negative attitude influences your life, but it also affects those around you. Your bad attitude can influence anyone you encounter, potentially ruining his or her attitude or whole day. And if your negative mood can ruin the mood of someone you are not close to, imagine what it can do to the people you are close to – especially your spouse or partner.

Negativity and Brain Science
Negativity destroys your own mind – thoughts, moods, attitudes, etc. – and it can be difficult to recover from long-term negativity. This pattern in thinking becomes a habit, and over time, it is nearly impossible to remember how to think optimistically or to change the pattern from negative to positive. That’s not to say it cannot be done; many people have successfully defeated this monster, but it takes time and effort to change your way of thinking. Most people, however, are so caught up in their pessimism, brought on by circumstances and poor coping skills, that they fail to consider or realize the influence their sharing of these thoughts has on others.

Negativity shared with another person not only brings them down as well, potentially destroying their mood and thought pattern; it also has a physical effect on the brain. The hippocampus – the section of the brain responsible for problem solving – shoulders the burden caused by negativity.  It takes a mere thirty minutes of listening to someone’s complaints and negative thoughts to begin destroying neurons within the hippocampus. Essentially, those exposed to the negativity find it difficult to think, learn, or concentrate, and the scientific explanation is that this destruction of neurons turns the brain to “mush.” In a manner of speaking, exposure to just half an hour of negativity makes people dumb. The destruction of neurons has some effect on intelligence, ability to focus, ability to reason, and problem solving skills. And even if a person’s intelligence doe not noticeable diminish, their brain is still affected by the dominance of negativity. It’s not really fair to expose others to your negative thoughts, given the effects they are bound to experience.

Negativity vs. Valid Concerns
Negativity and valid concerns are two very different things. Negativity is wrought with ‘poor me, pity me” words such as “impossible” and “never,” and inaction. Negative complainers rarely want to take action and make the effort to change things; they simply want to complain for the sake of complaining and for some attention. The old adage that “Misery loves company” is true, even if the Negative Nelly in question does not consciously intend to bring others down. Valid concerns differ because they are not wrought with negativity. They come in the form of advice-seeking questions or the need for a compassionate ear, followed by gratitude and a plan of action. It’s okay to voice valid concerns to your partner for the sake of their compassion and input. It’s the constructive strategy used to voice those concerns and the follow-up efforts employed that distinguish valid concerns from negativity.

Negativity and Relationships
Negativity often starts small; internal thoughts that dominate your mind until you implode or explode. Eventually, that negativity is shared with others, most commonly your spouse or partner. Moreover, if this pessimism continues, it will permeate your environment, even disrupting or destroying the best of relationships. Those with already difficult relationships may not be capable of recovering from such a blow, at least not without professional intervention. Listening to your negativity not only destroys your partner’s brain, it also leads to disagreements and eventual resentment. Your partner may tire of hearing your pessimistic attitude and after dealing with it for a time and even attempting to be encouraging, they may find it stressful. At this point, they will probably wash their hands of the issue, resigning to live with it or to cut and run. If they choose to just live with it, odds are they will not be happy. And if they run, well, much of this may have to do with some resentment.

Negativity is selfish. It is not encouraging or uplifting to your partner, and this self-absorbance leads many partners to believe that their significant Negative Nelly is not ambitious or action oriented and has no desire to change their way of thinking and no desire or time to consider their partner’s thoughts or needs as well. Even when love is present, negativity is a devastating blow that must be conquered or lead to reevaluation of the relationship.