If you’re picking a self-regulation goal—one where you have to keep saying no to yourself, such as drinking less coffee or cutting down on sweets—it’s important to focus on just one thing. “Self regulation is a limited resource,” Miller says. “We wake up with a certain amount and it gets depleted when you call upon it.” That’s why it’s easy to pass on the donut at breakfast but not so simple to say no to the bag of chips while watching TV after work.
2. Make it specific and challenging.
Once you settle on a goal, make sure it’s not too easy. Sure, it feels great to cross something off our checklist and know we’ve completed what we set out to accomplish, but if we lowball our goals, they aren’t motivating, Locke says. Study after study has shown that the goals we stick with are specific—preferably something that can be measured—and challenging.
3. Ask: Are you learning or doing?
Now that you’ve got a concrete goal, it’s time to figure out if this is something you already know how to do or something you need to learn. Say you’re trying to save money and you know you want to have $2,500 in the bank by the end of the year—that’s something you’re doing. Tracking your progress on this is fairly easy.
If you still need to figure out how much money you want to save or even the best way for you to save money, you’ve got a learning goal. Metrics are much harder on this. It requires more guess and check. Maybe one meeting with a financial planner is just what you need, or maybe you want to take a full course. Miller says you need to keep asking: Is it working? Am I getting closer to achieving my goal?
4. Break it into smaller, short-term goals.
Keeping with the theme of saving money, your goal will seem a lot easier when you take something big (like saving $2,500 in one year) and break it into more manageable chunks (like saving $208 per month). That way you can keep tabs on your progress throughout the year, Locke says.
5. Look who’s around you.
It sounds a little far-fetched and New Age-y to say we become the average of the people we surround ourselves with. But there’s solid science to back up it up! It’s called the social contagion theory, the idea that the people around us have a major influence on how we act. If you want to lose weight, it doesn’t help to hang around people who love fast food, and if you want to save money, it’s best to limit time with friends who like to go shopping, Miller says.
6. Prime your environment.
Hanging around the right people is only half of setting yourself up for success. You also need to surround yourself with the rightthings. That means getting rid of tempting triggers while also adding cues to remind us of our long-term goals. Computer passwords are a perfect example. (Serena Williams is known for doing this.) If you’re saving up for a trip to Paris, your password could be “France2016,” Miller says.
7. Add accountability.
Feedback is an essential part of successfully achieving your goals. Part of that can involve metrics—did you save the money you said you would this month? But it also helps to have people around who keep you honest, Miller says. That could be a walking buddy or a standing date with a friend to hang out at home on Friday night instead of spending money at a restaurant or bar.
There is nothing worse than going through a difficult time in your life and feeling like it was a complete waste of effort. Adversity has a way of defeating us and making us feel used up. But somewhere inside, we want to be able to make sense of our difficulties. We want to make them count for something positive, that all the pain we endured wasn’t for nothing.
I used to think adversity was something I had to suffer through to experience happiness. I avoided adversity, for the most part, hoping it wouldn’t come. But it did. It came with a force. Ten years of mental and emotional abuse in my childhood left me feeling defeated and broken as a young adult. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. I was often angry, defensive, and in survival mode most of the time.
Along my journey, I realized something important. If I could find a way to change the way I saw those 10 years of pain and defeat, then the pain and defeat itself would change.
I found a new way. Sometimes, another perspective is all it takes to give you fresh eyes on your obstacles. Instead of my childhood being something I had to get through, I saw it as a necessary step for me to become the person I am today. Without every aspect of the experience both good and bad, I wouldn’t have the capacity to be the real me, full of flaws and full of victory. Those 10 years of abuse are now something I welcome in and can talk about freely. It’s now my advantage.
As you work through a difficult time in your life, keep in mind these four mind shifts that will assist you in turning your adversity into advantage:
1. Adversity Is Temporary
Our difficulties have an expiration date. We may not be able to predict when it will be over, but know that it will come to an end. Adversity is not meant to last forever. The sun will come out again to shine in your direction. Remember that.
Even people with long-lasting physical illnesses can help alleviate their pain by making a choice to see the positive in everything, even the pain. When you welcome your temporary difficulties in, they immediately get smaller and more manageable. You get clearer on what action to take next.
2. Adversity Is an Anchor
Going through difficulties humble us. It makes us assess what is important and chart a new course for our life. My negative childhood experiences were like an anchor weighing me down. Until I made sense of my memories and reframed them into something positive, they would forever hold me back.
When I cut the anchor of adversity loose and said, “No more! I’ve had enough of this!” was exactly the moment I freed myself from a huge burden and began learning from what I had gone through. I understood that my adversity was the breeding ground for all growth moving forward.
3. Adversity Is Your Greatest Teacher
If you allow it, adversity can teach you what you need to learn to be the best version of yourself. I changed one word in my vocabulary that made a huge shift in how I view life. I changed to into for.
Life is not happening to me; it is happening for me. Once I changed that one word, my adversity became my ally instead of my enemy. I began to use my fears as a launching pad for the kind of person I wanted to become. Now, adversity is happening for me so I can be the best inspiration I can for others and transform my mess into my mission.
4. Adversity Reveals the Good
Author Napoleon Hill stated in the classic book Think and Grow Rich, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it a seed of equivalent benefit.” The more you are willing to seek a solution, to find the benefit in your obstacle, the more you will find what’s good in it.
An easy way to find the good is to practice gratitude. What are you grateful for in your life right now? I find five things I am grateful for first thing every morning. That helps me find more people and things to be grateful for throughout my day.
The Next Step
If you are ready to turn adversity on its head, remember that what you are going through right now is temporary and has an expiration date. Your difficulties are your anchor to charting a new course in your life full of promise and purpose. Adversity is your greatest teacher working for you, and the more you can see the benefit that results from it, the more positive and good you will find in it.
What better way to reach the next level of your life than to turn your adversity into your advantage? Start now!
As the New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flight to Pluto and some scientists explored the far reaches of our solar system, others were making some incredible advances in their exploration of the inner workings of the mind.
Studies published this year shed light on the mysteries of the brain and human behavior, and began paving the way for new treatments to mental and neurological health problems, ranging from addiction to autism to Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are eight fascinating things we learned about the human mind in 2015.
1. Smartphones are wildly distracting.
Americans are spending more time than ever looking at screens, and we’re only beginning to learn how this is affecting our brains.
Just hearing your smartphone vibrate is enough of a distraction to significantly impair focus and productivity, according to a Florida State University study published in August.
Another recent study found that heavy smartphone users are more prone to experiencing “cognitive failures” arising from forgetfulness, inattention and a lack of awareness of one’s surroundings, including things like missing appointments, walking into people and forgetting things.
“The studies are showing big effects,” Dr. Matthew Johnson, a behavioral pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University and one of the study’s authors, told HuffPost. “The exciting thing isn’t just that these drugs work for something that we already have treatment for. It’s that they’re getting big effects on disorders for which we have very poor treatment.”
3. Pollution is worse for the brain than we realized.
Just months before the world looked on in horror at Beijing’s “airpocalypse,” research found that exposure to air pollution can speed up brain aging, and may contribute significantly to neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
The study showed that small increases in exposure to pollution were associated with decreases of white matter in the brain — in other words, exposure to environmental toxins was “shrinking” the brain.
4. The brain and immune system are actually linked.
This year, University of Virginia neuroscientists uncovered a previously unknown direct connection between the brain and the immune system — a network of lymphatic vessels that previously had only been found to exist below the base of the skull, but were observed for the first time in the brain.
“When we discovered the lymphatic vessels, we were very, very surprised, because based on the textbooks — these vessels do not exist,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Jonathan Kipnis, told HuffPost in June.
The finding could have significant implications for the treatment of brain disorders involving inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and autism.
5. Erasing memories could be the future of addiction treatment.
Scientists hacking into the brain to erase or transplant memories is no longer just the stuff of science fiction. Memory erasure may soon be a reality, and it could help us better treat drug addiction by targeting drug-related memories.
“When the person is in-patient, they’d use this treatment once and it would target those drug-associated memories that could be triggers for them,” Dr. Courtney Miller, one of the study’s authors, said in August. “Later on, when they’re back in the real world, the memories wouldn’t serve as triggers because they’d be gone.”
6. Nature does the mind good.
We already knew that spending time in the great outdoors comes with significant physical and mental health benefits, but this year, researchers found that the psychological benefits of nature extend even further than we realized.
Research from Stanford University that was published in July found that outdoor strolls reduced the sort of obsessive, negative thoughts that characterize depression.
Another study published last month found that spending time in nature could also have therapeutic applications for addiction, and linked exposure to nature with reduced impulsivity and improved self-control.
“A nature-based treatment component may be a valuable addition to standard therapies for individuals struggling with substance abuse,” Dr. Meredith Berry, a psychologist at the University of Montana and the study’s lead author, told HuffPost.
7. To boost your mood, boost your bacteria.
The brain-gut connection has been another major theme in neuroscience and psychology research over the past couple of years. This year, research found that increasing the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut can help to reduce anxiety and also to lessen symptoms of depression.
One study showed that people who have more fermented foods in their diet — which are filled with healthy bacteria known as probiotics — exhibit less neuroticism and social anxiety.
“It is likely that the probiotics in the fermented foods are favorably changing the environment in the gut, and changes in the gut in turn influence social anxiety,” Dr. Matthew Hilimire, an assistant professor of psychology and one of the study’s authors, said in a statement in June. “I think that it is absolutely fascinating that the microorganisms in your gut can influence your mind.”
8. Good sleep is critical to a healthy emotional life.
It’s well-established that good sleep is crucial to psychological well-being — and that sleep deprivation, on the other hand, raises stress levels and has been linked with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems.
A landmark study published in July in the Journal of Neuroscience found that good sleep is also a key component of emotional intelligence. The researchers showed that losing sleep dulls our ability to read facial expressions, which is an important component of emotional intelligence. On the bright side, dreaming actually boosts this ability, the researchers found.
Below is a TEDx talk given by Mark Mattson, the current Chief of the Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. He is also a professor of Neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University, and one of the foremost researchers in the area of cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying multiple neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
I chose to include ‘Big Pharma’ in the title because that’s exactly what it is. There have been countless examples of the manipulation of published research at the hands of pharmaceutical companies in recent years. This is why Harvard Professor of Medicine Arnold Symour Relman told the world that the medical profession has been bought by the pharmaceutical industry. It’s why Dr. Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of The Lancet, recently stated that much of the scientific literature published today is simply untrue. It’s why Dr. Marcia Angell, former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, said that the “pharmaceutical industry likes to depict itself as a research-based industry, as the source of innovative drugs. Nothing could be further from the truth.” And it’s why John Ioannidis, an epidemiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, published an article titled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” which subsequently became the most widely accessed article in the history of the Public Library of Science (PLoS).
I also chose to mention ‘Big Pharma’ because of Dr. Mattson’s comments towards the end of the video.
“Why is it that the normal diet is three meals a day plus snacks? It isn’t that it’s the healthiest eating pattern, now that’s my opinion but I think there is a lot of evidence to support that. There are a lot of pressures to have that eating pattern, there’s a lot of money involved. The food industry — are they going to make money from skipping breakfast like I did today? No, they’re going to lose money. If people fast, the food industry loses money. What about the pharmaceutical industries? What if people do some intermittent fasting, exercise periodically and are very healthy, is the pharmaceutical industry going to make any money on healthy people?”
Main Points Of The Lecture Above & The Science To Go With It
Mark and his team have published several papers that discuss how fasting twice a week could significantly lower the risk of developing both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Dietary changes have long been known to have an effect on the brain. Children who suffer from epileptic seizures have fewer of them when placed on caloric restriction or fasts. It is believed that fasting helps kick-start protective measures that help counteract the overexcited signals that epileptic brains often exhibit. (Some children with epilepsy have also benefited from a specific high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet.) Normal brains, when overfed, can experience another kind of uncontrolled excitation, impairing the brain’s function, Mattson and another researcher reported in January in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.”(source)
Basically, when you take a look at caloric restriction studies, many of them show a prolonged lifespan as well as an increased ability to fight chronic disease.
“Calorie restriction (CR) extends life span and retards age-related chronic diseases in a variety of species, including rats, mice, fish, flies, worms, and yeast. The mechanism or mechanisms through which this occurs are unclear.”
Fasting does good things for the brain, and this is evident by all of the beneficial neurochemical changes that happen in the brain when we fast. It also improves cognitive function, increases neurotrophic factors, increases stress resistance, and reduces inflammation.
Fasting is a challenge to your brain, and your brain responds to that challenge by adapting stress response pathways which help your brain cope with stress and risk for disease. The same changes that occur in the brain during fasting mimic the changes that occur with regular exercise. They both increase the production of protein in the brain (neurotrophic factors), which in turn promotes the growth of neurons, the connection between neurons, and the strength of synapses.
“Challenges to your brain, whether it’s intermittent fasting [or] vigorous exercise . . . is cognitive challenges. When this happens neuro-circuits are activated, levels of neurotrophic factors increase, that promotes the growth of neurons [and] the formation and strengthening of synapses. . . .”
Fasting can also stimulate the production of new nerve cells from stem cells in the hippocampus. He also mentions ketones (an energy source for neurons), and how fasting stimulates the production of ketones and that it may also increase the number of mitochondria in neurons. Fasting also increases the number of mitochondria in nerve cells; this comes as a result of the neurons adapting to the stress of fasting (by producing more mitochondria).
By increasing the number of mitochondria in the neurons, the ability for nerons to form and maintain the connections between each other also increases, thereby improving learning and memory ability.
“Intermittent fasting enhances the ability of nerve cells to repair DNA.”
He also goes into the evolutionary aspect of this theory – how our ancestors adapted and were built for going long periods of time without food.
A study published in the June 5 issue of Cell Stem Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California showed that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and, moreover, induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal. It triggers stem cell based regeneration of an organ or system. (source)
Human clinical trials were conducted using patients who were receiving chemotherapy. For long periods of time, patients did not eat, which significantly lowered their white blood cell counts. In mice, fasting cycles “flipped a regenerative switch, changing the signalling pathways for hematopoietic stem cells, which are responsible for the generation of blood and immune systems.”
This means that fasting kills off old and damaged immune cells, and when the body rebounds it uses stem cells to create brand new, completely healthy cells.
“We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the heatopoietic system. . . . When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged. What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. ” – Valter Longo, corresponding author (source)
A scientific review of multiple scientific studies regarding fasting was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. It examined a multitude of both human and animal studies and determined that fasting is an effective way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed significant potential in treating diabetes. (source)
Before You Fast
Before you fast, make sure you do your research. Personally, I’ve been fasting for years, so it is something that comes easy for me.
One recommended way of doing it — which was tested by the BBC’s Michael Mosley in order to reverse his diabetes, high cholesterol, and other problems that were associated with his obesity — is what is known as the “5:2 Diet.” On the 5:2 plan, you cut your food down to one-fourth of your normal daily calories on fasting days (about 600 calories for men and about 500 for women), while consuming plenty of water and tea. On the other five days of the week, you can eat normally.
Another way to do it, as mentioned above, is to restrict your food intake between the hours of 11am and 7pm daily, while not eating during the hours outside of that time.
Bottom line, how you think about you’re diet is, in my opinion, one of the most, if not the most important part of staying healthy. How you think about what you are putting in your body is important, and I believe this will eventually be firmly established in the untainted, unbiased, uninfluenced medical literature of the future.
Below is a video of Dr. Joseph Mercola explaining the benefits of intermittent fasting. Here is a great article by him that explains how he believes intermittent fasting can help you live a healthier life.
The silence in my apartment felt unnervingly loud as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. “‘What’s different about today anyway?” I asked myself. “It’s just another day. Christmas is an overhyped commercial holiday. Ha! Those poor suckers, swiping their credit cards at stores with those dumb plastic decorations on display. Oh, and it’s for kids. Seriously. There’s nothing to be sad about, is there? So just get up and make some tea. Shake it off.”
It was the first time in my life I was alone on Christmas day. I was 23. I was separated from my husband and living in Australia, away from my family in the U.K. I felt heavy that morning in 2005 for two reasons. First, I felt sorry for myself, for being alone (as reflected in my defensive inner dialogue). Second, I felt stupid for feeling sorry for myself. It’s no secret that many people in the world had it a lot harder than I did.
Whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself, I veer between “It’s OK to feel down for a while” and “Pull it the f*ck together.” Never have I swung so much between the two than during that holiday. And I know I’m not alone. The holidays are an emotional struggle for a lot of people.
This time of year we remember people we’ve lost, especially the older we get. We think about the people we love who live far away. Perhaps we rue what we cannot afford to do or what we can’t afford to give to others. We might think back on the entire year and feel we have not achieved what we’ve wanted to. It’s melancholic just acknowledging these truths as I write them!
Many of us pause to consider what’s going on in the world beyond our life and the lives of the people we know too, especially given such tragic, recent world events. Universally, it feels as if our hearts are heavy this season.
There’s nothing like the season’s festive messages of peace, love, and togetherness to really make us contemplate our existence, our relationships, and what really matters to us.
If you are struggling this year, take some solace in the fact that no one’s life is perfect. And no one’s Christmas is like the movies. The holiday strain doesn’t discriminate against anyone. It can be the most bittersweet, highly charged time of year (even though that’s the part that we don’t talk about).
If this holiday season is a struggle for you, these six things can help you feel a little better.
1. Accept it’s tough.
There’s no sugarcoating it: Sometimes you will feel a little low. Even acknowledging this—that for a day or a few days you might be sad—is freeing. “This too shall pass,” as the old saying goes, is true. Within days you’ll be seeing “New Year, New You!” everywhere you look. Sigh. But take comfort in the fact that life presses on.
2. Do something nice for someone else.
The holiday season is ripe with opportunities to help others (find 41 of them here). It can be anything from volunteering at a local homeless shelter to sending an unexpected holiday card to the older lady down the block. A random act of kindness benefits the giver as much as the receiver (or more so, if you ask me). Or write a thank-you note to someone who helped you this year—a colleague, a teacher, a relative, the barista who serves your latte with a smile every morning (especially those Mondays when you really need it)—anyone.
3. Call an old friend.
Dial someone who’s a positive influence in your life, who you know would be delighted to hear from you. You don’t need a reason. Just say, “Hey, this time of year got me thinking of you… How are you?” You’ll be amazed at how this can lift your mood.
4. Treat yourself.
That Christmas morning in Sydney, I went for lunch at my best friend’s family’s house and then bought Vogue—a real indulgence for my budget at the time. I took it to the beach with an iced latte (Christmas is in the summer in Australia). That glossy mag was my gift to myself.
You deserve a gift too. Small or big, the best gifts are the ones you give yourself when you need them most. Treating yourself is an important act of self-care.
5. Focus on what’s going right.
What are three cool things that have happened this year? No matter how troubled your year has been, there is always light when you look for it. Take a friend of mine, who has been ill and is going through a divorce. I pressed her to tell me three positive things that happened in 2015.
She said, “I got my beautiful dog, Georgie. I discovered Wayne Dyer’s books and online lectures. And I don’t care if it’s called the ‘divorce diet,’ but hey, I’ve lost 12 pounds—check out my butt!” We had a good laugh at the last one. There’s always some good. Always. And to quote Dyer, “When you change how you look at things, the things you look at change.”
When all else fails, watch a funny movie (not a holiday movie or anything with a sentimental ending). Nothing lifts your spirits and disrupts your negative mental chatter like some hilarity. Try something with Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, or Will Ferrell in it. It’s OK to veg out and be lazy this time of year—ask any sane human. Take a couple of hours and watch the silliest movie you know. Even some funny YouTube videos will do the trick.
The Bottom Line
Remember this: Christmas will be over as soon as it began. You will be back to the daily grind before you know it, and you’ll probably wish you enjoyed the break a little more. So relax and breathe into it, whether you’re alone like I was or surrounded by relatives that challenge you. (And if it’s the latter, try these strategies for coping.)
The year following that lonely holiday, I spent Christmas with my boyfriend (now husband) and his loving, welcoming, warm family. A lot can change in a year. And a new one is nearly here.