Starting Fresh: Rebooting Your Immune System

>> Tuesday

Researchers at the University of Southern California found one of the reasons fasting is so good for your health: It kills off weak or damaged white blood cells, causing your body to generate healthy new white blood cells to replace the old ones.

"The researchers say fasting 'flips a regenerative switch' which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system," writes Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton.

"It gives the 'OK' for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system," said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California.

In an article in the Telegraph, Knapton writes:

Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose and fat but also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells.

During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells.

In trials humans were asked to regularly fast for between two and four days over a six-month period.

Scientists found that prolonged fasting also reduced the enzyme PKA, which is linked to aging and a hormone which increases cancer risk and tumor growth.

"We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system," added Prof Longo.

"When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged," Dr Longo said.

"What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?"

Fasting for 72 hours also protected cancer patients against the toxic impact of chemotherapy.

"While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy," said co-author Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.

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One Goal To Rule Them All

>> Monday

Those of us trying to improve ourselves might all be after the same thing without realizing it. I think we want to be able to take in experiences the way we want to take in those experiences. If we did that, we'd feel better more often and we would act more like the people we really want to be.

How many times have you been frustrated or upset or angered by something and wish you could have the perspective you have at your better moments?

Two different people experiencing the same objective event may not respond in the same way. One might get upset, the other might instantly forgive and forget.

The difference in responses is the difference in how the different people took in the experience. Now, ideally, you would take in experiences the way you do in your better moments, right?

That's what you're really after. You want better moods, you want personal growth, you want ______ (fill in the blank). Whatever you're after, it all boils down to a single goal: You want to take in experiences better. And there are lots of ways to accomplish this.

A cognitive therapist would help you discover your own irrational beliefs and help you see those beliefs as irrational. A positive thinker might tell you to look on the bright side. A Zen master might try to help you experience the precious fleetingness of this moment. And all those different methods ultimately accomplish the same thing: They cause you to take in the events of your life in a new way. Hopefully, a better way.

We want to be better people. Nobody wants to be grumpy. Nobody wants to be rude or hurt others' feelings. And yet we have done these things.

You want to be wise and kind. You want to have a bigger perspective at times. You want to take in experiences the way you would at your very best, and you want to do that more often. The key factor is the way you interpret events.

How do you interpret — what do you do internally with — the outward event? If you interpret events well (as you do at your very best), your internal reaction is more likely to be what you want it to be, and your behavior is too.

But you don't want your better interpretation to be forced. You don't want to make yourself, through gritted teeth, look at the event in a "positive" way. You don't want to make yourself act in a way that you don't feel, either. You want to be open and relaxed and compassionate and to genuinely see things that way.

How can you get better at this? There are hundreds of ways. Thousands. One reliable long-term answer is daily meditation. Another is improving your ability to connect with people. But many tools work for different situations. One way to go about improving the way you take in events is to start with something you want to be better at dealing with and apply a method that works for that specific situation.

But the method isn't our topic here. The reason I brought this up is to point out that while we are after better moods here on Moodraiser, we're actually aiming at something more important. A better mood makes you feel better, but it also makes you respond better. It makes you more like the person you want to be.

Anyway, it's a good idea to be clear about the real goal. A better mood is the immediate, short-term goal. The more meaningful, long-term goal is becoming the person you really want to be more often. The ultimate key is the way you take in your experiences.

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Imagine a Single Celebration that Includes Everybody

>> Saturday

In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and on that day until the winter solstice, the days get progressively shorter. The winter solstice is the moment when the days begin to get longer again. Just the reverse is true in the southern hemisphere, but the two solstices themselves occur at exactly the same moment for everyone on earth.

The origin of the word "solstice" is the Latin solstitium from "sol" meaning sun and "-stitium" meaning a stoppage. Observing the sun over time, you can see the sun rising further and further to the south until the winter solstice when it slows and stops and then reverses.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is close to the same time as Christmas, and many of our Christmas traditions originated from the days before Christianity, when the solstice was celebrated. Traditions for celebrating the end of shorter days and the beginning of longer days (winter solstice) have been practiced around the world for many thousands of years.

At Stonehenge on the British Isles, for example, the huge stones are arranged in such a way that they frame the setting sun on the day of winter solstice. The ancient Brits had a tradition of tying apples to the branches of oak trees in the dead of winter to affirm that summer would come again. The Celts put mistletoe on their altars.

The ancient Romans celebrated the winter solstice by giving gifts. And they feasted for a week. Servants traded places with their masters — the masters serving their servants during the feast. They also had a tradition during winter solstice of bringing evergreens indoors.

In Scandinavian countries, the sun disappears in the dead of winter. In the far north, it disappears for as long as 35 days. The ancient people of the far north had a tradition of feasting when the dark days were over and the sun once again shone on the horizon. They celebrated with what they called a Yuletide festival. They feasted in a long hall while a Yule log burned in the fireplace. They thought of mistletoe as sacred. Kissing under mistletoe was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were considered to be the food of the gods.

The solstice celebrations were officially replaced with Christian ceremonies during Roman times as a way of overtaking the ancient traditions, even though Jesus wasn't really born in December. It was a political act. December 25th used to be the solstice with the old calendar. It usually happens on December 21st with the modern calendar.

But the Christian usurping of the celebration was a long time ago. It's water under the bridge and really at this point, who cares? We could start fresh and celebrate the solstice instead of (or in addition to) our other celebrations. We could celebrate the turning of the season. We could celebrate longer and warmer days ahead.

We could keep our celebrations, but change the date, and that way more people could celebrate together. In other words, if you normally drink eggnog and trim a tree and open presents for Christmas, you could do exactly the same things, except do them on the Solstice. Or people with different customs could celebrate their customs and traditions (for Christmas, Hanukkah, etc.) on their designated days, but also celebrate the solstice with everyone.

The solstice has nothing to do with religion, race, or nationality. Every one of us relies on the sun for our warmth, our sunlight, and our food. We rely on the sun for life. The time and date of the solstice can be accurately determined and it occurs at the same moment everywhere on earth.

The solstice might some day become an international holiday. This could be the beginning of something wonderful — a point of unification, a place of agreement, a universal tradition.

You can begin this year by celebrating the solstice in even a small way. Take any of the traditions normally associated with the holiday season and do some part of it on the solstice. Give a gift. Eat a feast. Be kinder to your fellow human beings. Invite people of all faiths to your home to celebrate the end of the longest night and the beginning of longer days. The celebration of the solstice in your own home could actually and concretely work for peace on earth and goodwill toward all women and men.

I wish you a Merry Solstice.

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It's a Wonderful Life

>> Thursday

This is a six and a half minute video. It's a song about the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. The video shows clips of the movie along with footage of the trio singing the song. I thought it was beautiful. I hope you do too.

It's a Wonderful Life

http://youtu.be/6eUZBQ0L_EY

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A Few Of Your Favorite Things

Considered a holiday song, My Favorite Things is a song about a method to improve your mood. And the method actually works. If you remember a few of your favorite things, then you really won't feel so bad.

Try it today. You don't have to write them down or make a project out of it. Just think of some of your favorite things — not things you want but things you already have and love. It's a good technique.

Click here to listen to the song right now.

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Technology For Personal Change

Have you ever heard a good piece of advice or come to a good realization only to forget about it a week later? Sure you have. I just found a great little online tool that helps me keep my insights in mind long enough for them to do some good. It's called Resnooze.

You type in whatever you want, and then tell it how often you want to get that in your email inbox, and click on the button "Resnooze myself" and that's it. Every day or every week or every month, your message will be delivered to you via email, for as long as you wish for free.

I use it all the time now. I think you might like it: Resnooze.

For more help with making changes permanent, check out articles here: How To Make Lasting Changes In Your Life.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often.

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A Simple Mental Maneuver That Will Bring You Up

>> Saturday

Here's a simple question you can ask when your mind isn't otherwise engaged in something. Ask yourself, "What can I look forward to?" And don’t just ask it once. After you get an answer, ask yourself what else you could look forward to? And what else?

It helps you feel better and get more done when you have things to look forward to. And it's a fairly common mistake many of us make to actually have legitimate things to look forward to without looking forward to them because you’re too busy dealing with day-to-day problems.

That’s why this is a good question to ask. It lifts you out of your narrow focus, which is naturally dominated by a negative bias if left unchecked, and lets you look ahead to something pleasant.

You daydream sometimes anyway, right? While driving, showering, walking to and from places, closing your eyes at the end of the day. Take advantage of these brief moments and ask yourself what you can look forward to.

And don't ignore the small things in the short term. Go ahead and imagine the long-range big goals or events, but also think about the near future. When you get home from work, what is something you could look forward to, even a little? This weekend, what is one thing that will happen or that you can make happen that you can look forward to? Think about it, and then enjoy that nice feeling, even for a moment. It has a residual effect on your mood.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

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If Only We Could See Like This

>> Wednesday

Watch the video below showing what it would be like if we could "read the secret history of our enemies" as Longfellow put it. The video is four minutes, twenty-five seconds long and may just change the way you see the strangers in your life today.

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Our Deep Need For Purpose

>> Saturday

"The need for meaning in life goes far beyond the mechanical techniques of selecting a goal to be achieved by positive thinking. If a person selects a goal just to satisfy the demands of others he will quickly revert back to self-defeating trap circuits. He will rapidly lose ambition, and though he may try to appear as if he is succeeding in what he is doing, he will feel miserable because he is not really committed to this objective. All the success seminars in the world will not make a potential Mozart or Monet content to be president of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Positive therapy strives to help people acquire a deeply positive orientation to living by enabling them to recover a long-buried dream or to implant firmly the roots of a new one. This need for deep personal meaning has been succinctly expressed by Friedrich Nietzsche: 'He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.' The phenomenon was directly observed by Viktor Frankl in Nazi concentration camps. Those prisoners who had a deeply rooted reason to survive — a meaningful project, a loving family — best withstood that prolonged torture without reverting to counterhuman patterns of behavior."

- Allen Wiesen, psychologist

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Setting Your Course to Better Moods

>> Tuesday

Having a strong purpose is one of the best sources of good moods you can get. If you don't already have a strong purpose, how do you go about developing one?

A high-quality purpose is more than something you feel you "should" do. That isn't good enough. A good purpose is something you feel a strong desire to do, even feel compelled to do, and something you feel is important — something you think needs to be done and ought to be done because it is right and good. Or something you feel strongly interested in, something that fascinates you and fills you with interest and curiosity, or just plain ecstasy (as demonstrated by the great BB King in the picture).

If nothing comes to mind right now, that's not the end of the conversation. There is no such legitimate answer as, "I don't have one of those." Yes, you do. You may have forgotten it. You may never have dug deeply enough to find it in the first place. But you've got at least one. And all you need is one.

Most likely there was a time when you knew what your purpose was, at least in a general sense, but for one reason or another you discarded it; someone convinced you it was impossible or stupid, or you convinced yourself. It's now as if you've turned your back on it and are looking around saying, "I don't see any purpose I really want." No, of course not. It is behind you, so to speak. You've already picked it up, had it in your hand and then tossed it behind you where you are no longer looking.

Start right now with the assumption that there is a purpose which strongly compels you or strongly interests you, and commit yourself to finding it.

If you don't already have a purpose, now you have one: Finding it. What interests you? What do you like to talk about? What do you daydream about? What do you think needs to be done? What do you think "someone" ought to do? What do you "wish you could do" but know you can't?

A high quality purpose is concrete, challenging, and something you feel is achievable. That's where motivation is. That's where confidence is. That's where ability is formed. That's where the fun is.

In a study at the University of Alabama, researchers found that people who considered their goal difficult but achievable were more motivated — they were more energized and felt their goal was more important — than people who had easy goals or impossible goals.

People who thought their goal was easy weren't as motivated. And people who thought their goal was impossible weren't motivated either. Remember: difficult but achievable. Not achievable in some abstract sense, but something you feel you could achieve. And something you feel challenged by.

John French, Jr., director of the research project, did a study of 2,010 men in twenty-three different jobs, trying to find out which jobs were the most stressful. The study found something surprising. The most stressful jobs were the most boring and unchallenging. These were the jobs that produced the most physical and emotional illness.

Says French, "One of the key factors in job satisfaction is self-utilization — the opportunity to fully utilize your abilities on the job, to be challenged, to develop yourself. Frustration and anxiety over not being challenged can have physically debilitating effects."

A big, challenging goal, if you feel up to it, will awaken the genius within, bring out your latent talents, give you satisfaction, and make the world a better place.

Beethoven's goal was to create music that would "transcend fate." Socrates had a goal to make people happy by making them reasonable and just. These are big goals, but they brought out the best in these people and wrote their names in history.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

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The Effect of Sugar on Your Mood

>> Sunday

I've seen studies showing that sugar doesn't produce hyperactivity in children, but it does something to us all. Eating refined sugar — table sugar and corn syrup in particular — raises your blood sugar level (glucose) very quickly.

In one study, some people had panic attacks merely from an infusion of glucose (blood sugar). In another study, people were given 100 milligrams of glucose as a drink. In anxiety-prone people the lactate level in their blood was considerably higher than in the other participants, and it stayed higher for five hours! (Lactate all by itself can produce feelings of anxiety. Lactate is the byproduct of burning blood sugar.)

In several studies on people with anxiety problems, a simple injection of glucose into the blood stream caused symptoms of anxiety. It does not cause that result with most people. But everyone is different, and some people tend to produce more lactate than others, or they clear it out of their system slower than others, and this makes them prone to anxiety.

If lactate produces anxiety, and if lactate is produced by burning glucose, then it makes sense that a rise in blood sugar would tend to produce anxiety.

Around the world, people consume far more carbohydrates than our bodies evolved to deal with. Why? Because it's cheap, it's filling, and it tastes great. But it has side-effects. Especially for people who are prone to stress or anxiety.

So if you have more anxiety or worry than you want, this is something to think about. Try lowering your blood sugar by eating significantly less sugar and see what happens.

Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.

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To Make an Enjoyable Experience More Enjoyable, Share It With Someone

>> Thursday

In the journal, Psychological Science, a new study from Yale University was published in August on the amplification effects of sharing an experience, either good or bad. Here's the abstract of the study:

In two studies, we found that sharing an experience with another person, without communicating, amplifies one’s experience. Both pleasant and unpleasant experiences were more intense when shared. In Study 1, participants tasted pleasant chocolate. They judged the chocolate to be more likeable and flavorful when they tasted it at the same time that another person did than when that other person was present but engaged in a different activity. Although these results were consistent with our hypothesis that shared experiences are amplified compared with unshared experiences, it could also be the case that shared experiences are more enjoyable in general. We designed Study 2 to distinguish between these two explanations. In this study, participants tasted unpleasantly bitter chocolate and judged it to be less likeable when they tasted it simultaneously with another person than when that other person was present but doing something else. These results support the amplification hypothesis. 

We might be better off trying to do enjoyable things with someone if we can, and try to do unpleasant things alone wherever possible. That should amplify the pleasure and reduce the displeasure in our lives. What do you think?

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How You Walk Alters Your Mood

>> Monday

A new study points to an important principle of moodraising: You can physically change the way you move and you will alter your mood. An article in ScienceDaily says:

"Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style, according to the study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry."

Read more about the study here.

Read more about the principle here.

Find out why your mood is important here.

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Do NOT Maximize Your Full Potential

>> Sunday

You use only 10 percent of your brain. Have you ever heard that? It’s nonsense. You and I use our whole brains. Ask any neurologist. There are no idle parts of the brain, no brain cells sitting around unused. For example, there are neurons in your brain stem whose job is to immobilize your body while you’re dreaming so you don’t physically act out your dreams and get up and run into a wall. Every part has its function.

Idiot-savants can be a genius at one thing, like mathematical calculations or music, but they pay for it with a corresponding deficit in other useful attributes, like getting along with others. What happens is that one function, like mathematical ability, takes over a larger percentage of brain tissue — commandeers it, so to speak, usually as a result of a brain injury at birth — but whatever other ability that part of the brain is normally used for goes wanting. What you often get are geniuses that can’t have a decent relationship or tie their shoes or control their emotions.

All those abilities require brain space, and there’s just barely enough with none to spare. Nature did not equip us with a bunch of extra brain cells. As it is, the brain is as big as it can get and still (barely) make it through the birth canal. If it were any bigger, normal births would be impossible.

You could learn more, do more, be more, for sure. But there is always a trade-off. You could use every spare moment, for example, listening to language tapes, and thereby learn ten more languages in your lifetime. But it would have consequences. You’d have less time to socialize, for one. And that would have other, possibly negative, consequences.

You could work all the time, always improving yourself at every moment of the day, but no play makes Johnny a dull boy. It’s a trade-off. Balance is the key.

So don’t feel bad that you’re not “maximizing your full potential.” Devote some time to your betterment, but also relax and enjoy the ride. You’re alive on the planet, breathing air and capable of communicating with other fellow travelers. Enjoy it.

This is a chapter from the book, Self-Help Stuff That Works.

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One Important Key to a Positive Attitude

>> Monday

Henry Ford had lots of "trouble" in his career, but he was a master at finding the seeds of good fortune in his troubles. For example, on their lunch hour, some of his employees used the scrap wood left over from making dashboards and burned it as firewood. They cooked their lunches with it. The problem was all the charcoal left over. Ford needed to get rid of it. But how?

His first idea was to make his dealers take it. He said for every train-car load of his cars they bought, they had to take a carload of charred wood with it. How they disposed of it would be their problem. As you can guess, this didn't go over very well with the dealers.

Eventually, Ford's "problem" was solved — in a very profitable way. A friend of Ford's, Mr. E.G. Kingsford, bought the charcoal and packaged it with a little grill and some lighter fluid and sold it in supermarkets. Kingsford briquettes have been earning a healthy profit ever since.

One way to look at the art of reframing is to think of it as seeing what you expect to see. If you expect a problem is just going to be trouble, you're not very likely to look any further. But if you expect to find the seeds of good fortune within a problem, your creativity is aroused.

In many ways, your mind tends to see what you expect to see, unless it is really obvious that what you expect is wrong. When you open your front door, you expect to see what you have always seen, but if you opened your door and saw a Giant Panda sitting there, you would probably see it. The reality of the Panda sitting there is obvious, and regardless of what you expect to see, you'll see the Panda.

But we're talking about whether something is "bad" or not. When you make up your mind something is bad, there's nothing obvious that will tell you you're wrong. Whether something is bad or good is just an opinion. It's not a reality in the same way a Panda is a reality. Since there is no obvious reality to confirm or contradict your opinion, your mind is free to see what's bad about the situation, and equally free to ignore what might be good about it. And that's exactly what your mind will do unless you deliberately do something different.

If you think it's just plain bad and you throw up your arms in helplessness, you might miss what you could do to solve the problem or turn it to your advantage. And by not doing anything, sometimes the problem can get worse.

This idea makes you open your eyes and see what "seeds" you might be able to cultivate. It turns your attention to the future, to doing something about it. It changes your attitude from one of avoidance and rejection to one of acceptance and alertness and creativity. It puts you in a better frame of mind for dealing with the "trouble."

When something "bad" happens (like the accumulation of half-burned scrap wood), you can accept that it's bad or you can try to concentrate on what is good about it, or you can make something good out of it (like a new charcoal business).

If you take this idea and make it an ingrained part of your thinking, you can take many of the circumstances that in the past would have just been unfortunate, and you can change them into something that benefits you. At the very least, it will change your attitude about it for the better.

Say to yourself: Trouble brings the seeds of good fortune. And commit yourself to making it so. Your commitment to the statement allows the statement to come true. Because you think that thought, the thought can become a true statement (and if you hadn't thought it, it wouldn't have been true).

Use the statement like your personal motto. This motto can help you get out of the habit of automatically being against anything that happens that is apparently bad.

There are some things that "everyone knows" are bad: a home burnt to the ground, a divorce, a lost job, a sick child, and there are millions of smaller inconveniences that if you asked 100 people, 99 of them would all agree that yes, those are definitely bad and there is nothing good about them.

But what everyone agrees about isn't necessarily true.

There are plenty of people who got a serious illness and almost died who say it was the best thing that ever happened to them because they rearranged their lives to reflect what is truly important. The rest of their lives they really lived — because they almost died.

When something bad happens and you find an advantage in it, that doesn't make the bad thing good. But since the event has already happened, even if it's bad, you can at least make the future better because of it.


SUPPRESSING THOUGHTS

You may already know that thinking negatively is bad for your life, but maybe you don't know how to stop yourself from doing it. The negative assumptions come automatically and once you think that way, it's difficult to make the thoughts go away.

But now you have a way to do it. Don't try to stop thinking negatively. Simply think trouble brings seeds of good fortune. And keep thinking it over and over. Not forcing. Not with any frustration. Not trying to stop yourself from thinking anything else. Just calmly repeat that thought to yourself. Keep looking at your life through this point of view, and the idea will gather evidence to it.

Keep doing it when troubles come your way and after awhile — a month, a year — you'll start thinking that way automatically. You'll believe it. It will become a natural part of your thinking. Trouble will happen and you'll think, "Here are some seeds of good fortune." Can you imagine what that will do to your calm during a crisis? Can you imagine how much better you will be at keeping your wits about you? Can you imagine how could you will become at making the best of how things turn out?

Hold the thought trouble brings seeds of good fortune and think it often. Repeat it to yourself over and over. Make that thought strong in your mind. All by itself, it can transform your attitude, your expressions, and it can alter the actions you take, and through those, actually change the world in which you live, and benefit others. Think the thought. Focus on it. Repeat it.

You might as well think this way because the "trouble" has already happened. There's no sense in resisting it or wishing it didn't happen. It doesn't do you any good. If you know of another way to think about trouble that's even more practical than this, by all means, go for it (and please let me know what it is). But if not, any time and every time trouble comes your way, you might as well think about it as something that carries a gift with it, a seed of some good fortune. You might as well.


PAST AND ALSO FUTURE

You can use this motto to deal with trouble that has happened already, but you can also use it for trouble that might happen in the future. You can use the motto to end useless worry.

Let me be clear here that not all worry is useless. If you're thinking about how to avoid a disaster in the future, and if — and this is an extremely important if — there is something you can do about it, then worry is useful. Go ahead and think about it. Then take the actions you can take to avert disaster.

Anytime you are worrying about something that you can't do anything about, worry is worse than useless; it's downright damaging. It's not only bad for your health, it has a negative effect on your relationships, and besides that, it's no damn fun.

And if you ever find yourself with that kind of worry — the useless kind — this motto can put a dead stop to it, because you can say, "Well, if the bad thing I'm worried about does happen, that future trouble will bring seeds of good fortune."

Whether that statement is true or not, it is a good thing to think. And in truth, there is no way you'll ever be able to prove it true or false. Even if ten years later nothing good has come out of that misfortune, your life isn't over yet. You never know what will happen. You never know when those seeds of good fortune will sprout. You never know when you'll come up with the idea that will change everything.

But true or false, it is a good way to think because feeling bad is itself self-defeating and counterproductive. This motto turns your mind in a useful direction.

Convince yourself that trouble
brings the seeds of good fortune.

When misfortune comes your way,
train yourself to say, "That's good!"
And then make it true.

Make up your mind you will turn
every disadvantage to your advantage.


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The Simple Secret to Good Moods

>> Wednesday

In an experiment, people were asked to do a simple task: Complete the sentence, "I'm glad I'm not a..." They completed the sentence five times.

After doing this simple exercise, they were happier with their lives. Their "life satisfaction" was improved after the exercise.

Another group of volunteers were asked to complete a different sentence: "I wish I were a..." After this exercise, they were less satisfied with their lives.

You have a lot of control over what you compare your life to, and if you would like to feel contentment, it behooves you to consciously exercise your control. Use the power you have and enjoy more of your life.

Another study, this time at the University of Milwaukee, looked at comparisons in a different way. A group of women were shown pictures of difficult living conditions from a hundred years ago. Another group were told to imagine and then write about what it would be like to experience a horrible tragedy like getting disfigured or terribly burned.

Doesn't this sound like a fun exercise? Afterwards the women filled out a rating scale to measure their satisfaction with the quality of their own lives.

They were more satisfied with their lives after the exercise. Why? Because it gave them something worse to compare their own lives to.

You can do a comparison experiment at home. Fill one bucket with ice cold water and another bucket with pretty hot water. Fill a third bucket with room-temperature water. Now soak one hand in the hot water and one in the cold water for a couple minutes. Then pull them both out and plunge them into the room temperature water. You'll get the strange sensation of a single bucket of water feeling both hot and cold at the same time.

Compared to the hot water, the room temperature water feels cold. Compared to the ice cold water, it feels hot. Comparison makes the difference. It effects your direct perception of reality.

In Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he describes his time in prison. It was pretty bad. But, he says, sometimes he was put in isolation. When in isolation, the only food they got was rice water three times a day (rice water is the water rice has been boiled in). That's it. That's all they got to "eat."

And when isolation was over and he was put back in the normal prison, the tiny amount of horrible food they usually ate seemed like a feast. The comparison with something worse changed his direct perception.

You and I come upon examples like this all the time. We've seen it in so many ways. But if you're like me, you have missed the vital lesson for the most part. I like to read true-life survival or adventure stories, as you can probably tell. One of the reasons I like to read them is that I feel so fortunate when I'm done reading. I get up and go about my day, freshly aware that I am not starving or freezing or dying of thirst, and it makes me feel rich and lucky and happy.

I like it when an author uses examples to illustrate a point, and I hope you do too, because I have another one for you: After returning to base camp from an arduous, intense brush with death in another true survival story, K2, The Savage Mountain, the authors write about how relaxing and wonderful it was to be back in base camp:

At that moment we craved no delicacies, no entertainment, no luxuries. We felt like swimmers from a capsized boat who had just completed the long swim to shore. Merely being there was unspeakable luxury.

One thing interesting from studies on happiness is that after having enough money to supply yourself with the basic necessities, money doesn't have much of an impact on your happiness level. People who are very wealthy are only slightly happier than people living modestly.

But there is an exception to this rule: If someone with a low income comes in frequent contact with people with higher incomes, it can make the lower income person unhappier with his circumstances.

People who are very poor in, say, India, and everyone in their village is very poor, can still be pretty happy. But a poor person in Beverly Hills who actually would be rich compared to the person in the poor Indian village, might be miserable because he is comparing himself to all the people around him who have so much money.

This may explain what's called a "helper's high" (people who volunteer often feel happier) — they are getting a real-life, first-hand comparison between their own life (however bad they may have thought it was) and someone else's life (which is much worse).

I have another example for you to illustrate what happens when you transfer a person from one circumstance to an entirely different one. A man named Sichan Siv escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge blood bath. He had to escape because the government was trying to execute anyone with an education.

His escape was very difficult and took a long time. He eventually made it to the United States and got a job at the Friendly Ice Cream restaurant, washing dishes, mopping floors, and taking out the trash for 16 hours a day — and he was very happy. He felt like the luckiest man in the world. "I'm free!" he thought, "Nobody's trying to kill me!"

Those of us who grew up in the United States would find his situation — working at such a hard job 16 hours a day and making so little money — almost intolerable. But that's because we are comparing it to our own lives.

But we're not stuck only making comparisons that come naturally. You can deliberately make any kind of comparison you want, and this is one place where your thoughts really make a difference.

Read more...

Optimistic Dogs

>> Tuesday

In an article in Science Daily, researchers have discovered a way to test dogs for their optimism or pessimism. "Finding out as accurately as possible whether a particular dog is optimistic or pessimistic is particularly helpful in the context of working and service dogs and has important implications for animal welfare," said Dr. Melissa Starling, from the Faculty of Veterinary Science.

According to the research a dog with an optimistic personality expects more good things to happen, and less bad things. She will take risks and gain access to rewards. She is a dog that picks herself up when things don't go her way, and tries again. Minor setbacks don't bother her.

"Pessimistic dogs appeared to be much more stressed by failing a task than optimistic dogs. They would whine and pace and avoid repeating the task while the optimistic dogs would appear unfazed and continue," said Dr. Starling.

Dr. Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia, a charity organization that provides service and companion dogs to people with disabilities, to investigate whether an optimism measure could aid in selecting suitable candidates for training.

Humans do better when they're optimistic too. If you can pick yourself up when things don't go your way, you're better able to learn and succeed. And humans have the ability to change their degree of optimism or pessimism (read more about that here). Maybe they'll figure out a way to help dogs become more optimistic too.

Read the whole article: Dogs Can Be Pessimists Too.

Read more...

Raise Your Mood With Your Hands

>> Thursday

* Rates of depression have risen in recent decades, at the same time that people are enjoying time-saving conveniences such as microwave ovens, e-mail, prepared meals, and machines for washing clothes and mowing lawns.

* People of earlier generations, whose lives were characterized by greater efforts just to survive, para­dox­ically, were mentally healthier. Human ancestors also evolved in conditions where hard physical work was nece­ssary to thrive.

* By denying our brains the rewards that come from ­anticipating and executing complex tasks with our hands, we undercut our mental well-being.

The above is a description of an article called Depressingly Easy, written by Kelly Lambert, whose book, Lifting Depression: A Neuroscientist's Hands-On Approach to Activating Your Brain's Healing Power, turns many of the prevalent ideas about what improves your mood upside down. If you have difficulty maintaining a good mood, even when you try mental techniques, I urge you to read her book.

The basic premise is that when you use your hands to make things, it stimulates the motor circuits of your brain, and it stimulates them far more than using any other part of your body. The motor circuits of your brain, when you stimulate them like this, automatically cause your brain to produce hormones that raise your mood.

The amount of your motor circuits devoted to your hands is far more than the circuits dedicated to the entire rest of your body. If you want to stimulate the brain hormones most responsible for feeling good, use your hands to make things. Read more about it here: Depressingly Easy.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more...

The Effect of Coffee on Your Mood

>> Saturday

What you consume can have an effect on your stress hormone level, for better or worse. Obvious examples are caffeine and nicotine. Even in moderate doses, either of these can double the amount of adrenaline in your bloodstream.

The stress of something like an exam produces increased cortisol levels (cortisol is a primary stress hormone). Combined with coffee, however, the cortisol levels rise even more.

Coffee all by itself raises your cortisol level, increases your feelings of stress and anxiety, raises your blood pressure — and all this even if you are otherwise relaxed, and even for people who drink it regularly. It also makes hypertension medications less effective.

In a study, a fairly big dose of caffeine was found to mimic the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Withdrawal from caffeine does too.

Some people react more strongly to caffeine than other people. Studies have found that people with panic disorder (one of the five anxiety disorders) have a more robust reaction than "normal" people to equal amounts of caffeine. They experienced more fear, heart palpitations, nervousness, restlessness, etc. Caffeine can increase these kinds of symptoms in anybody. But for some people, it is more dramatic.

You may not have panic attacks, but it is possible and worth considering the possibility that your system might be more sensitive and react more strongly to caffeine than the average person. In one experiment, five out of six people were cured of their panic attacks by doing nothing more than giving up coffee. Caffeine blocks the action of a brain chemical called adenosine, a naturally-occurring sedative.

In one study, people with panic disorder could reliably produce panic attacks with four or five cups of coffee. Coffee can produce panic attacks in even normal people, but it usually takes more coffee than that.

In another study, people were tested for anxiety, depression, and caffeine consumption. There was a direct correlation between the level of anxiety and caffeine consumption — but only in those with panic disorder.

This doesn't mean if you don't have panic disorder, coffee is fine for you. Caffeine has a significant effect on everyone. It is merely more pronounced in some people.

In yet another study, panic disorder patients and normal people were given equal doses of caffeine (ten milligrams per kilogram of body weight). Then they were all tested for anxiety symptoms: fear, nausea, nervousness, pounding heart, tremors, and restlessness. The caffeine had caused a significantly greater intensity of these symptoms in the people with panic disorder than in the normal people — but even normal people suffered many of these symptoms.

Given all this, if you'd like to reduce your stress, I suggest an experiment. Quit ingesting caffeine for two weeks. It takes about three days for withdrawal symptoms to completely subside (headaches, feelings of lethargy, etc.). After that, pay close attention to the general feeling-tone of your day-to-day experience — your sense of relative ease, comfort, annoyance, distress, alarm, contentment, etc.

Then start drinking coffee again. The first day it'll feel great (as long as nothing too stressful happens). The next day and the next, pay attention to the general feeling-tone of your experience. If you're like me, you'll notice a general but subtle feeling of alarm. And you'll notice circumstances feel more distressing.

Then ask yourself what coffee does for you. You get a great feeling of relief in the morning with your first cup. After going all night without caffeine, your body is in the beginning of withdrawal, so it feels good to get a dose again. That's always the moment coffee advertisers display — that first cup in the morning.

Also the general feeling of sharpness and alertness is a plus.

But there are plenty of downsides too. I'll admit, coffee is a hard thing to give up, even if you know you'd be better off. But the worst is over in a few days and then you'll notice some positive effects on your mood and general feeling of well-being.

Weigh the pluses against the minuses and I think you'll find coffee comes out on the short end of the stir stick almost every time.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more...

How Can I Become More Persistent? Insights From the Chuck Ross Experiment

>> Monday

Every day publishers get a big pile of unasked-for manuscripts sent to them by writers and their agents. What happens to all these manuscripts? You hear about people who eventually became famous authors, like Danielle Steel or Stephen King, getting lots of rejection letters when they first started out. Why?

Chuck Ross thought he would experiment to see what he could find out. So he typed up a manuscript that had already been published and won a National Book Award, and had already sold 400,000 copies. The book was Jerzy Kosinski’s book, Steps.

Ross typed it up as a manuscript, word for word, and mailed it to publishers as an unsolicited manuscript to see what they would do with it. Would they recognize its merit? Would they see its sales potential?

The results are amusing and illuminating, especially if you have ever tried to submit a manuscript or sell an idea or get financial backing for proposal. If you’ve been rejected or denied, it doesn’t necessarily mean the idea or manuscript lacked merit. It may be that the rejector was the wrong person, or looked at it on the wrong day.

So what happened to this award winning manuscript? It was rejected by Random House, and they were the ones who originally published it! Three other publishing houses who had previously published Kosinski rejected it, including Doubleday and Houghton Mifflin. It was rejected by ten other major publishing companies and rejected by twenty-six literary agents. Nobody accepted it.

Oddly enough, one comment came back from Houghton Mifflin that the style of the manuscript was similar to Kosinski, but the author was not in the same league as Kosinski!

Chuck Ross’s experiment demonstrates a principle of reality’s negative bias. In a sense, in more ways than one, reality seems to be in a conspiracy to make you a negative, pessimistic, defeatist cynic.

I'm not talking about the negative bias of your own brain. That's another story. I'm talking about the natural way of things and how in certain circumstances, the cards seem to be stacked against you, no matter what you do.

But the other side of this story is that the manuscript was not rejected because the writing was bad. It had already proven its merit in the marketplace and in the reviews. That is actually a positive underpinning to the whole event. In other words, if you have a manuscript that has been rejected by publishers, it doesn't necessarily mean your manuscript is no good.

Another lesson to derive out of the Chuck Ross experiment is that the existence of the naturally-occurring negative biases is a reason to stay persistent. People give up because they believe what reality seems to be telling them — that their work is not good. But that might be a misunderstanding. The only way you'll be able to tell for sure is by persisting. And many times in history something was rejected over and over until it was finally accepted, only to then surprise the world at its merit and success.

Maybe your project will be one of those. Unless you persist in the face of the setbacks, nobody will ever know.

Learn more about how to persist: Antivirus For Your Mind.

Read more...

Raise Your Happiness Set-Point

>> Wednesday

Follow the link below to find a collection of articles and videos on scientific discoveries about what makes people happy and what consequences ensue from raising your own happiness "set-point."

Happiness Formula

Researchers have discovered no "one secret" to happiness. But they have found many different actions you can take, and each one will make you happier.

Find one that appeals to you and do it. You can become a little happier, and that will make a difference. Things will look a little brighter. You'll treat people a little better, which usually provokes them to respond in kind. You're a little more energetic so you get a little more done. Life is better all around.

A little happiness goes a long way.

Read more...

How to Appreciate Life

>> Sunday

My wife, Klassy, used to teach workshops for couples. She taught communication skills and put them through exercises so they could practice. One of the exercises she put them through used the principle of comparison reframes and taught them how to appreciate life.

Klassy would have each couple sit facing each other, and then she talked to them while slow, wordless, beautiful, moving music played. "Imagine," Klassy would say, "that you two have lived a long life together. You're both very old. And your partner is now on their deathbed. Your mate's life will be over soon. Imagine how that will feel to you then. The two of you have been through so much together..."

Of course, this was a very emotional experience for almost everybody. Klassy gave them plenty of time to fully imagine this scenario and to feel how sad it would (or will) be.

"What would you miss about your partner?" Klassy said, giving them long pauses of just music playing for them to think about this. "What special memories would you cherish?"

When they really couldn't take any more and the room was about two feet deep in tears, Klassy would say something like this:

"Imagine how much you would want to come back to this moment...to be here with your partner...to have your future still ahead of you..."

Long pause. "And realize what you wished for is here. The two of you are here, together, alive, your future ahead of you."

You've never seen so many people gaze at each other so happily and appreciatively.

People were impressively moved by this experience. Here they were — like most couples — to some degree taking each other for granted, comparing yesterday with today, or whatever they're doing in their minds, but not really appreciating each other. "You don't know what you've got till it's gone," so the song goes. Really? What if you vividly imagined what it would be like if it was gone? And then realized it isn't gone?

Guess what? You can know what you've got while you've got it! You can do it by the way you make comparisons. You can use comparisons deliberately.

If you want to feel contentment and happiness, compare your present circumstances to something worse. It is simple, it works, and it never wears out. This directly counters the negative bias that makes you naturally compare things in a negative way.

When people say, "count your blessings," they are essentially telling you to compare your life to something worse, and feel grateful your life is the way it is. And it works. In one study, people who wrote in a diary for only five minutes a day about what they were grateful for, were measurably happier. You can do this throughout the day, and it doesn't have to be done sitting down or writing.

This is how to appreciate life. Using comparisons in this way allows you to awake from your trance for a while and really appreciate the moment and appreciate the person you're with. Try it today.

Read more...

Feeling Discouraged?

>> Friday

Things aren't going the way you'd hoped? Have you run into some setbacks? Are you feeling demoralized? Does your goal now seem impossible or futile or hopeless?

The all-important question is, "Were your hopes unfounded?" If so, your feeling of discouragement is legitimate and should lead you to give up on your goal and find something else to do.

But if your goal is actually possible — if its achievement or fulfillment is something you are capable of — then the thoughts you have that led to your feelings of discouragement need to be updated.

How can you tell which is which? How do you know if your hopes were legitimate or not? One way is to go through the process described in Undemoralize Yourself. The process allows you to look at your beliefs and discover whether or not your pessimistic thoughts are legitimate.

If you discover your pessimistic thoughts are accurate, you know you can realistically give up on your goal and do something else. If you discover your pessimistic thoughts are not accurate, their hold on you will diminish and your demoralization will lift. Your motivation and determination will return without any further effort on your part.

Find out now: Undemoralize Yourself.

If you are not discouraged, do you know someone who is?
Maybe they would like to read this.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more...

Predictors of Doom Are Notoriously Wrong

In a Newsweek article, Daniel Gross surveys America's economic recovery from the Great Recession and explains some of the elements that helped.

He doesn't try to explain why so many experts (and people who should know better) seem so hell-bent on scaring us with dire predictions of the future. But he doesn't really have to, because I've already explained it so eloquently here: Why is News so Negative?

But he does a beautiful job of highlighting the kind of pessimism that ruins so many perfectly good moods. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The current pessimism is part of a historical economic inferiority complex. To hear some critics tell it, things have been going south in this country since the cruel winter in Jamestown, Va., in 1609, when most of the settlers died.

And for most of the 19th century, America was the immature, uncouth cousin that required huge infusions of European capital to build its railroads. The U.S. emerged from World War II as the globe's industrial, financial, and technological leader by default—the rest of the developed world had destroyed much of its industrial capacity. Yet Americans were insecure about their rising status.

In the 1920s, many Progressives returned from Mussolini's Italy convinced that Il Duce had a superior economic model. During the New Deal, bankers and industrialists earnestly fretted that Franklin Roosevelt would ruin the nation's prospects for growth by establishing a new safety net. The U.S.S.R.'s launch of the sputnik satellite in 1957 inspired fears that the Soviet Union's presumed technological lead would allow it to triumph in the Cold War.

And in the 1980s, Japan threatened the U.S. with exports of electronics and cars and by buying trophy properties like Rockefeller Center and the Pebble Beach golf resort. "The Cold War is over, and Japan won," as Sen. Paul Tsongas put it in 1992.

Pessimism fixates attention better, so those are the predictions that get published. Find out why: The Normal Course of Events Will Almost Inevitably Lead to a Pessimistic View of the World.

The Newsweek article is worth reading. Check it out: The Story of America's Amazing Comeback.

Read more...

Why It's So Hard to Be Positive

>> Tuesday


When you try to become positive, you have a similar internal conflict. You will almost always see what's wrong before you see what's right, because your brain has a negative bias. But notice something: With a little practice on the chart above, you can say the right color. It just takes some practice.

And you can also learn to recognize your brain's negative bias and yet not be infected by it. It frees you to look at the world with fresh eyes. To see the beauty, the good, the right. To see your own strength. To see possibility rather than only barriers.

It only takes practice. And the most concentrated, effective form of practice is to Undemoralize Yourself.

Read more...

Pessimism With Confidence

>> Friday

In one of the best books I've read in a long time, Unbroken, I came across the following: "In the 1930s, track experts were beginning to toss around the idea of a four-minute mile. Most observers, including Cunningham, had long believed that it couldn't be done. In 1935, when Cunningham's record of 4:06.7 reigned, science weighed in. Studying data on human structural limits compiled by Finnish mathematicians, famed track coach Brutus Hamilton penned an article for Amateur Athlete magazine stating that a four-minute mile was impossible. The fastest a human could run a mile, he wrote, was 4:01.6."

I love the exactness of that last number. It seems to convey such confidence. But that kind of confidence is misplaced. One of the most common thought-mistakes causing pessimism (and bringing on the impairment of personal effectiveness and health that comes with it) is overcertainty.

Let's not follow Brutus Hamilton's example. Let's do our best to avoid stating pessimistic conclusions with more certainty than we really have.

Read more...

The Invisible Gorilla (a Review)

>> Sunday

I just finished what I believe to be an important book: The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. It's about the numerous ways our intuitions deceive us.

This is a surprisingly uplifting book. Insights into the fallibility of our own memories and perceptions can improve our lives, reduce depression, help us make better decisions, ease conflicts between people, and lower anxiety.

The authors have exceptional credentials: One has a PhD from Harvard and the other has a PhD from Cornell. And they conducted some the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, including “the invisible gorilla” experiment.

The book is jam-packed with excellent, real-life examples to illustrate the six everyday illusions, and the practical lessons to be drawn from them. One of the illusions, for example, is the illusion of attention. We are unaware of how much we miss, and the unawareness is not self-correcting. The authors write, “The problem is that we lack positive evidence for our lack of attention...We are aware only of the unexpected objects we do notice, not the ones we have missed. Consequently, all the evidence we have is for good perception of our world.”

But each illusion is compounded by our unawareness of the illusion itself. “The fact that we don't see everything,” they write, “would be far less problematic if we didn't think we see everything.”

Although the authors are pointing out the six illusions because they lead to errors in judgment, the illusions also lead to the same thought-mistakes (cognitive distortions) that lead to unnecessary anxiety and depression. The six illusions are the ultimate source of innumerable marital spats and misunderstandings between people. These same illusions are the source of the demoralization that makes people give up on important goals prematurely and fail in school.

The research the authors discuss is relevant to current controversies on the legality of cell phone use while driving. What most people don't realize (and what experiments consistently show) is that you can look right at something and not see it if your attention is on something else (like a cell phone conversation).

And even though many people have recently become aware that talking on a cell phone while driving impairs one's ability to drive (and some states have even passed laws against the use of hand-held phones) what most people have not yet realized is that studies show hands-free phones impair driving just as much! Actually, phones don't impair driving; they impair attention. But drivers are less likely to see unexpected things and are slower to react even when talking on a hands-free phone.

Another surprising fact is that talking to a passenger sitting next to you in the car doesn't hardly impair your driving ability at all! This book is full of surprising and useful insights like that.

Most of us assume we would see something unexpected if we were looking. It is a mistaken assumption, but something can be done about it. The remedy is to look again and actually look for something unexpected. When participants are warned ahead of time that something unexpected might happen during the gorilla experiment, most of them see the gorilla.

The book is filled with one interesting study after another, presented in a way I found compelling. There is nothing dry or boring in this book. The authors do a good job of connecting what you're reading to many of its real-life applications.

Where were you when you first heard about planes flying into the Twin Towers on 9/11? Most people remember vivid details of that day, many of which are mistaken. In several studies of this event memory, the findings were consistent: 1) people had vivid memories they believed were accurate, 2) the more time that elapses, the more those memories change, and 3) their confidence in their own memory's accuracy remains consistently high for significant events, even though their memories are no more accurate for that event than for anything else. And if you are like most people, you won't believe this is true for you, regardless of the studies.

The authors also wrote about the “Mozart Effect” at considerable length because it so clearly illustrates a particular cognitive illusion: The illusion of potential. According to the media hype, listening to Mozart can increase your IQ. The authors describe the original experiment and subsequent experiments by researchers trying (unsuccessfully) to duplicate the results.

“The illusion of potential” doesn't mean we cannot grow and change; it means “the idea that there is an easy shortcut” is an illusion. The authors do a good job debunking an aspect of that illusion: The myth that we only use 10% of our brains.

The book contains so many interesting experiments with surprising, counterintuitive results, I want to tell you about all of them, but I can't. But here's a good example: Subjects watched a video of a bank robber, and then half of them spent five minutes writing a description of the robber's face. The other half spent the same five minutes doing an unrelated task. When asked to select the robber from a lineup, those who wrote the description were much worse at identifying the right man!

In another study, researchers found that biking or walking in cities was less dangerous the more common it was in that city. Why? Because where lots of people walk and bike, drivers expect to see them. In places where such things are rare, drivers don't expect them, and therefore often don't see them.

Another illusion stems from the fact that our brains are extraordinarily good at recognizing patterns. So good, in fact, that we sometimes see patterns (and attribute meaning) to nothing but random accident. They had some great illustrations of this phenomenon, like the image of the Virgin Mary that appeared on someone's grilled cheese sandwich. “The 'Nun Bun' was a cinnamon pastry whose twisty rolls eerily resembled the nose and jowls of Mother Teresa,” the authors wrote. “It was found in a Nashville coffee shop in 1996, but was stolen on Christmas in 2005. 'Our Lady of the Underpass' was another appearance by the Virgin Mary, this time in the guise of a salt stain under Interstate 94 in Chicago that drew huge crowds and stopped traffic for months. Other cases include the Hot Chocolate Jesus, Jesus on a shrimp tail dinner, Jesus in a dental x-ray, and Cheesus (a Cheeto purportedly shaped like Jesus).”

What makes the six illusions dangerous is the mistaken confidence we each have in the accuracy of our own perceptions, memories, and knowledge.

Would you like to be less gullible? More reasonable? Better able to see what's wrong when someone is making their case? Less depressed or anxious? Read the book, The Invisible Gorilla. Another excellent book on the same topic is: How We Know What Isn't So, by Thomas Gilovich.

You might think there's nothing sexy or uplifting about a book that basically tells you your memory isn't as good as you think, your abilities are not as great as you hope, and you don't notice as much as you believe. But there are plenty of practical, positive, personal benefits to understanding these illusions, and the authors put one of the best ones in the very last paragraph of their book, which I will end with too:

“When you think about the world with an awareness of everyday illusions, you won't be as sure of yourself as you used to be, but you will have new insights into how your mind works, and new ways of understanding why people act the way they do. Often, it's not because of stupidity, arrogance, ignorance, or lack of focus. It's because of the everyday illusions that affect us all. Our final hope is that you will always consider this possibility before you jump to a harsher conclusion.”

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more...

A Simple Way to Lower Feelings of Stress

>> Friday

Scientists give rats a lot of stress and then see what they can do to reduce stress hormones. Something that successfully lowers stress hormones is vitamin C.

Researcher P. Samuel Campbell and his colleagues found that 200 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the level of stress hormones in the rats' blood. That's a pretty big dose for a little critter. It is the equivalent of several grams of vitamin C per day for you or me, which is actually in the range of what the famous chemist, Linus Pauling recommended. It is also in the range of what chimpanzees — our closest genetic relatives — get in their daily diet in the wild.

Other things that indicated a generally lower stress level for the rats taking the vitamin C were: 1) their adrenal glands didn't enlarge as much as they normally do when rats are constantly stressed, 2) they didn't lose as much weight as the stressed but unmegadosed rats (stress tends to make people put on weight), and 3) their spleens and thymus glands didn't shrink as much.

I'm not a biochemist or a doctor. You can do your own research and draw your own conclusions. I'm noting it here because it is relevant to our topic (improving your mood by reducing stress and anxiety) and can give you an avenue to pursue you might not otherwise have thought about.

If you feel particularly stressed out, it probably wouldn't hurt to take some extra vitamin C and it might even help you feel better.

Read more...

Negative Emotions Are Bad For Your Brain

According to a research team in Chicago: "People who often feel negative emotions may be more likely to develop memory problems as they age." Read about it here: Chronic Worry Tied to Memory Problems.

The study focused on worry, but of course thought-mistakes of all kinds cause negative emotions. Thought-mistakes make you worry more than is necessary, make you frustrated more often than is fitting to the circumstances, make you feel disheartened by a setback that really won't be as difficult to overcome as you think it will, etc.

If you'd like to reduce the amount of negative emotion you feel, if you'd like to feel good more often, the most effective technique, according to over 600 studies, is to make fewer thought-mistakes in your usual way of thinking. I'm talking about mistakes like overgeneralizing or black-or-white thinking.

And the easiest, quickest way to make fewer thought-mistakes is to use the method outlined in Undemoralize Yourself. Start today cleaning up your thinking. You'll feel better, it'll be good for your relationships and good for your health, and you just might prevent memory problems down the road.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.

Read more...

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