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The Science of Happiness: 5 Ways Nature Makes You Happier

“Deviation from nature is deviation from happiness.” Samuel Johnson

Who doesn’t want to be happy?

We all could use more happiness in our lives, so I’ve compiled some of the scientific research on what makes us happy.

In the video below, I share insights from studies in the fields of positive psychology, medicine, and behavioral economics on the important role that nature plays in our happiness.

From these studies we learn that:

  • Deepening our connection to nature improves our happiness
  • Spending time in nature lowers our stress levels and makes us happier
  • Exposure to nature increases our happiness and helpfulness

Watch to discover how you can use nature to boost your happiness and improve your health. For more easy ways to increase your happiness, download our daily happiness half-dozen. This is a pdf of 6 activities you can do in a few minutes each day that are scientifically proven to increase happiness.

How would you describe your connection with nature? Email me your thoughts on how you . interact with nature to boost your happiness.

Ignoring Willpower Can Cost You Money, Relationships, & Your Health

willpower leads to success

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison

Willpower is something that we tend to believe is a zero sum game. Some people are blessed with endless reserves of willpower and others just aren’t. This idea might comfort those of us who consider ourselves in the latter category. But, it is a dangerous belief to maintain. Willpower is critical to the success of our careers, relationships, and health.  We can all learn how to improve this critical skill that produces benefits in all areas of our life.

The Secret Power of Willpower

Willpower is described in the research literature as self-discipline, self-control, or executive functioning. It refers to the ability to work towards a specific goal in spite of momentary alternatives that may seem more attractive. Self-discipline is more important than IQ in determining students’ final grades . In fact, being goal directed is one of  the best predictors of major life success.

Setting goals and remaining focused long enough to achieve those goals is important for career success.  Surprisingly, self-discipline shapes romantic relationships as well. A study revealed  that people with low levels of self-control were more likely to select mates with high levels of self-control. It seems as if they are using relationships to compensate for limited self-control. Yet this type of romantic pairing puts extreme pressure and stress on the relationship. This is type of imbalance occurs in most codependent relationships. This is where one person assumes responsibility for the wellbeing of the other. These relationships generate high amounts of resentment and conflict. Over time, they weaken the functioning of both individuals as well as the relationship.

We can see that self-discipline is not an insignificant part of our lives. It influences our career, relationships, and health outcomes. Our ability to set and achieve our goals ultimately shapes our success and happiness in life.  Now that we understand why willpower is important, let’s begin to describe what it is. More importantly, how we can increase it in our lives?

The Biology of Willpower

Research suggests that there is a strong biological component to will power. Specifically, willpower seems to be correlated with glucose levels in our bodies. When our glucose levels drop below the optimal range, our willpower weakens.

Glucose is the energy source that drives our willpower. Like other sources of energy, our supply of willpower is limited. We have our greatest amount of this energy in the morning which depletes as we go through the day. Every exercise of self-discipline, whether big or small, decreases the amount of energy available for the remaining activities.

In a laboratory experiment , researchers found that self-control activities reduced blood glucose levels. Researchers instructed participants to focus attention, regulate emotions, or suppress a thought.  Although we may not think of these activities as hard work, they do require some level of self-control. Therefor they lower our energy reserves. This explains why you may feel tired after you’ve been concentrating.  Or why you may desire a sugary snack after exercising restraint in a difficult conversation. In each of these situations, you are drawing upon your energy reserves.

In the same laboratory study, people who exercised self-control in the first phase of the research performed poorly in the second self-control task. Much like a withdrawal from your bank account, exercising self-control reduces your remaining balance. Each day is filled with many tasks requiring self-control. Thus, your ability to remain focused and disciplined on your goals decreases as you move through the day.

It’s no wonder you are unable to work out at the end of the day or that it takes you twice as long to read that report. There’s a reason why you blow up at your kids and spouse when you come home from work.  You have depleted your self-discipline reserves. You literally do not have the energy to follow through on your goals.

Apply These 4 Techniques to Improve Your Willpower

Lack of follow through on your goals doesn’t mean that you’re hopelessly lazy. It also doesn’t mean that you’re really not invested in accomplishing your goal. Once you understand the science of willpower, you can better manage your energy reserves, increase your self-discipline, and improve your goal attainment.

  1. Increase Your Monitoring.

Research reveals that increasing our levels of monitoring increases our success in self control. In a study college students were asked to perform one of three monitoring tasks: watch their posture, check their emotions, or track their food intake. Regardless of the tasks, the act of monitoring improved their ability to do another unrelated self-control task. All three monitoring groups performed better than the students without any monitoring activity. Thus, the act of monitoring itself seems to strengthen your self-discipline muscle.

Pick a goal and start monitoring your behavior related to that goal. Monitoring your behavior will improve your success rate. But the even better news is that it will also improve your success at all your other goals! You are actually increasing your capacity for self-discipline through any type of goal monitoring. As you strengthen this muscle, it will be able to work better for you in all areas of your life.

  1. Rest.

Taking a short 10-minute break is an excellent way to increase your energy reserves. This improves your capacity for self-discipline. We know that any type of self-control activity depletes your glucose energy reserves. Yet, a research study demonstrated that taking a 10-minute rest period restored the participants’ energy reserves to optimal levels. Another study  showed similar results when participants performing a brief relaxation activity.

We can restore our capacity for self-control to optimal levels by managing our time after we have exercised self-discipline. Taking short breaks or practicing a relaxation activity are credits that we deposit into our energy bank account. They restore our energy after we’ve exercised self-control. Thus, they increase our capacity for self-discipline in the future.

This is why I encourage my clients to take 10-minute breaks during every hour of focused activity at work. It takes lots of energy to concentrate and a brief break will increase your ability to sustain concentration. A short break makes you both more productive and less tired at the end of the day.

  1. Increase Your Pleasure.

Another way to make a deposit in your self-discipline reserves is to generate positive emotions. Positive emotions increase your energy levels and improve your capacity for self-control.

In a study researchers found that participants who experienced positive emotions improved their capacity for self-control. Participants were asked to perform some task of self-control. They were then assigned to one of four groups: positive mood, negative mood, neutral mood, or rest. Participants in the positive mood group watched a comedy video or received a surprise gift. Those in the negative mood group were given an activity to induce sadness. All groups should experience a depletion of self-control because they’ve performed a task requiring self-control. Yet, the positive mood group were as successful in the second task as the control group that had not completed the first task. The positive mood group was also more successful in the second self-control tasks than any of the other groups. This suggests that positive emotions actually increase and restore our self-discipline energy levels.

Use this knowledge to your advantage. Make sure that every day contains activities that make you feel good. Watch that funny you tube video. Read some pages of your favorite book. Chat with your favorite girlfriend on the phone. Too many times we deny ourselves these simple pleasures in life because we are just “too busy.” Yet these activities increase our productivity and improve our ability to meet our goals. The more we demand from ourselves, the more we need to make sure our days are filled with activities that generate positive emotions.

  1. Grab a Drink.

No not a glass of wine; grab an energy drink. We’ve learned that self-discipline has a biological component: glucose levels. Alcohol decreases glucose throughout the brain and body. No wonder it’s associated with such poor judgment and the inability to exercise self-control. Yet, there are many energy drinks that can restore our glucose levels. In a research study, participants who consumed a glucose drink between two self-control tasks showed no weakening of self-control in the second task. It seems that this glucose drink eliminated the usual impairment that occurs after exercising self-control. So the next time you exercised self-control, reward yourself with an energy drink to keep your momentum of success going.

Willpower is Easy if You Do It Smart

You do not have to remain complacent with your current level of will power. Like the muscles in your body, your self-discipline muscle can be exercised in a way that strengthens your life. Practicing the techniques described above will improve your success at setting and achieving your goals. You will also reap the financial, emotional, health, and relationship rewards that come with improved self-discipline.

You owe it to yourself to start today. Please let me know if you’d like my support in your efforts to set and accomplish goals, increase your self-discipline, and improve your life. You can email me at [email protected] or call (505)66-FOCUS. Wishing you success in using self-discipline to create your life of bliss!

 

Activate the Healing Powers of Love in Your Life

activate the healing power of love in your life

Our immune system operates according to a moral code that favors love over fear and compassion over hatred. Dr. Mario Martinez

Love is the most powerful healing emotion. It has been described as a bio cognitive healing field that improves our health and well-being. Love is not just a feeling; it is a way of thinking about ourselves and others. Practicing the act of loving will increase our happiness, confidence, relationships, and health. This article describes how love improves our lives phsyically and emotionally.  More importantly, it presents a tool to live a life of love; regardless of the problematic circumstances and people in our lives.

Healing Properties of Love

George Solomon’s research  reveals that thoughts and emotions influence our immune system. Negative emotions narrow our focus to being more self-centered (i.e. “what’s bothering me”). While positive emotions expand our focus to a more inclusive and warm “we.” The field of  psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) reveals that positive emotions allow us to better remain focused in the face of set-backs and frustrations of life. These positive emotions also produce a direct impact on the functioning of our immune system.

Research  on forgiveness shows that it decreases the physical damage that stress does to our body. We are much less likely to experience the physical wear and tear on our bodies in repose to life stressors when we cultivate positive emotions like love. Forgiveness is extending love to ourselves and others.

Dr. Mario Martinez,  a leading PNI researcher, is so convinced of by the evidence of emotions impact on our health, he states our immune system operates according to a “moral code that favors love over fear and compassion over hatred.”

Love Yourself

Self-compassion is a critical component of love. We can not give to others, what we do not already posses. So self-compassion becomes a core requirement for healthy relationships. But self-compassion is also required to help us reach our optimal health and our optimal levels of success in life.

Self-compassion produces positive mental health outcomes. A study published in the journal Body Image showed that people with higher levels of self-compassion are less likely to be depressed. They have lower rates of eating disorders and are less likely to experience body shame . Another study of college students showed that self-compassion served as a protective layer against academic burn-out. Under normal conditions that would produce burn-out, those students with higher levels of self-compassion didn’t experience the burn-out. Research also shows that self-compassion leads us to more healthy behaviors (e.g. healthy eating, regular exercise, good sleep habits, and stress management) which supports our long-term physical well-being.

Loving ourselves creates positive mental and physical health. Too often we try to improve our physical health or productivity by “shaming” ourselves into good behavior. We imagine that being a hard task master on ourselves will force us to get our act together and perform our best. Yet, research shows the exact opposite. We feel and perform our best when we practice loving ourselves on a daily basis.

Practicing the Tool of Active Love

It is easy to love people who are kind to us, but how do we love those who are not? How do we show love to the driver who cuts of off, the rude cashier, or family member who has just made a hurtful comment to us? We’ve already discussed how important love is to our health and well-being. As well as how critical love is in reshaping our relationships. So we can not allow our quality of life to be diminished by the action of others. We must learn to love at all times, especially when it’s difficult.

In their book Tools, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels introduce us to powerful tools of visualization that help us to create a successful life. Often we think of ourselves as helpless and subject to our current feelings or circumstances. In the book Tools, we learn how we can actively create the (inner and outer) reality we seek.

These tools are built on a combined 60-years of psychoanalytic practice with hundreds of patients. The authors remind us that theses tools are not just cognitive exercises. The exercises position us to access the power of the spirit realm to strengthen and shape our daily life.

Personally, I’ve practiced the tools since reading the book and have found it very effective in restructuring my reality. I’d like to share with you the second tool (Active Love) to help you increase your capacity to live a life of love. Stutz and Michels describe the tool of active love as having three important components: concentration, transmission, and penetration. In the section below, I walk you through the three steps of the visualization of active love.

Tool of Active Love

Get into a relaxed position, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply. Breathe so that your belly rises and falls with each breathe. Listen to your heart beating and the flow of your breath. Now visualize your heart soaking up all of the love that is around you. Your heart draws love to it like a magnet. As your heart attracts love it is growing larger and larger. Watch your heart grow in size and power with the fullness of love.

Now visualize your heart directing the full strength of its love outward like a laser beam. Your heart is pulsing a laser beam of love. The love flows in a steady and powerful stream from your heart.

Next visualize the person to whom you want to direct that love. It could be the cashier person who was rude to you, the family member who made the hurtful comment, or even the driver that cut you off on the road. Even if you have not seen the person’s face, make up a face for that person. Visualize them standing directly in front of you, facing you. If the object of your anger is an abstract idea (e.g. poverty, a nation, religion), visualize that entity as a person.

Visualize the pulsating beam of love emanating from your heart going directly to the heart of that person. Watch it pierce through their outer layers and penetrate to the deepest parts of them. Feel the point of contact and connection with that person. Feel you giving them a transfusion of love. This love comes from you, but does not start with you. This is the love you have freely received and you are sharing with this person.

Watch the laser beam of love fill their hearts. Watch it circulate throughout their entire body. Visualize it flowing from their heart to their head. Watch it flow into their arms, legs, fingers and toes. Every part of their body is washed in this flow of love. Now watch the flow of love completely envelop them in a bubble as they float off into distant space.

Open your eyes and notice how you feel. You have just given that person, and yourself, the gift of love. You have played an active role in promoting physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in our world. Love is the gift that keeps on giving. When you give away love, you wind up with more than when you began. Practicing the tool of active love increases the healing power of love that you experience.

Practicing Love in Your Daily Life

Although this exercise only takes a few minutes, it produces substantial changes in us and in our world. Some of these changes happen immediately and some occur over a longer period of time. It is important for you to know that what you have done matters. Practicing active love is an important way of changing your life and changing your world.

Stutz & Michels encourage readers to be critical skeptics. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the power of the tool, it only matters that you use it. As you use the tool, you will see the changes produced in your own life. Ultimately, this is all the proof you need.

I urge you to commit to using the tool of active love this week. Use it whenever you find yourself feeling angry or frustrated. Practice active love whenever you experience feelings of anger, find yourself ruminating on past injustices, or are preparing to interact with difficult people. Whenever you want to promote healing and connection with another person use the active love tool.

Every day will present you with many opportunities to practice the tool of active love. Record your observations and reflections on this experiment in a journal each day. At the end of the week, you will have a written record of some of the immediate impact of the tool of love on your life.

Share below your reflections on practicing love on a daily basis and the difference you see it making. I’d personally like to thank you for supporting yourself and adding more light to this world. Thank you!

Empower Yourself Through Inspired Action

empower yourself with inspired action

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” Dale Carnegie

Being a person of action is important because it keeps us from being passive participants in life. When we commit to acting upon the world, we help to reshape ourselves and our world through our own efforts. Yet, not all action is equal.It is important to distinguish between fear based action and inspired action. Only inspired action will allow you to create the life your desire.

Fear vs. Inspired Action

These two distinct types of action the produce different results in your life. Fear based action will drain your energy, alienate you from others, and undermine your health. Inspired action will produce the exact opposite effect in your life. It will provide you with more energy, connect you to yourself and others and promote your health and well-being.

So how can you tell which type of action is motivating you? I’ve identified three characteristics to help you distinguish inspired action from fear based action. Pause to ask yourself these questions, before you act. Your answer will reveal to you the true motivation for your behavior. The brief reflection will give you an opportunity to make a choice about the type of action you want in your life.

Characteristics of Inspired Action

  1. Inspired action is purpose driven.

Is this ego-driven or purpose-driven? Are you performing this action because it will make you look good to others or because it is in line with your life purpose? Inspired action is any activity that expresses or advances your life purpose. It is action that you “have to” do because it is an expression of your most authentic self.

This is a question that only you can answer. The same action could be either ego driven or purpose driven. Consider for example, serving food to homeless families in a soup kitchen. That act of generosity could be driven by ego; an attempt to show to others what a good and moral person you are. The same activity could be an expression of your life purpose to eradicate suffering in the world. You are the only person who can answer this question about your behavior. Just remember to be honest and to use this question to reflect on all your actions, even the seemingly “noble” ones.

  1. Inspired action is motivated by love.

Is this motivated by fear or by love? This is a question, that only you can answer. Inspired action is always motivated by love. Dr. Martinez’s research reveals that emotions are bio-cognitive fields that can either be healing or destructive to our physical and emotional health. This means that the emotion motivating your action alters your physical and psychological state. Research on social intelligence helps us understand how these subtle emotional states are communicated to others with whom we interact.

Much like how we “catch colds” from interacting with others who have a particular bacteria or virus, we can “catch” emotions in the same manner. Emotions shape our cognitive understanding of the world and our physical health. Thus, it’s very important that we maintain our own emotional health so we don’t negatively impact others with our dis-ease.

Dr. Martinez argues that fear and love are mutually exclusive bio-cognitive states. Fear always produces damage to the immune system and love always repairs the damage and restores healthy functioning. So, the question of the emotion motivating our action, is not an esoteric one. Rather, the emotion motivating our action shapes our well-being and the well-being of those with whom we interact.

  1. Inspired action benefits self and others.

Will this action only benefit myself or will it benefit others as well? Inspired action is action that benefits ourselves as well as others. We do not need to see the world as mutually exclusive choice between our well-being and the well-being of others. Inspired action allows us to see how we can contribute to our own well-being and happiness by actions that benefit others. Happiness research reveals that activities which focus on doing good for others not only makes us happier, but makes us healthier as well. Researchers at UCLA distinguished between two types of happiness: happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life and happiness focused only on pleasure seeking and self-gratification.  In their report to the National Academy of Sciences, they found that happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life promotes the gene expression of anti-viral and antibody genes. Happiness focused only on self-gratification had the opposite effect, suppressing the health of the immune system.

Self-empowerment and Inspired Action

An important part of empowering yourself is taking the time to pause and reflect on what is important to you. As you become more clear on your life purpose and core values, you are able to evaluate your activities in light of this focus. Inspired action expresses your life purpose, is motivated by love, and places you in the service of others. This type of action strengthens your sense of meaning and feelings of connection in the world. These attributes are empirically proven to improve both your physical health and your happiness.

Inspired action is much like the Tao concept of “effortless action” (non-action). The process of being and flowing from one action to the next effortlessly, rather than imposing conscious action. Based on knowing yourself. It feels like you’re not doing anything except showing up and being who you are.

This is how inspired action puts you in your flow. You are no longer “making” yourself do things, you are simply “being”. That is more than enough. Your authentic presence brings the gifts of love, purpose, and healing to both you and others.

Inspired action is a choice. It is a choice that is always available to you at the moment you decide to act. Give yourself and our world the gift of your inspired action. Create a life that produces happiness and healing through your inspired action. Start today.

Share your moments of inspired action in the comment box below. How have you showed up and shared your authentic self with the world today? I am proud of your courageous commitment to be uniquely you and to share the gift of you with our world. Thank you!

A Better Approach to Time Management

replace time management with energy management

“You get to decide where your time goes. You can either spend it moving forward, or you can spend it putting out fires. You decide. And if you don’t decide, others will decide for you.” ― Tony Morgan

How can effective time management help us support ourselves? Many of us are great supporters of other people. But, we have never thought about what it means to support ourselves. We are great supporters of our family and friends. Great advocates for the social issues we care about. We take pride in the myriad of ways we help  others achieve their goals. So what does it mean to support yourself?

Supporting yourself involves the same activities we engage in to support others. Supporting yourself means developing your capacity to live your best life. It means directing your attention and resources in developing your potential to the fullest. This involves investing the time to needed to identify your life purpose. Then, focusing with laser like precision on expressing that purpose in your life. Effective time management enables you to create a life that supports you.

Problem with Time Management

I have been obsessed with time management ever since I can remember. As a child I loved the book Cheaper By The Dozen. I was enthralled by the father who sought to do everything in the most efficient manner possible. This made sense to me because I knew that time was a limited resource.

Time is the great equalizer, in that we all are given the same 24 hrs in a day. How we spend those 24 hours determines how many days and how fulfilling the future days will be.  I remember my father explaining to me that if our entire lives were compressed into a day, we would only be in school for a few hours. But, those few hours of the day would make the rest of the day more enjoyable. I’d have resources and freedom to pursue my inner desires. That seemed like a fair trade to me and I decided that suffering through a little bit of pain or boredom was a reasonable exchange for my future enjoyment.

I spent much of my time trying to find the most efficient way to manage my obligations. This would enable me to have the most enjoyment of the rest of my life. This approach to time management was limited in its effectiveness. As the tasks I had to do became longer and more complicated, the dreaded tasks still took many hours, weeks, months or years. Worse yet, I was setting myself up to live my life “later”, after I had completed X, Y, or Z tasks.

I know that I am not the only one who struggles with this approach to work and life. Many people are waiting for “the summer”, “the next promotion”, “retirement”, “marriage”, “children”, “an empty-nest”, ect until you feel free to “live your life”.  Stop waiting. Now is the only time you have. Now is the perfect time to support yourself.

Energy Management is Superior to Time Management

Completing the tasks in front of you and enjoying your life need not be mutually exclusive activities. You do not have to wait for “your turn” after you have finished all the tasks on everyone else’s list. You can structure your daily activities, and your life, so that you are productive AND filled with excitement and joy. The secret is learning how to manage your energy.

Many people mistakenly think that enhancing your capacity to be creative and productive is only about managing your time. While time management is important, managing your energy is a more effective means to enhancing your creativity and productivity. Managing your energy requires becoming more aware of your moment by moment energy levels and the life factors that influence them. As you become more aware of what influences your energy level, you can delegate energy draining activities and limit your exposure to energy draining people.

Like time, your energy is a valuable and limited resource. If you do not manage it well, you will find that there is no energy left for you to do the things that you want to do. You don’t have the energy left to write your book, exercise, socialize, ect. Even though these activities are important to you, you can’t find time to do them. At the end of the day, all you have energy for is vegging out on tv and dreaming about your future life. The future is when you believe that you will have the opportunity to live out your desires.

Unlike time, you can actually “create” more energy. By managing your activities well, you can plant seeds that will “grow” your energy levels. You do not have to settle for your current amount of energy. You can expand your energy reservoir by intentionally choosing energy expanding activities. This approach to life will enable you to get more done and feel better about yourself and your life in the process.

Time Management Doesn’t Expand Time, Energy Management Does Expand Your Energy

Below I discuss two actions will substantially expand your energy levels while improving your productivity and creativity.  Implementing these actions, will help you to go to bed happier, having accomplished more in your day, sleep better, and wake up feeling more refreshed and excited about your day. This is how you support yourself. This is giving yourself what you need to live your best life now, not “someday when…”

I encourage you to practice these two actions daily. Make sure to track the changes you observe in yourself and your life as you do.

  1. Identify tangible things that increase your energy level and incorporate them regularly throughout your day.

The definition of energy expanding activities is any thought or action that fills you with energy and joy as you take part. For obvious reasons, what counts as an energy expanding activity varies from person to person.

To identify your energy expanding activities, you can track your energy levels throughout the day. On a hourly basis, asses you energy level on a scale of 1-10. Notice, how the level increases or decreases throughout the day. Write down recent activities that you think might be associated with the changes in your energy level.

Try to identify at least 20 energy expanding activities of various forms. Some you can do with others, some you do alone, some cost money, so are free. You get the point. The goal is to have a variety of energy expanding activities that you can add to your day on a regular basis. You also want to have some that you can add “as needed” to help pull you up after an unexpected energy draining activity. Think of this as your emergency self-care kit.

  1. Distinguish must from should.

Too often we blur the lines between these two types of activities. That is a serious drain on our energy level and a damage to our quality of life. But, when you distinguish the must list from the should list, you can manage your energy more effectively.

“Must list” is important because it helps you achieve what you truly want. It is connected to your life purpose and allows you to fulfill the personal goals you’ve set for yourself. If your goal is to be an Olympic swimmer, you must practice on a regular basis. But if it is your mother’s goal for you to be an Olympic swimmer (or get married, or move closer to home, ect), then the activities associated with this goal does not belong on your “must list.” These activities are examples of “shoulds”.

Shoulds are only important because they help you to conform to what others want you to do. When you find yourself saying “I should do…..” what you are actually communicating is that someone else wants this for you more than you want it for yourself. “I should exercise… study… go out more”. All these activities are things you think others expect from you. That is why doing them feels draining.

The best way to expand your energy and live a productive and creative life is to eliminate everything on your should list.  Once you stop doing the things on your should list, you will have more time and energy for your musts. What?! Am I suggesting that you don’t exercise, study, or get out of your comfort zone? If you can not connect these activities to goals you find personally meaningful, your attempts to do them will be unsuccessful and draining.

Manage Your Energy, Manage Your Life

Respect what creates energy for you and focus on deleting the things that drain your energy. Connect your regular activities to things that give you personal meaning. This produces a magical multiplication of hours in the day.  You will get more accomplished in a day and feel happier doing it.

You do not have to wait for the future to start living the life you desire. Support yourself today. Restructure your activities around your purpose and watch your energy and joy grow!

 

 

How to Palooza Your Birthday: The Secret to Getting Better as You Age

Positive Aging Through a Birthday Palooza

“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” Betty Friedan

In my book, Your Life As A Celebration,  I discuss how you can transform your life into a celebration of you. You can create a life that affirms your core values and engages in your life purpose. In short, you can create a life that honors your purpose, personality and perspective. This is a life that fills you with energy and joy because it is an authentic reflection of you. Rather than living into someone else’s definition of success, you are able to create your own personalized success vision. This personalized vision of success inspires you to take action.  Your inspired actions transform your life into a true reflection of your innermost desires. Here success is not a destination, it is the process as well. The goal is to have every day be and more complete expression of your talent and purpose.

One way to express and track this transformation is through your birthday celebration. Your birthday becomes an opportunity to celebrate what you love about yourself and life. Your birthday also allows you to track your progress of becoming more authentically yourself.  Here, I describe the process of turning your birthday into a celebration that honors the gift of you.

Your Birthday: The Most Important Holiday of The Year

Everyone who knows me, knows how serious I am about my birthday. I have never gone to school or work on my birthday. My friends say that’s because I have a summer birthday. But I believe that if you only celebrate one holiday a year, it should be the day you were born. It’s a celebration of your life and all that you contribute to the world. That is worth missing a day of work or school.

Unfortunately, too many women avoid celebrating their birthdays. For them birthdays marks their decline in beauty, vitality, and worth. The negative images associated with aging lead many women to attempt to remain 29 years old forever.

Yet as you connect with your life purpose, you will find that you have much to celebrate with each passing year. You are no longer wandering through life or looking backwards to some romanticized glory days of youth. You are  daily living out your life purpose.  You are nurturing your gifts and contributing them to your community. This is definitely worth celebrating. Since you grow within a community of supporters, your celebration should also be communal.

With each passing year, you know your heart better. Now you can incorporate that wisdom into activities that fill your life with purpose, meaning and joy!

Creating Your Birthday Palooza

My birthday celebration takes up an entire month and is affectionately known as Keshapolooza. I encourage you to make your own personal birthdaypalooza. It may be a day, week, month, or even a year for special milestones. Regardless of the length of time, it should be a celebration of your life’s purpose and contribution.

Here are some questions to consider to help you plan your own birthday Palooza:

  1. What activities bring you joy?

Joy is an amazing emotion in that it feeds off itself into expanding circles of joy. Regardless of what they are, joyful activities will shape your bio-cognitive functioning. For a better understanding of how your emotions influence your health, read my article on natural boosters of your immune system. The experience of joy also improves your general sense of well-being. Thus, it changes how you experience other areas of your life.

2. What images symbolize your life’s purpose?

Living a life of purpose is critical for your happiness. Individuals who have a clear sense of meaning and purpose in their life are happier, healthier, and live more productive lives. While most people are clear on the importance of life purpose, they remain confused about how to identify it for themselves.

If you are looking to gain clarity on your life purpose, sign up for my free life planning toolkit. This resource will guide you step by step in identifying your life purpose. You will then use that purpose to craft your personal mission statement and vision statement for your life. These resources serve as guideposts in decision-making about your time, energy, and resources. They also inform the imagery and symbolism of your birthdaypalooza. Because, the symbols of your birthday celebration are powerful affirmations of your life purpose.

3. On the best day you can imagine, what are you doing? Who are you with?

The answer to these questions will give you a concrete lists of people and activities to include in your birthday celebration. You may not be able to do all these activities, or include all these people. But this will serve as your initial brainstorm planning list.

Be as creative as possible in thinking about how to include this list in your celebration. If an activity you dream about doing is climbing Mt. Everest, perhaps you can include indoor rock climbing or a local hick as part of your celebration. Or perhaps you can include images of Mt. Everest in your celebration.

There may be people on your list of ideal birthday celebrants who live far away or are no longer living. Think creatively about how you can connect to that person or your memories of that person across the distance. Remember, this is your celebration. Whatever activities evoke personal connections for you are ones that you want to include. This reminds you that you are not alone and allows you to experience the joys of life with your community. Such social connection is crucial for happiness, health, and longevity.

4. What foods or tastes bring you pleasure?

Food is a sensory pleasure that connects us to feelings of satisfaction and well-being. The strong connection between food and emotions is where the “emotional eating” ritual begins. Except now you are not using food to escape painful feelings. Rather than mindless eating, you intentionally savor the food and all the other sensory aspects of your celebration. This practice of mindfulness intensifies the joy and pleasure of the experience.

5. What music/sounds immediately transport you to a happy place? A peaceful place?

Music has been described as the “universal language” because of it’s ability to communicate directly to our souls. With our without words, music moves us. Music is highly personalized. What moves us may not have the same effect on others.

For your birthday celebration, identify a piece of music that is particularly moving for you. Make sure that this music inspires you and reminds you of your life purpose. This will be your “theme song.” Every great movie (and great hero) needs a theme song and so do you. You should play your theme song frequently throughout the day, throughout your birthday celebration, and throughout the year. Play it when you are feeling happy, depressed, confused, angry, ect. Play it whenever you need reminding of your purpose and inspired into action. You may need different theme songs for different phases of your life. I change my theme songs annually.

6. What have you learned about your heart this year? How would you like to apply or/ expand this insight in your upcoming year?

Remember that your birthday celebration is a way of tracking and celebrating your self-discovery process. Be as specific as possible about what you have learned about yourself and about life in this past year. Each birthday is a sort of graduation celebration. You want to be clear on what you have accomplished thus far. We recognize that life is a journey. Therefor we can look forward with anticipation to the upcoming year(s) and all these wonderful gifts we will discover and experience in the next leg of our journey.

Document Your Growth

Write all your answers to the questions above in your birthdaypalooza journal. These will become the seeds of your creative brainstorming about how best to honor your life journey this year. The form of your birthday palooza will change with each year, but it should always be a “full-sensory” event, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and movements that bring you joy and help you to connect with your life’s purpose. The meanings of these objects and activities do not need to be obvious, only significant to you. You may decide to consult books about color therapy or aromatherapy in your selection of specific images and smells, or you may choose to go with what you know at your gut level moves you. This is your personalized holiday and today you can have it your way!.

I’d love to hear about your birthday palooza and join in your celebration. Please feel free to share photos, cards, or notes about your process. You can tweet photos and descriptions of your birthday experiences to me and our community @coachkesha #birthdaypalooza. Your celebration is not selfish or self-centered. It is a public recognition that you are a unique creation and that your life matters. This is true for you and for everyone else who shares this planet with us. Honoring yourself gives others permission to do the same.

Boundaries Are Crucial to Your Happiness. Learn Why!

Learn how to set healthy emotional boundaries

At last the secret to healthy emotional boundaries is revealed.

“Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.”
Shannon L. Alder

When you understand your value and power, you develop boundaries to honor yourself and protect your freedom. Emotional boundaries in relationships aren’t a set of legalistic rules that constrain our freedom. Boundaries are the guardrails that protect our happiness and the security of our relationships.

If you are feeling emotionally exhausted, frustrated, or resentful, chances are you need to strengthen your boundaries. Many people are still unclear about what it means to establish boundaries. They’re also unsure about why boundaries are important and how to do it properly. As you read on you will learn the answers to these questions. You will also gain a quick, easy method for setting healthy emotional boundaries. Protecting your boundaries will increase your level of happiness and satisfaction in your relationships.

What are emotional boundaries?

Emotional boundaries are the psychological acceptance of the uniqueness, dignity, and freedom of each individual. Boundaries are what separate us from another person. We recognize that while we may love and strongly identify with another person, we are not the same. Thus, we do not have to feel or act the same.

Through establishing boundaries, we give ourselves and other people the freedom to be unique. People without emotional boundaries need conformity as a demonstration of love. These people often expect you to take responsibility for their emotional state and “fix” their problems. Neither of these interpretations of reality are true or possible. No two people can be exactly the same no matter how much they love each other. No person can fix the emotional state or manage the life of another. Lack of boundaries create unhealthy expectations and behaviors. These unreasonable expectations drain the life energy out of people and their relationships.

Women are particularly vulnerable to ignoring emotional boundaries. We are socialized to think of our identity as primarily determined by our relationships. There’s nothing wrong with valuing relationships. But, this value can easily morph into unhealthy thinking such as:

 “I’m nothing without this relationship”

“I need to do all that I can to remain in this relationship. Even if it includes sacrificing my freedom, dignity and value.”

A subtler expression of unhealthy boundaries is the thought that:

“My biggest contribution to the world is that accomplishments of my child or partner. “

Such distorted thinking places tremendous pressure on your child or partner. You expect them to live out your dreams of success and accomplishment. It also robs them of the freedom to spend their time and energy discovering and living out their own life dreams.

Accepting responsibility for your emotions and behavior without taking responsibility for the feelings and actions of others is a healthy emotional boundary. Emotional boundaries also mean giving others the freedom to not like your feelings or choices. Boundaries are a core component of emotional intelligence.  As such, they contribute to our health and happiness.

If you can not tolerate other’s disapproval of your feelings or choices or if you can not tolerate others possessing emotions and actions with which you disagree, you are in desperate need of setting emotional boundaries. The decision to not set healthy emotional boundaries damages you and your relationships.

Why do you need boundaries?

People without emotional boundaries have a distorted view of their own power. They either understand themselves as completely powerless or all powerful.

People who understand themselves as powerless, play the victim role in their relationships. They rely on others to manage their life and emotions. This is because they consider themselves incapable of making their own dreams come true.  Victims see the relationship as the source of their security and happiness.  Thus, they seek to maintain the relationship and the other person’s favor at all cost. This promotes people pleasing behavior for the victim.

People pleasing sets unrealistic expectations that the victim will (or should) always agree with the martyr. Because the victim does not feel comfortable saying no, s/he often agrees to actions that are personally undesirable. Yet, the victim often does not follow through, or execute well. This inconsistency makes the victim appear even more helpless. The inconsistency is actually the victim’s ineffectual way of acting on his/her own desires.

These “victims” often associate themselves with “martyrs”. Martyrs have an over-inflated view of their own power. Martyrs take on the responsibility of managing their own life as well as the lives of the victim. They accept responsibility for the other person’s emotions and work diligently to “fix” the other person’s life. The martyr denies the victim the freedom to choose and feel differently. This seems appropriate to the martyr because the victim is “clearly” incapable of managing life. That’s why the victim needs to trust the martyr’s judgment over his/her own. The martyr is left feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of managing two people’s lives. S/he is also frustrated that the victim doesn’t just “go along” with the plan.

Both martyrs and victims eventually feel frustrated and resentful of the other person. This codependency prolongs the unhealthy relationship dynamic. It also promotes physical and psychological dis-ease in both parties.

How do you establish healthy boundaries?

The key to establishing healthy emotional boundaries is to embrace your own power. This is true for setting boundaries in leadership, marriage, parenting, and friendships.

People pleasing is giving away your own power. Playing the role of a martyr is accepting responsibility beyond the constraints of your personal power. As you embrace your personal power, you learn how to say no to things that do not honor you and your life purpose . You also learn the importance of saying  yes to those that do.

There are only two things you need to do to establish healthy boundaries. First create the boundary. Second, give others the freedom not to like them. Many people give up their power out of fear or a misunderstanding of love. But, as you follow the steps below, you reclaim your power by setting healthy boundaries.

  • Get clear on your purpose, vision, and values

Real power comes from focusing on what’s important to you. To exercise control over your life, you must first see yourself as worthy. You need to see your uniqueness as something to be treasured. This perspective helps you to see the value of protecting your difference in the face of social pressures for conformity.

As you get clear on your unique contribution, your motivation for protecting that purpose increases. You recognize that this gift has been invested in you and needs to be advanced by you. Power is acknowledging what you have to offer to the world and behaving in a way that demonstrates your faith in yourself and your gifts. Learn to align your life 100% with what’s important to you.Embrace your ability to act

  • Embrace your ability to act

Real power is a process, not a destination. No one is completely helpless. There is always something that you can do for yourself. When you act in your own best interest, you feel and are powerful.

Power as a destination is understanding power as a finite object. It is something that you have and that can be taken from you. Power as a noun refers to differential amounts of power. Someone may have more or less power than you.

Yet, power as a process describes your capacity to act. Taken from the word Anglo-Norman French word “poeir” and the Latin word “posse”, power means “to be able”. This version of power is something that everyone has and can not be taken away. As you change your understanding of power, you immediately see that you always have the capacity to do something.

Whatever the situation, you can put your gifts into action toward accomplishing your goal. This is your power. As you act in your best interests, you increase your capacity to do so in the future. As long as you are alive, your power is there for you to use.

  • Speak a powerful “yes”

No one else has your gifts or unique combination of experiences. You show your power by embracing your gifts and sharing them with others. You have a role to play in this world that only you with your unique gifts and experiences can play. To downplay your power is to reject your gifts and your purpose in the world. Living out your purpose in the world means that you are willing to show up and embrace your unique contribution. No one else can take your place. If you don’t do it for you, it won’t be done.

The real measure of power is your ability to choose for yourself what’s important to you and ignore the rest. Owning and reclaiming your power means using your power to support your dreams, needs and wants.

Boundaries breathe life into broken relationships.  Reclaim your power and individuality. Acknowledge and respect the power of others. Choosing to establish and maintain your boundaries will increase your happiness and relationship satisfaction.

Comment below your thoughts about boundaries, personal power, and healthy relationships. What shifts occur within you when you see power as the process of living into your gifts rather than a destination?

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3 Simple Ways to Naturally Boost Your Immune System

natural way to boost your immune system

We can improve the functioning of our immune system by cultivating these three emotional states.

We often look for ways to improve their immune systems; protecting ourselves from being bed-ridden during flu season or or catching every bug that travels through our workplace.. Health food stores sell millions of dollars’ worth of supplements of Vitamin C and other vitamins known to improve your immune functioning. Yet, there’s an overlooked way to strengthen your immune system that is research proven to be effective and it’s FREE.

 

Emotions play a critical role in the functioning of our immune system in both positive and negative ways. Emotions has a significant impact on both our production of antibodies and our natural killer blood cells (NK cells) that serve as our first line of immune strength. Antibodies help to identify and attack foreign germs in our bodies. NK cells work to destroy tumor cells, disease tissue, bacteria as well as to help antibodies fight against infections in their early stages. In this article, I identify emotions that are known to impact our body’s production and operation of antibodies and/or NK cells. We can clearly see the dangerous emotions that weaken the immune system as well as 3 emotions we can practice as a daily boost to our immune system, naturally.

 

Emotions that Destroy the Immune System

Anger

Anger raises our blood pressure, increases our heart beat, gives us headaches and compromises our cognitive function. But did you know that anger can also make it easier for you to get the flu? In a study published by the Journal of Advancement in Medicine, researchers asked people to recall either an angry situation or a loving situation. The participants who recalled an angry situation experienced significantly lower immune antibodies. Moreover, the decrease in antibodies cause by anger lasted for six hours. Anger suppresses the immune functioning long beyond the situation that made us angry has passed.

 

Loneliness

Social isolation and the feelings of loneliness that it produces also works to weaken the functioning of our immune systems. A research study found that infant monkeys caged alone and separate from their mothers generate fewer antibodies in response to viruses. The act of physical and social separate suppresses the power of the immune system, making us vulnerable to a host of minor and major diseases.

 

Fear/Anxiety

Anxiety also known as stress is a primary driver of many health problems, often operating by weakening the immune system. While a short dose of fear can produce a healthy, enhanced physical performance, sustained states of fear for one’s safety a security dramatically reduce the health of the immune system. In fact, the negative impact of social fear is even greater than the impact of physical deprivation on our immune system.

 

In a study reviewed by the Harvard School of Medicine, mice were put into a cage with a highly aggressive mouse two hours a day for six days and repeatedly threatened (but not injured) were twice as likely to die as other mice that were kept in tiny cages without food and water for long periods. The social stressor of fear is a even more powerful impact on immune functioning that the stressor of physical deprivation.

 

Emotions that Naturally Boost Your Immune System

Emotions are produced by thoughts, but they are not isolated in your mind. Your emotional state triggers a cascade of physical reactions in your body. Every time you operate from feelings of anger, loneliness, and fear you are pouring waves of toxicity through your body, damaging your immune system and compromising your overall health. The good news is that the impact of our emotional state on the functioning of body goes in both the positive and negative direction.

 

We have the power to choose our emotional state. Much of our emotional state is a product not of what happens to us, but rather how we think about what happens to us. In a previous article, I review how we can replace the negative thinking that produces unhealthy responses with more positive thoughts that promote our physical and psychological well-being.  As we practice creating positive, healthy emotional states for ourselves, we remove and repair the damage created by anxiety, loneliness, and fear. We can literally make ourselves healthier by intentionally cultivating the following emotional states in our daily lives.

 

Humor

Humor can be a great way to combat the damage created by created by anger and other negative emotions. Humor dramatically improves not only our psychological sense of well-being but our immune system as well. Humor curbs stress hormones and boost our NK cell production.

 

Injecting humor into our lives significantly improves the functioning of our immune system hours after the humorous event and days leading up to a humorous event.  In a research study where men were told three days in advance that they were going to watch a funny video, they experienced a significantly lower drop in stress hormones (as compared to those men who were not anticipating the funny video). Moreover, 12 hours after watching a funny video, the research participants still had higher biological indicators of immunity than those who did not watch the video. Laughter is truly (long-acting) medicine.

 

You can significantly improve your immune system functioning and your overall physical health by injecting more humor into your day. Allow yourself “indulgences” of humor, like a funny 5min youtube clip or a funny movie. Too often when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we remove these activities out of our lives because we “don’t have time” for such frivolous play. But there is nothing frivolous about humor. It is an essential part of a healthy life and will provide you with immediate and long-term benefits to your productivity and physical health. So go ahead and tell a funny joke. Improve your and someone else’s immune system today.

 

Connection

Humans are social creatures and have an inherent need for connection to maintain health and overall well-being. This positive impact of connection includes three dimensions: connection to self, connection to others, and connection to nature. While these three dimensions of connection are distinctive they are interrelated and connection in one area enhances and expands the capacity for connection in the others. Promoting our connectedness strengthens the functioning of our immune system.

 

Research shows a positive correlation between social connectedness and immune functioning. Individuals who have a network of social support produce more disease fighting NK cells than those who don’t. Scholars conclude that increasing social support might provide a “high natural immunity” to disease and infection.  So take the time to connect with your family and friends and visit loved ones who are sick. These emotional bonds strengthen both your and their immune systems.

 

A number of other research studies have shown connecting with nature also enhances your immune functioning. A study that compared men taking 2 hour walks in parks or forest to men walking for the same amount of time in the city found that that visiting parks and forests raised the production of NK cells by 50%.  Another study focused on women found the same effect and noted that the increase in NK cells lasted a week for those women who walked in nature.  Practicing sensory walks in nature is a great way to boost our immune system and become more aware of our connections to the larger world.

 

Happiness

Steven Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and a member of the UCLA Cousins Center, and his colleagues have spent years studying the impact of happiness and other emotions on gene expression and physical health. They distinguish between two types of happiness: happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life and happiness focused only on pleasure seeking and self-gratification.  In their report to the National Academy of Sciences, they found that happiness resulting from a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life promotes the gene expression of antiviral and antibody genes. Happiness focused only on self-gratification had the opposite effect, suppressing the health of the immune system.

 

Happy people are healthier and live longer. Yet this relationship between happiness and positive health only exists for those individuals who cultivate happiness from a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. These are people who are clear on their unique contribution to this world and have developed a life that reflects their personal truth.

 

Thankfully, we all can cultivate this kind of happiness. I’ve provided some free resources on my website (www.yourlifeinfocuscoach.com) to help you in cultivating a life of happiness that reflects and affirms your core values and life purpose. If you’d like more clarity on discovering your life purpose, sign up to receive my free Life Goals Planning Toolkit.

 

Wishing you a life filled with joy, connection, purpose, and health!

References:

Berk LS, Felten DL, Tan SA, Bittman BB, Westengard J, 2001. “Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter.” Alternative Therapeutic Health Medicine 7(2).

Christie W. & C. Moore. 2005. “The impact of humor on patients with cancer.” Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 9:211.

LiQ MK, Kobayashi M., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Hirata Y., Shimizu T., Li YJ, Wakayama Y., Kawada T., Ohira T., Takayama N., Kagawa T., Mijazaki Y. 2008. “A forest bathing trip increase human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins in female subjects.” Journal of Biological Regulation Homeost Agents 22(1):44-55.

LiQ MK, Nakadai A., Inagaki H., Katsumata M., Shimiza T., Hirata Y., Hirata K., Miyazaki Y., Kagawa T., Koyama Y., Ohira T., Takayama N., Krensky AM, Kawada T. 2007. “Forest bathing enhances natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins.” International Journal of Pharmacology. 20(2):3-8.

Miyazaki T., Ishikawa T, Hirofumi I, Miki A, Wenner M, Fukunishi I, Kawamura N. 2003. “Relationship between perceived social support and immune function.” Stress and Health. 19(1):3-7.

Rein G., Atkinson M, and McCraty R. 1995. “The physiological effects of compassion and anger” Journal of Advancement in Medicine. 8(2).

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