Widening the Circle of Compassion

 
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We may find that we can easily connect with the struggles and conflicts of those we love, and extend love and compassion to them, but we may feel quite indifferent to strangers, and when it comes to people we do not like, such as competitors and adversaries, we might even feel happy that they suffer because it gives us an edge over them or justifies our desires of retribution and revenge. So, the next challenge on our journey is to find a way to be compassionate toward those who do not fall within our immediate circle of concern and to turn away from taking pleasure in their suffering.

Compassion is not about being superficially nice so people will like us; it is not weakness, softness, or letting people off the hook if they cause harm. Compassion is about keying into the nature of suffering, understanding it to our core, and recognizing its sources; but just as important is committing ourselves to relieving pain and to remain hopeful for the future alleviation of suffering for all. We come to realize that whatever differences there are between people, in essence, we are all seeking the same things. Compassion requires strength, determination, and courage within an emotional context of kindness and connection with others.

Try this:

STEP 1: Think of someone whom you neither like nor dislike, but have some form of contact with on a daily basis. It might be a bus driver, the person who serves you a coffee or drink on the way to work, a classmate, or someone you see on the bus every morning. Bring to mind an actual person. 

STEP 2: Think that, just like you, this person has dreams, hopes and fears. Just like you, this person finds themselves in the flow of life and struggles with their emotions, life circumstances, and setbacks. Just like you, this person struggles with feelings of anxiety and anger and self-critical thoughts; they are hurt by rejection and boosted by love.

STEP 3: Now imagine this person facing suffering in some way: perhaps dealing with conflict at work, struggling with addiction or depression, or feeling lonely and unloved. 

STEP 4: Then allow your heart to feel tenderness and concern for this person and offer the following heartfelt wishes:

1.    "May you be happy and well."

2.    "May you be free of suffering and pain."

3.    "May you experience joy and well-being."

Notice how you feel when you express these wishes. Perhaps there is a natural flow of care and concern, or perhaps you feel indifferent or even irritated by the exercise. If you notice yourself feeling shut down, irritated, or resistant, simply be curious about this and notice where you feel this in your body. Is there tightness in your face, jaw, or shoulders, or tension and contraction in some other part of your body? Try to be gentle and honest, not suppressing the emotions you are feeling. Try looking” from the balcony,” so to speak, as an observer of how your threat and compassion systems are clashing in some way. Then, affirm your intention that although you cannot open up to this person right now, you make the wish that one day you may open your heart more fully.

STEP 5: Now shift perspective and think about how this person to whom you feel indifferent loves and cares for some people; there are people who look forward to seeing them when they come home from work; there are things in their life that they cherish. In this way, reflect that your indifference or neutrality is about you and the way you see things; it is not intrinsic to them.

STEP 6: Reflect that just like you, this person wants to be happy, and just like you, this person wants to be free of suffering and pain. Just like you, they want to be loved, safe, and healthy; and just like you, they do not want to be despised, lonely, or depressed. Let the poignancy of this person touch you. 

STEP 7: Then, let the image of this person fade and spend a few moments tuning in to the feelings that may have arisen in you, noticing in particular how this feels in your body.

STEP 8: Now, shifting your awareness to someone else who you know is having a very difficult time. Maybe it is someone at school or in your personal life. It should be someone who's going through a rough time and someone who you care about. Bring this person to mind along with the awareness that they're struggling right now. Let yourself feel what you would wish for them. You may wish them wellness, happiness, or contentment. There may not be specific words, but more of a general feeling. Perhaps it is care in general, or wish for their well-being.

STEP 9: Imagine them receiving your compassion, that simple wish for well-being, and the sense of care. 

NOTE* You may wish to expand your wish of compassion more widely to anyone experiencing difficulty or pain. You may say to yourself “May everyone's suffering end.” Can you believe that? “May everyone feel a sense of care. May everyone be well.” 

STEP 10: As you breathe out, breathe out compassion for others, and breathe out your sense of care to the world.

STEP 11:  If you're not able to connect directly with feelings of compassion, just bring kind awareness to whatever it is you may be experiencing in this moment. Just notice what you're feeling. Breathing in compassion for myself, and breathing out compassion for others. Breathing in compassion for myself, breathing out compassion for others.

The Body Scan

 
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This body scan exercise is designed to help you feel and bring awareness to all of the sensations that occur throughout your body. We are typically not even aware of what our body is telling us. Do we have an area that has too much pressure on it? Do we have an area that's painful? By practicing this mindfulness exercise, you can improve your body awareness and also better understand and cope with pain and difficult emotions in the body. Additionally, most people report feeling more relaxed and recharged after this practice.

STEP 1: Please sit down. Once you're sitting in your chair in a comfortable position with your eyes open or gently closed, take a moment to check in with yourself, observing how you're feeling in your body and your mind.

STEP 2: Begin to focus on your breath - wherever the sensations are strongest for you.

STEP 3: As you scan your body for sensations, try to bring an attitude of curiosity to the practice, as if you're investigating your body for the first time. Notice and feel any and all sensations that are present, such as tingling, tightness, heat, cold, pressure, dullness, or something else. If you do not feel any sensations in a particular region, simply note that and move on.

STEP 4: See if you are aware of any thoughts or emotions that arise as you move through the regions of your body. Note these thoughts and emotions and then return to focusing on the physical sensations that you're experiencing.

STEP 5: Whenever you come across an area that is tense, see if you can allow it to soften. If the area does not soften, simply notice how it feels and allow it to be as it is. Feel as deeply and precisely as you can into each region of the body, noting if the sensations change in any way.

SUGGESTED SEQUENCE OF BODY PARTS:

1. Begin with your left foot and toes and move your awareness up the left leg until you reach the left hip.

2.  Then go to the right foot and toes and up the right leg until you reach the right hip.

3. Next, move your awareness to the pelvic region and stomach, lower back to the upper back, then your chest, heart, and lungs.

4. Then your hands both at the same time moving up the arms until you get to your shoulders.

5. Then the following in this order:

·       Neck

·       Throat

·       Jaw

·       Mouth

·       Teeth

·       Tongue

·       Lips

·       Nose

·       Eyes

·       Forehead

·       Ears

·       Skull

·       Scalp

6.     Finally, become aware of the whole body and rest for a few minutes.

The body scan is a variation of Burmese Vipassana Meditation that involves scanning the body for physical sensations. This meditation is also done in various yoga practices. The body scan is used in mindfulness-based stress reduction.


TAKEAWAYS

·       The Body Scan helps you connect with different sensations in your body that you may not have been aware of.

·       It helps you mindfully experience thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations around different areas of the body.

·       It leaves you feeling relaxed and recharged.

Writing a Letter of Gratitude

 
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By writing someone a letter of gratitude and reading it aloud to him or her, you can experience firsthand the benefits of being grateful. Studies by positive psychologist Martin Seligman have even reported that the effects of doing this just once can last for weeks!

STEP 1: Write a letter to someone you appreciate – typically, a person who has made a difference in your life, and to whom you feel grateful. 

  • Choose someone who has contributed to your life in one way or another (e.g., emotionally, financially, or with some other type of support) – perhaps a person you haven’t yet fully thanked.

  • Brainstorm ways that he or she has contributed to you and had positive effects on your life.

  • Write down both general and specific things this person has done for you and how his or her actions have made you feel.

  • Compose a letter that is roughly one page in length, and then ask this person if you two can meet. Make sure not to tell him or her about the letter beforehand.

STEP 2:    If possible, meet with this person and read this letter to him or her.

  • When you meet, read your letter to its recipient aloud and give this person time to let it sink in.

  • Pay attention to how reading this letter makes you feel.

  • Spend time reflecting with this person on the effects of the letter and what he or she has done for you.

STEP  3:   If you are comfortable, write down how you felt and the highlights of     your conversation.

* Try to do this practice with an open mind and withhold expectations about how you think the recipient will respond. Reading the letter aloud to its recipient is an important part of this method. Try to make sure you choose someone with whom you can meet in person.

This method was adapted from an exercise created by psychologist Martin Seligman called “The Gratitude Visit."  Seligman describes this practice in further detail in his books "Authentic Happiness - Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Happiness" and "Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of  Happiness and Well-being."

Breathing Awareness (Exercise 1)

 
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Developing breath awareness, and learning to breathe properly, is one of the easiest ways to improve your mental and physical health. As Donna Farhi, author of The Breathing Book says, “The unconsciously altered breath allows us to survive, but it does not allow us to thrive.”

This brief and gentle mindful breathing exercise can help you create a relaxation response in your body in as little as 5 minutes:


  1. Find a relaxed, comfortable position. You could be seated on a chair, on the floor, or on a cushion. Keep your back upright, but not too tight. Have your hands resting wherever they’re comfortable. Close your eyes, if that feels comfortable for you, and just allow your breath to be natural.

  2. Tune into your breath. Feel the natural flow of breath—in, and out. You don’t need to do anything to your breath. It doesn't need to be long or short, just natural. Notice where you feel your breath in your body. It may be in your abdomen. It may be in your chest or throat or in your nostrils. See if you can feel the sensations of breath, one breath at a time. When one breath ends, the next breath begins.

  3. As you tune into your breath, you may find that your mind wanders- distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath.

  4. Stay here for five to seven minutes. Notice your breath, in silence. From time to time, you’ll get lost in thought. Gently return to your breath.

You don't have 5 minutes?

When trying to calm yourself in a stressful moment and there is not much time to spare, it might help to start by taking an exaggerated breath: a deep inhale through your nostrils (3 seconds), hold your breath (2 seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (4 seconds). Just this simple action can activate your relaxation response.



 

Human Potential and Health

 
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Over the past 30 years, the medical community's definition of what “Health” is has grown from one of physical health to a much more expansive and holistic concept. As such, the approach to healthcare has expanded as well, from a characterization focused exclusively on diagnosing and treating medical conditions, to one with a much broader scope. This scope includes preventative care and wellness, whereby, wellness can include multiple dimensions including: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, and financial.

At InHouse Physicians, we recognize this definition of wellness, however, we believe wellness can be more accurately summed up in one sentence – the conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving one’s full potential in life. Reaching your full potential can be measured, not only by achieving peak performance, but also through obtaining personal fulfillment.

To achieve this new definition of “wellness,” it is important to understand the neuroscience of human performance, because, reaching your full potential starts in the brain.

Over the past decade, the neuroscience of optimal human performance has been widely researched with state of the art tools leading to multiple discoveries. Scientists have found that all humans are innately designed to do their best. However, optimal performance is dependent on your state of mind. The state of mind most closely correlated with optimal performance is called the “Flow State” or “Flow” for short.

Flow can be thought of as "being in the zone."

It is when your brain is supercharged, your productivity is off the charts with seemingly little effort, and you are experiencing a heightened sense of well being. The good news is that this state of being has a specific neurobiological footprint in the brain that can be measured and even more importantly, this footprint can be reproduced on demand with certain specific interventions.

When in Flow, you not only have a heightened sense of well being and improved productivity, but you also have a greater capacity for learning, stronger ability for interconnectivity and collaboration with others, and a significant boost in creativity - all the things that are not only important for personal fulfillment, but also important to corporations.

Corporations continue to invest in the “well-being” and development of their employees. Neuroscience interventions designed to achieve optimal performance have become the key to satisfying an ever-evolving workforce. This new workforce expects their employers to provide a culture focused on a growth mindset, a holistic set of wellness offerings, and tools to achieve greater performance in the workplace. And those organizations that deliver will benefit from higher employee engagement, stronger employee retention, and an improved bottom line.

The Benefits of Feeling Gratitude

 
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We all think of gratitude as benefiting the person on the receiving end. However, is gratitude also good for the person who is grateful? 

Robert Emmons, the world's leading scientific expert on gratitude, has been studying its effects and the results are very convincing. Dr. Emmons has studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to eighty, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical

• Less pain

• Improved sleep

Psychological

• Higher levels of positive emotions

• More focused

• Greater confidence

Social

• Greater empathy

• More forgiving

• Increased connection with others

The social benefits are especially significant here because gratitude is a social emotion. You see, first, gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there is good in the world. This doesn’t mean that life is perfect; it doesn’t ignore challenges, negative situations, burdens, and hassles. However, when we look at life as a whole, gratitude highlights and emphasizes the positives in our life.

The second part of gratitude is figuring out what is contributing to the goodness in our lives. We recognize the sources of this goodness as being outside of ourselves. Gratitude involves a humble dependence on others. We acknowledge that other people and things give us many gifts that make our lives better. 

What good is gratitude?

So what’s really behind Dr. Emmons’ research results—why might gratitude have these transformative effects on people’s lives?

I think there are several important reasons, but I want to highlight four in particular.

  1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present. By focusing on being grateful our brains actually change. Our neurobiology shifts to one that makes us feel better and one that makes us a higher performer in life.

  2. Gratitude blocks negative emotions that can destroy our happiness. A 2008 study by psychologist Alex Wood in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that gratitude can reduce the frequency and duration of episodes of depression. (This makes sense: You cannot feel grateful and have negative emotions at the same time.)

  3. Grateful people are more stress resistant. There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity, and suffering, if people have a grateful attitude, they’ll recover more quickly. So, in fact, a sense of gratitude is the most important when someone is going through challenging times.

  4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth. When you’re grateful, you feel that others are looking out for you—someone else has provided for your well-being, or you realize that you have a network of people in your life that value you and contribute that other to your life. Once you realize that other people have seen the value in you, you can transform the way you see yourself.


We want to feel more gratitude—and we want our students to do the same—because gratitude is so closely associated with happiness that the two are practically indistinguishable from one another. The opposite of gratitude is entitlement, which brings negative feelings like disappointment and frustration. But when we feel grateful, our world fills with positive emotions like love, compassion, enthusiasm, and confidence—and our satisfaction with life soars.

What we’ve learned from the gratitude interventions that don’t work is that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. So how can we help an adolescents become happier through gratitude?

The first thing to remember is that teenagers’ unique developmental task is to be independent: to break away from you, the adult who is asking you to appreciate what they do for you.

So every time teens take your advice—about how to be happier, or by following your instructions for practicing gratitude—they are setting themselves up to remain dependent on you. Which doesn’t feel good. Herein lies the problem.

This doesn’t mean that we should give up on teaching our students to feel and express more gratitude in their lives. Here are some suggestions for practicing gratitude with your students:

  1. Let teens lead. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to practicing gratitude—and a gratitude practice is going to be a lot less effective if it is seen as a chore or an assignment. So tell teens you want them to design a gratitude practice for themselves. And give them options to choose. for your whole family this year. credit, even if they come up with something you suggested weeks ago.

  2. Use gratitude to cultivate the growth mindset in difficult times. What did you learn from that terrible experience? What good came out of it, despite the difficulty?

  3. Be persistent. When teens feel authentic gratitude, it is a positive emotion for them just like for everyone else. When they create a gratitude practice that works for them, feelings of gratitude will become habitual, hopefully built into their daily lives

Below are some of the specific steps I like to recommend for overcoming the challenges to gratitude.

  • Gratitude Journal - Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.

A Gratitude Journal can be just listing just five things for which you’re grateful every week. This practice works, I think, because it consciously, intentionally focuses our attention on developing more grateful thinking and on eliminating ungrateful thoughts. It helps guard against taking things for granted; instead, we see gifts in life as new and exciting. 

  • Grateful Thoughts - Another gratitude exercise is to practice counting your blessings on a regular basis, maybe first thing in the morning, maybe at the end of the day. You can use concrete reminders to practice gratitude, which can be particularly effective in working with children. What are you grateful for today? You don’t have to write them down on paper.

  • Think Outside of the Box - Mother Theresa talked about how grateful she was to the people she was helping (the sick and dying in the slums of Calcutta) because they enabled her to grow and deepen her spirituality. That’s a very different way of thinking about gratitude—gratitude for what we can give as opposed to what we receive.

A Mindfulness Eating Exercise: Simple Instructions

 
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Have you ever eaten a whole bag of popcorn while watching a movie, taking one large handful at a time - without much awareness - only to find the bag empty well before the end of the movie? Well, that is the opposite of mindfulness!

You may have heard of mindful eating. Here are some instructions for a brief mindfulness eating exercise.

The following exercise is simple and will only take a few minutes.

Find a small piece of food, such as one kernel of popcorn, a raisin, a nut, or a small cookie. You can use any food that you like. Eating with mindfulness is not about deprivation or rules. It is about appreciating and enjoying your food.

Begin by exploring this little piece of food, using as many of your senses as possible.

First, look at the food. Notice its texture. Notice its color.

Now, close your eyes, and explore the food with your sense of touch. What does this food feel like? 

Notice that you’re full attention is on the here and now as you experience this piece of food like never before. This is what it means to eat mindfully.

Before you eat, explore this food with your sense of smell. What do you notice?

Now, begin eating. No matter how small the bite of food you have is, take at least two bites to finish it.

Take your first bite. Please chew very slowly, noticing the actual sensory experience of chewing and tasting. You might want to close your eyes for a moment to focus on the sensations of chewing and tasting.

Notice the texture of the food; the way it feels in your mouth.

Notice if the intensity of its flavor changes, moment to moment.

Take a little bit more time to very slowly finish this first bite of food, being aware of the simple sensations of chewing and tasting.

It isn’t always necessary to eat slowly in order to eat with mindfulness, however it’s helpful at first to slow down, in order to be as mindful as you can.

Now, please take your second and final bite.

As before, chew very slowly, while paying close attention to the actual sensory experience of eating: the sensations and movements of chewing, the flavor of the food as it changes, and the sensations of swallowing.

Just pay attention, moment by moment. You may find that you not only enjoy eating that little piece of food more than ever before, but you also may feel calmer and more focused. 

Using a mindfulness eating exercise on a regular basis is only one part of a mindfulness approach to your diet. The new way of experiencing food through mindfulness takes a deeper effect when you begin to pay mindful attention to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, all of which lead us to eat. Mindfulness is the foundation that many have been missing for overcoming food cravings, addictive eating, binge eating, emotional eating, and stress eating.

 

Eat Smart to Be Smart: 8 Foods to Boost Your Brain Power

 
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The brain, like the rest of our body, relies on specific nutrients for its proper function. Certain foods offer nutrients which supply the brain with raw materials that maximizefunction allowing the brain to perform at optimum levels

For best learning, memory, mood levels, creativity and a host of other brain-dependent activities, the following foods are key to incorporate in your diet. 

1. Fatty fish: sardines, tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, carp, redfish, red snapper

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  • high in Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA (also important for brain development and function)

  • According to 2016 JAMA study, consuming fish just once a week was correlated with less Alzheimer disease neuropathology.

Make it work in my life: For dinner one night, bake one of the above drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with a dash of salt and pepper. 

2. Walnuts

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  • nut highest in Omega -3 ALA (alpha linoleic acid)

  • improve memory, cognition, & motor function

  • reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the aging brain

  • high in vitamin E

Make it work in my life: Sprinkle your morning yogurt, warm cereal, or afternoon salad with a small handful of walnuts. 

3. Avocados

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  • rich source of “good fat” (monounsaturated) and tyrosine

  • contributes to healthy blood flow and lower blood pressure which helps prevent a decrease in cognitive abilities

  • reduce effects of acute stress

  • reduce oxidative stress

  • neuroprotective

Make it work in my life: Give avocado toast a try! Spread a quarter of an avocado on a slice of toast in the morning for a rich, savory and filling start to the day. Feel free to get creative by adding a sliced hard or soft-boiled egg (and knock out the #4 food while you are at it), sliced mango, or just a dash of black pepper. 

4. Eggs

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  • Improve cognitive function

  • May help delay brain shrinkage because of certain b-vitamins (B12 and folic acid) which are known to reduce levels of homocysteine in the blood. High levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of stroke, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Reduced brain shrinkage was shown in a study of elderly patients given B6, B12 and folic acid for two years when compared to a placebo group. (chicken, fish and leafy greens are also vitamin B-rich foods)

Make it work in my life: Try something new with swapping out the mayo for avocado in your egg-salad sandwich at lunch. These two go incredibly well together and you just may decide not to switch back to mayo. 

Others:

5. Dark Chocolate: 70% or higher 

  • improvement in depressive brain disorders likely due to anti-inflammatory properties

  • improvement in cognitive performance, restoration of working memory accuracy following sleep deprivation in one study of 32 women

  • increases blood flow to the brain and the heart

  • contains several stimulating chemical compounds that have a positive effect on mood and cognition

  • contains phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA encourages the brain to release endorphins and feel alert.

Make it work in my life: Opt for a dark chocolate bar with 70% or higher cocoa content and one that can be broken into smaller sections in order to exercise portion control. A fun way to enjoy this treat is to set up a small bowl or dessert cup containing pieces of dark chocolate, walnut halves, and berries. 

6. Berries: 

  • all berries are high in antioxidants, reducing oxidative stress in the body, which has been linked to neurodegenerative processes

  • can prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases and improve motor and cognitive functions

  • aid in modulating signaling pathways involved in inflammation, cell survival, neurotransmission and enhancing neuroplasticity. This is related to phytochemicals of anthocyanin, caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, and tannin

~Strawberry: improves cognitive function, improves motor behavioral performance, may promote special learning and memory

~Bilberry: protect blood vessels and improve blood circulation, prevents learning and memory deficits

~Black Currant: neuroprotective

~Blackberry: protect against neurodegeneration, increase spacial and learning memory          ~Blueberry: benefit learning and memory

Make it work in my life: Choose a new berry each week to try. You can add half a cup to an afternoon salad or add to a smoothie with ice, water, and protein powder to power you through your afternoon. 

7. Spinach, Collard, Mustard Greens & Kale 

• high in Vitamin K which increases cognitive abilities

Make it work in my life: Experiment with different greens both raw and cooked. Greens aren’t just for salads! You can sauté your greens and serve them over fish or chicken or add them to a morning omelet.  

8. Turmeric: 

• anti-inflammatory, use black pepper to potentiate effects when cooking w/ this spice 

Make it work in my life: Turmeric has an earthy flavor, which goes well with beans and proteins. You can add this to meat and bean dishes easily. 

Next time you are perusing the grocery aisles, remember that you are fueling your brain, not just your stomach. With this simple list of eight items, you can easily begin to incorporate smart eating into your menu plan at each meal. Let us know about the creative ways you are finding to sneak in “The Great 8” to your daily routine.

 

Feeling Tense? A 3-Step Plan to Reduce Your Everyday Triggers

 
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What does pressure feel like? Is it tension in your body? A headache that won’t go away no matter what you do? Is it a queasy feeling in your stomach or a looming fear of what may happen if you don’t perform up to standard? 

However you define pressure, if it’s become a constant in your life, chances are it’s wreaking havoc. 

What can you do?

Plenty!

While escaping all of life’s responsibilities may not be realistic, there are things you can do to make these responsibilities FEEL less burdensome and evoke less of a stress-response.

First thing’s first: Below are a few simple tips you can use immediately to reduce your level of physical and mental tension:

• Go for a walk outdoors and feel yourself invigorated by the fresh air and sunlight- choose a natural setting, somewhere picturesque, away from loud city traffic, if possible.

• Take 10 deep, cleansing breaths; imagine breathing in fresh energy on the inhalation and picture tension leaving your body with every exhalation.

• Give yourself a head massage with your fingertips for immediate relief from cranial tension. Use the pads of your fingers and work the entire surface area of the head. Use the index and middle fingers side-by-side to make slow circular strokes at the temples for extra relaxation. 

• Take a time-out to engage in a short open-awareness meditation. This meditation style calls for you to simply relax, close your eyes, and allow yourself to breath easily while maintaining a gentle awareness of the thoughts that enter your mind without holding onto them. As thoughts arise, you are to notice them, without judgement or attachment, and then let them pass out of your awareness. In this way, you are neither trying hard to prevent thoughts nor to hold thoughts. You are just noticing them coming and going. 

Next, create a 3-Step Plan for avoiding tension buildup:

  1. Identify tension triggers, which can be defined as

    a certain task, person, time of day, thought, etc. that makes you tense

  2. Find a way to avoid/delegate/ or reduce the impact of the trigger

•AVOID: literally, AVOID this trigger

Example: “Taking Maple Avenue to work always stresses me out.”

Solution: AVOID taking Maple Avenue to work. 

•DELEGATE: identify someone who can take over this trigger for you

Example: “Always being the one to deliver the bad news to the boss on Fridays makes my stomach churn.”

Solution: Delegate others in the office to take turns giving the end-of-week report. 

•REDUCE THE IMPACT: reposition when this trigger occurs during the day, reposition other positive support measure around the trigger

Example: “My whole body feels tense after a long, focused day in front of my computer.” 

Solution: Build in mini breaks (you can set the timer on your phone) to get up from your desk to walk around, get a cup of water stretch and let your eyes take a break from the screen. On these days, commit to taking lunch away from your desk, or, at least away from your computer monitor. 

3. Rename and reframe the feeling

Tension is real, and it is the by-product of stress. Stress is also real but it is dependent upon our reaction to the world around us. 

We have a conscious choice in how we respond to our world. 

We can choose stress or we can choose to challenge stress

I am not suggesting that this change will occur overnight, it must be practiced repeatedly, just as with any new habit we wish to develop. 

The next time you notice yourself having a knee-jerk response to a situation that involves a negative, stress-based reaction, CHALLENGE it!

Ask yourself: 

Can I be intrigued by this instead? 

Can I be amused by this? 

Can I see this as a game or as part of a game or as a twist in a game? 

I encourage you to get creative! Don’t keep allowing yourself to run into the “stress ditch.” You’ve been there, you know what it feels like. It’s time to travel to other places. Remember, you have the power to chart the course from here on out!

 

If You Are Not Doing This Every Morning, You Should Start Today

 
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When you get out of bed in the morning and hit the ground running with barely a moment to spare, let alone a thought to yourself, you are NOT in charge of your day. You are operating on automatic, going through the motions to get you from point “A” to point “B.”

If you long to be a self-determined individual with goals and aspirations, in good physical and mental health, you need to stop operating on automatic and take the reins of your life. This begins by taking control of your day. Experts call this sense of control “agency,” and it ranks as a high predictor of good mental health. 

Setting the tone from the start of your day predicts how you move through the rest of it in terms of your attitude, focus, perspective and motivation. When you choose to be active and direct upon waking allows your time to engage in a routine that energizes, invigorates and inspires you. You send the message to your brain that 

your world is full of possibilities

 and YOU are a clear, strong, calm, and capable person able to seize them!

The best way to go about seizing these possibilities is to find one or two things that resonate with you and practice these consistently, just as you make time in the beginning of the day to shower, dress, and check your email.

Here are some ideas for daily self-care practices to fill your cup:

  1. Keep a journal or log to jot down passing thoughts, feelings, dreams, or ideas; it helps to unload if you tend to have a lot on your mind.

  2. Go for a walk in your neighborhood or at a close by park or garden so you are able to take in some fresh air and sunshine, especially if you are likely to spend the better part of your day indoors.

  3. Do some light stretching or yoga to feel back in your body, to warm up your muscles, and to relieve achiness and stiffness after a night’s sleep.

  4. Engage in a meditation or breath awareness practice. These can be one in the same as meditation, in its most basic form, is relaxation of the body and the mind with a gentle abiding awareness of the breath. There are several apps to assist you with meditation and guided breathing practices such as Headspace, Brightmind, Calm, and Meditation Time.

  5. Sit outdoors on a patio, deck or bench, enjoy the sun and fresh air and do absolutely nothing but watch the world go by and breath deeply, knowing you have things to tend to later, but for now you have absolutely nothing you need to do but be.

  6. Read from a book for pure pleasure or inspiration; sometimes just grabbing a line that inspires at the start of the day can serve as a focal point for the day and bring us back to center when things start to go haywire.

  7. Go to the kitchen and cook something slowly for yourself like warm cereal with added spices, nuts and chopped fruit, enjoying the ritual of doing something healthy for your body at a pace that supports your peace of mind.


Consider these practices a way of consolidating yourself. These simple routines help you pull your efforts inwards first towards self-care before continuing your day and putting your energy, effort, thoughts and ideas out into the world. 

Mindfulness: The Key to Cognitive Agility

 
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Some of the most obvious benefits we associate with mindfulness practice are immediate stress reduction from living in the present and deeper enjoyment of our lives. In addition, a 2012 study (1) uncovered another benefit from this awareness practice known in psychological terms as a decrease in cognitive rigidity. 

In other words, those who participate in mindfulness practice have proven to demonstrate more open, flexible thinking and, as a result, can problem-solve more successfully than their non-practicing peers. 

In this particular study, participants were presented with an on-screen task of using three jars of varying sizes and amounts of water to fill a target amount in a final jar by adding or subtracting volumes of water in the most easy and straight-forward way. Those who were experienced in the practice of mindfulness or had undergone a six-week mindfulness intervention outscored those who had no mindfulness practice experience. 

Why is this? 

Mindfulness promotes the “beginner’s mind”; a mental stance not clouded by past experiences, prejudices and what it thinks it already knows. These assumptions hold us back from seeing new, simple, and sometimes novel solutions right under our nose. Astonishingly, the demonstrated benefits of this beginner’s mind were seen in as little as six weeks of practice

This practice can have monumental effects on your day-to-day life, and there can be much larger health benefits from jumping into the mindfulness movement. 

Depression, risk of suicide and substance abuse have all been linked with narrow thinking. In these cases, perceived lack of options leads down a slippery slope that could even prove fatal. (2)

For health professionals, managers, leaders, and decision makers, adaptive thinking proves paramount in in the ability to be effective, strategic and, ultimately successful. (3)

The simple concept of taking up mindfulness practice might interest you as a way to decrease your accelerated pace of living and appreciate small details of your day. However, be prepared for your mind to flourish in new directions as mindfulness practice proves itself an avenue to maintain flexible thinking. This may be the way to keep the path wide, our vision broad, and our options vast. There is not an area of life that would not be impacted by such a monumental change in perspective. 

Are you ready to shift to the lens of mindfulness?

  1. Greenberg J, Reiner K, Meiran N (2012). “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity,7(5).

  2. Cangemi J, Miller R (2007). Breaking-out-of-the-box in organizations. Journal of Management Development, 26(5).

  3. Coleman D, Kaplan MS, Casey JT (2011). The social nature of male suicide: A new analytic model. International Journal of Men’s Health, 10(3).

 

You Can't Build from Burn-Out

 
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It seems that people with the most giving of hearts are also the same people who find it easier to care for others than to care for themselves. If this describes you, focusing compassion inwards does not come naturally which, in turn, can put you at a very high risk for burn-out. 

It is not just your inborn desire to nurture that makes you prone to this. Those who are strongly driven to succeed, to please, or to rank as high achievers also fall prey to burnout. 

It is the same mechanism at play: the inability to apply the brake in one’s own life. Others can slow down, but you must continue full-speed ahead!

The hidden motto is: “It’s okay for them, but not for me.”

Burn-out can take many forms: basically, anything that prolonged stress can create from chronic migraines, to gastrointestinal disorders, anxiety, depression, skin issues, lowered immunity and many more mind and body disturbances. 

For those who can relate, it is important to contemplate these two questions: 

  1. Why are my own struggles or suffering any less worthy than anyone else’s?


  1. How can I bring the same softness and understanding to myself around my own struggles or suffering that I bring to others?

With the increasing popularity of goal-setting and self-improvement, you first need to make certain that you have a foundation that supports growth. 

Some of the most critical components of a good foundation are self-worth, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness. These are deeply personal and sensitive subjects, but subjects worth getting honest about if you are truly looking at making positive changes in your life. 

Self-worth

•helps you continue to see your value even when you are not yet where you want to be

• helps validate you taking the time and energy towards getting to where you want to be  

Self-compassion

•will help you cope with being messy, imperfect, vulnerable and flawed, AS WE ALL ARE!

Self-forgiveness

• helps you accept when you slip up or fall short of your expectations

What helps develop these new habits, it to apply the gentler, more giving lens you offer to others. For example, when you are inclined to berate yourself, ask:

 How would I talk to my friend if it were their error and not mine? 

Another example would be at a moment when you are wanting to criticize something in which you fell short of your own expectations. Again, picture the conversation you would have with your friend if they had fallen short in this same area. 

In the area of self-worth and self-value, it is often shocking to see the discrepancy between what we feel is okay for others to have but cannot justify giving ourselves in terms of time, space, and other needs. Look back to last week’s blog, The Day That Matters Most, for a more in-depth review of this particular facet of self-care.


The Day That Matters Most

 
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The most important day for you to take time for yourself is the day you have no time for yourself.

On days where your task list is filled with phone calls, emails, and deadlines that need to be tended to, looming meetings that need to be prepped for and countless other items that need your attention… those are the days when you most need to step away and take some time just for yourself. 

The irony, I realize, is these are the exact days you likely feel it makes the most sense to skip what we consider this extra “frill.” Our self-care, somehow, has become expendable and is often the first item to get knocked off the list when things get crowded. Surveys conducted on stress confirm nearly half the participants reporting say they feel they don’t have enough time to do what they want to do (Gallup 2017). I will let you in on a secret:

 If you stop taking time for yourself, no one else will. 

On occasion, you may have a supportive spouse or friend (or even the rare employer) who will encourage you to take time for yourself. But even those encouragements can’t stand in the place for your own daily dogged determination to stand firm in the knowledge of your own value. 

After all, that’s what it boils down to: self-value. You are worth the time!

If you value something, you invest time in its care and maintenance, right? Think about some of the things in your life that this holds true for: your home, your vehicles, and, especially, your relationships.  

Your relationship with yourself can’t fall by the wayside, either.

Self-care measures like daily exercise, meditation, journaling, or talking with a good friend all count as drops in the self-care bucket. These practices are how you nurture your self-relationship. 

Research has proven that taking time out to go for a walk, exercise, take a short nap or engage in a hobby you enjoy helps us return refreshed and work even more efficiently. Over the long haul, we are happier and more well-adjusted. 

Case-in-point

Every morning, I enjoy a pre-work hike. On one particular morning, before my anticipated hike, I was ending a conference call while sitting in my car in the parking lot of a forest preserve. At the exact moment the call was ending, the forest preserve’s clean-up crew rolled in with their work trucks, back hoe and wood chipper. 

Fantastic.

It looked like my morning hike was timed perfectly for when they would be cutting down and running tree branches through their noisy chipper. 

It appeared my plans were ruined and I might as well skip it and just go straight in to the office. I figured there was no way I would see any deer with all the noise and activity on the trail. 

Also, how would I be able to enjoy my trail time with all of the noise of the work crew?

Soon, though, thoughts of how sluggish and resentful I would feel during my long day if I did not get out and enjoy the fresh air now flooded my mind. 

I also thought about the slim chances of me actually making time for this later in the day. I had learned how easily I broke promises the morning me made to the evening me. 

Lastly, I thought of how a seemingly small decision like this to skip a hike, grows. 

From experience, I knew that both good and bad habits start out like this: with one decision, one day, that then becomes okay to make again and again on subsequent days.

 I did NOT want to start that cascade. 

So, I headed out. It was a beautiful hike, quiet, sunny, no clean-up crew or woodchipper in sight. They must have headed in a different direction through the preserve. 

I saw three deer that day. I came upon them all at once. A work truck or chainsaw did not startle them - I did. They stopped and turned to look at me and we studied each other for a bit before running into the brush, their white tails flicking in the air.

It did end up being “one of those days” and I was glad I had taken the time I needed early on. In spite of all of the tasks that needed attention throughout the day, I had a deep sense of peace, knowing that I had given myself the first attention of the day. 

An unrelenting commitment to your self-care in times when it may seem easier to take it off the list of “things to do,” makes the statement that 

your needs are a priority and that you, as a person, have value, not just for what you do or what you accomplish, but you as a person.

This is the wellspring and, when we try to run our lives without returning first to the wellspring, we find our routines unsustainable. Always return to the wellspring and, when you are tempted to bail on your commitments to yourself, remember: this is the day that matters the most, this is the defining moment. What will I choose? 

The 5 Elements of BioStacking

 
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Human Performance starts with our mindset. BioStacking leverages a handful of neuroscience tools to enhance human performance and well-being. Below is a brief description of the five elements of BioStacking that help you achieve Flow state easier and more frequently by balancing your brain’s neurotransmitters to give you what you need to perform at your highest level.


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Focused Attention (1)

Sitting in quiet stillness, with focused attention to the breath, to a “mantra” or repeated phrase, or simply with a gentle softness of all that enters your awareness is a century-old practice known as meditation that is now scientifically proven to be phenomenally advantageous to our health. Meditation establishes new pathways in the brain and syncs the brain to a rhythm conducive to deep states of healing.

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Mindfulness (2)

In-the-moment awareness can be practiced at anytime, anywhere, by anyone. The habit of bringing mindfulness to more moments in your day enhances the richness of your life by allowing you to live in your present experience. Without a mind that is dwelling on thoughts of the past or anticipating, planning or worrying about what has yet to come, you are afforded the gift of taking pleasure in the now.

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Future Visions (3)

Do you know that your brain processes images, both real and imagined, in the same way? Capitalizing on this fact is what lies at the center of the visualization practices. Techniques such as guided imagery have been used successfully to help illicit physical changes in the body such as calming respiration and heart rate and even increasing strength. Visualization also can be employed to help you build and reach towards the future version of yourself that you wish to step into. Research in this area has proven that where the mind goes, the body follows.

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Metacognition (4)

Those of us with the greatest ability to lead, to change, to grow, and to be innovative will also demonstrate the ability to understand how we arrive at our mental conclusions. This is known as metacognition, or how we think about how we think. Even if you have good habits of reviewing the steps of your thought processes, the field of metacognition still has plenty to offer you in the form of memory techniques, learning devices, and overall approaches to comprehension that will transform the way you move through both your social and your professional world.

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Recovery (5)

What was once thought of as motherly advice is now proven essential to our very capacity to excel physically and mentally: good nutrition and adequate sleep are both essential. “Good nutrition” calls for incorporating specific foods into your diet regularly, which have been proven to enhance cognitive function, learning, and memory. And, while adequate sleep at the end of the day is critical for recovery, so are regular periods of non-sleep rest. Learning the function of down-time and its impact on creativity, productivity and mood level may change the way you prioritize being on-task 24/7.


 

Neuroscience: Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

 
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Are you looking for competitive advantage?

Of course, you are - we all are. As humans that is what we are genetically programmed and socially conditioned to do. So where do you start? To discover true competitive advantage and sustain it at work and in life - start with the brain.

Over the past decade, the neuroscience of peak performance has been widely researched with state of the art tools leading to multiple discoveries. Scientists have found that all humans are innately designed to do their best. However, optimal performance is dependent on your state of mind. The state of mind most closely correlated with optimal performance is called the “Flow State” or “Flow” for short.

Flow can be thought of as ‘being in the zone.’ It is when your brain is supercharged, your productivity is off the charts with seemingly little effort, and you are experiencing a heightened sense of well-being. Flow is the state of consciousness where you feel most alive, intensely productive and innovative. The good news is that this state of being has a specific neurobiological footprint in the brain that can be measured and even more importantly, this footprint can be reproduced on demand with certain specific interventions.

I have spent over a decade building a formula for optimizing human performance based on neurobiology. This formula consists of stacking proven, individual neuroscience interventions on top of one other to move the brain closer to a Flow State – a process we have termed as “BioStacking.”

BioStackingSM leverages the latest knowledge in neuroscience research to improve focus, memory, learning, complex decision-making, creativity, and emotional regulation resulting in dramatic improvements in your personal and professional performance. The key neuroscience interventions included in BioStacking are:

  1. Focused Attention – meditation to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, relax, and balance.

  2. Mindfulness – open monitoring to be in the present, live in the now.

  3. Future Visions – visualization to identify your core dreams, associated purpose, and remove limitations.

  4. Metacognition – learning to better think, memorize and analyze.

  5. Recovery – downtime is productive time and recovery from stress.

When in Flow you not only have a greater capacity for learning, you also have greater interconnectivity and collaboration with others, and overall reduced stress. All the things that are important to your professional performance and personal life. As corporations continue to invest in the well-being and development of their employees – the neuroscience interventions of BioStacking become the key to satisfying an ever evolving workforce. This new workforce expects their employers to provide a culture focused on a growth mindset, a holistic set of wellness offerings, and tools to achieve greater performance in the workplace.

BioStacking supports the growing change in focus in organizations from employee health to wellness to performance. An organization’s bottom line depends on it and so does your employees’ engagement and fulfillment. I am a physician, researcher, and speaker who wants to ignite your human potential through the mastery of neurobiology. Whether you are a VP of Sales, HR Executive, or Meeting Professional, I have strategies that will maximize team engagement, learning, and purpose at your company meetings. I also help teachers and administrations create meaningful experiences for the classroom with neuroscience techniques that can give young people the tools they need to better cope with the stress in their daily lives.

Stack the deck in your favor through BioStacking and discover true competitive advantage and fulfillment that can be sustained by starting with your brain. Through these techniques, you begin to balance your own neurotransmitters and give yourself what you need to perform at your highest level. Visit me at JonathanSpero.com to learn more and discover how neuroscience tools can help leverage your power to ignite your human potential.