flow

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.

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.