Rethinking Stress

March 24, 2017 by  
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Last week I talked about the good and bad sides of stress and what you can do to reduce the bad stuff. But I also mentioned that I had just found out something that came as a big shock to me. I had just learned about an 8 year study which discovered that how you think about stress can shorten or lengthen your life. Yes, just by believing or thinking in a certain way about stress can affect your health and lifespan. The good news is that you can change your thinking and gain benefits from the stress in your life.

Kelly McGonigal gave a Ted Talk back in June of 2013 and told of the results of the 8 year study. In that study, 30,000 adults were asked if they believed that stress was very bad for their health. There were many that said “yes” to that question and many that said “no”, then 8 years later the death records were examined and it was found that those who believed that stress caused health problems had a 43% higher death rate than those that didn’t think stress caused health problems.

In other words, just by the mind believing the stress was not bad for them protected those people’s health. The mind really does have a lot more power than we usually give it credit for. The healthy group even had a longer life span than the average person.

There is even one more pretty big positive benefit of stress when you have the right mind set—under stress, the body produces a lot of oxytocin which is a neuron hormone that actually increases your energy level. The difficulty is that if you believe stress is harmful for your health, your blood vessels become constricted which increases your chance of a heart attack. However, if you don’t believe stress is harmful then your blood vessels don’t constrict and you have the extra energy caused by that stress stimulating the production of oxytocin.

So, that is the good and the bad of being stressed and now we know that this good ole brain of ours can make it be one way or the other. To stay on the good side of stress, we all need to do mental work outs and practice controlling our thoughts and directing our beliefs to see, and benefit from, the healthy, energized aspect of the stresses we live with every day.


February 28, 2014 by  
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Ok … this week I will give you what I think are some of the high points from Kelly McGonigal incredible book, The Willpower Instinct. These are more of those notes taken from my summary sheets that I make and keep from the best books I read and want to revisit and remember.

The Willpower Instinct is a truly life changing book if you put the concepts and findings into practice.  I highly recommend you get it and read it carefully.  Below are the points that jumped out at me. In some cases I am giving you quotes and in others I am giving a summary in my own words.  The subtitle of the book is great: “How Self-Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More”. The book covers all this and more.

Mark’s notes from The Willpower Instinct:

P. 20 Most of our choices are made on autopilot.

P. 20 Self-awareness is one big key to will power.

P. 21 When you are distracted, your impulses usually over rule your long term goals.

P. 21 To have more self-control, develop more self-awareness.

P. 23 The brain is remarkably responsive to experience.

P. 24 Ask your brain to _____________________________ (you fill in anything you really want) and your brain ends up helping you do it.

P. 26 Meditate on a regular basis — it will help you increase self-control. For example: lose weight, kick bad habits, etc. Meditate 5 minutes a day can make a huge difference.

P. 42, 43 Exercise is like meditation it makes the brain bigger and faster and improves willpower.

P. 43 A big mood booster is a simple 5 minute walk outside.

P. 45 Exercise gives you more energy than you spend.

P. 69 If you are looking for a big change of any habit, look for small ways to practice self-control.

P. 129 When we free ourselves from the false promise of reward we often find the thing we were seeking happiness from was the main source of our misery.

P. 132 We must distinguish between wanting and happiness.

P. 144 Many studies show that self-criticism gives less motivation and worse self-control and is the biggest predictor of depression.

So, without even reading the book, you can see the value of the information just in these notes. And how easy is it to review and remind oneself of this great information this way?

The Self-Forgiveness Experiement

September 6, 2013 by  
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OK let’s explore the “What the Hell” effect I mentioned last week and the research that was done about self-forgiveness as it affects your future behavior and success or failure. The “What the Hell” effect was first coined by dieting researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman. Quoting from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Willpower Instinct, “These researchers noticed that many dieters would feel so bad about any lapse even if was just a piece of pizza or a bite of cake that they felt as if their whole diet was blown. Instead of minimizing the harm by not taking another bite, they would say, ‘What the hell, I already blew my diet. I might as well eat the whole thing.’”

Kelly goes on to recount the circumstances and outcome of an experiment on this behavior. “The two psychologists invited weight-watching women into the laboratory, then encouraged them to eat doughnuts and candy in the name of science. These researchers had an intriguing hypothesis about how to break the what-the-hell cycle. If guilt sabotages self-control, they thought, then maybe the opposite of guilt would support self-control. Their unlikely strategy: Make half these doughnut-eating dieters feel better about giving in.”

The women in the study were asked to finish off a doughnut then they had the women drink enough water to feel full. In the next step, the researchers divided the women into two groups giving the first group “a special message to relieve their guilt” while the second group were not told anything about going easy on themselves.

These same women were then served three large bowls of candy and asked to sample each candy and rate it. They could eat as much or as little as they liked. The idea was that if the women still felt guilty about eating the doughnut, they would likely say to themselves, ‘I already broke the diet, so what does it matter if I inhale these Skittles?’

After this taste test the candy bowls were all weighed to see what group ate the most. The results? “The women who received the special self-forgiving message ate only 28 grams of candy, compared with 70 grams by the women who were not encouraged to forgive themselves,” Kelly reports.

Wow, when you think about the overall implications of this experiment they are absolutely huge! Just forgiving yourself can be life changing. If you are paying attention and directing all or at least as most of that “self-talk” and “chatterbox” toward cutting yourself some slack, you would certainly be able to stay on track with your goals, even when you slip here and there. Just give yourself tons of forgiveness and watch your life get better and better by the day.


Moving Beyond Your Mistakes

August 30, 2013 by  
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So how have you been coming along with the self-compassion and forgiving of self?  Shortly after I wrote last week’s post on that subject I was playing doubles tennis with friends when I heard my partner chastising herself over a flubbed shot.  It didn’t stop there, though. She went on to berate herself on her over all  play even going back to several previous points and into mistakes she’d made in the previous game.  Wow, and that was just what she was saying out loud for everyone to hear.  I’m pretty sure her internal dialog was even more severe.

Suddenly, at that moment, I realized I was doing a bit of that “self-criticizing and beating myself up on my missed shots and mistakes, only I was doing it “inside my head”.  Yes my ol’ chatterbox was sabotaging my tennis game too.  Recognizing that, I immediately forgave myself for such thoughts and quickly started playing much, much better and we went on to win the set.

Strangely most of us are tough on ourselves but generous on others. Every time my partner made a mistake I would immediately tell her “Hey, no problem. We’ll get the next point.” Of course my positive words of forgiveness and encouragement should also be the words and thoughts that she should be saying internally and externally.

As I mentioned last week, studies have shown that self-criticism and beating up on yourself when you make a mistake leads to more mistakes and forgiving yourself leads to more success.   Kelly McGonigal makes that point over and over in her great book “The Willpower Instinct”. When she mentions self-forgiveness while she’s teaching a class she says “the arguments start pouring in. You would think I had just suggested that the secret to more will power was throwing kittens in front of speeding buses.” The students generally say “If I forgive myself, I’ll just do it again.” or “My problem isn’t that I’m too hard on myself–my problem is that I’m not self-critical enough!” But again the research pretty much proves that the more we forgive ourselves the more success we will have in the future.

What research was done and how it was done has a bit to do with the so called “What the Hell” effect. Come back and read next week’s blog and I will lay that out for you.

Beating Yourself Up vs. Forgiving Yourself

August 23, 2013 by  
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My daughter Cammy teaches yoga and has persuaded me to go a number of times–and yes my creaky body certainly benefits from all that posing and stretching–but her comments to the class at the end of each session finally got through to my brain. I’ve been over the top surprised about what a powerful and life enhancing message she was delivering all this time and it had totally passed me by.

Her simple statements didn’t sink in until I was re-reading Kelly McGonigal’s wonderful book The Willpower Instinct. My daughter would end all of her yoga classes saying “Thank yourself for putting forth the effort to come today and please cultivate more and more compassion for yourself–don’t be hard on yourself.” I’ve always thought her words were pretty good advice but WOW have I made a great discovery that puts those words in a category much, much greater than just “good advice”. Let me explain.

Anyone that reads my blogs knows I am a huge advocate of setting lots of goals, and tough ones, for yourself. I preach that all the time to anyone who will listen. My big time discovery is that I realized that when I fell short of my goals I’d been doing exactly the wrong thing to myself, the very thing that hurts me and makes it even more difficult to reach new goals in the future. What I’ve been doing (and you probably have been doing the same thing) is this: When I fail or fall short of a goal I beat myself up mentally and I certainly don’t have any compassion for myself. I, like most people, think that if I forgive myself for falling short of my goal, I’ll just do it again. However, that is simply not true.

As it turns out, research done by two psychologists from Louisiana State University and Duke University show that it’s forgiveness of self, not guilt and beating yourself up that increases your accountability. I was shocked. I read this in McGonigal’s book where she goes on to say “These findings fly in the face of our instincts. How can this be, when so many of us have a strong intuition that self-criticism is the cornerstone of self-control, and self-compassion is a slippery slope to self-indulgence?” But in this case our instinct is dead wrong!

This very smart and well-spoken author also mentions that “One reason forgiveness helps people recover from mistakes is that it takes away the shame and pain of thinking about what happened. The what-the-hell effect is an attempt to escape the bad feelings that follow a setback. Without the guilt and self-criticism, there’s nothing to escape. This means it’s easier to reflect on how the failure happened, and less tempting to repeat it.”

Isn’t that fascinating? We’ll talk more on this subject next week but in the meantime try forgiving yourself daily for any failure or falling short of what you have set out for yourself. Take time to give yourself great dosages of compassion and, yes, it’s okay to love yourself and a lot. Talk to yourself and give praise and love like you would to a kid that you love.

Willpower Awareness

August 3, 2012 by  
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So, as I was mentioning last week, I have this goal to be in the best shape of my life. There is no reason that I can’t achieve my goals. But it will take a lot of work and dedication. That is the issue—not whether I can achieve this but keeping with the program.

I was just 10 days into my new program when I found myself breaking some of my work out and eating goals. Ouch! That pissed me off at myself. Not sticking with my goals was the bad news but there was good news and its news that can help anybody who is serious about setting and sticking with their goals.

What I did was to go back to that great book by Kelly McGonigal PhD, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It”. I have this habit of skipping around in books to quickly find the real gems and in doing that I often miss key points. This was one such book. To my great delight, this time around I discovered a few critical secrets that I totally missed before.

I am going to give you just a couple of her gems starting this week and then adding to them in the next week or two. Kelly’s advises readers to try only one new strategy per week so here are a couple options.

1. Get To Know Yourself: Know when and where and why you are likely to give up on your goal. You must be able to see how and why you stop short. So this week I am going to work on becoming more aware of when I am making choices related to my will power. I think it is quite reassuring to know that everyone struggles in some way with temptation, addiction, distraction and procrastination. These are not weaknesses but simply part of the human condition and something we can work on.

2. Pay Attention to How You Talk to Yourself About Your Willpower: What do you say to yourself when you procrastinate and how do you judge your willpower shortcomings and successes?

Put just one of these ideas into practice. Once you become more aware of where the temptation is coming from and what you tell yourself that gives you permission to give up, you will be better able to halt that behavior and stick to your goals.

Check back next week for another couple great ideas.

Improving your Will Power

April 6, 2012 by  
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My son David gave me a great book for my 68th birthday. It’s called “The Willpower Instinct” by Kelly McGonigal, PH.D. with the sub title of “How Self-Control works, Why it Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It”. Wow that is an attention grabbing title!

Yes I know I have done a ton of preaching about the “key” or “secret” of reaching your goals–that being my concept of “B-RAM”. I discuss it at length on pages 71 through 81 of my book “How to Ignite Your Passion for Living“. But Kelly’s book ads a whole new dimension to our understanding of how the brain works and how you can program it for your own success.

Kelly discusses the advantages we gain from things like self-awareness, meditation and even 5 or 10 minutes of exercise and backs it all up with science. The ability to set great goals in your life and reach them more consistently can be gained through these methods. Your brain can even be physically changed by what you send though it. And it doesn’t matter what those goals are—anything from losing weight, to overcoming an addiction to being a better parent or making a ton of money.

Most of us think the only way our brains change is by deteriorating as we get older. But Kelly points out that over the last decade, neuroscientists have discovered that the brain stays remarkably responsive to experience. Ask your brain to do math every day, and it gets better at math. Ask your brain to worry, and it gets better at worrying. Ask your brain to concentrate, and it gets better at concentrating. “There is growing scientific evidence that you can train your brain to get better at self-control,” Kelly says.

Next week I will give you more hints and steps that you and I can take to build more will power and self-control so as to bolster our goal setting abilities.

If you like what you’ve read in this blog please send it on to people you know and love, to people who you think this message and information may be very helpful. There is nothing in the world that brings greater satisfaction than helping other people. Don’t you agree?