Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hedgehog and the Human


Have you heard of the hedgehogs’ dilemma? The philosopher Schopenhauer wrote a parable about it more than a century ago. It went something like this: In the wintertime when the cold became almost unbearable, the hedgehogs tried to get close to each other, seeking to huddle together and share each others’ body heat. Unfortunately, as soon as they did, their spines pricked each other, which of course hurt and they recoiled. The cold however, drove them towards one other again but the same thing happened time and time again.  Eventually the hedgehogs learned that they were best off maintaining a little distance from each other – in their own space.

Freud quoted this parable in his explorations of human relationships, posing a number of questions including how much intimacy can we as humans actually endure? It’s a good question and one I think many of us grapple with at some time - I know I certainly have! It’s especially interesting –almost paradoxical– in light of the recent findings by neuro scientists that our brains are hard-wired to connect. In fact, the same circuitry that processes pain when we are not connecting (experiencing social rejection for example) is layered right on top of the circuits involved in physical pain. This isn’t surprising when we think of a baby’s need to connect with a parent or caregiver on whom the infant is completely dependent for food, water, shelter and safety. No connection, no survival!

But as we grow and become more able to take care of ourselves, we also experience rejection and loss, social pain as well as social pleasure – somewhat like the hedgehog. Curiously the brain’s circuitry that we use to navigate this, our social life and all relationships, is very different from the circuitry we use for problem solving and logical, coherent thinking. In fact, when one circuit is ‘switched on’ the other is in effect switched off. The more we function from a rational, practical or ‘sensible’ place, the less we are using our social antennae. The more we, for example, focus on solving a problem from a logical reasoning perspective, the more likely we are to distance ourselves from the other person or people around us (even those who could help us solve the problem!)  Conversely, the more we focus on relating to and communicating with others, the more we learn to understand how others might be feeling. Interestingly, we may also feel we are neglecting the ‘problems’ and even ‘wasting’ our time. A human dilemma, although maybe not as dramatic or black-and-white as the hedgehog’s :-) Good to be aware of, so we can better know ‘where we are coming from’ (and self-regulate if we decide it’s not appropriate!) Knowledge is power!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Savour the Smile!

Have you noticed how much more time and attention we give negative experiences than positive ones? How long we spend thinking and talking about troubles and stress, compared to how much time we give the good stuff? You may not be surprised to learn that, as humans, we have a bias towards negativity – generally. Our brain is actually wired that way. It is likely that this negativity bias relates to our ability for survival: if you feel threatened, for example by a speeding bus hurtling towards you or a vicious looking animal growling at you, the last thing you’d want to do is take your focus away from it! Whereas, if you’re enjoying a beautiful sunset or a striking flower, your attention will be much more easily distracted. All rather logical really, except we default to this negativity bias much more than we need to! AND we would be better served to give at least equal attention to those feel-good moments. Why? Well, recently neuro-science (research into the workings of the brain) has shown that our ability to access and sustain good feelings builds the pathways in the brain that we need for resilience - to bounce back from any difficulties or hardships; it is our ability to access and sustain the good feelings (the longer the better) that helps us stay self-managed and behave in the ways we want to, ways that are in accordance with our values; it is this ability for deepening and savouring the good feelings that helps us access and draw on our most wise and insightful capacity.

SO I invite you to embrace your own ability to generate good feelings, and to give some attention to consciously holding onto them as long as possible today - and tomorrow!




  • Relish that feeling of appreciation you have for your loved ones,
  • Savour the blue sky on your way to work, 
  • Delight in your tasty dinner, while you eat and long after, 
  • Remind yourself to delight in all the good things in your life each time you catch your own reflection. 
  • Smile. Hold it! It’s good for your brain!
 Images courtesy of Stuart Miles and Jesadaphorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

EXPECTATIONS ANYONE?

Have you ever had a friend misinterpret something someone quoted you as saying or respond to a miscommunication, by snubbing you? Instead of speaking to you about it, such a person will stop speaking to you altogether, using their silence as a weapon or perceived punishment for - - -  you know not what! Rightly referred to as ‘passive aggression’, this is an experience most people I know have had to struggle with at some time in their lives. For me, the temptation to feel disappointed will be strong, even though I know it is only the result of unmet expectations – and my unrealistic expectations at that! If I am really honest with myself, I probably know the person well enough to know that this is their modus operandi – and not something I can control. If I let my frustration (with myself) and disappointment linger, it will only lead to resentment, which certainly won’t serve me at all! Letting it go is my best option, and finding the gift (yes, the gift! For instance: what can I appreciate about the new ‘non-relationship’? Or how can I shift into compassion for this person?) is for me, the easiest way to let go. A lifesaver, you might say!
I learned this lesson well, from a teacher in Hawaii many moons ago, who told me he was never disappointed. “Never disappointed?”! I asked incredulously. “Never disappointed because I never have any expectations,” he said. 
Very difficult to do – but something to strive for nonetheless! As several of my clients seem to have this issue theses days, and I myself have had it too, I feel inspired to share some more Hawaiian wisdom - the complete seven principles of Huna (the Hawaiian life philosophies), that have meant a great deal to me since I learned them from the same wise teacher.
May they inspire you too!


The world is what you think it is 
There are no limits 
Energy goes where attention flows 
Now is the moment of power
To love is to be happy with 
All power comes from within 
Effectiveness is the measure of truth

(With thanks to Serge Kahili King)

 

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

URGE-CONTROL?


Do you find it difficult to keep quiet when you feel the urge to explain yourself? Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in this story,
I know I certainly do!

In a small temple in the mountains, four student monks were practicing Zazen. They agreed amongst themselves to observe seven days of silence. The first day of meditation began auspiciously, but as night began to fall one of the monks started feeling irritated that the lamps were not being lit.

"It was your turn to light the lamps," he complained to one of his fellow students.
 
The second monk was surprised to hear the first one talk. 
"In my concentration to maintain silence, I forgot," he explained

"Listen to you two," said the third student, "Why did you talk?"
"
I am the only one now who has not talked," concluded the fourth.



Most of us find it tough to stay quiet when the need to explain or justify something rears its head. Even when we have promised ourselves to watch out for any compulsion to express whatever we know is right, it just seems impossible to stay quiet! Personally (and with clients) I have tried and tested many things ….. and the following seems to work the best:


Try this: track and note down how much of your day is taken up with explaining yourself. This can be an interesting exercise to do every day, over a week's period.

Then: Whenever you catch yourself explaining or defending yourself, STOP, and take a deep breath. Then take two more slow breaths, focusing your attention away from your thoughts and into the center of your chest.
Then ask yourself, what do I really want to achieve? Is what I am about to say likely to achieve it? Whatever you answer yourself, follow that advice


Then try: breathing slowly and being fully present in your body, throughout the next ten minutes!



However slightly your urge-control increases, whatever your insights, congratulate yourself! You may never know how many people you have impacted in a positive way!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

KEEPING RESOLUTIONS?


New Year's Resolutions - a tradition we all seem bound by every year - and one which is usually followed by another, equally widely held tradition - breaking those resolutions. 
It seems nearly 90% of us break our resolutions every year! How can this be? How come it’s so difficult to stick to something we’ve resolved to do? Looking at the research, the only conclusion can be that we let our emotions sabotage us. Well here’s the good news: researchers have also studied ways to keep resolutions, and here a few to keep you going:



1.    Focus on the positive! Most of us get discourage and even depressed when we are unsuccessful and then we focus on that, the negative – and our internal dialogue might sound something like this “See! There you go, you can’t even keep up a simple task!” This will just re-enforce the failure, making success even less likely. Instead, focus on finding the positive. For example, ask yourself what is working (whenever you do achieve a task) and how can you do more of that? You can also ask yourself what you can appreciate about your task at hand, your intention or resolution, and/or the anticipated result.

2.    Make your resolution a habit! Check whether the time of day you have scheduled to adopt your resolution (if this is appropriate), is the best time. Then think of it as adding a habit, like brushing teeth, showering, making coffee, etc.  Once it becomes a part of your routine, it will be easier and easier to keep up.

3.    One step at a time! Go easy on yourself and don’t embrace too much in one go. You will be more likely to succeed if you take it a bit at a time. For example, if your resolution is to eat healthier, start with having a healthier breakfast, then after a few weeks, address lunch, and so on. OR, cut out starch first, then sugar further down the road. You will feel better about the changes and yourself!

4.    Last but not least,; Appreciate yourself! Each time you succeed, no matter how small the change, acknowledge yourself. Look in the mirror and say to yourself; “Well done! You did it again!!!!” SMILE to yourself ….. it truly IS something to smile about!


GOOD LUCK!
And may 2014 be the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous year for you yet!
Jennifer

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