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Feb 21 17

The Power of Combining Doing with Being

by Beth

Many people are experiencing fear and uncertainty as a result of the presidential election. The overwhelming response has been to take action. Thousands of people around the country participated in women’s marches on January 21st. The number of people calling Congress to voice their opinions regarding issues such as the travel ban and cabinet nominees has been unprecedented. As many as 1.5 million calls were estimated to have been made each day to the Senate during the first week of February. Donations to causes including the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood have skyrocketed. Websites like ActionRising.com and Harness.space have sprung up to help people find opportunities to take action. The non-profit, She Should Run, reports that more than 4,500 women have pledged to run for public office.

This rising tide of activism isn’t surprising. Taking action is powerful. Doing good feels good. It replaces the frustration of inaction with a sense of purpose.

Being can be equally powerful. Mindfulness meditation provides a number of benefits that can help us better handle these challenging times. When we are mindful, we observe our emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them. Awareness helps us to notice when we are dwelling on negativity, which gives us a chance to shift our attention to the positive. Mindfulness doesn’t make bad things go away, but it helps us to be more resilient, to experience things with less reactivity.

Exposure to so much negativity means that our well-being depends on our ability to self-generate positive emotions. Loving kindness meditation, which involves mentally sending good wishes to all people, increases positive emotions. It builds compassion and understanding. Compassion reduces fear and hatred.

Being is by no means a replacement for doing. They are complementary. Mindfulness can better prepare you to act. Being calm and compassionate allows you to choose wiser actions. Mindfulness also helps you build resilience, which can reduce the likelihood that you give up.

There is power in both doing and being. Combining mindfulness with activism will give you the strength you need to fight for what is right.

Jan 22 17

What Love Looks Like

by Beth

Yesterday I had the incredible honor of participating in the Women’s March on Washington with my seventeen-year-old daughter, Emily. We started out from Virginia in a packed Metro train. Two stations later there wasn’t room for another person to get on (according to Metro officials there were 1,001,613 trips yesterday!). The platforms were filled with hundreds of people, a sea of bright pink hats, who cheered, clapped, and waved us on as we pulled out of the station without them. They waited for the next train or possibly the next, happy to be part of a movement celebrating not just women, but justice, dignity, freedom, peace, and love for all.

Men and women came from all across our country, representing all races, sexual orientations, and religions. Their ages ranged from 1 to 92 (more or less). They marched, they spoke, they listened, they ate granola bars, they laughed, and many carried signs, some of them funny, others raunchy, many thought provoking.

America Ferrera kicked off the speeches rallying us to stand together for “the lives and dignity of any and all of our communities”. Gloria Steinem reminded us that the Constitution begins with “We the people,” and Michael Moore followed up by empowering us to make our voices heard. He had us all repeating “202-225-3121”, the phone number to call our Senators and Representatives. Alicia Keys encouraged us to “All rise!” and Madonna had everyone cheering “We choose love!” echoing Van Jones’s appeal: “When it gets harder to love, let’s love harder.” Six-year-old Sophie Cruz gave my favorite speech of the day. She told us in both English and Spanish that, “We are here together making a chain of love to protect our families.”

There were people marching for women and for the black community, the Muslim community, the LGBT community, immigrants, DACA students, and to save our beautiful planet earth. We marched because we believe everyone from every community deserves respect and to have his or her rights protected, including the right to a clean and healthy environment.

The chant I heard most yesterday was, “This is what democracy looks like.” I think Van Jones said it better. Yesterday’s March is what love looks like.

Jan 6 17

Practicing Compassion

by Beth

Gretchen Rubin suggests starting each new year by “identifying one idea, often summarized in just one word, as an overarching theme for the entire year.” I think this is a great idea, so I’m choosing “compassion” as my word for 2017. I have spent the last several years practicing mindfulness and gratitude in order to boost my well-being. Intentionally focusing on these practices has helped to rewire my brain so that being present and being grateful now come more naturally to me.

Compassion is another practice that enhances well-being by reducing stress, frustration, and anger. When you are compassionate, you offer love to all beings. This includes yourself, people you like, and even people you don’t like. I expect this will be a bit more difficult than mindfulness and gratitude, but I know it is important. Studies show that compassion is linked to greater happiness and higher levels of cognitive functioning.

I plan to do 3 things in order to be more compassionate in 2017:

  • I will include loving kindness meditation in my daily meditation practice. I will start each meditation sending loving wishes to myself, then to people I care about, then to people I don’t like, and then to everyone.
  • I will extend love to people I encounter throughout the day. I will try to feel compassion for the person who cuts me off in traffic, for the really slow check-out attendant at the grocery store, and for the service agent at Toyota who tells me the needed repairs will cost $650. I will remind myself that they are like me; everyone wants to be safe, healthy, loved, and happy.
  • I will practice self-compassion. I’m going to pay attention to my self-talk. When I catch myself being self-critical, I will replace those thoughts with something kind. I will also practice self-compassion by eating a healthier diet. Eating more foods that are good for me is one of the best ways I can show myself love.

What about you? Think of one thing you would like to focus on in order to increase your well-being this year and make it your word for 2017. Let me know what you choose!

P.S. I just bought a bracelet with the word “compassion” on it to remind me of my intention! Get yours at myintent.org.

Dec 12 16

Technology and Well-Being

by Beth

Technology can be bad for our well-being. The constant distractions of text messages and emails can increase our stress levels and prevent us from being mindful, which can hurt both our productivity and our relationships. Task-switching can reduce productivity by up to 40%. And researchers like Sherry Turkle at MIT have shown how digital distractions negatively impact the quality of our social interactions. Social media has been linked to depression. Social comparison can lead to envy, making us feel worse about ourselves. And cyber bullying is certainly a big problem. Using technology at night is especially bad for your well-being as it prevents you from sleeping well.

But technology can be used to improve our well-being. There are apps with activities to boost emotional well-being like Happify and to cultivate mindfulness like Headspace. Social media can help you stay connected to friends and loved ones. It can also provide opportunities to support causes in order to experience the benefits of generosity. Facebook’s “social good” team created the “donate” button to make charitable giving easier and the On This Day project where pictures from the past pop up, hopefully triggering happy memories. Wearable technologies like Fitbit can improve physical well-being by encouraging people to move more.

The key is to be saavy with your technology use. Understand the downsides so that you can take steps to minimize the negative consequences. Research shows that constantly checking email increases stress, so try checking yours less often. Turn off notifications when you need to focus or are having a conversation. Limit the time you spend on social media. Log off when you are working and consider removing social media apps from your phone. Put technology away 30 minutes before going to bed. Be intentional about using technology in ways that enhance your well-being. To learn more about how technology can be designed and developed to support psychological well-being and human potential, check out Positive Computing.

Nov 18 16

Cheers to Compassionate Engineers

by Beth

Facebook is getting a lot of heat right now for contributing to the spread of fake news during the presidential campaign. While this is an important issue that Facebook and other social media sites will have to address, I’d like to highlight something Facebook is doing right. Facebook has a Compassion team that works to make life’s difficult moments a little easier and online interactions more humane.

Compassion engineers build products that help people handle everything from bullying, to breakups, to the loss of a loved one. The team turns to academic research and interviews with Facebook users to better understand what people facing these different situations may need and how to encourage compassion among users.

After a break up, it can be painful to see pictures of your ex constantly popping up. And that can happen a lot if you have friends in common. So the Compassion team has designed an eraser-like tool that lets you minimize how many of those pictures you see. And it lets you hide your own postings of the two of you.

The Compassion team also tries to facilitate more empathetic interactions among users. In the past, if you didn’t like a picture that someone posted of you, you could ask them to take it down and hope they complied. Now the system asks why you don’t like the photo with options like 1) it’s a bad photo of me, 2) it’s annoying, or 3) it shouldn’t be on Facebook. This language is then incorporated into the request to remove the picture. Including how the person feels about the picture has made it much more likely that the picture is taken down.

In a similar fashion, teens who report feeling harassed now have more specific options to describe their situation. This reflection helps them better understand their experience and data shows that since these changes were made, teens are more likely to reach out to an adult when they experience harassment.

So cheers to Facebook and their compassionate engineers. It is good to know that they are working to make our online interactions more compassionate. We sure do need their help!

(Photo: Magoz)

Nov 4 16

Focus on What Can You Control

by Beth

According to a survey of 3,500 adults by the American Psychological Association, 55% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans say the 2016 presidential election is a significant source of stress. One thing that makes elections especially stressful is the fact that the outcome is beyond our control. Worrying about things we have no control over is one of the biggest sources of stress.

I am a worrier my nature, but I’ve been trying very hard to keep the serenity prayer in mind lately. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I alone cannot control the outcome of this election. Worrying about what will happen if things don’t turn out the way I’d like is a waste of my time and hurts my well-being.

But accepting the fact that I can’t control the outcome of the election doesn’t mean that I can’t do anything to make a difference. There are things that I can control that could have an impact on the election. I can donate my money, volunteer my time, and vote. Acceptance isn’t resignation; it is choosing to focus my thoughts and energy on what I can do, rather than wasting them worrying about what I can’t do. Recognizing what is outside of my control and accepting that allows me to dedicate my resources to that which I can control.

There will still be plenty to worry about when the election is over, regardless of who wins. But worry doesn’t help anyone, especially you. Accept that there are things you can’t control and focus instead on what you can do. You can’t keep it from raining on the parade, but you can bring an umbrella!

Oct 22 16

Calling for a Media Revolution

by Beth

I’m done. I can’t take so much negativity! The 2016 presidential campaign has been so divisive it makes it hard for anyone to stay positive. That’s why I was excited to learn about the transformative journalism movement. Positive psychologists Michelle Gielan and Shawn Achor have partnered with Arianna Huffington to encourage journalists to adopt a more positive, solutions-focused approach to news coverage.

The idea that negativity sells has dominated thinking in journalism for too long. The truth is, people share positive stories more than negative ones. And their attitude toward a brand is more positive when it’s located next to a positive article. So advertisers are better off linking their brand to good news stories.

Research shows that negative stories cause people to feel hopeless, whereas positive stories do just the opposite. They inspire and motivate us. If you are exposed to 3 minutes of negative news in the morning, you are 27% more likely to report at the end of the day that it was a bad day. Start your day with 3 minutes of good news and you will be 88% more likely that afternoon to feel like you had a good day.

Negativity is bad for our well-being. People are tired of it. Many are trying to find ways to laugh about the campaign. Have you seen the #TrumpBookReport tweets? Or “Weird Al” Yankovic moderating the final debate? Others are trying to help with things like an app offering meditations for “emergency election stress”.

We can work together to bring about a media revolution. We have a choice of where we get our news. Let’s turn off the negativity and support media outlets that also highlight transformative stories. Let’s choose to read and share news that is uplifting. The Washington Post publishes The Optimist, a weekly newsletter “dedicated to stories of pluck and awe”. The What’s Working section of The Huffington Post and hopefulheadlines.org both highlight positive stories. JustGoodNews.biz aspires to be “our nation’s GOOD economic news service”. Please share others! We can create change by choosing more balanced media sources and refusing to tune in to negativity.

Sep 29 16

Use Fact-Checking to Stay Motivated

by Beth

The way we view things impacts our behavior. We are more motivated to take action when we are positive and optimistic. Positive emotions open us up to see alternative solutions to a problem and the belief that we can find a solution spurs us to act.

In her book, Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gielan suggests fact-checking as a strategy for shifting from a negative to a positive focus. Proactively looking for facts that fuel hope can empower you to persevere when you’re discouraged. Gielan describes three steps for fact-checking your story:

  • Isolate the stressful thought – identify the specific cause of your worry
  • List the facts that support this story – find facts that back up your worry, making sure to include only facts, not emotions
  • List fueling facts that illuminate a new story – imagine a positive story and look for facts to support it

I’m stressed right now because I feel I have too many commitments in the coming month and not enough time to get everything done. The specific cause of my worry is a writing deadline that I’m not sure I will meet. Facts to support this are that I have been traveling a lot recently, so I haven’t started the project yet. I also have multiple speaking engagements in the coming weeks that will take time to prepare and deliver.

But let me look for facts to support the story that I will meet the deadline. Despite my other commitments, I found time on my calendar to schedule 60 to 90 minutes each weekday to write. This gives me around 25 hours of writing time over the next month, which should be enough. One of my strengths is discipline, so I’m pretty good about sticking to a schedule and I’ve rarely missed a deadline. Whew! I feel better already and am going to get to work.

The next time you feel discouraged, see if fact-checking can help move your focus from paralyzing facts to activating ones. Shifting to a more optimistic mindset will motivate you to take the next step toward your goal.

Sep 23 16

Extreme Work Hours: An American Crisis

by Beth

Something must be done  about the amount of time Americans work. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, the average full-time employee works 47 hours per week. Almost 40 percent of employees work more than 50 hours each week and 18 percent work more than 60 hours. White-collar employees, who have more flexibility over their work schedule, typically work more hours than those with less control.

Extreme work hours are hurting our productivity and our health. Continue reading here . . .

Aug 24 16

The Best Gift is to Give

by Beth

As I was checking out of a hotel a few days ago, the receptionist asked me to wait a minute because she couldn’t find the charge for my parking. When she realized they had forgotten to charge me she said, “You know what? It’s my birthday, so I’m going to give you the parking for free!” Wasn’t that nice? It sure was a great start to my day!

It reminded me of the Spanish birthday tradition of giving to others. Children take bags of candy to school on their birthdays to share with their friends. Adults invite friends and family out to dinner. It struck me as a bit odd when I first moved to Madrid, because I was used to others giving me things on my birthday. But the truth is, giving to others is a great birthday gift. Studies consistently support the idea that “it is better to give than to receive.” Giving makes us happy!

In one study, researchers gave students at the University of British Columbia an envelope with either $5 or $20. Half of the students were instructed to spend the money on themselves and the other half were instructed to spend the money on someone else. The students who gifted the money were happier and the results were the same for both amounts of money. In a much larger study of people from 136 countries, researchers also discovered a relationship between spending money on others and happiness. The effect was found even in very poor countries. So it seems that people everywhere experience emotional benefits from giving to others.

A few weeks ago one of my friends spent her entire Saturday making sandwiches and distributing them to people at a shelter in Washington D.C. They were celebrating her friend’s birthday. She had asked a group of people to bring sandwich makings to her home where they assembled 200 lunches and then took them to the shelter to hand out. What a great way to celebrate her birthday. Think of how many people she made happy!