Tag Archives: behaviour

Increasing Focus: Calming the Craziness

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AUGUST 6, 2012

As I was driving home through the city today I was distracted by all of the commotion outside of my car.  Tractor trailers were banging and clanging quickly past me. On the sidewalk, construction workers were shouting to one another, finishing up the day’s work. Loud noises, such as radios and car horns, were invading my quiet space. My thoughts were scattered and I was having a hard time concentrating on one thing at a time. My mind was racing from topic to topic. Then I realized; it all reminded me of a busy day on a nursing unit!

I know we have all had experiences like these: getting interrupted while calculating medication dosages, being called to the telephone while in the middle of patient teaching, or hearing a bed alarm and rushing away from talking to a family member about how their loved one is doing. This is the nature of our position as a nurse. We need to be in a million different places all at one time. We care for many people at the same time. We have so much to get done each day and so much responsibility on our shoulders. It can be a distracting role with its multiple facets and tasks.

Is anyone else cringing at the thought of “chaos” and “exhaustion” too?!?

One way to decrease distraction during your day-to-day routine is by using positive affirmations. Stating positive declarations can create greater focus, increased concentration and a sense of balance. Taking time out each day to sit quietly, breathe, and state these things either to yourself or aloud can have a deep impact on your happiness, peace of mind, and health.

When you take a minute to consciously quiet the mind, you create a mental space that is free from disruption. With practice, you can call upon this “space” of mind at any point during a busy shift.

Here is what you do. Make time each day, either in the morning or the evening, to quietly state each affirmation. Reflect on what it means to you. You can also begin to add affirmations of your own as you become comfortable with the process. Take a slow and deep breath in and out through your nose between each of the affirmations. Become aware how you feel and start to notice any shifts in energy, mood, or stress levels. Also, observe how you relate to others; your patients, your family, your friends, or your colleagues. Here are some statements I use that can help you get started:

  • I am exactly where I need to be as my journey in life reveals itself to me.
  • I honor my mind, body, and soul and treat each aspect of my being with respect.
  • I am a confident, knowledgeable, and successful role model as I inspire others to be the same.
  • I know great joy and peace and therefore have wonderful energy.
  • My speech is a form of love.
  • I am limitless in my capacity for joy, healing, and happiness.
  • I will achieve perfect balance and be successful in all that I take on.

Realizing that you are worth it and taking the time to sit quietly with your own positive thoughts will greatly affect your life on many levels. You will create a way to cope with distraction during your busy days. You will generate a calmer presence through slowing down and breathing. Knowing that you are a wholesome force of good that deserves peace and joy in your life will create a space of being able to receive for yourself. You deserve great happiness, peace, and love in your life.  Make room for yourself!

 

~Elizabeth “Coach” Scala is a Holistic Health Nurse, Integrative Wellness Coach, & Reiki Master who Guides Nurses that are Ready for a Total Wellness Transition on a Mind-Body-Emotion-Spirit Level. Find her and more information at www.livingsublimewellness.com.

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The Power of Negative Thinking

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By OLIVER BURKEMAN

LAST month, in San Jose, Calif., 21 people were treated for burns after walking barefoot over hot coals as part of an event called Unleash the Power Within, starring the motivational speaker Tony Robbins. If you’re anything like me, a cynical retort might suggest itself: What, exactly, did they expect would happen? In fact, there’s a simple secret to “firewalking”: coal is a poor conductor of heat to surrounding surfaces, including human flesh, so with quick, light steps, you’ll usually be fine.

Yuko Shimizu

But Mr. Robbins and his acolytes have little time for physics. To them, it’s all a matter of mind-set: cultivate the belief that success is guaranteed, and anything is possible. One singed but undeterred participant told The San Jose Mercury News: “I wasn’t at my peak state.” What if all this positivity is part of the problem? What if we’re trying too hard to think positive and might do better to reconsider our relationship to “negative” emotions and situations?

Consider the technique of positive visualization, a staple not only of Robbins-style seminars but also of corporate team-building retreats and business best sellers. According to research by the psychologist Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues, visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. She rendered her experimental participants dehydrated, then asked some of them to picture a refreshing glass of water. The water-visualizers experienced a marked decline in energy levels, compared with those participants who engaged in negative or neutral fantasies. Imagining their goal seemed to deprive the water-visualizers of their get-up-and-go, as if they’d already achieved their objective.

Or take affirmations, those cheery slogans intended to lift the user’s mood by repeating them: “I am a lovable person!” “My life is filled with joy!” Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that such statements make people with low self-esteem feel worse — not least because telling yourself you’re lovable is liable to provoke the grouchy internal counterargument that, really, you’re not.

Even goal setting, the ubiquitous motivational technique of managers everywhere, isn’t an undisputed boon. Fixating too vigorously on goals can distort an organization’s overall mission in a desperate effort to meet some overly narrow target, and research by several business-school professors suggests that employees consumed with goals are likelier to cut ethical corners.

Though much of this research is new, the essential insight isn’t. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers understood the need to balance the positive with the negative, optimism with pessimism, a striving for success and security with an openness to failure and uncertainty. The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope. Besides, they noted, imagining that you might lose the relationships and possessions you currently enjoy increases your gratitude for having them now. Positive thinking, by contrast, always leans into the future, ignoring present pleasures.

Buddhist meditation, too, is arguably all about learning to resist the urge to think positively — to let emotions and sensations arise and pass, regardless of their content. It might even have helped those agonized firewalkers. Very brief training in meditation, according to a 2009 article in The Journal of Pain, brought significant reductions in pain — not by ignoring unpleasant sensations, or refusing to feel them, but by turning nonjudgmentally toward them.

From this perspective, the relentless cheer of positive thinking begins to seem less like an expression of joy and more like a stressful effort to stamp out any trace of negativity. Mr. Robbins’s trademark smile starts to resemble a rictus. A positive thinker can never relax, lest an awareness of sadness or failure creep in. And telling yourself that everything must work out is poor preparation for those times when they don’t. You can try, if you insist, to follow the famous self-help advice to eliminate the word “failure” from your vocabulary — but then you’ll just have an inadequate vocabulary when failure strikes.

The social critic Barbara Ehrenreich has persuasively argued that the all-positive approach, with its rejection of the possibility of failure, helped bring on our present financial crises. The psychological evidence, backed by ancient wisdom, certainly suggests that it is not the recipe for success that it purports to be.

Mr. Robbins reportedly encourages firewalkers to think of the hot coals as “cool moss.” Here’s a better idea: think of them as hot coals. And as a San Jose fire captain, himself a wise philosopher, told The Mercury News: “We discourage people from walking over hot coals.”

Oliver Burkeman is the author of the forthcoming book “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.”

trigger – routine – reward

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Yes you can break that cake habit: Can’t survive the day without a sweet treat? A new book says kicking bad habits is easier than you think

By JANE MULKERRINS

PUBLISHED: 21:31 GMT, 8 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:31 GMT, 8 April 2012

Most of the choices we make each day — from the way we tie our shoes and brush our teeth, to the route we take to work and the coffee we buy when we arrive there — may feel like the products of well-considered decision-making but, in reality, they are habits.

In fact, research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren’t conscious decisions.

And even though each habit means little on its own, over time the snacks we eat, whether we smoke, drink, exercise, spend or save, as well as our work routines have a huge impact on our productivity, financial security, health and happiness.

Food for thought: Research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren¿t conscious decisions and are purely out of habitFood for thought: Research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren¿t conscious decisions and are purely out of habit

But while most of the time we know if we’ve developed a bad habit, it can prove almost impossible to break. No matter how many times you say you’ll give up smoking tomorrow or even just skip that afternoon chocolate bar, when it comes to the crunch, good intentions fly out of the window.

However, it doesn’t need to be like that, says investigative reporter Charles Duhigg. His new book The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do And How To Change promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patterns.

Duhigg uses the example of a 34-year-old woman called Lisa Allen, who had been smoking and drinking since she was 16 and had struggled with obesity for most of her life. In her 20s, she’d amassed £7,500 in debts and her longest job had lasted less than a year.

Charles Duhigg's new book promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patternsCharles Duhigg’s new book promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patterns

Three years later, however, she’d given up cigarettes and alcohol, lost more than 4st and run a marathon. She’d also begun a masters degree and bought a home. So, how had she managed to change her life in such a short space of time? Incredibly, reveals Duhigg, it all began with her deciding to drop just one of her bad habits — smoking.

Lisa’s marriage had broken down and, after much wallowing, she booked a flight to Cairo, a city she’d always wanted to visit. While in Egypt, she decided she wanted to go trekking, but was seriously out of shape. So Lisa vowed to give herself a year to prepare — a year in which she would need to give up smoking to be healthier.

Over the next six months, Lisa replaced smoking with jogging. In turn, this simple change altered how she ate, work and slept. That small decision in Cairo — the conviction that she had to give up smoking to accomplish her goal — had sparked off a series of changes that radiated to other parts of her life.

When scientists studied her brain in a series of scans, they found something remarkable. One set of neurological patterns — her old habits — was being overridden by new patterns. The researchers could still see the neural activity of her old behaviours, but those impulses were being pushed out by the new urges. As Lisa’s habits were changing, so was the physiology of her brain. Lisa’s scans showed she hadn’t lost the urge to overeat. When her eyes saw food, the areas in the brain that control cravings and hunger still responded. But over the year, activity in the area where self-discipline starts had become more active. All of which means that, like Lisa, it is possible for us to learn how to banish bad habits.

HOW HABITS ARE FORMED

They emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort, say scientists. Our brain converts sequences of actions into automatic routines, known as ‘chunking’. This process is at the root of how habits form. We rely on dozens, if not hundreds, of behavioural chunks every day. Some are simple: squeezing toothpaste on to a brush before putting it into your mouth. Others, such as making lunch, are a little more complex.

THE THREE-STEP LOOP

Habits are created by a three-step process or ‘loop’. First comes a trigger that cues the brain to go into automatic mode to choose which habit to use — anything from a smell, a place, a time of day, an emotion, or the company of certain people can start it off.

Next comes the routine. It can be something physical, mental or emotional, and range from an extremely simple action to something complex, from eating, drinking or smoking to putting on the kettle. Finally, there comes a reward that helps the brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. This could be the feeling that alcohol, food or nicotine induces, or an emotional pay-off, such as a sense of pride or achievement.

Over time, this loop — cue-routine-reward — becomes increasingly automatic, and the cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation emerges. Just the sight of cigarettes, for example, is enough for the brain to crave a nicotine rush. If it doesn’t arrive, the craving grows, until the smoker reaches, unthinkingly, for a cigarette.

HOW TO BREAK FREE – FOR EVER!

  • Identify the routine: Say you have an afternoon biscuit habit you’d like to break. The routine involves getting up, walking from your desk to the canteen, buying a biscuit and eating it while chatting to colleagues.
  • Experiment with rewards: What’s the reward for your biscuit habit? Is it really about hunger or low blood sugar levels? More likely is that you’re seeking a temporary distraction or an urge for human contact. Try out new ways to get those rewards — buy an apple instead or have a coffee. Instead of going to the canteen, talk to a friend at their desk. Fifteen minutes later, ask yourself if you’re still craving a biscuit.
  • Isolate the cue: When you get the craving to eat biscuits, where are you, what time is it, who is around you and what preceded the urge?
  • Have a plan: Having identified the urge, isolated the cue and worked on a new reward, you have figured out the habit loop. Now replace eating a biscuit with another action. If you repeat new routines for long enough, in time they will become the habit.

GOOD AND BAD HABITS ARE EQUAL

Habits never really disappear — they are encoded into the structures of our brain. Once we develop a habit of opening a bottle of wine when the children go to bed or snacking on biscuits mid-afternoon, those patterns always remain inside our heads. So far as the brain is concerned, it doesn’t matter if these habits are good for us or bad. In fact, it can’t tell the difference. All that matters is that a loop of behaviour has been formed that brings a reliable reward.

By the same rule, however, if we learn to create new neurological routines to replace unhelpful behaviours — if we take control of the habit loop — we can force those bad tendencies into the background, just as Lisa Allen did after her trip to Cairo.Once someone replaces a bad pattern with a good pattern, studies show the healthy habit — be it drinking tea instead of wine or rejecting the biscuits — can become as automatic as any other habit.

HABITS ARE POWERFUL BUT DELICATE

Studies indicate that families don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. But driving home after a long day when the children are starving, it’s tempting to stop at McDonald’s or Burger King ‘just this once’. But what happens is that this behaviour slowly becomes once a week, then twice a week — until a family is consuming an unhealthy amount of fast food.

When researchers tried to understand families’ behaviour, they found a series of cues and rewards. Every branch of McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same — it deliberately tries to standardise the architecture and what employees say to customers so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines. Even these powerful habits are delicate, though. When a fast food restaurant closes down, disrupting the habit loops of its customers, families that previously ate there will often start having dinner at home.

CREATING A NEW CRAVING

If you want to develop a new, positive habit, perhaps running each morning, it’s essential you choose a simple cue — such as leaving your trainers and running clothes next to the bed the night before. You also need a clear reward — perhaps charting how far you have run or luxuriating in the shower as the neurochemicals released by exercise flood your body with wellbeing. But studies have also shown that cues and rewards on their own aren’t enough for new habits to last.

Only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or the sense of accomplishment — will it become a habit to lace up your trainers each morning. In other words, as well as triggering a routine, the cue must also create an expectation of a reward.

To kick-start the process, you can bolt on an even more attractive reward: a small piece of chocolate or a big breakfast when you finish your run. Extra food might seem a counterproductive reward for exercise if your aim is to lose weight. But the goal here is to train your brain to associate a cue (running gear by the bed) with a routine (going out for a run) and a reward (chocolate!). In time — maybe weeks, maybe months — your brain will so closely associate exercise with a sense of reward that you won’t need the chocolate; it will just focus on the feelgood neurochemicals released by exercise.

LEARNING A NEW LOOP

We can learn new habits but we can never truly extinguish the old ones. To change a habit, you must strive to replicate the good feelings you get from bad patterns by swapping the bad pattern with a good one. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous asks alcoholics to identify the rewards they get from drinking — it’s often escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties and emotional release. The physical effects of drinking are usually far down the list.

In order to offer alcoholics the same rewards they get at a pub, AA builds a series of meetings and companionship to offer as much escape, distraction and catharsis as a night out drinking would. It creates new patterns for what to do each night instead of hitting the bottle, inserting new routines into old habit loops.

So, if you want to stop eating biscuits in the afternoon, identify your cue and your reward. Is the reward you are seeking to satisfy hunger? Or is it actually to alleviate boredom? If the latter, you can easily find another routine, such as taking a quick walk or seeking out a colleague for a chat.
Change can happen. Alcoholics can stop drinking, smokers can stop puffing, you can stop biting your nails or eating biscuits every afternoon. But there’s one more vital ingredient in changing a habit — belief. For habits to permanently change, we must believe that long-term change is possible. Start believing today!

The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg (William Heinemann, £12.99). To order a copy for £10.99 (including p&p), tel: 0843 382 0000.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2126924/Yes-break-cake-habit-Can-t-survive-day-sweet-treat-A-new-book-says-kicking-bad-habits-easier-think.html#ixzz1rXCRCdkE

self control urge surfing

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In my new book The Willpower Instinct, I describe one of my favorite studies of self-control. I call it the “torture experiment.” It reveals how mindfulness can help us break free from even the most difficult habits.

Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, invited smokers who wanted to quit to participate in a study. Each brought an unopened pack of their favorite brand of cigarettes. When the smokers were all there, Bowen seated them around a long table. Then the torture began.

“Take out your pack and look at it,” Bowen instructed. They did. “Now remove the cellophane,” she commanded. “Now open the pack.” She walked the smokers through each step, from breathing in the first smell of the opened pack to pulling out a cigarette, holding it, looking at it, and smelling it. Putting it in their mouth. Taking out a lighter. Bringing the lighter to the cigarette without igniting it. At each step, she forced participants to stop and wait for several minutes.

Bowen wasn’t enjoying the smokers’ agony; her real aim was to investigate whether mindfulness can help smokers resist cravings.

Before the torture test, half of the smokers had received a brief training in a technique called “surfing the urge.” [Click here to listen to Bowen talk about the technique.] Bowen explained to the smokers that urges always pass eventually, whether or not you give in to them. When they felt a strong craving, they should imagine the urge as a wave in the ocean. It would build in intensity, but ultimately crash and dissolve. The smokers were to picture themselves riding the wave, not fighting it but also not giving in to it. They were instructed to pay close attention to the urge to smoke, without trying to change it or get rid of it. What thoughts were going through their mind? What did the urge feel like in the body?

An hour and a half later, after being fully put through the wringer, all of the smokers were released from Bowen’s torture chamber. She didn’t ask them to cut back on cigarettes, and she didn’t even encourage them to use the surfing-the-urge technique in everyday life. But Bowen did give ask them to keep track of how many cigarettes they smoked each day for the following week, along with their daily mood and urges to smoke.

For the first 24 hours, there was no difference in number of cigarettes smoked by the two groups. But starting with the second day, the surfing-the-urge group smoked fewer cigarettes. By day seven, the control group showed no change, but those surfing the urge had cut back 37 percent. Surprisingly, for smokers who had learned to surf the urge, stress no longer automatically led to lighting up.

A new study sheds some light on what’s happening in the brain when we apply mindfulness to tempation. This study recruited 47 smokers who wanted to quit, and asked them to abstain from smoking for 12 hours before the experiment. The researchers taught the participants basic principles of mindful attention—like in Bowen’s study, it was a very quick and simple “intervention,” no formal meditation training required.

The researchers then showed the smokers smoking-related images designed to induce cravings. For some images, the smokers were asked to view them passively, without any special mindfulness to their experience; for other images, they were asked to view them mindfully. They also asked smokers to report any cravings they were experiencing. All the while, the researchers were watching what was happening in each smoker’s, tracking brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imagine machine.

First, the self-report: mindfulness reduced cravings. It’s counter-intuitive, because research has conclusively shown that images trigger strong cravings in smokers. But mindfulness seems to provide some kind of inoculation to the images.

The reduced cravings correlated with reduced activity in craving-related areas of the brain (e.g. the anterior cingulate cortex). Interestingly, mindfulness didn’t just reduce activity; it functionally disconnected the different regions of the brain that make up the “craving network.”

The experience of a strong craving is the product of several brain areas co-activating: regions that make you make you focus on the object of the craving; regions that create the mixed feelings of desire (anticipating the pleasure of reward, while also experiencing the pain and stress of not yet having what you want), and regions that motivate action to get what you want.

Paying mindful attention to the trigger of the craving interrupted this complex brain response, and ultimately protected smokers from their own desire.

It’s likely that this process can help all sorts of temptation and addiction, from food cravings to shopping addiction, substance abuse, and Internet porn. Want to get started? Researcher (aka torturer of smokers) Sarah Bowen leads you through the practice of surfing the urge (click to stream audio, or right-click/control-click and “save file as” to download MP3).


Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her latest book, which is full of strategies for mindful and self-compassionate change, is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

Studies referenced:

1. Bowen S, Marlatt A (2009). Surfing the urge: brief mindfulness-based intervention for college student smokers. Psychol Addict Behav, 23(4):666-71.
2. Westbrook C, Creswell JD, Tabibnia G, Julson E, Kober H, Tindle HA (2011). Mindful attention reduces neural and self-reporte