Are you and Aesthete?

It’s officially spring here in the U.S. After a particularly long winter, where plants, birds, wildlife, and even the sun seemed to go dormant, nature is reemerging. White crocuses and yellow daffodils poke out of the earth back east. Here in the West, Pal0 Verde trees have exploded in a riot of yellow blossoms.

I find tremendous beauty in nature and art, and it makes me feel good. 

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I walked my dogs this morning, all the while thinking about how to convey the power of noticing beauty in our lives. Without my camera, I made mental notes of the sights that gave me particular pleasure:

– a tiny hummingbird perched on the uppermost twig of a blossoming tree.

– the perfect 67 degree temperature, sunny and dry, with the sun still low in the sky.

– the rusty red, and rounded rock formations of Camelback Mountain creating an intimate and awesome backdrop.

– my neighbor playing catch with her young son as they awaited the school bus. In this case it wasn’t about physical beauty, but an appreciation of her actions. I witnessed a moment of excellent parenting; a beautiful thing.

Science has shown that noticing beauty and excellence in our surroundings can have a profound effect on our mood. For example, a New York Times article, “Why We Love Beautiful Things,” reported:

– “glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation”

– “window views of landscapes…can speed patient recovery in hospitals, aid learning in classrooms and spur productivity in the workplace”

sea-urchin-fractal– viewing certain patterns and shapes (specifically fractals) “can reduce stress levels by as much as 60 percent.” (cool examples – especially this sea urchin)

If you are particularly responsive to beauty, sensitive to how it enriches your life, bolsters your mood, and contributes to your happiness, congratulations, you’re an aesthete. It’s a good thing, I promise. Not something to be trivialized, but rather cultivated and celebrated.

Maximize this strength by using it regularly. Surround yourself with sights, sounds, and experiences that lift your spirits. After all, you have sure-fire mood booster at your disposal — finding beauty.

Feel free to share your observations below. I’d love to hear from you.

WANT MORE?  Join my FREE 10-day challenge – Boost Your Happiness by Finding Beauty. Each day becomes a treasure hunt!

My Magic Bullet for Happiness

I have a secret to share with you. It’s been called a magic bullet. For someone who staunchly DOES NOT BELIEVE in the quick fix solution, for me it’s pretty darn close to one.

Wait for it…Gratitude.

gratitudeIf you’re interested in shifting your mindset from can’t to can, impossible to possible, or more simply negative to positive, establishing a daily ritual of counting your blessings works wonders.

It’s not just the occasional words of thanks, but a quick yet deep dive into your everyday world. It’s oh so easy to reel off the day’s mishaps and woes, and we all love to do it. But think, just for a minute, about what’s going right for you.

From my interest in positive psychology, I knew of the power of gratitude. I started a daily journal on my phone, but honestly that lasted less than a week. It wasn’t until last summer that I discovered The Five Minute Journal. Ever since then, I’ve somewhat religiously spent (more like) two minutes each morning on waking and each night as I get into bed, jotting down my little lists of threes. (By the way, I’m not getting any kickbacks for this blog post.)

In the morning I record three things I am grateful for, followed by three thoughts on what would make the day great. On the days I wake with an already open and positive mindset, I go broad with gratitude for my kids, my health, and my family. On days that begin less auspiciously, I stick to things like my cozy bed.

At night I record three amazing things that happened – from getting a break from driving carpool to witnessing an incredible sunset.

The point is, whether your record things large or small, having the intention to think positively about your life and taking the extra step of writing it down are incredibly powerful. As the creators, Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas, say, the journal “…instantly helps you shift your focus on the positive and short circuits negative thought loops.”

Why is expressing gratitude so powerful? By practicing gratitude daily, the reflex is strengthened and becomes more automatic in your daily thinking. There’s research to back this. For example, a 2003 study by Emmons and McCullough found that daily gratitude journals lead to a greater sense of well-being, better sleep, willingness to accept change, and lessen symptoms of physical pain. In a word, you feel happier.

It’s a minimal investment of your time for a pretty awesome reward. Did I mention there are pertinent quotes and even some personal challenges throughout?

I can’t recommend the daily practice of gratitude enough, and The Five Minute Journal ends up being the magic bullet for me. I’d love to hear what works for you in the gratitude department.

5 Tips for Creating Successful New Year’s Resolutions

fireworksIt’s that time of year. Plenty of us make resolutions or set goals for the upcoming year, but among the makers, few of us follow through (about 12.5 %).

The good news is that compared to those that don’t make a resolution, you are TEN TIMES more likely to make a positive change in your life.

By all means, give it a go.

These tips are adapted from my upcoming online workshop, Happier & Healthier, Balancing Sleep, Food, Mood & Exercise for Optimal Living. Information on how to join is at the bottom of the post.

  • Make a REASONABLE resolution – If you’re starting from coach potato status, please don’t proclaim, “I want to lose 100 pounds” or “I will exercise every day.”
  • Be SPECIFIC when making a goal. Instead of “I will make more friends” try “I will join three groups this year with the aim of meeting new people with like interests. I aim to have at least three to four new friends by the end of the year.”
  • Is your resolution CHALLENGING? It’s okay to recommit to something you’re already making progress with, but you might want to add another goal that addresses a new area that needs improvement.
  • It helps to have a MEASURABLE goal. Throw a number in there, such as “I want to lose 10 pounds over the next 4 months by limiting my sugar intake to eating 1 sweet thing 2 days a week, with no sweets on the other 5 days.”
  • Keep the approach POSITIVE. Create an approach goal instead of an avoidance goal. For instance, “I will replace my daily candy intake with fruit,” rather than “I will stop eating candy.”

Compare your current goal against these suggestions. Can it be tightened up for a better chance at success? If you need help, share your resolution in the comment box, or email me for feedback. I’d love to help you.

Learn more about:

  • Setting smart goals and sharing them with a small group who will support your progress,
  • The role of stress hormones (those of us under chronic stress produce way too much cortisol), and how to maintain balance through sleep, food, mood and exercise,
  • The role of mindfulness and gratitude in creating a more positive and productive life,
  • What’s really behind willpower and how to improve yours,
  • Using your strengths to achieve more rather than attempting to fix your weaknesses.

Here what past participants have to say and sign up here.

Smarts and Stamina Online ProgramThe workshop’s content is based on Amazon’s Healthy Living Bestselling Book, Smarts & Stamina, The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. The book, like the workshop, is chock full of research-based tools of positive psychology to help us increase health, happiness, and overall success.

Throughout the six-week workshop, I’ll be offering support, feedback and accountability. Space is limited to 20 participants and begins February 4, 2015.

Please join us! I’m glad to answer any questions (barclay@elemental-wellness.com).

Wabi Sabi – Embrace Imperfection

wabi-sabi-pot3Wabi Sabi – I love the way the words sounds almost as much as the concept it represents – It’s a Japanese term (reminiscent of “wasabi”) that doesn’t translate neatly into English. It represents an aesthetic or worldview that celebrates the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete. I like to think of it in terms of beauty, such as the uniqueness of slightly off-center ceramic bowl, or a still-vibrant flower whose petal edges are beginning to brown.

I constantly try to apply wabi sabi to my life and my coaching. It helps me to remember that there is value, beauty and immense worth in each of us, though none of us is perfect. It reminds me not to put my dreams on hold until I somehow reach that elusive goal of perfection. It allows me to live with myself when I gild the lily (last night’s pizza), lose my temper with my kids, or indulge in gossip. (I could go on and on.)

As a coach, I’ve chosen health and wellness as my niche not because I’ve got it all down cold, but because it’s something I’m passionate about. I love to get to the bottom of diet and fitness trends, try healthy recipes, and learn all I can about mindfulness, positive psychology and health. This blog is my vehicle to share what I learn with a broader audience so that we can all move towards a healthier lifestyle.

e57da547de4a1a76c6058c07aa091bd4You will never be disease-free, trim, fit, ageless, altruistic, balanced, AND have perfect blood pressure. Nor should you aspire to be, in my opinion. We’re all a work in progress. We must accept, or someday even relish our imperfections. Embrace wabi sabi. Meanwhile, focus on the specific things that have greatest meaning to you and work to be the best you can be in those areas.

Still Accepted, Blatantly Outdated

The following post is re-blogged from Smarts and Stamina, written by my friend, Marie-Josée Shaar, a wellness expert, speaker, author, and all-around motivator. I know you’ll enjoy her insights into what we can all do to change some deeply ingrained but oh-so unhealthy habits that permeate our way of life.

 

Do you remember the anxiety of being picked last for the basketball team in phys ed? Or the pressure of doing an oral presentation right after the coolest kid around in English class? Of course you do! Such events threatened your fundamental need to belong, and so they impacted you deeply at the time they happened.

The desire to fit in is a powerful shaper of behavior. In some cases, social pressures serve us well. Just think that 20 or 30 years ago, the following behaviors were not only commonplace, but widely accepted: smoking in public places, drinking and driving, littering, riding in a car without a seat belt or on a motorcycle without a helmet, and unprotected sex.

I’m so glad things have changed!

In other cases, social pressures are lagging behind their times. Take the following list of examples, which are still widely accepted, but that really have to go out the window, and fast (I could easily list 10 other examples of unacceptable but accepted behaviors, but these are my personal pet peeves):

  • Sleep: We still glorify sleep deprivation, as if it were a sign of being needed, successful, needed and irreplaceable. But in reality, when I hear someone brag about their sleep debt, what I hear is “I am temporarily and reversibly mentally-impaired, but I’m too groggy to realize it.”
  • Food: We still think it’s OK to twist somebody else’s arm so they eat something unhealthy, or so they eat past satiation. “Come on, just one piece of brownie won’t kill you!” We all have enough of a hard time all on our own resisting temptations, thank you very much. What we need is someone to applaud our self-discipline, not a guilt trip so we eat like a Sumo.
  • Mood: Few ignore how pervasive, contagious, and detrimental stress can be, yet we all sink in our seats when someone spreads unnecessary stress around. No one benefits when we accept others dumping their garbage around as they please, so why are we still silent?
  • ExerciseSitting is the new smoking. There’s new research coming out every month about the dangers of our sedentary lifestyles – see this Washington Post infographic for one example. Yet social convention pressures us into spending long days participating in endless meetings without daring to request a chance to refresh our minds and bodies through a little healthy movement.

Improving Norms

How can we start shifting things so that the unhealthy norms just listed can become a thing of the past, much like smoking in public places and drinking and driving did?

Most people are willing to change when they see a clear personal benefit in the proposed change, and when they are convinced that those around them are implementing the change as well, says the World Bank.

In general, we have the first portion of that equation covered: most people understand that sleeping enough, eating right and moving more will help them be at their best and avoid undesirable health conditions. Our challenge lies not in promoting individual reasons for change, but in challenging what’s considered normal social behavior, and in defining new norms.

Let’s consider 2 examples where social pressure was used successfully in implementing healthier norms.

Concerns of Teen PregnancyA North Carolina pro­gram aimed at pre­venting teenage preg­nancy used the tagline ‘Talk to Your Kids About Sex. Everyone else is.’ (DuRant et al, 2006)This message created a tension that became more uncomfortable than the uncomfortable conversation itself. Who would want their kid to be the only one uninformed about important issues that affect people their age? The following phone survey found that parents who had been exposed to this cam­paign were more likely to talk to their teens about sex the next month.

In another exper­i­ment, researchers looked at the influ­ence of social norms on house­hold energy con­sump­tion (Schultz et al, 2007). Households who were consuming under the average for that area received feedback along with a happy face, conveying social approval of their energy use. Those who were consuming above average received their feedback with a sad face, conveying dis­ap­proval of their higher footprint. In the fol­lowing months, the over-consuming house­holds reduced their energy use while the under-consuming house­holds kept their usage levels the unchanged.

These 2 experiments suggest that social norms can be effective motivators for behavior change, and I’d like to explore how to use them for the greater good. If you are concerned that following others is a shallow extrinsic motivation that won’t last, let me remind you that the desire to fit in is a powerful intrinsic motivation, and that’s what I’m trying to tap into here. Plus, healthy behaviors help us feel good. Once they are in place, they are often self-reinforcing.

Creating Positive Pressures in Your Organization

 If you’d like to experiment with social pressure as a behavioral change motivator, be careful not to state that the behavior you’re trying to extinguish is the current norm. For example, a campaign declaring “we’re all eating very large portions around here, let’s reduce them” would reinforce the social acceptability of overeating, and your efforts would backfire. Instead, make the desired behavior center stage: “We’re all trying to eat less. Let’s help each other out.”

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions to address the pet peeves I have identified above:

  • Sleep: host a lunch and learn about the importance of sleep and encourage your participants to respond to those who brag about their sleep deprivation with an equally boastful statement of how well they slept lately, and how refreshed they feel as a result.
  • Food: A lot of good eating intentions are sapped by the sugary snacks brought to the break room by well-meaning colleagues who didn’t want to eat a whole batch of cookies on their own. Tom Rath suggests throwing away our extras rather than taking them to work. Perhaps you could talk to your colleagues and agree on a new norm, such as “If it’s not healthy enough for you, it’s not good enough for your colleagues either.” Or perhaps you could start a group competition to see who can tweak favorite recipes to make them “a tad lighter in calories and richer in healthy nutrients,” as we describe in the Be Sneaky chapter of the Smarts and Stamina book.
  • Mood: Here’s a stat worth sharing, and which can put a little pressure on the energy vampires at your organization: according to this Harvard Business Review article, 90% of anxiety at work is created by 5% of one’s network. Share this information again and again, until everyone in the organization is familiar with it, so that everyone takes a good look in the mirror (whether they do so out of their own initiative, or whether someone else puts the mirror right in front of them).
  • Exercise: Meeting leaders will often start things out by making a statement about why the group has been gathered together. Very often, that statement is followed by a question: “Does that sound good to everyone? Anything else you’d like to add?” Here’s your opportunity to add a little social pressure. “Sure, and I’d like us to make sure everyone is contributing to the best of their ability throughout the meeting by allowing everyone to stand up/to enjoy a stretching break each hour.” Ta-da! Tough to say no to that!

Before I go, let me clarify: I am not suggesting that we ostracize those who adopt or even promote unhealthy behaviors. But I would like to see more of us wellness leaders skillfully and emphatically use social pressure to reject behaviors we know to be harmful, and thus craft healthier norms for everyone. In other words, I’d rather ruffle a few feathers if need be and press our norms to evolve than maintain a status quo we now know to be blatantly outdated.

Photo credits:

Large portions courtesy of  emdot
Pregnancy concerns courtesy of artur84

Sources:

DuRant, R.H., Wolfson, M., LeFrance, B., Balkrishan, R. & Altman, D. (2006). An eval­u­ation of a mass media cam­paign to encourage par­ents of adoles­cents to talk to their chil­dren about sex. Journal of Adolescent Health 38 (3) 298–309.

Pollay, D. (2012). The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Stop People from Dumping on You. Sterling Press.

Rath, T. (2013). Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes. Arlington, VA: Missionday.

Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The con­structive, destructive, and recon­structive power of social norms. Psychological Science18(5), 429–434.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.