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Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love… with Myself

Joshua Miller was just starting out as a clinical psychologist at a treatment center for addiction when a new patient sauntered into his office. People with addictions often have other disorders, so Miller was prepared for anything. “The first time we met, he put his feet up on my desk,” said Miller, now a professor at the University of Georgia. “It was a clear display of bravado, dominance, and entitlement”—key ingredients in narcissism. “It was like a dog peeing on your desk,” a show of territorial dominance that spells out, I’m the alpha male here. Don’t mess with me, you insignificant twerp.

There aren’t many personality traits that reference Greek mythology, in this case Narcissus, the beautiful young hunter who disdained human relationships and instead fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. While over 2,000 years would seem to be enough time to figure out where narcissists’ extreme self-love comes from, and what they think and feel and believe deep down, the study of narcissism is still shot through with controversies and unknowns.

But lately, Miller says, there is new understanding of the phenomenon. Psychologists are recognizing that, as a personality trait, narcissism can be beneficial in moderate doses. They are identifying what experiences foster it and questioning whether the self-esteem movement (every child should be constantly praised and rewarded for just showing up) may have produced a generation of narcissists.

Numerous studies find that levels of narcissism have been steadily rising among teenagers and young adults in North America. In a 2014 review, Miller and colleagues reported that compared to Americans 65 and older, those in their 20s were nearly three times as likely to have symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissism exists within virtually everyone to a degree, since at its core it is “the drive to feel special, to stand out from the other seven billion people on the planet, to feel exceptional,” argues psychologist Craig Malkin, author of the 2015 book Rethinking Narcissism and director of YM Psychotherapy and Consultation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Malkin argues that it can be a useful trait, providing self-confidence when we might otherwise give up on a goal. Teens with moderate narcissism tend to be less anxious and depressed, and to have better relationships, than teens at the high or low end of the scale.

Narcissists believe the rules of office behavior, friendship, marriage, and social interaction don’t apply to them.

Scoring at the low end generally indicates basement-level self-confidence and self-regard. This disposition can be crippling: Me? I’ll never be able to do this. I might as well give up. Conversely, extreme narcissism is characterized by a need to be treated as if you’re uniquely gifted, superior, and valuable. It breeds entitlement—Since I’m so great, I deserve everything I have and more—and a willingness to exploit: What are the inferior good for, anyway, other than to serve the superior? Extreme narcissists have little empathy: Feeling other’s pain makes no sense to them.

When narcissists are challenged—especially to the point of humiliation—they tend to lash out in an effort (often subconscious) to preserve superiority. His biographers say that Steve Jobs was an extreme narcissist, infamous for screaming at his employees and calling them a term for fecal matter whenever he felt their performance, which would reflect on him, was lagging.

Did he or other super-achievers have a mental disorder? Narcissistic personality disorder was almost dropped from the latest (2013) edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual (the DSM-5), partly because people with this constellation of traits are not necessarily distressed or impaired by them. (A condition must cause distress or impairment to be considered a mental disorder, according to the DSM.) The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: People who have the disorder do not rate its core traits—including sky-high self-regard and even the antagonism they typically feel for others—as undesirable. This research, presented by psychologist Joanna Lamkin of Baylor College of Medicine at the 2017 annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, found that narcissists don’t mind their egotistical traits: “They don’t want to change.”

The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: People who have the disorder do not rate its core traits—including sky-high self-regard and even the antagonism they typically feel for others—as undesirable.

The suspicion that narcissists secretly know, deep down, that they’re merely ordinary is therefore almost certainly wrong. Psychologists once thought they might harbor such self-doubts, explaining why they lash out viciously when challenged. Some still argue that the outward swagger and braggadocio masks profound self-doubt. But the emerging view is that there are in fact two forms of narcissism. Both have the core characteristic of extreme self-regard. On one hand, “grandiose narcissism” is marked by what Miller calls “florid immodesty” and extreme feelings of entitlement, which makes grandiose narcissists disagreeable, aggressive, outspoken, assertive, show-offy, and extroverted. In contrast, “vulnerable narcissists” don’t think of themselves as better than everyone, Miller said; their high self-regard is absolute, not relative to others. Grandiose narcissists are people like Steve Jobs and, according to a famous 1997 study, US presidents. Most of them, from Washington to Reagan, qualified as moderate to extreme grandiose narcissists, judging by descriptions in historical records. Chester A. Arthur had the highest narcissism score; Calvin Coolidge, the lowest.

When grandiose narcissists lash out, they’re not defending a secretly doubted superiority. Instead, they believe the rules of office behavior, friendship, marriage, and social interaction don’t apply to them. Being questioned and disagreed with are intolerable assaults on their superiority, and they make risky decisions because of “overconfidence in their own knowledge and abilities,” Miller said. Bernie Madoff thought his brilliance would let him fool not only his clients but also government regulators. This delusion earned him a 150-year prison sentence.

illustration of tree with "me" carved into it

The roots of extreme narcissism lie in what psychologists call “parental overvaluation.” In a 2015 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers in Europe concluded that “Children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them, for example, ‘I am superior to others’ and ‘I am entitled to [special]privileges.’” But lack of parental warmth, which children might overcompensate for by pumping up their self-regard, was exonerated, and so was the general self-esteem movement, unless parents really overdo it.

Parents probably can’t create an extreme narcissist from scratch, said Miller. Instead, inflated praise feeds what are likely genetic seeds of narcissism. “Of all the personality disorders, narcissism has the strongest genetic component,” psychologist Sander Thomaes of the Netherlands’ Utrecht University told the 2017 Association for Psychological Science meeting. The predisposition is exacerbated by telling children what they did is “fantastic, perfect, or extremely well done.” Narcissism tends to take hold in a child’s personality around age seven or eight, he said.

According to Miller, there is no empirically validated therapy for extreme narcissism, and less traditional approaches probably aren’t going to help. Scientists at the University of Amsterdam wondered if narcissists might benefit from mindfulness. As reported in the journal Self and Identity in 2017, they had volunteers (who rated very high on a scale of narcissism) engage in a five-minute exercise of focusing on the physical sensations of breathing, while observing any thoughts without judgment.

The debate highlighted an important facet of extreme narcissism: people who have the disorder do not rate its core traits as particularly undesirable.

Apparently, since narcissists’ thoughts tend toward their greatness and specialness, the absence of judgment let those thoughts run unchecked and unquestioned—so much so that their ability to identify emotions in people by reading their eyes actually worsened. Mindfulness seemed to give the narcissists “license to focus even more on their self-aggrandizing thoughts,” the researchers wrote, with the result that they could barely perceive others’ mental states. When it comes to narcissists, perhaps the contents of their thoughts are better left unexamined.

The Myth of Narcissus

Narcissus was known to be proud, and he held himself above everyone else, including those who loved him. Nemesis—the goddess whose job it was to mete out punishment for hubris (arrogance toward the gods)—could see how Narcissus was carrying himself. So she caused him to be attracted to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water. He immediately fell in love with it and was unable to understand that it was merely an image. Narcissus clung and clung to the beauty of his reflection, until he cared about nothing else. He stared at his reflection until he died.

This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.

Disarming the Narcissist

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The post Truly, Madly, Deeply in Love… with Myself appeared first on Mindful.

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6 Ways to Rev Up Your Workout Resolutions

Getting healthy and staying fit in 2018 may not be as hard as you think. Consider adopting these tried-and-true solutions. Doing so may give you a boost of inspiration when the winter cold lures you toward the couch.

1) Find a buddy

Make a commitment to exercise with a friend or coworker once or twice per week. It helps to choose someone you wouldn’t want to disappoint. This will hold you accountable and improve the likelihood of staying consistent. Besides, working out with a friend makes sweating more fun.

2) Turn on the tunes

In a 2013 study, researchers showed that pumping up the music while we exercise significantly improves our mood. Listening to inspiring tunes while exercising also distracts you from fatigue and motivates you to work out longer and harder. Plug in, tune in, and turn it up.

3) Prepare

To maintain your routine, plan ahead. On Sunday evening, grab your calendar and schedule your daily workouts for the week. Add all possible types of exercise, including walking the dog, trips to the gym, and dancing with friends. Plan your ideal schedule in detail, then hold that schedule lightly. As we know, sick kids and jammed traffic easily get in the way of our best-laid plans.

4) Get outside

It’s often said that if you need to solve a problem, go out for a walk. Get some fresh air, clear your mind, and you’re likely to return home with your answer. Especially during the shorter days of winter, spending time outside can improve focus, reduce symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and lower stress levels. Bundle up!

5) Sign up for a class

Facing a work-out during the cold, dark winter months can be disheartening. Doing it on your own makes exercising even more daunting. The antidote to lonely miles on the treadmill is to register for a series of classes. Find a yoga or rock-climbing class—or hit the dance floor. Make your work-out social, and you’re more likely to have fun and stay motivated.

Make your work-out social, and you’re more likely to have fun and stay motivated.

6) If you can’t get outside, then turn up the lights.

Research shows exercising under bright lights lifts our moods, especially in the winter months when daylight hours are limited. Gyms are great for keeping the floods on. If you exercise at home, be sure to head for the brightest room in the house.

 

 

This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine in a featured article titled, “Winter Got You Down? Move Around!

 

 

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The post 6 Ways to Rev Up Your Workout Resolutions appeared first on Mindful.

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Get More from Your Glass of Wine with this Mindful Drinking Exercise

Moderate drinking is something most of us do. No reason not to pay attention while doing it! Try this mindful drinking practice, a variation on mindful eating.

You’re in a bar. It’s dark, and all around people chatter, but maybe not to you. You’re waiting for your drink to arrive, which it does, finally. Just before you automatically reach for it, stop: take a breath and notice that your liquid refreshment holds a key to the Technicolor present moment…even if it’s only water or club soda! A mindful drinking practice can help you experience the vivid aliveness of your life, with or without alcohol.

Just before you automatically reach for your drink, stop: take a breath and notice that your liquid refreshment holds a key to the Technicolor present moment…even if it’s only water or club soda!

1. Take a breath. Go on, you deserve it. It doesn’t have to be an obvious breath or anything that causes people nearby to call 911, or move away, just an intentional breath. All the way in, all the way out. You might notice tightness in your belly as you breathe. Being alone in a bar can feel daring; notice this and see if you can gently use your breath to breathe into and soften wherever it feels tight.

2. See if you can place your whole attention on taking in the visual experience of your glass. You might notice its shape mingled with the contents. Why not take this moment in? It will never come again. Is there a thought or emotion when you reach for the glass? No good, no bad, just noticing whatever’s there.

3. Pick up the glass. Is it smooth? Does it have weight? Are the contents cold? Warm? Anything? Bring the glass closer; become curious about the color or viscosity of the contents. Are there sugar-legs flowing down the sides if you swirl it? Do the shapes change?

4. Now bring the glass to your nose. Breathe in. Is there a moment where you go from room air to fragrant explosion?

5. When you’re ready, bring the glass to your mouth, and rub it lightly along your lips. Notice any internal combustion when you bring a glass to your lips, but do not drink: Are thoughts popping up? Any body sensations? Emotions? Changing a habit, like bringing a drink all the way to your lips without drinking, can trigger an internal frenzy of activity.

6. Now take a sip and hold it in your mouth without swallowing. Slosh it around. Stay present to the sensory experience happening now, inside you. Neurons are firing their little heads off—can you feel anything? Gently focus attention on the felt experience. If you notice your mind wandering to thinking about drinking, or about anything at all, try to come back to mouth-land.

7. When you’re ready, swallow with intent. Now, take a moment to see what happens in your mind.

This article also appeared in the April 2015 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

 

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Mental Health for All

On days when things are going really badly, it feels as if nothing you’d looked forward to is panning out and new problems keep emerging from around the corner. You didn’t plan on missing the bus, and then the strap on your backpack broke, and just then your sister called to say she had some worrisome test results. And right about then, a friend tells you to “Just relax!”

How annoying is that?

Relaxation is distinctly not something you can just command yourself to do. It needs to come over you and perhaps, ultimately, to overcome you. That’s one of the reasons so many of us grow to appreciate mindfulness practice. It sneaks up on stress from the side. It lulls us into letting go of obsessively grasping for a permanent security blanket. But we’re not instructed to “just relax.” We’re instructed to pay attention to something that can’t help but be in the present: the breath, the body, sensations. Paradoxically, as our attention and focus increase, our excess stress decreases. We become, for a time at least, a well-tuned instrument.

Paradoxically, as our attention and focus increase, our excess stress decreases. We become, for a time at least, a well-tuned instrument.

We all crave—and need—this relief so much that it’s tempting to stop there. Mindfulness practice relaxed us (maybe even better than sleep), end of story. This notion persists in the popular media: The point of meditation is to escape to your own private bliss-island, to get away from it all.

But that would be a waste of all that relaxation.

The point of the relaxation is not to get away from it all; it’s to get into it all. Mindfulness doesn’t end at relaxation. It begins there. The relaxation gives you just enough stability to see what’s happening in your mind and to gently inquire, investigate. What you see may start to upset you, but you have a chance to see patterns form in your mind and to detect firsthand the formation and continuation of habits that drive your actions.

It can be tough stuff, so at that point, you just notice it and come back to the anchor in your practice, such as your breath. Encountering what’s lurking in your mind—the good, the bad, and the ugly—may inspire you to develop more relaxation, so you can go diving and exploring again and see more.

That’s why mindfulness is a practice for mental health…for everyone’s mental health, which is the motivation behind the work of the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, in Toronto (full disclosure: I serve on the board of directors). Among its many offerings, the Centre trains mental health professionals in mindfulness so they can first reduce their own stress, then help their clients with mindfulness- based skills to resiliently work with the mental challenges of their daily lives. The Centre’s community work, carried out in partnership with social service agencies, has a peer-to-peer component, whereby the clients themselves draw on their own lived experience and personal mindfulness skills to help other clients develop resilience and self-care. This practice of sharing can lessen the need for one-on-one therapy.

It’s a great example of how far mindfulness can go when we don’t stop at relief, but instead move on to real insight and habit change.

This article appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

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The post Mental Health for All appeared first on Mindful.

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When the Mind Goes Dark

As nearly 10,000 freshmen and transfers arrived on campus at the University of California, Los Angeles, last fall, they were invited to try something never before offered during student orientation: depression screening.

The hope, administrators explained, is that by identifying their risk for depression, students can get the support they need before they face the rigors of academia and the disorienting experience of living away at college. There’s reason for the concern. In 2016, a record high of almost 12% of UCLA freshman reported “frequently” feeling depressed in the past year. And a report from Penn State, drawing data from 139 university and college mental health services, found that in the 2015–2016 year, use of these services increased by 30%, although enrollment grew by just 5%. This included “a persistent increase in ‘threat-to-self’ characteristics such as nonsuicidal self-injury and suicidal ideation.”

The screening initiative—which will be extended to the entire student body eventually—is part of the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge, a landmark effort to understand one of the most pervasive and debilitating health conditions in the world, one that affects an estimated 350 million people and contributes to the suicides of 800,000 people, including 40,000 Americans, every year.

The university launched the challenge in 2015 as a multiyear, interdisciplinary study to develop better methods of understanding the genetic and environmental causes of depression and to improve detection, evaluation, and treatment. The goal is ambitious: to cut the global depression rate in half by 2030.

This comes at a time when public health officials around the world struggle to get their hands around what is considered the leading cause of disability among adults, costing some $210 billion in medical and long-term care and lost productivity hours each year.

“That depression has not been identified as our number-one health issue astounds me,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in announcing the campus-screening program in September 2017.

 

This is an excerpt of Mindful’s feature on depression from the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine. Subscribe to the digital issue of Mindful to get immediate access to the February issue.

 

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How to Create Space for Socially Intelligent Work Relationships

When it comes to work, getting the job done isn’t the only thing that matters. The way we relate to our coworkers is also crucial—without healthy workplace relationships, it’s hard to accomplish much of anything. So how can we cultivate a positive social environment while on the job?

In his bestselling book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman describes how we’re biologically hardwired to “tune in” to one another. In fact, one of the central skills of social intelligence, he found, is attunement, which is our ability to build rapport with others by offering total attention and listening fully.

Building relationships at work is not just a matter of “knowing the right people” in order to get ahead.

Building relationships at work is not just a matter of “knowing the right people” in order to get ahead. Working well with colleagues elevates everyone’s experience, builds trust and mutual respect, fosters creative collaboration, and instills confidence that may even translate to greater professional opportunity.

The Role of Meditation

Science is exploring how mindfulness meditation strengthens our ability to attune to others—specifically, how it strengthens the part of our brain responsible for regulating emotions, heightening communication, and reducing anxiety.

What’s less measurable is how it helps us to see beyond our own filters. In work as in life, we tend to view people through mindsets that emphasize how we prefer them to fit into our world. For example, if we’re looking for a mate, we’ll filter their information for cues about the possibility of a relationship. Likewise, if we hope to make a business deal, we’re on the lookout for hints of opportunity.

While using social filters to discern such possibilities isn’t a problem, being unaware that we’re doing so is. Mindsets help us focus on what we need, but they also can blind us to what others may need from us. In other words, too often we unwittingly misread others, not appreciating them for who they truly are.

If we’re looking for a mate, we’ll filter information for cues about the possibility of a relationship. Likewise, if we hope to make a business deal, we’re on the lookout for hints of opportunity. While using social filters to discern such possibilities isn’t a problem, being unaware that we’re doing so is.

By bringing your attention to your immediate experience, instead of relating to others through a filter based on your assumptions or needs, you interact with the actual, fully dimensional person.

The Impatient Doctor

I once coached a research scientist who struggled to “tune in” to his colleagues. One had complained that she felt diminished and disrespected by his impatience. After several months, we had a breakthrough conversation:

“How did your meeting with your colleague go yesterday?” I asked.

“I think I am getting better,” he responded.

“Did you notice anything new about her?”

He hesitated. “She does seem a bit tired.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. Like she was maybe sad?”

“Like her heart is broken?” I gently suggested, hinting that I knew more about the circumstances than I had let on.

With a glance of recognition, it was clear he suddenly understood what it felt like to tune in.

“You’re right,” he said softly. “She is sad. Why? I don’t know. It feels like I haven’t actually seen her until now.”

“And you may not know,” I offered, “that she has recently divorced and is now a single mom of two small kids.”

Like so many of us, my client had blinded himself to his colleague and dulled his natural ability to really see the complete person. Rather than listening, he had dismissed; rather than opening, he had closed off.

Like so many of us, my client had blinded himself to his colleague and dulled his natural ability to really see the complete person. Rather than listening, he had dismissed; rather than opening, he had closed off.

Through mindful self-reflection and training, he reawakened his instinct to tune in. And today, his ability to build socially intelligent relationships has greatly improved.

No matter where we start, we don’t need to be blinded by our filters. Mindfulness teaches us how to offer our total attention and listen fully. Healthy workplace relationships are just one of many potential positive outcomes.

This article appeared in the October 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

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Passion Will Spark Your Resolutions, Not Pressure

Whether it’s New Year’s or just another day, you can learn to cultivate resolve by gently investigating what it means to you to support your own decisions. Instead of being a floppy noodle, you can trust your ability to hold firm and notice the energy this gives you.

Evoking a clear image of something makes it more tangible. The RESOLVE practice is a gentle, 7-step guide to help you manifest whatever you want to achieve.

R — Recognize a yearning for change

So, you want to turn in a new direction? Then you’ve already got what you need to start making changes. Once you can see that you want more freshness in your life, you can kick your resolve into gear and make it happen.

E — Engage all your resources

As we learn to tune into the body, watch our thoughts, and become friendly with our emotions, we develop inner “resources” that we can call on to help us create a feeling of stability. Engaging your resources can include forming an allegiance with someone who is also seeking to strengthen their resolve. Anything that helps support you in your cause is a resource.

Engaging your resources can include forming an allegiance with someone who is also seeking to strengthen their resolve. Anything that helps support you in your cause is a resource.

S — Soften your need for speed

Instead, make headway slowly. Impatience can be a tremendous drain on your motivation. You learn as you go, so adopt a more relaxed pace that allows you time to investigate and learn from what you are experiencing.

O — Open up to why this matters to you

Let yourself feel why this is worth the effort. Recall that you chose this route because you were determined to grow your resolve. Return to this initial inspiration whenever you need a boost of motivation.

L — Learn to make allies of your obstacles

If you take the time to stop, breathe, and examine your obstacles you might discover that some dissolve under inspection. We often fear taking a stand.  We may use catastrophic thinking or overly exaggerate a negative result. Sometimes the greatest obstacle is the fear of change itself. We can gently notice this too. Awareness will feed our resolve.

V — Value your own efforts

It takes determination, energy, and powerful intention to connect with our heart’s desires. No effort is wasted. All will serve to strengthen your ability to trust yourself and your ability to stand up for what you want.

E — Enjoy the twists and turns

Plans have a nasty habit of changing or veering off course. Learn to adapt your route as your resolve propels you forward. The curve balls and surprises are what make life such a titillating adventure.

This article provides additional information related to a column titled, “You Say You Want a Resolution,” which appeared in the February 2018 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

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The post Passion Will Spark Your Resolutions, Not Pressure appeared first on Mindful.

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10 Mindfulness Researchers You Should Know

Since the early 2000s, research on mindfulness has been expanding rapidly. Here’s a look at 10 leaders in the field, what their research has shown us, and the future directions their studies are taking.

1) JUDSON BREWER, MD, PHD

Psychiatrist and Chief, Division of Mindfulness; associate professor, Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry; research director, Center for Mindfulness, UMASS Medical School

Known For:
Discovering how mindfulness can undercut addiction; using neuroimaging techniques to reveal how mindfulness affects the brain; developing mindfulness tools to help people quit smoking and handle food cravings.

Future Directions:
Examining the effects of mindfulness programs delivered via digital means. “This is the next generation of mindfulness delivery,” he says. “We want to carefully study how it works.” His team has created an app, “Unwinding Anxiety,” which he plans to study in future clinical trials.

2) DAVID CRESWELL, PHD

Associate professor of psychology, Carnegie Mellon University

Known For:
Examining what makes people resilient under stress and cofounding health neuroscience, which combines health psychology and neuroscience.

Future Directions:
He has begun a randomized controlled trial looking at how Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction may improve social relationships and healthy aging in older adults. In other trials, his team is examining whether adding acceptance and equanimity skills to mindfulness training can reduce stress and improve health.

3) LARISSA DUNCAN, PHD

Elizabeth C. Davies Chair in Child & Family Well-Being and associate professor of human development and family studies at the School of Human Ecology and the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Known For:
Developing ways to promote and assess mindful parenting; bringing mindfulness and compassion training to pregnant women, children, adolescents, and families.

Future Directions:
She’s planning a study to test how Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting affects mothers’ mental health, stress physiology, and well-being, and infants’ behavioral, biological, and neurological development. She’s also partnering with mindfulness experts of color, seeking ways to make mindfulness more widely accessible and culturally relevant.

4) ELISSA EPEL, PHD

Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine

Known For:
Groundbreaking work linking severe stress with shortened telomeres, cellular structures that play a key role in aging and disease. Her mindfulness research has focused on examining the benefits of meditation for people experiencing chronic stress and without previous meditation experience.

Future Directions:
Taking a closer look at how meditation affects people who’ve suffered adversity in childhood. “They tend to have certain patterns of thought that are ideal targets for meditation training,” Epel says.

5) PATRICIA JENNINGS, PHD

Associate professor of education, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Known For:
Innovative research on mindfulness in education. She recently published a randomized controlled trial showing that a mindfulness-based professional development program for teachers, CARE for Teachers, reduces teacher stress and improves classroom interactions.

Future Directions:
She’s conducting a randomized controlled trial of the Compassionate Schools Project. It aims to promote focus, resilience, empathy, and well-being by teaching mindfulness, contemplative movement, and social/emotional skills to students at 50 Louisville elementary schools.

6) AMISHI JHA, PHD

Neuroscientist, associate professor of psychology, founder and head of the Jha Lab, University of Miami

Known For:
Pioneering work, much of it funded by the Department of Defense—carried out with military, students, and athletes, showing mindfulness can protect attention and working memory and examining how to scale up mindfulness training for larger populations and make its effects long lasting.

Future Directions:
Adding compassion training to mindfulness techniques to study how the blend affects prosocial behavior and peer- to-peer support. “We’re looking for best training delivery practices; e.g., how to achieve and sustain maximum benefits with lowest time demands. Accessible training is key for broad adoption by high-performance and high-demand groups,” Jha says.

7) SARA LAZAR, PHD

Associate researcher in psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital; assistant professor in psychology, Harvard Medical School

Known For:
Studying the neuroscience of yoga and meditation. Her research has indicated that meditation may produce structural changes in the brain and slow aging-related brain atrophy.

Future Directions:
She’s beginning a study among adults with no previous meditation experience, testing whether mindfulness training can enhance and preserve memory.

8) MICHAEL MRAZEK, PHD

Director of research, Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara

Known For:
Finding ways to increase the effectiveness of mindfulness training, particularly in K-12 school settings.

Future Directions:
Over the next three years, he will be conducting a series of US Department of Education-funded studies to discover the best ways to teach mindfulness to high school students.

9) CLIFFORD SARON, PHD

Researcher, neuroscientist, Center for Mind and Brain; director of the Saron Lab, University of California, Davis

Known For:
Directing the Shamatha Project, a multiyear investigation of long-term intensive meditation (in the form of a three-month retreat). Findings so far are that the practice sharpens and sustains attention, enhances well-being and empathy, and improves physiological markers of health.

Future Directions:
Examining psychological well-being among Shamatha Project participants seven years after the initial retreat. And among participants in one-month meditation retreats, Saron is examining biomarkers of cellular aging, stress, and inflammation.

10) ZINDEL SEGAL, PHD

Professor of brain and therapeutics, University of Toronto–Scarborough

Known For:
Being a founder of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which integrates meditation into psychotherapy. A leading researcher on mindfulness and mood disorders, he has shown that MBCT can prevent relapses in people with depression.

Future Directions:
Segal is conducting a study at a large HMO examining whether adding a digital form of MBCT to standard depression care can reduce symptoms. Another study in progress examines neural changes, over a two-year period, in patients who have used MBCT and recovered from depression.

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

 

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Nature and Mindfulness Find Common Ground

The Nature Conservancy, the largest nonprofit environmental organization in the world, works to save the planet in an unusual way: not by opposing the big business interests often seen as villains but by partnering with them and other sectors of society, encouraging corporate leaders, policy makers, and citizens to understand the essential value of nature and to protect it by making wiser business decisions. Thanks to its hallmark inclusive, collaborative approach, The Nature Conservancy has raised billions of dollars over its 65-year history and enlisted many unlikely advocates to the cause of environmentalism. In 2008, the nonprofit appointed a new President and CEO who might have seemed an unlikely choice himself: Goldman Sachs investment banker Mark Tercek. But Tercek quickly won the respect of environmentalists and vastly expanded the work of The Nature Conservancy around the world. He credits not only his great colleagues, business acumen, and profound love of nature but also the practice of mindfulness meditation. He spoke with author Peter Jaret about the challenges of his job and the ways mindfulness has helped him.

When did the practice of meditation start clicking for you?
When I became CEO of The Nature Conservancy in mid-2008, it was a challenging time economically—the country was hit hard by the financial crisis. Nonprofits like TNC were having a very tough time raising money. And it was a challenging time for me personally. I had taken the helm of an organization with 4,000 staff members, offices in all 50 states and 70 other countries. There was a lot I knew about the work of environmentalism, but there was a lot I didn’t know. I was doing a pretty good job, I think. But I was also aware that in some ways I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to on the human relations front. I wasn’t connecting as well as I wanted to with the people who worked for TNC and the many partners we work with. Fortunately, a friend of mine, Marshall Goldsmith, who is a prominent executive leadership coach, offered to work with me pro bono. To get a sense of our organization and the job I was doing, he spoke with the senior team and members of our board of directors. He came back to me and said that in many ways I was doing a good job, but in other ways I was being a jerk. I wasn’t listening. I was being too demanding. I was sweating all the details. I was being too negative. So Marshall and I came up with a game plan to improve in those specific areas. I made some progress, but changing my habits was tougher than I thought. As it happens, I’ve always enjoyed reading about the practice of meditation, and I was doing so again. And I thought, OK, I should give it a try. Maybe it will help.

What was the experience like?
As soon as I began to meditate, I found I was making more progress incorporating the better practices that Marshall and I had set as goals at work. It was easier for me to listen to the people I worked with, to be positive and not sweat the small details. I want to emphasize that mine remains really a beginner’s practice of meditation. It’s still a beginner’s practice in many ways. But even so, I began to experience benefits. My interpersonal relations at work and at home felt better. One of my unfortunate habits, especially when I’m very busy, is to not listen well, to cut people off, to think that I have the answer to everything. No one likes that. It creates stress for everyone involved, including me. It meant I wasn’t getting the best from my colleagues and I was being unkind. On an intellectual basis, I understood that if I listened more and better understood other people’s point of view, everyone would benefit. But knowing that and doing it were two very different things.

So how did meditation help?
Well, it quiets my mind, calms me down, and makes it much easier for me to listen and to understand others better. It helps me slow down, not jump to conclusions, to do my work in a less stressful way. That’s one of the outcomes of a calmer, more mindful approach to work. And at home, when I remember to meditate, it helps me appreciate my family more and allows me to get along with them better. Once I began to notice real benefits, I got more earnest about my meditation practice.

What do you mean by more earnest?
By sheer good fortune, a friend of mine in Washington, DC, not far from where TNC has its headquarters, organized a meditation study group. It’s an all-male businessman’s group, run by Jonathan Foust, who is a great meditation teacher. He’s a leading teacher at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and a founder of the Meditation Teacher Training Institute, also in Washington. I also began to participate in many of the DC-based mindfulness meditation gatherings. So several things came together at once in my life to help me to develop meditation and really pursue it.

How do you find time in your busy schedule to meditate?
I try to keep it simple. I’m OK with doing meditation sessions of just five or 10 minutes, if that’s all the time I have, to sit very quietly and still, and focus on my breathing. I sometimes do a loving-kindness practice, which I find very helpful for me. I generally don’t make it much more complicated than that. I also sometimes use apps like Buddhify or Headspace, which can be very useful, I think. I often listen to the podcasts of Jonathan Foust as well as his wife Tara Brach. Something else I find enormously helpful in my practice is reading books about meditation. I’m a big fan of Norman Fischer, the author of my favorite book, Training in Compassion. I also like the work of Chade-Meng Tan, the Google executive who started Google’s Search Inside Yourself program and who teaches and writes about mindfulness. And I listen to podcasts like Dan Harris’ “10% Happier.”

Does meditation inform your work as an environmentalist?
In many ways, it’s really at the heart of our vision about how to work for the good of the environment. Our philosophy at TNC is to find common ground with diverse parties in an effort to make environmental progress. We believe that finding solutions for protecting the environment is a win–win proposition. Businesses can benefit; people around the world can benefit; governments and communities can benefit. So we work with a lot of groups that might not at first seem to have an interest in environmentalism. Our goal is to help these diverse interests understand that if we work together, we can make important progress that will benefit everyone. For me, as CEO, when meeting with outside groups, mindfulness meditation really helps. To the extent that I practice mindfulness and behave that way, I do a better job fulfilling my duties as CEO, consistent with the approach we champion. I genuinely believe there is a great untapped opportunity for environmental progress that can flow from a more mindful approach to working with diverse groups.

Can you give me an example?
Sure. In our view, the biggest environmental challenge by far is climate change. It’s also the most difficult to address. It requires radical changes in how humankind sources its energy. Those changes are difficult, and they have a cost. But the costs and consequences of not acting are even greater. We want to do everything we can as an organization to mobilize humankind so that we can get on with addressing this biggest environmental challenge of all. Unfortunately, in the US right now, one of the biggest challenges is the divisive and highly partisan climate of Capitol Hill on climate change. The US doesn’t have the kind of comprehensive, pragmatic, common-sense effective energy and climate policy that we need. Why not? One reason is the big divide between Republicans and Democrats, and between red and blue states. TNC has chapters in every state, red states and blue states alike. Each has a board of trustees representing diverse constituencies: Republican, Democrat, urban, rural. What brings them together is the simple fact that they care about nature and respect climate science. A few years ago we asked these groups to begin to engage on the subject of climate policy. And at first, there was some unease about this, especially in states that faced strong political headwinds. Some of these are states where coal is an important part of the economy, for example. And we understand that we have to get past such challenges. But as an organization we believe—even if it’s very difficult—that we really need to address global climate change. And this is where the practice of mindfulness comes in for me. We encourage our team to engage with people who might strongly disagree with us in a respectful way, an inclusive way, without vilifying anyone, looking for common ground. We work hard to understand where other people are coming from. I personally think the philosophy and approach of mindfulness helps inform our work. If I speak just for myself, I can say that from a mindfulness meditation practice, I’m better able to do the work of TNC. You have to walk the talk. You have to practice what you preach. And being a mindfulness practitioner helps me do that.

How does mindfulness affect the way you experience nature?
Nature and mindfulness inform each other in profound ways. They are both aligned. Nature can provide the same kind of calming, quieting effect, which is enormously therapeutic and joyous for me. And now, because I’ve learned a little bit about meditation, when I visit beautiful places to experience nature, I try to bring a full sense of deep appreciation and gratitude. To the extent that mindfulness helps me appreciate nature at an even deeper level, it deepens my commitment to protecting these precious resources.

Nature and mindfulness inform each other in profound ways. They are both aligned. Nature can provide the same kind of calming, quieting effect, which is enormously therapeutic and joyous for me.

Before joining TNC, you were a Wall Street investment banker for 25 years. That’s a dramatic career change. How did that come about?
Many have criticized Wall Street since the 2008 financial crisis, and to some degree that’s fair. But in my career, I worked with good people trying to do good things. I started in financings and mergers. Over time I began managing, which I really enjoyed. I believed—and still believe—that business can be a force for good on various challenges our society faces.

On the personal side, meanwhile, my wife, Amy, and I wanted our kids to experience nature. While we both have urban backgrounds, we decided to take our kids on trips to experience and appreciate nature fully. Of course, we were all hearing and reading more and more about threats to nature, including climate change. I guess I’d always thought that I would leave Wall Street someday for something else. In 2005, after 21 years with Goldman Sachs, I went to my boss, Hank Paulsen, and said I had this idea to leave Goldman Sachs and become an environmental leader. Hank, who is a very direct person and a committed environmentalist—and who went on to serve as US Secretary of the Treasury—said he had a better idea.

I believed—and still believe—that business can be a force for good on various challenges our society faces.

He asked me to stay at Goldman Sachs and build an environmental effort for the firm. So I developed the Goldman Sachs Environmental Markets Group and spent several years running it. I’m proud of what we did, identifying opportunities that were good for the environment but also good for our clients’ business. And I learned a lot in this role. When the TNC job became available, I applied, and in 2008 I became the new CEO.

What was that transition like?
Of course, as I said, there was a lot that I didn’t know about environmentalism and about TNC. But there were plenty of people here who knew all of that and could guide me. For my part, I brought a strong knowledge of business that proved to be very helpful. In fact, I hope more people will consider the kind of career shift I made. There are so many opportunities to go into different fields, bringing what you’ve learned, and helping different parts of society understand one another. That’s important, especially these days, when the country is so polarized. We need to find common ground and ways to move forward together. Sometimes when I talk about that, people think I’m being naïve. But I don’t think so. That’s where TNC’s history is so inspiring to me. Over the organization’s 65-year history, we’ve been so successful because we’re always looking for common ground with unlikely allies. It’s in our DNA. We start with areas we have in common and take it from there. We set out to listen, to understand other people’s points of view, to have more empathy. That’s a lot of what the approach of mindfulness practice is all about. It all comes together for me in a way I find super positive and rewarding.

What do your business colleagues think about you meditating?
Business people still have some discomfort talking about it. But that’s changing very fast. A lot of people are hearing more about the practical benefits of meditation. Actually, I sometimes wonder if those practical benefits aren’t being emphasized a little too much, at the expense of what I think of as the larger benefits to society. But then again, I recognize that my own interest in meditation was self-centered at first. I wanted to be a better manager. But now I’m learning that the primary benefit of meditation is helping me be a kinder and more compassionate person. I care a little less about me and more about others. That’s really what excites me now. After I had been at TNC a little while, some colleagues confided in me that it was hard for people at the organization to feel comfortable with me. They suggested that I share some of the things that were most important for me. So I opened up and shared the role that meditation plays for me. I’m more open about who I am—which I think is good—and I think I’m becoming a kinder person (even though I still have lots of room for improvement).

I wanted to be a better manager. But now I’m learning that the primary benefit of meditation is helping me be a kinder and more compassionate person

What was the reaction?
Of course, as you’d expect, some colleagues have a lot of interest in learning more about mindfulness practices. And I think the fact that I shared this important part of my life helped people get to know me and understand who I am. We recently offered our first mindfulness course at our headquarters in Virginia, and it was oversubscribed. People really liked it. Afterward, on their own, some colleagues created a meditation room at the office. Now we’re rolling out more course offerings.

Are you comfortable with being a role model for mindfulness?
I’m a humble beginner. I’m really just getting started. The good news is that even a beginner like me can get a tremendous amount out of mindfulness meditation. It has added a dimension to my life that brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy. If you were to say to my colleagues at work, or my wife and kids, “Mark says meditation practice has made him a better listener. He says it has made him more positive. He says he doesn’t sweat the little things as much. Is that true?” I suspect they would say something like, “Well, it’s true he has made some progress.” But they would likely also add, “But he has a long way to go.”

illustration of lizard and branches


Good for the Planet

The Nature Conservancy is working to create a future in which people and nature thrive together. That’s not easy these days, with booming worldwide populations, growing pressure on natural resources and habitats, and partisan political wrangling. But as president and CEO, Tercek remains optimistic about the future. He points to four areas in which the nonprofit group is helping to solve some of the biggest challenges that lie ahead.

Addressing the climate 

TNC is demonstrating nature’s potential as a cost-effective climate solution, helping people and nature adapt to the effects of a changing climate, and driving clean energy development that sustains communities while minimizing impacts on nature. According to Tercek, nature-based solutions for sequestering carbon, such as forest conservation and reforestation, investing in soil health, and restoring coastal ecosystems, could contribute about one-third of the emissions reductions needed by 2030.

Building healthy green cities

With a belief that nature can help create resilient and livable cities, TNC is bringing nature into cities to ensure clean and reliable water supplies, reduce air pollution, enhance infrastructure, and improve people’s health and well-being—from urban forests that provide shade and cooling to rooftop gardens that capture rain and grow food.

Feeding the world sustainably

TNC works with farmers, ranchers, and fishermen to increase food supplies while reducing environmental impacts. Strategies include improving the health of soil, advancing harvesting and ranching methods that protect nature and store more carbon, and developing and deploying technologies for sustainable fishery management.

Protecting land and water

Through innovative financial solutions and partnerships with indigenous people and local communities, TNC is finding new ways to safeguard the lands, waters, and oceans that serve as refuges for wildlife and biodiversity around the world. In Florida, for example, where climate change and rising sea levels threaten to put millions at risk of flooding, TNC is working with ecologists, economists, engineers, and local officials to explore the use of natural systems such as reefs, mangroves, and wetlands as a buffer against storm surges.

Taking on the Big Challenges

Mindfulness can easily be thought of as a retreat from the outsized challenges leaders like mark Tercek often face. But when things get tough, asking yourself what’s actually happening can be an act of mindfulness.

1) Scenario: Things get hot in a meeting and emotions take over

Response: If you ask yourself, “What outcome do I truly want here?” you may be able to see your true aim more clearly and defuse the excess emotion that may be getting in the way. It’s not about doing away with passion and emotion; it’s about assessing how to spend the precious resource of your—and everyone else’s—mental energy.

2) Scenario: Distraction keeps you from accomplishing important things

Response: When you have that feeling of being lost, you can inquire, “Where is the most important place for my focus and energy to be right now?” To help promote deep focus, try creating a 90-minute block on your calendar (say in the form of a faux doctor’s appointment)—that is your untouchable focus time.

3) Scenario: Negative mindsets shut down situations

Response: Ask questions of yourself and others that lead to solutions or at least greater understanding, not blame and recrimination: “What can we learn? What’s possible here? What are our strengths? What can we build on? What can we leave behind?”

4) Scenario: You take over too much—perhaps because you want to be the hero who fixes everything

Response: This is a prescription for burning yourself out while undermining others’ opportunities to learn and become empowered. You need to ask, “Why am I really doing this? Does ‘helping’ make me feel important?”

You may come to see that you’re less overwhelmed and the team is more capable when you delegate authority to others.

5) Scenario: You regularly interrupt people

Response: Oops! There goes that hair trigger again. See if you can use your bodily senses as an early warning system to interrupt hasty outbursts. Ask yourself, “What happens in my body the moment before I interject?”

See if you can step back and ride out the impulse to interrupt.

By Jeremy Hunter, Founding Director, Executive Mind Leadership Institute, Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management, Claremont Graduate University

This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
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A Meditation for Moving On

Acceptance is not about liking something or agreeing with something—It’s simply about acknowledging what is happening, what is true in this moment. The more we can accept each moment as it is, the less we suffer.

Sometimes there are things in our life that we’re not crazy about, that are quite unpleasant, very distressing even—and yet there’s nothing we can do about it. And in those moments acceptance, acknowledging what is true without adding on layers of “I don’t want this to be true,” “It’s not fair,” “I don’t like this,” “Why did this happen to me,” can help us get through these difficult times with more ease. Importantly, when we settle into acceptance and see the truth of our circumstance in the moment—if there is an opportunity for change, if there is an opportunity to do something different—we have a better chance of seeing it. We have a better chance of developing wisdom about the possibilities in this moment when we see each moment with clarity.

1) First, find a comfortable seat in a chair or on a cushion. Let your back be tall but not stiff. Hold your head so your ears are above your shoulders with your chin slightly tucked. Drop your shoulders, rest your hands in your lap.

2) Then, notice the feeling of breathing. Become aware of your body breathing, settling your attention on the place in your body where you most easily experience the sensation of the breath flowing in and out. Let your breathing be normal and natural—no need to try and change it or shift it. See if you can let your awareness be open and relaxed. As you watch your breath, you create a sense of spaciousness, not a tight or clamped-down feeling. Spacious awareness: Allowing your breath to come and go.

3) If you’ve noticed your mind has wandered, come back to the breath. When you notice your attention has wandered, bring your attention back to your breath without criticizing yourself or your wandering mind. Accept in the moment that that’s what our minds do: they wander and we can work with that by being willing, without judgment, to simply begin again.

As you sit in meditation, you will likely have some moments where you feel focused, or relaxed, or at ease. It’s easy to accept those moments without trying to struggle with or change them. Other moments may seem unpleasant: you may feel restless, have some discomfort, an itch. See if you can hold those moments with some unpleasantness with the exact same quality of open curiosity as those moments that are more naturally easy. Just allowing each moment to be as it is, developing curiosity about it, watching the changing nature of your experience.

Accept in the moment that that’s minds do: they wander and we can work with that by being willing, without judgment, to simply begin again.

4) Now, shift your attention to any thoughts you are having in this moment. Notice what your thoughts are doing if you’re having thoughts about not liking something, wanting it to be different. Maybe there’s a conversation in your head where you’re trying to convince somebody to think or do something different. See if you can just notice your tendency to try to judge and change these situations.

5) Then, explore if you can let go of those thoughts. See if you can summon the willingness to let it be as it is. Perhaps even saying to yourself: “It is what it is,” and coming back to your breath, noticing that some of our discomfort is related to the way we struggle, the way we fight, and then maybe it’s possible to let at least some small part of that be. Come back to your breath, relaxing into the spaciousness of your present moment experience without judgment, with curiosity, with acceptance.

6) Once you feel ready, allow your eyes to open.

This web extra provides additional information related to an article titled, “Keep on Moving,” which appeared in the December 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.

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