Archive for ‘Mindfulness’

February 15, 2013

A Valentine’s Day Talk About Relationships

by Dave P.

February 13, 2013

New Improved Closed Eye Oscillation Thought Stopping Technique

by Dave P.

Closed Eye Oscillation Thought Stopping (CEOTS) has shown to be effective for many people, but it’s not that easy to use for some. A few people who participated in the study said it made them dizzy.

This morning, I woke up early and was unable to fall back to sleep. With my eyes closed, I moved them back and forth, but to no avail. The worries kept coming back into my my consciousness and I was unable to fall back to sleep.

So I decided to try some new techniques. First I imagined an eraser clearing my thoughts. Then a squeegee. The squeegee seemed to work better than the eraser, but it wasn’t working well enough to help me sleep. Then I imagined windshield wipers oscillating back and forth while I followed them with my eyes, and voilà! I was asleep in just a few seconds!

WindshieldWiperStart of by observing the sound of your breathing, and observe the sensation of cool air flowing in through your nostrils and warm air flowing back out. Any time a thought enters your consciousness, imagine windshield wipers slowly flapping back and forth, and follow them with your eyes. For thoughts high in emotion, imagine the windshield wipers oscillating at a faster rate. When the thought is completely gone and you experience calm, return your focus to your breath. Repeat whenever a thought enters your consciousness.

You can try various techniques to see what works for you. Try the windshield wiper visualization technique and see how that works. There are few things more frustrating than not being able to sleep. I hope this helps some of you out there.

February 7, 2013

Sleep for dummies

by Dave P.

I’m so tired, I haven’t slept a wink
I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder, should I get up and fix myself a drink?
No no no
~ The Beatles (lyrics by John Lennon)

“I’m so stupid, I can’t even sleep! What’s wrong with me?!!” Those are some thoughts that used to go through my head when I’d lay awake at night, unable to sleep. I’d sometimes get so mad at myself, I’d punch myself in the head. I often wished I could cry myself to sleep, but wasn’t able to. It was pure hell.

Insomnia is a horrible condition. It leads people to drink, do drugs, and give up on life. Michael Jackson suffered from severe insomnia and required medically induced sleep. It eventually killed him. The great American blues guitarist Michael Bloomfield had the same problem. It destroyed his career. He turned to heroin for relief, which eventually killed him.

Unhappiness and discontentment often cause insomnia. When you don’t have something worthwhile in your life to look forward to, it affects your sleep. When you have strong meaning in life, you tend to sleep like a baby.

Everyone suffers from an occasional sleepless night, but when the problem becomes chronic, you begin spiraling downward — out of control. Every task becomes arduous. You can’t think clearly. You feel lousy. Your speech becomes slurred. You can’t remember anything. You don’t feel like talking to anyone. You become irritable. You can’t pay attention. All you can think about is going home and going to bed, but then when you’re in bed, you can’t sleep, and you think about all the things that are going wrong in your life. You dread the coming day.

People who suffer from insomnia often spend a lot of time reading books about insomnia. While proper sleep hygiene is important, spending an inordinate amount of time reading about insomnia isn’t going to help and can actually make your problem worse.

When people are unhappy, they often do things that reinforce their unhappiness, like reading about depression, insomnia, or other problems. They do so because they can relate to the material. We experience temporary pleasure when we connect with something. Even a good cry provides us with pleasure by stimulating the release of endorphins in the brain.

The problem with spending too much time learning about your problems is it strengthens the negative thinking part of the brain. What is needed is the opposite — the exercise of the positive thinking part of the brain! But that’s a bit difficult when you feel crappy due to lack of sleep. But there is hope.

First of all, take a step back at your life and ask yourself where you want to be in five or ten years. What are your goals and aspirations? Don’t factor in your insomnia because we’re going to solve that problem. What do you want out of life? Friends? Family? A career? A nice home? Hobbies? Don’t say, “a lot of money.” While it takes money to acquire some of the things we want in life, it in itself will not make you happy. And be realistic. Setting a goal to learn how to fly will only lead to disappointment or worse if you actually try to fly!

Goals provide us with meaning in life. Now, what would it take to achieve those goals? Set a course. Again, ignore your insomnia for now. What will it take? Training? Additional education? Just hard work? Map out your path. Remember to keep it positive. At this point, it may seem futile because it’s hard to do anything when you can’t sleep, but that is simply an obstacle that can be overcome.

Next, we’ll address sleep hygiene.

Wind down before going to bed. Write down anything that’s bothering you or problems that you need to address the next day. That will cut down on the ruminations and worry.

Meditate before going into your bedroom. Meditation actually gets you into a pre-sleep state with increased alpha brain waves.

Keep your bedroom cool. Your body releases tryptophan and increases serotonin levels as it cools, which cause drowsiness. A hot shower before bed will raise your body temperature, and you’ll feel tired when it cools down. Exercise also raises your body temperature, so don’t engage in any strenuous activities before bed. Sex may be the exception.

You can meditate while in bed to help you fall asleep. Simply observe the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils — the cool air entering and warm air exiting. Listen to the sounds of the night. Feel the comfort of your bed. Just observe.

If you live in a noisy area, some earplugs can help. A sleep mask can provide you with a dark environment — even during the day.

But what do you do when your brain won’t shut down when you’re trying to fall asleep? After all… it’s dark and quiet — the perfect time to think about things without any disruption! We seem to get some kind of satisfaction from rehashing our problems, but it also generates anxiety. There is also the worry about not being able to sleep, which, of course, prevents you from sleeping.

Many people resort to sleeping pills or alcohol to help them fall asleep, which often do help you sleep, but they affect the quality of sleep. You’ll spend less time in deep sleep and not feel refreshed when you awaken. Personally, sleeping pills always made me feel worse than if I didn’t sleep at all. I’d feel dizzy and spaced out the next day.

If you’re not really worried about anything but your mind just won’t shut down, often simply observing your breath can help. But if your thoughts are high in emotional content, extra strength thought-stopping techniques are needed!

I’ve written about this before, but it works well for those who have tried it. Get into a comfortable position and simply close your eyes and slowly and gently move them back and forth. You can combine this technique with mindfulness practice. Observe your breath, but when a thought enters your consciousness, move your eyes back and forth to erase it. Then return to your mindfulness practice. If you’re feeling anxious, move your eyes back and forth until you have calmed down. Then go back to your mindfulness practice.

If you’ve suffer from severe, chronic insomnia, you might benefit from SSRIs such as paroxetine (generic Paxil). They cause drowsiness and reduce anxiety. Ask your doctor if it might help.

Once you get your insomnia under control, you’re free to pursue your goals and reach your potential.

February 7, 2013

Exposure therapy: Experience life

by Dave P.

You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play
~ Steve Forbert

There’s only so much progress you can make by reading or listening to advice. You can develop an understanding of your issues, and you can accept them. You can recognize that it wasn’t your fault if you were abused or bullied. But you’re not going to overcome your problems unless you get out there in the world and experience life.

An obvious application is that of public speaking anxiety. You can develop your skills and self-efficacy that you can deliver a speech competently. You can deliver your speech to your dog, your family, or friends. But until you get out in front of an audience, you won’t be exposed to the elements that cause public speaking anxiety, and those are people!

People, for the most part, are harmless. The chance that anyone in the audience is going to cause you any physical harm is minuscule. Emotional pain activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain, though. Having the right attitude is essential to avoid a negative reaction, and that deals with not worrying what people think about you. People might not like your physical appearance  your voice, or your style. No matter who you are, there are going to be critics. If you like yourself and you’re having fun, it doesn’t matter what others think.

The DISH Method applies to all aspects of life. DISH stands for: Develop your skills, Incorporate your personality, Stop the negative thinking, and Have fun!

To be able to enjoy yourself in social situations requires social skills. You need to be able to carry on a conversation, have something interesting to say, and be able to say it. Some people claim that don’t know what to talk about, which is why they hated socializing. The world is a fascinating place. There is a lot going on out there. All you need to do is open your eyes and learn about it, whether it has to do with people, places, or things. Develop a passion for learning and understanding. Learn how to convey your interests to others. If you have a passion for what you’re saying, so will others. If you are trying to impress others with your knowledge, though, you’re not going to win friends or influence anyone.

Incorporate your personality into everything you do. Your individuality is what makes you interesting. Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. Live authentically. If you’re trying to be someone you’re not, you’re wasting time by not living up to your potential.

Stop the negative thinking. People with low self-esteem too often discount the positive and focus on the negative. They think people are just being nice if they get a complement, and they believe that their successes are anomalies. Failure is their natural state of being. They learn that they are helpless — that no matter how much effort they exert, they’re destined to fail. Because of that, they often do fail.

You are the star of your life. Until you accept that, you have very little chance of being happy. Sure, we want others like us;  our relationships generate happiness and allow us to manage stress. But the main thing is that you like yourself, and you can only do that by being the kind of person you would admire and respect. It involves dignity, self-respect, self-assertiveness, and self-growth. It’s about setting goals — both short and long term, and working towards their attainment. Goals lead us forward in life. Never stop learning.

Plato once said, “Life should be lived as play.” I repeat that quote fairly often because it’s too easy to forget and get bogged down in the muck and mire of life. We have the ability to experience pleasure in almost any activity — even work! One of the keys is living mindfully. Even the act of washing the dishes can be an enjoyable experience when performed completely in the present. Observe the sensation of the water running over your hands. Observe the sounds and smells. If you become efficient at the task, you can achieve a state of flow, which generates even more pleasure.

Attitude is everything in life. If you go into a situation so afraid to fail that you’re anxious, you are not living up to your potential. But if you recognize that you are the star of your life and that you’re not here on earth to live up to someone else’s expectations, you can’t help but win. But as the old saying goes: “you cannot win if you do not play.”

February 6, 2013

You are the star of your life

by Dave P.

Take it as it comes, specialize in having fun.
~ Jim Morrison

No matter what happened in the past, you can’t change it. There are no “do overs” in life. But we can learn from our mistakes and use them to help us grow. People who don’t get to experience mistakes often develop a fear of failure. We don’t need to be perfect. Our imperfections are what make us human.

Put your mistakes behind you. You are the star of your life. If you were writing a script for today, you wouldn’t decide to spend it ruminating and worrying. That would make for a boring movie!

Ruminating can become a bad habit if you do it too often. The parts of your brain that you use most develops strong neurological connections. The more you do something, the stronger the connections become. That’s what you want if you’re trying to learn how to play the piano, but it can take a serious toll on your state of mind if it involves maladaptive thinking.

Research psychologist Martin Seligman found that people who ruminate a lot are prone to depression. Ruminators often suffer from low self-esteem, which is why they seek the approval of others. When they don’t get it, they obsess, worry, and ruminate, which results in the loss of respect from others and the diminishment of self-respect.

When you find yourself ruminating, try this. Simply close your eyes and move them back and forth fairly rapidly — about twice the speed of a clock pendulum. Don’t try to block the rumination, but instead, try to ruminate while oscillating your eyes. You’ll find it to be extremely difficult to think about anything since the process of moving your eyes back and forth requires a fair amount of concentration; there’s not much processing capability left over to process other thoughts. Any time the maladaptive thought enters your consciousness, simply close your eyes and move them back and forth.

I did a study on this technique, which I call Rapid Eye Oscillation Technique, or REOT, and the people who tried it reported it to be effective. I use it all the time to help me fall asleep and to stop ruminations that would otherwise disrupt my day. Nothing else has ever worked for me.

You can be the star of your life if you stop worrying so much about what others think about you. While we all want to be liked and respected, if your sense of self-worth depends on the approval of others, it will have the opposite effect; people will like and respect you less.

Be yourself. Be authentic. If you don’t like yourself, work on self-improvement. Develop your conversational skills. Make an effort to learn new things every day. Show gratitude for your relationships and the good things in life. Work on being a positive person. Try to make the world a better place. Take it as it comes. Specialize in having fun.

February 3, 2013

Path to the present: Find meaning in life

by Dave P.

Do you suffer from existential nausea? What you may need is some Existential Alka-Seltzer — a pill the size of an automobile hubcap that, when dissolved in water, takes away the queasy feeling induced by too much awareness of life. You may also find it helpful after eating Mexican food.
~ Adapted from Woody Allen’s The Condemned

How much time do you waste ruminating about your past or worrying about your future? Do you spend a lot of time daydreaming?

People are happiest when they’re absorbed in what they’re doing, but events from the past can interrupt or prevent a state of ‘flow.’ You may have been abused as a child, which damaged your self-esteem. You may have been bullied at school or work, which damaged your sense of confidence. You may have a learning disability, which affected your self-efficacy. Any of those things can give you social anxiety, which affects your ability to form close relationships.

One of the keys to living in the present is finding meaning in life. Meaning can come from a variety of sources, but most comes from a desire to improve the world in some way, whether it’s helping people overcome their problems, teaching, political activism, environmental causes, or even self-improvement.

When you have strong meaning in life, the small, negative things don’t bother you. You don’t spend a lot of time ruminating or worrying because you’re content in the present working towards a goal. Meaning pulls you toward a specific destination. When we’re not living in the present, we need to be pushed. We need to be pushed out of bed, pushed to clean up the house, pushed to go to work, pushed to do most everything. When you have a strong pull towards something positive, you have strong, natural motivation.

Pull is sometimes negative. When you’re in pain, you seek out pain relief, so you might be pulled towards alcohol, drugs, pornography, promiscuous sex, cutting, or other sources of pain relief. Those types of activities might relieve the pain for a little while, but afterwards, they leave you feeling even worse. They’re like the Sirens’s song, luring you in with a promise of ecstasy, but then leaving you shipwrecked on the rocky cost of life.

February 2, 2013

The importance of roll models

by Dave P.

The importance of roll models during adolescence is well documented, but we can benefit from roll models throughout our lives, no matter what our age.

My big interest is helping people overcome their fear of public speaking – mainly because I suffered from severe fear of public speaking for most of my life and was able to overcome that fear. We can only provide useful advice for conditions and pursuits in which we have been successful. Failure never stopped people from offering advice, though.

While in college, one of my roommates would constantly offer advice for a wide range of topics. He had graduated years earlier, but still lived with roommates because he didn’t earn enough to live on his own. At the time, he had attempted to run three different businesses – all of which failed. He was on his fourth, which was in the process of failing. His next endeavor was to be a business consultant. He felt that his experience making mistakes would be valuable to other businesses owners!

Sure, we can learn from other people’s mistakes so we don’t fail, but it’s not enough to simply not fail; you need to succeed! And success comes from learning from other people who succeeded.

I’ve succeeded in overcoming many problems in my life such as low self-esteem, public speaking anxiety, and social anxiety. I have done so through education and evaluation – trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t work. But at it’s core, it comes down to one thing: you need to do it yourself. There is no magic pill that will boost your self-esteem. Beta-blockers can help with performance anxiety by blocking your physiological response to stressors, but the source of the problem almost always comes down to being overly concerned with what others think about you. It’s about learning to be authentic and playing the staring role in your own life.

Role models can help us be authentic. We can observe others who have realized their full potential – those who have achieved self-actualization, as Abraham Maslow described in his Hierarchy of Needs.

When I was working towards overcoming public speaking anxiety, I had several role models such as Robert Sapolsky – the great stress researcher and professor from Stanford university. I watched several of his lectures on YouTube and was enthralled by his knowledge and ability to present his ideas with clarity, accuracy, and humor. He definitely gets into a “zone” when lecturing. There is no pretense or sense of self-consciousness in his presentation, and you can tell he really enjoys sharing the information with his students. He’s having fun, and it shows.

I’ve been watching some Tony Robbins motivational talks lately. I like his enthusiasm. While what he says doesn’t have that much of an impact on my life, the way he says it does. I know that I’m not anywhere near as smart as Robert Sapolsky or as outgoing as Tony Robbins, but I can incorporate some of their qualities into my presentation.

There’s nothing wrong with copying others when you’re trying to find yourself. Even Vincent Van Gogh copied the styles of other artists such as Daumier, Rembrandt, Pissarro, and others to learn where they were coming from. All great artists borrow from others. Public speaking is an art, and there’s nothing wrong with having role models – no matter what your age.

As Plato once said, “Life should be lived as play.” We should find a way to have fun in whatever we’re doing.

January 31, 2013

Live in the present

by Dave P.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

January 30, 2013

Respect yourself (Part 2)

by Dave P.

Even in the most dire circumstances, we have far better chance of faring well if we maintain our dignity. Many of those who survived the Holocaust did so because of their mental toughness more so than their physical strength. Many of them did what they could to help others, which allowed them to maintain their self-respect. They had meaning in their lives and reason to keep on trying.

Viktor Frankl wrote about meaning in life. Meaning was the central theme of his Logotherapy, which became Existential therapy. We can find meaning in even the most trivial of events. A walk around the park can be a mindful experience. Picking up a loaf of bread can be an opportunity to brighten up someone’s life with a smile. Self-respect comes from doing good things — from making the world a better place.

We tend to lose self-respect when we’re self-focused. When we’re in that state of mind, we’re self-absorbed and sensitive to criticism. We don’t want to be bothered with other people’s problems when we’re desperately trying to deal with our own. We pity ourselves, which destroys self-respect. It makes us feel inferior — that we’re victims.

If you were playing the role of yourself in a movie about your life, you wouldn’t want your character to be a weak, self-absorbed, vindictive character. You’d want that person to be strong willed, noble, honorable, and to have impeccable integrity. You’d want your character to stand up for what’s right and to fight wrongs.

We can aspire to be good, decent people. It’s not that difficult. Doctors take an oath to practice medicine honestly and ethically call the Hippocratic Oath. At it’s core is the message: “First, do no harm.” It’s equivalent to the negative version of the Golden Rule that states: don’t do bad things. But that’s not enough. We need to also do good things when we can, but at the very least, don’t do bad things.

January 29, 2013

Respect yourself (Part 1)

by Dave P.

“If you don’t respect yourself ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot.”
~ The Staple Singers (written by Luther Ingram and Mack Rice)

Often, when we feel sad, depressed, angry, or anxious, we do things we would not ordinarily do. Rather than show appreciation for the people in our lives, we take out our frustrations on them. A factory worker who was chewed out at work might go home and abuse his wife. A sales person who didn’t make his or her quota might go out to the bar and drink too much, and then drive home drunk. When we should be relying on our social support network to help us manage life’s stressors, we often do things to hurt them. We don’t want pity. When people feel sorry for you, they lose respect for you. No, we want to be strong, and strong people deal with stress by being aggressive towards others or by drinking. Or so goes the common attitude.

Our self-respect can be damaged in a number of ways. The most common is promising to do something and not following through. Obviously, if you do that at work, there will be repercussions. But people do that all the time outside of work. I’ve had many people sign up for my workshops and then just not show up. I could usually get a pretty good estimate of the number of people who would show up by dividing the number who signed up in half.

Many of my workshops were for people who suffered from anxiety. Anxiety depletes the dopamine levels in the brain, and dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivation. That explains why people didn’t show up. If I could have offered a pill to help them with their social anxiety or fear of public speaking, those numbers would have been a lot higher. But overcoming those issues requires work, self-discipline, and confronting your fears head-on. You have to really want to overcome your problems in order to put yourself through that, and sometimes we’d rather just play it safe. Sometimes our desire to avoid pain is stronger than one of experiencing joy.

People often mean well but don’t follow through. They might volunteer to help out at the local home owners association with the best intentions and then realize they don’t want to be inconvenienced. Or they volunteered because they thought others would respect them or like them more because of their offer. By not adhering to their promises and obligations, they’ve lost the respect of others, but more importantly, they’ve lost self-respect.

I was out for an evening walk with our dog last summer when I heard muffled screams. I looked ahead and saw a car moving slowly down the street. People were having a fight inside. I walked quickly towards the commotion and they sped up and turned the corner. Some ten minutes later, the car re-appeared — the screams more intense. The car pulled over to the curb and the passenger side door flew open. A woman fell out of the car, screaming and crying. I ran towards her and could see a large man pushing her away. I yelled, “Hey! What the hell’s going on there!” as I ran towards them. He saw me, gunned the engine, and drove away, leaving the woman laying in the road, sobbing.

She was okay, but shoe-less, without a phone, and without anywhere to go. Her face was battered from the fight. I told her I was going to call the police, but she pleaded with me not to. Instead, she asked to use my phone to call a friend. I walked her down to a corner store where she could wait safely until her friend arrived. I told the clerk to keep an eye on her and to call the police if her assailant came looking for her. She hugged me after I told her to give me a call if she needed anything.

I could have easily just ignored the woman’s cries and gone home, but I would have had to live with that. I would have lost faith in my own eyes of the man I aspire to be. Sure, we all screw up once in a while and don’t do what’s right. The only way to restore our self-respect is by acting in ways that reinforce it. The question we should ask ourselves is, “What would you want others to do if you were in that situation?” The cost for not acting is far greater than any inconvenience you may experience.

In Buddhism, the forth element of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Action, which is to act ethically in all situations. Our actions have consequences or karma. Not helping those in need has negative karma. Helping those, or at least trying to help, has positive karma. The Buddha called that Right Intention. Sometimes we try to do what’s right but fail and sometimes even cause the situation to become worse. When we have Right View, which involves an accurate understanding of the situation, the risk that we will cause harm is minimized.

Most of you have probably heard of the Golden Rule. In Christianity and many other religions, the golden rule states that one should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself. The problem with that is, people sometimes feel that if they do some good things, the bad things they do don’t matter. The negative form of the Golden Rule is that one should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated, which is the Jewish form. If we combine the two, we get self-respect.

Self-respect also involves our dignity. It’s about not allowing people to take advantage of us. Have you ever gotten a call from an acquaintance who all of a sudden became friendly because he or she wanted you to help them move? Or maybe someone decided your home would be a good place for a party, even though you’re not close to anyone who will be attending. Or maybe someone just is using you to get a ride somewhere. We have a right to say no when someone is trying to use us. Those kinds of friendships are toxic. We don’t need them in our lives.

But what about if you’re lonely and don’t have any close relationships? Fear of being alone is sometimes greater than the strength needed to keep toxic people at a distance. If that’s the situation you’re in, only self-improvement can get you out of that rut. Self-improvement is important for everyone, whether you’re a dishwasher at the corner diner or the CEO of a major corporation. Successful people continually work to improve themselves. Happy people generally do the same. Self-improvement gives our lives meaning, and meaning is one of the five elements of happiness as defined by positive psychologist Martin Seligman.

You shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave
~Dave Mason

Self-respect involves working to make the world a better place. That doesn’t have to involve something like saving the whales or eliminating hunger in Africa. We make the world a better place by smiling at someone who looks like she might be having a bad day. It might be helping the clumsy kid at school pick up his books. It could be letting someone into your lane in rush-hour traffic. It’s also about offering something of value when speaking to people. Offer a little humor, an interesting story, or just an interest in what the other person has to say.

Depression is believed to be learned helplessness. It’s about not having a feeling of control over your life. It’s about feeling like you’re a victim. When you have that victim mentality, you lose your self-respect.

Many social scientists believe that welfare and affirmative action generate a victim mentality. The entitlements were originally designed to provide a safety-net for, when, though no fault of your own, you run on hard times. It became a way of life for too many people and created a continuous cycle of dependency on government rather than personal responsibility. The reform of the 1990s eliminated many of the problems.

End of part 1