How Bad, How Good Does it Need to Get?

>> Thursday

The following is a song about personal change by Tracy Chapman. I really like it and thought it was an appropriate theme for a new year. The video below is the song with lyrics:



Here are the lyrics:

If you knew that you would die today,
Saw the face of God and love,
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that love can break your heart
When you're down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?
Would you change?

How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?
Makes you turn around,
Makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change?
Makes you change?

If you knew that you would be alone,
Knowing right, being wrong,
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings up pain that can't be soothed
Would you change?
Would you change?

How bad, how good does it need to get?
How many losses? How much regret?
What chain reaction would cause an effect?
Makes you turn around,
Makes you try to explain,
Makes you forgive and forget,
Makes you change?
Makes you change?

Are you so upright you can't be bent?
If it comes to blows are you so sure you won't be crawling?
If not for the good, why risk falling?
Why risk falling?

If everything you think you know,
Makes your life unbearable,
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you'd broken every rule and vow,
And hard times come to bring you down,
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you knew that you would die today,
If you saw the face of God and love,
Would you change?
Would you change?
Would you change?
Would you change?

If you saw the face of God and love
If you saw the face of God and love
Would you change?
Would you change?

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A Way to Transcend Upsetting Situations

>> Monday

MANY YEARS AGO, my teenaged son and I got into an argument. He got defensive and uppity, I got intrusive and sarcastic. I ended the conversation by slamming his bedroom door behind me.

At times like that, I can feel myself wanting to keep up a wall between me and the other person. I wanted to keep making my son wrong. I wanted to see everything wrong about him.

Then I remembered E-Squared (or E2). E2 will increase your impact on the person you’re talking to — it’ll add a subtle, relaxed quality to your demeanor that will help the other person feel at ease in your presence. And you’ll like what it does for you even more. You become calm and at ease and you get a strong feeling of standing on solid ground. I call it E2 for experienced experience.

As each moment goes by, you and I have an ongoing stream of experience — lots of sights, thoughts, sounds, feelings, smells — but we don’t register much of it consciously. And that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that for the most part. But sometimes it’s pretty useful to register your experience consciously. One of those times is when you feel uncomfortable or when you’re upset with someone and you think you’re going to lose your cool. Another might be when you’re giving a speech and you feel like running away or when you’re telling someone something they don’t want to hear.

At times like those, pay attention to your physical experience. Experience your experience. Feel all the different sensations in your body. When you’re feeling powerful emotions, there’s a lot to pay attention to; emotions are complex; they move through your body producing physical sensations in many different places in your body, in sequence. Pay attention to those.

And while you’re paying attention to your physical sensations, you’ll notice certain muscles — in your back, in your face, in your shoulders — have contracted and held the contraction. You’ll probably notice lots of sensation in your solar plexus region. Pay attention to everything — your body posture, the expression on your face, the light coming into the room, the sounds around you. Notice your breathing, feel your feet on the floor. Be there.

Simple? Sure. Obvious? Absolutely. It is nothing more than experiencing something that you are already experiencing. What could be easier? But sometimes we don’t want to experience our experience, and it’s times like those you have to do it consciously and deliberately. Otherwise you will tend to act out those negative feelings or do something in an attempt to avoid feeling those feelings — something you’ll regret later.

So I took a deep breath, relaxed, and for a moment I paid attention to my ongoing experience: I noticed my body posture, the expression on my face, the different sensations in my body, the feel of the air on my skin, etc. Then I went back, a changed man, and talked to my son. Those few moments I took to E2 altered me. They stopped me from reacting — defending and attacking — and allowed me to start fresh. I went back to his room and apologized for slamming the door and explained myself as best I could. I was completely calm and had no edge in my voice. He listened. He knew he’d made a mistake but I had nailed him so hard, he didn’t want to admit it before. We ended the conversation with no hard feelings.

E2 is an act of will. It’s not a thought. It’s not a physical action. It’s a change of heart. Instead of running, you stand and feel. Instead of wanting to hide, you open yourself up. Instead of cowering inside, you pay attention and relax.

Try it. Try it any time you feel like pulling away or shrinking back. Stand firm. Breath deep. Relax your tensions. And feel.

This is a chapter from Principles for Personal Growth.

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How to Deal With Conflict or Stress Between You and Someone Else

>> Friday

WHEN YOU'RE HAVING a difficult moment with any person, stop whatever you're doing and start applying this method: Listen completely and speak only truth. This is one of the most useful, all-purpose and powerful methods in human relations. This one principle, applied with vigor, will straighten out almost any mess a relationship can get itself into.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not listening. When you have something you want to say or when the other person is saying something you don't want to hear, what can you do? Interrupt, leave, start doing something else — you have a lot of obvious options.

Or there are subtler possibilities. Have you ever been angry while someone was talking and you were "listening" to what they were saying, but you listened to find something wrong with what they were saying? Sure you have. I have too. But it never does any good. It isn't really listening.

I'm sure you already know it works better to really listen. And when the other person has gotten across what they need to say, and all they need to say, and you have understood them, then speak. I'll bet you already knew that. But the natural and automatic thing to do is anything but that. Thus this article.

Drill it into your head. Practice it at every opportunity, which means any time you're talking with someone. And when you notice other people don't do that, don't say to yourself, "Well they aren't doing it with me, so I won't do it either."

It certainly would be ideal if both of you listened completely and spoke only truth, but it isn't likely.

And that's okay. Your relationships will work better for you, be more satisfying to you, benefit you, if you listen completely and speak only truth even if the other person in the relationship doesn't do it. And it'll be worse for you if you don't do it, regardless of what the other person does.

But there is a good chance that your practice of this method will influence them to do it back, or at least do more of it than before. Especially if you explain what you're doing.

This principle really shows itself off during conflict. It can take someone from being really lousy at dealing with conflict to being really good at dealing with conflict in a very short time. But it is also good to use whenever you are talking with someone with whom you want to have a close relationship. Practice it all the time. Make it a new habit. Make it a new part of your personality. Your life will never be the same.


how to listen

Listening completely is not done with silence. Yes, while the other is talking, you need to be silent to listen. But at some point the person will stop. Is there something missing? Is there something more you want to know? Is there a gap in your understanding? Ask a question that allows the other person to make you understand even more — of the situation, of their feelings, of their thoughts and understandings about it.

Ask questions, not in a lawyer-grilling-a-defendant sort of way, but in a share-yourself-with-me way. Your sincere desire to understand will draw the other person out. Your honest wish to know will bring questions into your mind which you can then ask.

And the suggestion to listen completely includes letting them know you understand. The look on your face isn't enough. Nonverbal communication is not always clear. You must say you understand, and not just by saying, "I understand," although that is at least something. Use the phrase, "It must have been..." to show that you understand — or give the person an opportunity to straighten you out if you don't understand. "It must have been frustrating to have so many things go wrong at once." "It must have been infuriating to see me do it again." "It must have taken the heart right out of you to see it break."

There's nothing sacred about the words "it must have been..." Any words that do the same job will do: "I'll bet you were...you must have felt..." "Did it seem dangerous?" "That had to make you mad." "Wow, three in a row? That's amazing."

Use words to let the person know you are listening, and you're not just hearing the words but you're understanding the feelings too. Another reason this is a good idea is that you might be getting it wrong. By saying out loud what you think they must have felt or what it must have been like for them, you allow them to correct you if you're wrong, so you'll get a better understanding. And the person you're talking to gets a better idea of how much is getting across. When they feel understood, something good happens. There's a relief or a completion or something. But whatever it is, it is good and it is healthy. You do the ones you love a favor by listening completely.

Studies have shown that confiding in someone, especially about troubling things, is much healthier than keeping it to oneself. You do people a real, measurable service to listen and let them know you understand.

A friend of mine I had known for about nine months confided in me and told me something that I'd never heard someone say. In the weeks before he confided in me, he had told me he had a lot on his mind and was waking up at night and unable to go back to sleep. But the things he told me he was worrying about didn't seem that serious: They were work-related or money-related. I wondered why they kept him awake at night.

Then he told me what was really bugging him. A long time ago, he had done something he felt very guilty about. It happened a long time ago, in another country. His circumstances then were very different than the life he was leading now, but he had a memory of his past and it haunted him.

I don't know what he was like before, but he is a good man now, and I could tell it was important that he say this thing. So I listened and I asked questions.

It did him good to get it off his chest. He was noticeably lighter. He was able to sleep again. He seemed relieved of a great burden. When people are able to confide an emotionally significant experience like that, it makes them more whole, more healthy, even more sane. It helps the person mend themselves.

When you listen, you give a great gift.


someone willing to listen

In an ongoing study at the University of Washington, something is becoming clearer and clearer: The amount of coronary artery disease you can measure isn't a very good indicator of how bad off a cardiac patient is. Other factors, such as the amount of anxiety or depression the person feels and how often, as well as how effective they feel they are in the world, are also important indicators of potential complications. One factor that enters the picture heavily is having someone who will listen.

The head of the Center for Living at Duke University, Martin Sullivan, MD, says, "Those patients who have a confidante do much better than those who don't."

Listening is that powerful. But it isn't really natural. It's natural to interrupt and out-talk other people. Every child does this unless they are trained to do otherwise. But most of us, even as adults, are still not very good at listening. You may be, and if you are, my hat's off to you — you're making the world a better, saner, healthier place.

And even as good as you are, you can probably be even better. You can listen more intently. You can ask better questions. You can get better at letting the person know you understand. You can improve your ability to judge when is the time to talk and when is the time to listen.

When you're dealing with a difficult moment with people, it can make a huge difference.

Listening, though, is only half the task. Remember, the formula is: Listen completely and speak only truth.


the truth

The truth needs a little explaining. I don't mean truth "as you know it." I mean just truth. And let's not get lost in a philosophical discussion about whether when you perceive the color red if it is really the same perception in my brain, or whether the universe really exists outside our own experience. Let's be a little more practical.

When I say, "The door was open when I walked in," that's truth (if I'm not lying). I'll give you a bunch of examples just to make it clear. And let's assume the person speaking is not lying.

"I feel sad and confused." That's a statement of truth.

"You are mean to me." That is not a simple statement of truth. "Mean" is an interpretation of what actually happened. And this is one of the big things to look out for when you're trying to speak only truth. Interpretations and generalizations like this are a big cause of problems between people.

Let me explain what's wrong with the statement. First off, it would be more accurate to say, "You are mean to me sometimes." Because obviously you're too smart to keep interacting with someone who is mean to you all the time. But to be even more practical, you'd want to say, "You were mean to me this morning." It's more practical because something can be done about a real incident. Nothing can be done about a vague generality, other than answer with another vague generality: "Okay, I'll try to be less mean to you."

But even that is unsatisfactory. You're still using the "mean" interpretation. Let's get more accurate, more specific. More truthful. "This morning you slammed the door on the way out and I felt hurt by it — not because my finger was caught in the door but because I thought you must be angry at me and I didn't think I deserved it."

Of course, "you slammed the door" is a guess and not strictly truth. "When you closed the door it made a louder noise than it usually does," would be even more scientific and closer to speaking only truth (and not mixing up any interpretations and guesses about whether it was intentional, and without any generalizations about something vague like "meanness").

I'm going to use more examples in a minute, but first I want you to look at what the accuracy has done for your statement. It starts out as You are mean to me, which, if you can imagine someone saying it to you, would be hard do deal with — where do you start? You can start with That's bullshit! but that doesn't sound like the beginning of a fruitful conversation.

So it starts out as You are mean to me and ends up with This morning when you left, the door made a louder noise than it usually does and I was thinking maybe you slammed it on purpose because you were mad at me. Were you?

Compare the two statements. Imagine someone saying them to you. Do you see how this is a much easier statement to respond to? And how it might lead to a constructive conversation? That's what speaking only truth does for communication. It directly and literally increases communication because if you look at the two statements from the point of view of how much is being said you can easily see that the first sentence leaves a lot unsaid and leaves it up to the listener to figure out what he's talking about, while the second says quite a bit and doesn't make the listener guess anything. That's better communication. And you really have to concentrate on what you're doing to be able to do it. It does not come naturally.

Now, more examples. From now on, I want you to call me if you're going to be later than ten. Is that a true statement? Yes, absolutely. You're simply saying what you want.

You're so inconsiderate! Truth? No way. It's a generalization, an interpretation, and doesn't give anything specific. Looked at scientifically, it is not a fact, but a hypothesis, and one that could never be validated or invalidated. Any discussion about it will probably go nowhere.

I think you're a jerk. True or false? Ooh, that's a tricky one. You may indeed have the thought you're a jerk so technically it is a true statement, but it is unproductive to say so because the thought you're sharing is not true for all the same reasons as the previous paragraph. It's a generalization, an interpretation, and it can never be validated or invalidated conclusively. "Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place," wrote Benjamin Franklin, "but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."

I think if you stopped doing that, I'd feel better. Is this a true statement? Yes. It is a hypothesis, and you state it accurately as one.

One more. I feel you're a jerk. What do you think? True or false? False again. Feelings are very basic: Anger, sadness, fear, and their milder and more extreme forms (for example, mildly angry might be annoyed, peeved, frustrated, etc., while extreme anger might be enraged, incensed, furious, etc.) Don't get fancy. Feelings are basic. You're a jerk is not a feeling. It is an opinion, and a highly abstract and worthless one at that.

I think that's enough examples. When you want to "speak the truth," here's where to focus your attention:

1. what you want
2. what you feel
3. what you observe

And be as accurate and specific as you can. That's what speak only truth means. Confucius said wisdom was "when you know a thing, to recognize that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, to recognize that you do not know it." And the better you get at it, the better your relationships will get, as long as you don't try to teach it to the person while you're arguing. I'm all for you helping other people to learn this stuff, but wait until you're happy with each other. During conflict, just do it yourself.

Keep in mind that listening needs to come first. People generally don't want to listen when they have something to say. So arguments develop where each person interrupts the other. Neither listens, and the conversation goes nowhere. Worse: It goes down. You're actually worse off than if you had said nothing because of all the untruth that has been spoken — all the generalizations and interpretations and unqualified opinions and hypotheses spoken as statements of fact.


research shows the way

William Swann, Jr., PhD, at the University of Texas found after studying about 200 couples, that before people get married, they want their partners to tell them how great they are, but after they're already married, they want honest. Too much flattery — praise that isn't justified — makes most people uncomfortable, and makes even people with a high level of self-esteem withdraw psychologically from the marriage. We want honesty. That's what makes people feel close to each other. Praise where it is deserved, for sure, but nowhere else.

Clifford Notarius, PhD, did a study on husbands who criticized their wives in a way that used mind-reading. That means saying things like, "I know you hate me," or "You're always thinking bad things about me." When husbands did that to wives, their children had more problems like substance abuse, headaches, social incompetence, nervousness, anxiety, insecurity. And the kicker is that the children don't even have to be present when the parents are fighting! It turns out that the way a man fights is not isolated to just fighting with his wife. That's the way he deals with conflicts and problems. And that way of dealing with conflicts and problems shows up in the way he interacts with his kids, which teaches them by example how to deal with life in a way that doesn't work.

You can make your children more psychologically and socially healthy by making the principle of speaking truthfully a part of your character. Learn to listen when talking to your spouse, also and it will change you in other ways too. It will teach you new ways of dealing with problems and conflicts, and this will spill over to benefit your kids.

Researchers at Ohio State University have shown that when arguments between couples disintegrates into put-downs and sarcasm, stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine kick in, and send the immune system into the gutter. When you are listening well and speaking only the truth, you'll automatically avoid most put-downs and you'll completely avoid sarcasm, two of the most deadly forms of communication in close relationships.

Do yourself a favor, and do the people you love a favor. Use this method. Make it your new Law. Live by it. Repeat it to yourself every day until it becomes a habit-knit part of your personality. You will reach a whole new level in your relationships.

Listen completely and speak only truth.

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A Mood Called "Bliss"

>> Monday

On vacation many years ago, I was reading the Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism's holy books. It's basically a conversation between Arjuna (a charioteer about to go into battle) and a spirit. The spirit is urging Arjuna to let go of his attachment to the outcome of the battle. And all throughout the book, there is a continuous urge to let go of desires, to give up desiring.

This gave me an idea. I was on vacation and I had plenty of time, so I decided to try an experiment. I did a kind of meditation that lasted for several hours. I normally fidget a lot and have a hard time sitting still for long periods, but without any goal to sit still for so long, I was quite content to stay sitting there for hours because what I was doing made me feel contented.

All I did the whole time was notice when I had a desire, and then decide to let that desire go.

For the first time I realized I don't have any control over what I desire. Desires come up on their own. Just sitting there, one desire after another would pop up. I wanted to move my position. I wanted the pain in my leg to go away. I wanted to get up and have something to eat. I wanted to get rich. I wanted people to like me. I wanted things to go well at work. I wanted I wanted I wanted. One after another, this seemingly endless fountain of desires came forth. That part I had no control over.

But I did have some control after that point. I can decide on a desire or not. I may have the desire to have a beer, but then I can decide, "Nah, I don't really want one, now that I think about it."

In other words, I don't really control whether or not a desire comes up. But I do control whether I hang onto that desire or let it go (by deciding against it).

So that's all I did for several hours. I payed attention to when a desire came up, which was several per minute, and then each time, I decided to let the desire go. I simply decided No, I don't really want that now.

I achieved a kind of bliss I didn't think was possible without heavy medication. That was one of the most deeply peaceful experiences I have ever had in my life. I was completely at ease. I had found bliss and tranquillity.

Of course, most of my life is oriented toward goals, and that's the way I like it. I don't want to simply sit still and live in peace without doing anything worthwhile. But I now know where it comes from when I am discontented. It comes from desires. And I know that any time I want to decend into the well of deep peace and quench my thirst for bliss, I have a way. And now you do too.

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Does Honesty Help You Stay in a Better Mood?

>> Sunday

The answer is definitely yes, in the long run. Why? Because honesty allows better intimacy in relationships, better problem solving in any kind of relationship, and, according to the research, honest people have higher quality friends.

Honesty is also good for your health, which has a significant affect on your mood.

Click here to read more about honesty.

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Living an Awakened Life

>> Friday

I USED TO study and practice Zen. And at the time I didn't understand what relaxation had to do with enlightenment. I meditated for hours and became really relaxed. But so what? I was relaxed. What did this have to do with enlightenment?

But I've thought a lot about it since then, and here's what I've concluded: Developing a progressively deeper calm — through meditation or yoga or massage or long walks in the woods or changing the way you think or whatever — is the way to live the "awakened" life. Calmness is a "cure" for the normal feeling of stress we live with (read more about that here).

Whether or not you have a big epiphany (experience "satori" in Zen parlance) is not really up to you. But developing calmness is totally up to you. And you can live in an enlightened way even without the earthshaking realizations. Calmness makes the difference. But why?

When you feel deeply calm, all these are gone: greed, selfishness, anger, judgmentalness, fear, deficiency motivations, feelings of revenge, agitation, anxiety, frustration — feelings that provoke unenlightened action.

And when you feel deeply calm, all these come naturally and easily: forgiveness, compassion, peace, happiness, contentment, thoughtful decisions and actions, balanced thinking, cosmic or eternal perspective, patience, kindness to others, kindness to yourself — feelings and actions we might consider awakened or enlightened.

If you'd like to be the kind of person you really want to be, if you want to treat people better and take better care of yourself and respond to stressful situations with more compassion and wisdom, focus your efforts on one thing: Create more calmness in your life. Everything else will follow.

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The Shortest Path to Feeling Better

TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Right now. Go on, I'll wait here.

How does that feel?

You can do this anywhere, anytime, and it will almost always make you feel better, especially if you're feeling stressed.

One of the effects of stress is to constrict your breathing, making it faster, shallower, and higher in the chest. This stressed breathing style makes you feel psychologically more stressed, and so it can begin a negative feedback loop that might lead to health problems. In a study of a 153 heart attack patients, researchers found that almost all of them were primarily shallow breathers or "chest breathers."

The authors of New Directions in Progressive Relaxation Training say that shallow, rapid breathing stimulates the sympathetic nervous system — the part of your nervous system responsible for stress reactions. "People can predispose themselves to anxious and tense inner experience," write the authors, "by breathing in this way."

There is some evidence that people who suffer from panic attacks keep their carbon dioxide too low by shallow breathing, which keeps them in a state of semi-hyperventilation. Apparently panic-attack sufferers notice the symptoms of hyperventilation such as feeling dizzy or a pounding heart or feelings of suffocation, they think something terrible is happening, and it scares them, which of course makes their heart pound even more, making them breathe faster, etc. Taking a deep breath can often stop this cycle. And a deep breath can make anyone feel more relaxed.

Although we breathe automatically, without any conscious effort on our part, we can also voluntarily control the way we breathe, and when we do, we gain more voluntary control of our moods and our feelings of well-being.

The method is to take a deep breath, somewhat slowly, and let it out slowly. If you've got the time and inclination, do it a few times. This is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce your stress and feel better quickly.

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Communication Fast

I OCCASIONALLY FAST for a day. I have my last meal in the evening, eat nothing at all the next day, and resume eating the morning after that. I do it because the scientific evidence indicates it is healthy. The body is not really supposed to have three square meals a day every single day. It is unnatural.

It is also healthy for a relationship to go on a "communication fast" once in awhile. Choose a day you both have off from work and say your last words to each other the night before. Say nothing to anybody the next day and resume talking the morning after that.

To make it even better, fast from every kind of communication. Don't watch television, do email, or even read a book.

This is a powerful practice that will deepen your relationship. Why?

Because any time you can suspend the expression of well-ingrained habits, they become less ingrained.

You've had a negative example of this, I'm sure. Have you ever had a regular exercise routine or some other regular practice and after a vacation, neglect to resume it? Maybe weeks later, you'll realize you haven't been exercising and you'll think you've failed or perhaps you're weak-willed.

But it's not weakness. You've merely suspended a well-ingrained habit and made it less ingrained. You can use this phenomenon for your benefit instead of your detriment. When you want to be less automatic — when you want to enhance the freshness of your habits of communication — suspend communicating for a period of time. You'll come back to communicating with more awareness.

And anytime you stop doing something you have fully taken for granted, you'll find you appreciate it more. Appreciation improves your mood.

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Venting Theory Outdated

>> Sunday

I USED TO THINK it was healthy to express anger and unhealthy to hold it in, so I said what was on my mind when I was angry. Of course, I hurt people’s feelings — unnecessarily.

Anger can be a dangerous and destructive emotion. Although you can’t eliminate the emotion from your life, the way you respond to it can make it less dangerous and more constructive.

Research has shown that expressing anger only makes you angrier. But that doesn’t mean we should avoid saying anything about what makes us angry. It’s just that we should avoid saying it while we’re angry. It doesn’t do much good anyway: The person listening to you only sees and hears your anger and puts up her defenses right away. Nothing gets through. And she gets a very bad impression of you.

But you need to say something. So follow these two rules and you’ll do yourself and other people a big favor:

1. Make it your personal policy not to say much or decide anything while you’re angry. Leave it alone, go on about your business, and the intensity will subside. Then think about what you need to do or say or decide. If you’ve calmed down and decided to talk to someone but find you can’t seem to say it without getting angry again, write it in a letter.

2. Say what you want, not what you don’t want. Say your complaints in the form of requests. Instead of “You never do such and such,” say “Would you please do such and such?” It’s easier to hear. It’s more likely to cause the effect you want. Say clearly what you want and why you want it.

USUALLY YOU’RE ANGRY because you want someone to change — to do something different than what they’re doing. That’s perfectly legitimate. What you want is to have an impact on the other, which, according to the research, is what will really and truly clear up your anger. Not venting, but not remaining silent either.

Those two steps will help you effectively cause change in other people while reducing the amount of anger you experience over time. Even when you make a request and someone says no, you’ll feel better. At least now they know what you want. You’ve said it. It’s off your chest.

This is a good way to increase others’ respect for you while also making things go the way you want more often. Turn complaints into requests and make those requests when you are calm.

This is a chapter from Principles for Personal Growth.

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Fasting for Depression: A New Study Needs Volunteers

>> Saturday

AS YOU MAY remember, I've written about fasting before on Moodraiser (Fasting Is Good For Your Health) and elsewhere because it's good for your health, and most things good for your physical health are also good for your mental health and moods.

If you'd like to try fasting, or if you've done it before and you're ready for another fast, I have a unique opportunity for you, courtesy of a message I received from a PhD candidate yesterday who is looking for volunteers for a study she is conducting:

Dear Adam Khan,

My name is Randi Fredricks and I am a PhD candidate at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California (www.itp.edu). I am conducting my doctoral dissertation research on the effects of water fasting on depression. I have done a great deal of investigation in this area and believe that my research will show that water fasting can relieve the symptoms of depression. I am aware of your work and your knowledge about the benefits of fasting, so I thought you would be interested in my research.

If you know anyone between 18 and 75 years of age who will be doing a water-only fast for a period of at least 5 days, I would like to invite them to participate in my research. All testing will be online so the testing can be done anywhere. The online testing should take about 15 minutes to complete.

At the end of the study, all participants who have completed the study will be entered into a drawing to give away three iPods.

If you have any questions, please contact me by phone at (408)315-0645 or (800)957-5655, or by email at research@transpersonalresearch.net.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to completion of my research and to reading the results in a number of peer-reviewed journals, thus further supporting the application of fasting.

Sincerely,

Randi Fredricks, MFT
1711 Hamilton Ave Suite A
San Jose, CA 95125
fasting@transpersonalresearch.net
www.FastingResearch.org
Office (800)957-5655
Cell (408)315-0645

If you're interested, I urge you to participate in this research to help scientists discover more about the effects of fasting. Or at least find out more about the experiment before you decide. Go to the web site and read more about it or email Randi Fredricks and get your questions answered.

If fasting is as good for physical and mental health as its reputation says it is (and the research so far supports it) fasting would be a great thing to practice and promote. It costs no money — in fact, you save money by not buying food, it gives you more time (it's amazing how much more time in a day you have when you're not eating), and you lose weight and look better too. And if you participate in the research, you may also win an iPod.

Editor's update, November 6th, 2010: The researcher has completed her study and needs no more volunteers.

Read more...

World Smile Day Today

>> Friday

ONE VERY good way to raise your mood is to raise someone else's mood. This is a method available to you almost anywhere and almost anytime.

The first Friday of every October is World Smile Day, a celebration created by Harvey Ball, the man who invented the original "smiley face" back in 1963.

To celebrate this day, all you have to do is make someone smile today. Notice how it improves your mood when you do.

Read more...

Raise Your Mood With Yoga

>> Thursday

IN A RECENT post on Intelihealth by Michael Craig Miller, M.D., editor-in-chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter (and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School), he wrote about some recent studies on yoga. Here are some excerpts:

"But results from the growing number of randomized controlled trials, the most rigorous standard for proving effectiveness, suggest that yoga practices may be helpful for both anxiety and depression. In this respect, yoga is like other self-soothing techniques, such as meditation, relaxation, exercise, or even socializing with friends."

"It's not clear exactly how yoga works to improve mood, but preliminary evidence suggests its benefit is similar to that of exercise and relaxation techniques."

"[In one study] all of the participants had experienced emotional distress for at least half of the previous 90 days. Although they were not formally diagnosed with depression, they reported higher-than-average levels of stress, anxiety and depression. At the end of three months, women in the yoga group reported improvements in those three areas. They also had more energy. Depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Complaints of headaches, back pain, and poor sleep quality also cleared up much more often in the yoga group than in the control group."

"One uncontrolled study from 2005 described the effects of a single yoga class for inpatients at a New Hampshire psychiatric hospital. The 113 participants included people with bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. Before the class, they answered a questionnaire. After the class, average levels of tension, anxiety, depression, anger, hostility and fatigue dropped significantly when they repeated the questionnaire. Patients who chose to participate in additional classes experienced similar short-term positive effects."

"Although many forms of yoga are safe, some are strenuous and may not be appropriate for everyone. In particular, elderly patients or those with mobility problems may want to check first with a clinician before choosing yoga as a treatment option."

"But for many patients dealing with depression, anxiety or stress, yoga may be a very appealing way to better manage symptoms. Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-benefit way to improve overall health."

Learning with a DVD is an excellent way to get started. Here are a few we recommend:

Yoga for Dummies

Yoga for Beginners

AM/PM Yoga for Beginners

Yoga Journal's: Beginning Yoga Step by Step

Yoga for Every Body

Read more...

Digital Detox Week

>> Wednesday

ALSO KNOWN as TV Turnoff Week, this annual event is aimed at helping people learn what life would be like without screens —particularly television. Read more about the event here.

TV Turnoff Week is being sponsored, supported, or promoted by many organizations, including The American Heart Association, Big Brothers and Sisters of America, the National Education Association, and the YMCA.

The event occurs twice a year, once in April, and once in September. This year (2010) it goes from September 19th until the 25th.

TurnOffYourTV.com gives a good answer the question about going a whole week. Couldn't we do it for just a day? "Turning off the television for seven full days helps participants realize that life without television is not torture and may actually be more fun. A multi-day TV 'fast' allows sufficient time for the development of habits likely to be more productive and rewarding."

Another question that comes up is what about "good" TV? Is all television bad? I like their answer: "All TV is passive, sedentary, and non-experiential."

Turning off the TV is a way to "encourage healthier lifestyles, stronger families and communities and improved reading skills," says the TV Turnoff Network. The movement has been motivated by statistics such as these.

So what do you think? Are you up for it? Let's turn off the screens for one whole week starting Sunday, September 19th.

Read more: How to Raise Your Mood With One Finger.

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Stop Anxious Thoughts

>> Saturday

If you have anxious thoughts or even panic attacks, there is one technique I've learned over the years that works surprisingly well: I say to myself with disgust, "That's stupid."

It's the truth. When I am feeling anxious, the thoughts I'm thinking really are stupid. Pay attention next time you feel anxious, write down what you're thinking, and then later, when you're no longer feeling anxiety, look at what you wrote. You'll see that it was a stupid thing to think.

Learn more about how to use this technique: Cure for Self-Defeating Thoughts.

Read more...

Solution to a Crazy World

>> Tuesday

The world seems crazy, doesn't it? Stress and pollution and wars and overpopulation and so on and so on. And in your personal life, you've got worries and drama and upsetting interactions with people, conflicts at work, conflicts at home, and so on.

This craziness is "normal."

Something very simple can make it all better. I am not kidding. Check it out: Cure For Normal.

Read more...

Improve Your Mood Around People

You know how you feel uncomfortable around people when they are uncomfortable being around you? There is a self-feeding loop in human relationships, and you can use it to your advantage.

Assume people like you. That's it. If you assume people like you, you'll tend to treat them in a certain way, and your demeanor will usually support your assumption.

Read more about this: How to Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

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Make Your Goal Into a Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

>> Monday

There are many aspects of the human psyche that create self-feeding loops. One of them has to do with goals. If you assume something can be done, you will try harder and persist longer (making the goal more likely to be achieved) than if you doubt it can be done.

You can use this phenomenon to your advantage. Learn more: How to Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

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The Secret of Emotional Strength

>> Friday

You can be emotionally stronger by simply thinking more strongly. You can say things to yourself just as deliberately as you can say things out loud. You can say things that make you feel weak and overwhelmed just as easily as you can say things that give you determination and resolve.

When you already feel overwhelmed or weak, this may seem impossible. But it is completely possible. All you have to do is try it to find out. Learn more: Think Strong.

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Feel Better When You're Productive

>> Monday

If you're going to spend your time working, you might as well feel satisfied about getting things done. If you sometimes have the feeling that you've worked all day and got nothing done, that can sap your motivation.

Find out what the problem is and fix it. The main problem is that much of the work we do is somewhat intangible. But you can do something about it: Rather than, or in addition to, making a to-do list, you can make a done list. Learn more about it here: Motivation Principle Number Four.

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Top Seven Reasons Why Raising Your Mood is a Good Idea

>> Thursday

YOU WANT a better mood, and you probably have your own reasons. But there may be other sound reasons to pursue this worthy purpose that you haven't thought about before. So here are what I believe to be the seven best reasons to put in the effort to improve your mood:

1. Good moods are good for your heart. A good mood is the antithesis of stress. And frequent stress is hard on the heart. An optimistic outlook and a good attitude are positively good for the health of your heart — not just metaphorically, but physically. Read more about that.

2. Good moods improve your relationships. It is easier and more enjoyable to converse with, hug, take a trip with, or anything else with someone in a good mood. It's easier to work out problems with someone in a good mood. One good way to improve a relationship is to improve your mood.

3. Your good moods help others become happier. Far from being a selfish pursuit, raising your own mood is one of the best things you can do for others, as this study shows.

4. Good moods make you more creative. Before they were given the problem to solve, students were first put in either a bad mood or a good mood. Afterwards, 20% of the students in a bad mood successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students in a good mood were able to do it. Read more about this study. Good moods help you cope with difficult situations and improve your ability to solve problems, which improves your mood, creating an upward spiral (which is what the picture depicts).

5. Good moods make your immune system more vigorous. When you're in a good mood, your T-cells and NK-cells are more effective at killing off invaders and stopping the proliferation of cancer cells. Read about a good mood's impact on your immune system. And bad moods are bad for your immune system.

6. Good moods help you live longer. Having a good attitude and being in a good mood can add over seven years to your life according to this study.

7. Good moods feel good. Let's not forget about this one! Bad moods feel bad and good moods feel great.

Read more...

The Beautiful Truth

For each of us, eventually whether we’re ready or not, someday it will come to an end. There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, or days. All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten will pass to someone else. It will not matter what you owned or owed. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.

So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days will be measured?


- Excerpted from an article entitled, The Beautiful Truth.

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Lower Stress With Connection

>> Saturday

We've got stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and they activate our bodies to deal with dangerous situations.

We also have soothing hormones that allow us to recover from the stress. These hormones relax you and help your body heal faster.

What causes those soothing hormones to be released? What actions can you take that will flood your body with soothing hormones?

Find out here: Peace, Love, and Oxytocin.

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Wonder Drug — Fountain of Youth and Happiness

>> Thursday

Imagine someone developed a drug that relaxes you without any harmful side-effects. In fact, all the side-effects are beneficial. The drug helps you heal faster, it improves your disposition, it helps you sleep better, it even helps you read faces better.

This drug does not exist because we don't need it. Our own bodies produce oxytocin, which has all the effects I've described here, plus many more.

How can you get your body to release oxytocin into your blood stream? It's not that hard.

Read all about it here.

Read more...

Raise Your Mood With One Finger

BY MOVING ONE finger, you can raise your mood and the moods of everyone in your family for a week. Simply push the off button on your television. You can join over 20 million people and observe the annual TV Turnoff Week.

What's wrong with TV? As I say in my book, Principles For Personal Growth:

Studies at the University of Chicago found that when people are engaged in an activity like reading, talking, or pursuing a hobby, they become happier. Research also shows that the longer a person sits in front of a TV, the more irritable and dissatisfied they become. TV is entertaining, but it presents no challenge. Our minds and bodies start going stir crazy without a challenge. That’s bad enough, but on top of that, commercials are specifically designed to make you feel dissatisfied (so you will buy their product to satisfy your “need”). Read the whole chapter.

As I've said elsewhere, using your hands is a powerful mood elevator. So is exercise. But television doesn't. The problem is, it sometimes seems like it does.

Turning off the TV, however, is very likely to raise your mood. But this is like telling a heroin addict that giving up the drug will make him happier. It doesn't seem like it. It doesn't feel like it. And he may be considerably unhappier for awhile first.

Television is surprisingly addicting, and that's why, even though it is a voluntary activity, it is hard to turn away from (especially news) and that is the cause of these alarming statistics.

The purpose of TV Turnoff Week is to give you enough TV-free time to discover how much more moodraising the alternatives can be, and this hopefully leads to lifestyle changes and a more fulfilling life. According to surveys, taking a week off from television caused ninety percent of the participants to reduce the amount of TV they watched afterwards. Here are some ideas people have used to change their television watching habits.

What can you do instead of watching television? Try wasting time the old fashioned way. When the TV is off, one of the most entertaining things available is interacting with other people, which studies show will make you happier. Ideally, you would rediscover things you now "don't have time to do" — things that are more constructive, healthy, and rewarding to do. Here's a list of ideas.

As one second grader said, "I didn't like TV Turnoff Week except that I did notice my grades went up and I was in a good mood all week." On a parent handout (PDF document), they had this sage advice: "Don't fret if children claim 'I'm bored!' For children, boredom often leads to creativity." And I would add, "Same for adults."

Every year, TV Turnoff Week is held in April and September. Find the dates by clicking here: TV Turnoff on Wikipedia. We invite you to participate and see what happens. Did you gain insights? Did you enjoy your life more? How did it change your mood? (We'd love to read about your experiences in the comments below.)

Find out more on these websites:

The White Dot
Unplug Your Kids

Books for further reading:

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television
Alternatives to TV Handbook
Living Without The Screen
The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying to Raise a TV-Free Kid
Amusing Ourselves to Death

Read some interesting facts about television and answers to frequently asked questions about TV Turnoff Week here.

Read more...

Lower Stress With Less Responsibility (or More)

>> Friday

When you feel you can and should be responsible for something that you can't actually control, it can be a source of intense stress.

And when you are taking responsibility for something that isn't, in fact, any of your business, that can also be a source of stress.

If you feel you have too much stress in your life, look at what you feel you are responsible for and see if you have taken on your responsibilities accurately. Learn more about how to do that here: Stress Control.

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Humor and Health on April Fool's Day

>> Wednesday

AL SIEBERT, author of Survivor Personality, says according to his research, a good sense of humor significantly helps survivors cope with extreme stress. “Mental efficiency is directly related to a person’s general level of emotional arousal,” he says. “People are less able to solve problems and make precise, coordinated movements when strongly worked up. Laughing reduces tension to more moderate levels and efficiency improves.”

Anyone in a prolonged stressful situation can attest to this basic principle. Gerald Coffee, for example, was a POW in Vietnam. His captors treated him with unbelievable brutality. At one point he was taken to a “shower.” He hadn’t bathed at all in three months. This shower was littered with garbage. It was small and the walls were covered with slime. The water was cold, came from a rusty pipe, and only trickled out.

As he was trying to wash off, he felt depressed. He hadn’t held up under torture as well as he expected of himself. His head was down and he felt tired and sad and deeply disappointed in himself.

Then he looked up and saw someone had scratched a message on the wall that said, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!”

Coffee laughed out loud. The message was so out of place, it was funny. But Coffee also laughed because, he says, he appreciated so much “the beautiful guy who had mustered the moxie to rise above his own dejection and frustration and pain and guilt to inscribe a line of encouragement to those who would come after him.”

Humor can have a powerful affect on your mood and your ability to cope with difficult situations. The man who inscribed the Candid Camera line improved his own mood, and the moods of men who came after him, raising their spirits and making them more resilient.

In experiments, researchers have found humor also improves your cleverness. Imagine someone gave you a box of tacks, a candle, and some matches and told you to stick the candle to a cork board in such a way that the candle doesn’t drip wax onto the floor below. Could you do it? Whether or not you could do it, Alice M. Isen and her colleagues found, might depend on whether or not you’ve just seen the humor in something.

Before they were given the problem to solve, students were shown either a comedy film of bloopers or a film on math (which was not funny at all).

After watching the math film, 20% of the students successfully solved the problem. But 75% of the students who watched the comedy film were able to do it. That's a big difference! The solution is to pour the tacks out of the box and tack the box to the board, and then put the candle in the box.

Isen said, “Research suggests that positive memories are more extensive and are more interconnected than are negative ones, so being happy may cue you into a larger and richer cognitive context, and that could significantly affect your creativity.”

Let's use this insight. Let's raise our level of resilience and cleverness. On April Fool's Day, it is traditional to play practical jokes. It's been a custom in several countries for centuries. It may have its roots in the Hilaria festival of ancient Rome. I'm not making this up.

A good laugh is good for you, and a good practical joke is good for a laugh. I invite you to (safely and in good taste) have some good laughs today. And to get you started in the right direction, enjoy these compilations of practical jokes:






Read more about the value of humor and how to improve your sense of humor: See the Funny.

Read more...

The Print Button On Moodraiser

>> Thursday

WHEN YOU WANT to print an article to share with a friend or post at work, scroll to the end of the article. You'll see a green button that says "print friendly." It looks like this:


Click on the button and you can print a nice copy of the article.

Once you click on the "print friendly" button, you will find other options — to remove the picture from the printed copy, for example, or to make a PDF document out of the article.

Use this feature to spread the word. Let's help put this world in a better mood!

Read more...

How Much Can You Control?

>> Tuesday

WHAT WE control in our lives is often influenced by what we think we can control. For example, I know a woman who doesn't think she can control her anger. Her anger spontaneously erupts, according to her.

And this woman's anger is causing a lot of trouble in her marriage. It would make a huge difference in her life if she learned to restrain at least her expression of anger.


But she "can't."

What doesn't ring true about that is the several times I've seen her angry before a phone rang or someone came to her door and yet she answered pleasantly. She is obviously capable of controlling her expression of anger but because she says she can't, she doesn't try, and if she won't try, of course she can't!


There is an enormous range of activities over which we have control but think we don't. And because we think we don't, we don't.


Now some extremists have taken this sane and practical truth and gone overboard with it. You don't create reality. You can't control everything.


But many of your own feelings and behaviors are firmly under your influence — but only if you allow the possibility that they are.
It makes no sense to remain uncomfortably warm when you're sitting right next to a thermostat. Turn it down! I think the reason most people don't know how to change their feelings is because somewhere along the line they got the impression they couldn't change their feelings.

But you can, and by gum, you should!


Of course, if you are a Moodraiser reader, you know that already. But if you have friends who don't know they can change their feelings, it might improve your mood to send them this article.
What you can control is influenced by what you think you can control. Begin now changing the way you think. Recognize those areas where you do, in fact, have some influence. An effective way to change the way you think is with the Antivirus Program For Your Mind.

Unnecessarily limiting beliefs function like a virus on your computer, impairing its capabilities. But we now have a way to root out those beliefs and eliminate them, restoring your full potential. It takes some work, but it doesn't cost anything and it is more than worth the effort.

Read more...

Reduce Stress With a Guardian Angel

>> Monday

Dogs like Angel here have, thoughout history, risked their lives to save their owners. You can read more about Angel's story in the article linked to below.

But dogs can save us in a different way: By soothing us and relaxing us and lowering our blood pressure. This is not a trivial effect because it takes place daily, and it is the accumulated stress and accumulated relaxation that has the impact on your health in the long run.

Learn more about that here: Reduce Stress, Get a Dog

Read more...

What To Do When You Relapse

>> Friday

DID YOU MAKE any New Year's resolutions? If you feel like you've already failed with them, think again. Not only is discouragement bad for your health and bad for your ability to succeed, but at least some of your negative assumptions are very likely to be mistaken.

A therapist once told me he had a client — I'll call him Dirck — who's wife didn't feel loved. The therapist helped Dirck find out what his wife needed to feel loved. She craved physical demonstrations of affection: Hugs, touches, kisses, holding hands. These were things that meant the most to her.

Dirck had been telling her how much he loved her without doing much physical demonstration. So although she "knew" (intellectually) Dirck loved her, she didn't feel loved.

The therapist coached Dirck on how to demonstrate his love with physical affection. Dirck returned a week later to say, "It worked!" His wife felt loved! He was now living in a happy household.

Six months later, Dirck was back. His wife didn't feel loved any more. The therapy apparently hadn't succeeded like he thought.

But with some careful questions, the therapist found that Dirck had stopped doing what he was doing before and was merely professing his love with words again!

As stupid as that sounds, it is not uncommon. We've all made similar mistakes. You have a problem, you decide what to do about it, you do it and it works, and then you forget all about it and stop doing what was working, and the problem returns. You "relapse." Then you explain it to yourself. Dirck's explanation was: "The therapy didn't work."

If you have failed with your resolution, you have already explained it. Your mind will not allow you to go on without explaining the setback. "I guess I don't have any self-discipline," you might think. Or maybe, "I am weak and lazy."

In all likelihood, your explanation is wrong (read more about explaining setbacks here). The explanation for your relapse may be simply: It's hard to notice the absence of a negative condition (except immediately after it goes away).

When things go wrong, it is very noticeable. When things get better, it is less noticeable. You might notice at first, but even then you quickly get used to it. And you won't feel much motivation to continue solving a problem that doesn't exist any more. Your life may be better, but you will soon take your new condition for granted. So you stop doing the work, and for awhile everything is great. And then the problem slowly begins to appear again.

Been there? Yeah, me too. But all is not lost. Not by a long shot.

If you feel you have failed with your resolutions, try this new explanation (it is hard to notice the absence of a negative condition) and start doing again what worked before. That's what to do when you relapse.

Read more: From Hope To Change.

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