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The ‘Refrain but Don’t Repress’ Approach to Destroying Bad Habits

September 18, 2015 by  
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As human beings, we have many good habits that we’ve formed and held onto in our lives and then there are some bad habits that we’d really like to dump. Like most of us, you have probably observed and experienced how very difficult it is to change bad habits, whether the bad habit is overeating, overworking, sleeping too much or too little, watching too much TV, checking our email or text compulsively or some even worse habit or addiction.

In the last few weeks I’ve been reading an incredible book that I believe sheds tremendous light on habits including how to form good ones and how to break bad ones. The book by Pema Chodron is entitled Living Beautifully. I must admit that even though I’ve formed lots of good habits that have led to some very wonderful and rewarding successes in parts of my life, I’ve also had some bad habits that have hurt me, and it’s been so very frustrating for me to try to break or change the bad ones only to fail and fall back into them. But Pema’s book has some real answers and directions that, so far, seem to be a quite a breakthrough.

First of all, she outlines that part of the reason we have trouble breaking bad habits is because we are too hard on ourselves.  What most of us do when we end up doing something that we’ve tried to stop doing, is to get mad at ourselves, beating ourselves up mentally, then we try to repress our thinking and whatever we did that broke our promise to ourselves. She strongly suggests that instead, we come to recognize that we are fundamentally good rather than fundamentally flawed.

Probably Pema’s biggest lesson for us is a bit surprising. She suggests that if we are trying to break a bad habit, we need to think hard on refraining from doing what we promised ourselves but DON’T repress it. She goes on to say that many bad habits come from us trying to escape from uncertainty and fear in our lives in particular situations.  So when we are faced with the desire to fall into that bad habit, we need to examine our thinking to see what led us to that point and then just try to refrain from that action but not repress those thoughts.

Pema has science backing her up on this issue.  She says “Science is demonstrating that every time we refrain but don’t repress, new neural pathways open up in the brain. In not taking the old escape routes, we’re predisposing ourselves to a new way of seeing ourselves, a new way of relating to the mysteriously unpredictable world in which we live.” And in the process we are hard wiring our brain to do the right thing automatically.

What I learned from Pema is already working well on a couple bad habits that I’ve been trying to break for years and I am so pleased!! Try it yourself and you may well see what I mean and find success.

The Advantage of Honest Answers

August 7, 2015 by  
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There are certain questions that most of us hear nearly everyday. They go something like:

  • How are you doing?
  • How are you feeling?
  • How’s everything in your life these days?

And what is our usual response?

  • I’m doing fine.
  • Oh, I feel pretty good.
  • Things are moving along.

The answers that you normally don’t hear are:

  • Not too good today.
  • Oh man, I am feeling very depressed.
  • Things are not going well in my life right now.

In our polite society we usually don’t dump our problems on others, not even our relatives or close friends. In most situations, that’s a good and considerate thing.  But sometimes it might be a good for you and me to open up and tell the full truth, voice the negative or tough things that are going on in our lives and in our minds. Why? Because many times friends and relatives can be a big help.

It’s kind of strange that it’s perfectly acceptable in our society to tell someone that you have a cold but it’s a no-no to tell a friend you’re feeling down or depressed. Both conditions are real and there are treatments for both.

Recently, I met a longtime friend who said in the usual manner, “Hey Mark, how are you doing?”  Suddenly, and to my surprise, I found myself telling him the truth, saying “Man oh man … I’ve really been depressed lately.”

Next thing I knew I was quickly apologizing for dumping my personal problems on him. But to my surprise he was not taken aback by my honesty but rather told me in turn that he too gets down and depressed.  I was surprised to hear him say that because he always seems to be on top of the world and so very happy.

He then gave me some very good advice on things I could do to pull myself out of my slump and in a very short order I began to feel better.  The advice he gave me were things I already knew but had slowly stopped doing. Things like eating foods that improve your mood and taking supplements like 5HTP and Saint John’s Wort. And just as important as all the rest … pushing myself to stay busy and keep connected to friends and relatives.

I think because I am a healthy and very wealthy person, people look at me and think I am always upbeat and positive and never get depressed.  But, many times the problem is my advantages in life also make it difficult to feel motivated–I don’t have to work and I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to. Even though that might seem to be a very good thing, it can be such a bad thing and can almost drive you crazy.

We all need to keep busy. We need to stay engaged and connected to friends and relatives. We also need challenges which mean constantly setting goals for ourselves and staying on track as we pursue those goals.  Yes, I am preaching an old subject to you but I am very definitely preaching to myself! Because we all need a little reminder now and then. And to get that, sometimes all it takes is giving a friendly question an honest answer.

Finding Our Higher Selves

October 17, 2014 by  
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On Monday I was feeling down. I had no energy, my bones were still aching from a loss in the finals of a big tennis tournament, and I had a big headache complete with a loud ringing in my ears (which has gone on for many years, but I usually mentally block it out.) The bottom line … I was absolutely miserable. Then came the phone call. It was my darling wife Kimberly. She was so upset and crying that at first I couldn’t understand what she was saying. When she calmed down she told me that she had just received a suicide note from a dear and sweet lady that she is very close to. This wonderful lady has had some tough times and huge ups and downs lately and now just wanted out of life. She just wanted to “fly away”.

In a great panic we set out in separate cars to try to find her. We both ended up at the lady’s house. We banged on the door, rang the doorbell and finally we were able to enter the house after finding a hidden key but were afraid of what we might find. The house was dark and the power was off. Quickly searching the house with the aid of a cell phone light we found nothing.

After making many calls to friends, her ex-boyfriend called to say he’d spotted her car. My wife rushed to the location and found her a bit confused, very upset, and shaken up but alive. She is ok now and we are working with her and with professional help to show her life is worth living and to ensure  she does not get to that point again.

But now as I look back at that day and how my own day had been going, how down and out I was feeling, and how suddenly within mere minutes that all changed, I see a huge life lesson. It’s a lesson I hope I will not soon forget. The lesson is simply this: when we are in the service of others and as we are trying to help others in need, we can quickly forget about our own problems and troubles and rise to a higher level, to our higher selves. This is the lesson I hope stays with me for life and a lesson I want to share with others and I hope you the reader do the same thing.

No One’s Life is Perfect

July 4, 2014 by  
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I ran into a friend a few days ago and greeted him with the old familiar “Hey, how’s it going?”  He gave the usual response of “I’m doing fine”, but he added two words to the beginning of his greeting: “I guess …”!  Wow. That totally changed the meaning of his greeting and his facial expression matched those two added words. Obviously, he wasn’t doing “fine”. So I dug a little deeper and found out he really was struggling with some big issues.

In today’s world of fast and quickly expanding social media we are given the impression that people out there have near perfect lives.  I mean take a look at virtually anyone’s Facebook and you’ll see all these fun pictures and comments. Much of what we see is the good stuff, and of course there is really nothing wrong with that, but it sure can make a lot of people feel and believe that their own lives, filled with challenges, big ups and downs, and problems are really “messed up”, causing self-pity, depression and, in the worst cases, even suicide.

The fact is, nobody’s life is perfect or even close, but when you’re looking from the outside you might be tricked into thinking that other people are doing tons better than you. If you take time to look and probe on a deeper level you will see that the surface view can be very misleading since most of us don’t announce or display our problems but prefer to show and advertise our successes.

So, if you really want to know the truth and gain insight into a person’s real and complete life,you need to dig deeper.  One easy way to do this is by simply asking the right questions.  For example, pick a friend or relative that seems to be doing well as you see on their Facebook postings or hear them talk about their world travel, huge income or impressive home and lifestyle, and ask questions like these:

1.  What are the biggest challenges you are having in life right now?

2.  In the past, what do you think has been the worst or hardest part of your life?

3.  Who or what makes you sad?

4.  Do you ever get down or depressed? (If they say yes, ask how often and what causes it.)

5.  What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you?

6.  Do you think much about your own mortality?

7.  What in your life scares you the most?

8.  Have you experienced any great tragedy in your life? If so, what happened and when?

9.  Do you worry and think about tragedy striking you in the future?

If you take a little time, you certainly can add your own probing questions to this list.

I’m pretty sure if you question those who you think have “the perfect life” you will find, as I have, that no matter how rich and famous or perfect their lives look from the outside, they too have their problems and challenges and many times much larger problems that you would have ever guessed.

You might ask at this point, “Why go through all of this questioning?”

I personally believe it’s a very good thing to do for at least 2 reasons.  First, it can help you see and understand yourself better and remove any self-pity or feelings of “not as good as other people”. It can even lift you out of a state of depression, so you come up with the thought of “Hey I’m not doing so badly after all.” Because of this, you may see yourself in a much different light and find you have higher self-esteem”.

Second, and most importantly, knowing the challenges and problems of your relatives and friends can put you in the perfect position to step up and help them overcome some of their problems, challenges and obstacles.  This makes it a real Win-Win. And all for just asking a few questions!

The Power of Positive Language

October 21, 2011 by  
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I’ve been thinking about my negative self-talk blog from last week and I figured we probably have more negative thoughts than we imagine so I did a bit of light research on it and, yep, there are a lot of ways negativity can seep into our thoughts.

The thing is, we constantly have this internal chatter where we comment on and determine how we interpret our circumstances. And a lot of us have this set of both conscious thoughts and less conscious assumptions and beliefs that lean to the negative side so that this internal chatter ends up being critical and, ultimately, demoralizing. And it’s very hard to get away from, unless you’re mindful of it:

  • Next time you find you’re being critical of yourself, stop and find alternatives to “I’m an idiot!” or “I’m getting so fat!” such as “Next time, I’ll pay more attention and I’ll ace this!” or “I know I can eat better and I’m going to do that starting now!” This will stop you from what is called “Self-limiting talk” when the negative comments make you feel defeated and so you don’t bother looking for answers. Never accept defeat!
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. “He must have thought I was a fool the way I keep blathering on!” or “I’ve never done this before. I’m going to fail terribly.” are your interpretations of situations but aren’t the actual truth. However, we make these statements facts in our mind by using this negative self-talk. Look at exactly what happened or will likely happen and keep your thoughts on the positive aspects of a situation.
  • Stop using negativity when talking to others. What you say aloud becomes common chatter internally. When someone says you look good, don’t brush it off with an “Ugh! I feel like a whale today.” Instead say “Thank you. That’s sweet of you to say.” Or if you are used to saying “I’m just not good at that.” try saying “Someday I’m going to figure out how to do that!”

It’s those small but significant changes in our language both in our heads and when talking to others that a battle with too much negativity is fought and won. Just be mindful of what you say and what you think and turn negative commentary into positive, empowering statements!

Battling Depression: It is not WHO you are

March 25, 2011 by  
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When asked who we are, we often reply with listing our common activities such as our job, hobbies, or position in the family, or we may list our physical characteristics such as hair color, stature, or ethnicity. However, this is not who we are just parts of what we are.

In the same and more detrimental manner, we tend to identify ourselves to ourselves by things we see as deficiencies such as being overweight, not smart enough, being a procrastinator or being pessimistic. The issue with this type of thinking is that it perpetuates the problem that lead us to identify ourselves as our struggles rather than seeing our issues as being separate from who we are.

Eckhart Tolle explains how these lead to perpetual cycles of disorder especially when it comes to psychological pain. He notes in his book, “The Power of Now”, that identifying the pain as you, your actual being, allows the pain to not only live as you but feed on this thought of it being your identity. If you think of yourself as a depressed person, you are giving the depression the authority to take over so that no matter what you try to do you do it as a depressed person, not the true self that exists separate from the mood disorder. In other words, you can’t get rid of your depression if you insist on carrying it with you everywhere you go.

The only way to start to heal is to detach your issues from who you are. You do this inside, in the mind. Closely and carefully observe your thoughts and the attachment that you have to “my depression” or “my pain”. Observe the compulsion to talk or think about it and consciously halt those thoughts. Remind yourself that this pain is but an item on your to-do list–probably on the top of the list in big, red letters–but it is something to be worked on, not be.

When you start to dis-identify with your pain and when you become a good “watcher of your thinking”, the depression, anger, etc. can and will eventually cease. It cannot exist without you tending to it and allowing it to take over who you are. A good or great life really is an “inside job” and you are the inside person for it!

Vigilance as the Key to Battling Depression

March 18, 2011 by  
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In my book “How to Ignite Your Passion for Living”, I touch upon some of the depressive episodes I have been through and some of the ways I have dealt with them. I have a whole list of simple but effective things you can do to combat depression. And although I still believe the items on that list to be important actions, I think Eckhart Tolle, in his book “The Power of Now”, has hit upon the true source and most effective ideas to combat depression as well as other mood disorders.

The first few ideas on his list are some of the most important, at least in my experience. They deal with becoming a watcher of one’s thoughts and redirecting the mind when we start to buy into the idea of “being a depressed person”:

• Vigilance is one of the first concepts he speaks to. Learning to recognize how your mind labels thoughts and sits in judgment so you know what ideas lie at the source of your pain.
• Secondly, Tolle believes that you need to accept whatever the present moment contains as if you had chosen it.
• Thirdly, you need to realize and understand that the pain or depression wants you to unconsciously identify with it, allowing it to survive in your mind. If you are not a careful watcher of your thoughts then you may come to believe that you are a depressed person and then this becomes your identity.

Letting your mind create this depression identity will make it very difficult to get past the dark feelings and the pain because you will then believe this is who you are. But if you start with these first few ideas of Tolle’s, recognizing how your mind is working and seeing the present moment as something under your control, you can avoid the mindset that makes you think of yourself as a “depressed person”.

These ideas are true for any issues of mood. I choose to talk about them in terms of depression because that has been a recent and difficult battle of mine. However, if you are dealing with anger, guilt, low self-esteem, fear, etc. watching your thoughts and taking control can help you with all types of painful moods and attitudes.

The Power of Shared Ideas

March 11, 2011 by  
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While reading “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle for about the 4th time recently, I found layers of understanding in his comments and thoughts on overcoming “mental pain” such as depression, rage, anger, impatience and bad moods, that I hadn’t seen before. We often don’t quite understand information we are reading if we haven’t had, or are not dealing with, the kind of experiences it speaks to. So why did this information all of a sudden mean more to me than it had the other times I read the book? Because this time, I was dealing with a problem that these words speak directly about.

I’ve been reading, thinking, and studying this book and similar material on a much deeper level because of recent moods I’ve been in, some being a fairly hefty depression. As I mentioned in the last post, being a public speaker and looked to as an expert of sorts, it has been somewhat difficult to admit to others, or even to myself, that I have had this kind of a challenge and problem. I am the one who should have all the answers and live the perfect life, right? Well, it doesn’t matter who you are, you will deal with unwanted and even paralyzing moods sometimes. But you can approach these like any problem or goal—by taking it on step by step.

Finding the steps to get you through a rough time might be the hardest part. Years ago I developed a list of “7 Non-drug Ways to Overcome Depression” but reading Tolle’s book at this time, when the ideas are so poignant are for me, has lead me to a major breakthrough and the power of these ideas have been on my mind.

Although I am no expert in the area of psychological well-being, I think sharing my experiences and the inspirational information I’ve found could be helpful to some of you. So over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about what I’ve done that has helped me. If you are dealing with depression, anger or mood swings right now, you may want to pick up a copy of Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and see if what he has to say doesn’t hit home for you as well.

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