Humans form an emotional brain long before a rational one, and a beating heart before either.
Last month, we talked about the destructive nature of stress – against body, mind and spirit – and the power of positive emotion to unravel the knots of negativity. As with any skill, positive thinking grows stronger and faster with practice. It may seem awkward or forced at first. But eventually, through dedicated practice, you will feel as comfortable in this “positive framework” as you will feel ill at ease in the negative one. It’s easy to get sucked into the downward spiral; but on the flip side, it’s just as easy to hold fast to the “upward spiral” generated by positive thinking.
How does HeartMath (heartmath.org) factor into the equation? And why is it exciting that HeartMath has just released an app?
The HeartMath Institute began 35 years ago as an inquiry into post-operative heart surgery patients. But along the way, researchers bumped into a key component of the heart and how it plays into our emotion—and how it helps us become good parents and good partners; focused athletes; and high-achieving students who don’t fall prey to anxiety. Heart intelligence, the theory goes, is the source of emotional intelligence and logical thinking. (The head and the heart don’t clash as much as love songs would suggest.) And when cultivated, it can help us bridge the connection between heart and mind; and build a connection to the hearts of others.
Like the gut, the heart has a direct line to the brain; and the two are in constant communication. But the heart relays far more information to the brain than the brain sends to the heart. Specifically, heart signals target the brain centers involved in decision-making, creativity, and emotional experience.
Early HeartMath research found that negative emotions threw the nervous system out of balance—creating disordered and jagged rhythms on the study’s heart monitor, and clouding thinking to the point of irrationality and confusion. Positive emotions, by contrast, were found to increase order and balance in the nervous system to produce smooth, harmonious heart rhythms that not only reduced stress; but also enhanced people’s ability to perceive the world around them. Positive thinking hones creativity, affords clarity, and boosts concentration. The coherence of synchronized systems—brain, heart, nervous—can yield reduced blood pressure for hypertensive patients, improvements in asthma, enhanced well-being, increased emotional stability, and improved cognitive performance. It can reduce anxiety and “helplessness” in favor of logical thinking underpinning plans of action. In short, it can help us feel completely at peace…with strength. What better Valentine’s gift to yourself and your loved ones?
Visit www.heartmath.org to learn more.
“A teacher affects eternity. He or she can never tell where his or her influence stops.” – Henry Adams
Whether we have sons or daughters, we want our children to maximize their potential and cultivate their natural talents, innate gifts, and proven “knack” for anything from language to leadership. But a spate of recent research has shown that by the age of six—in other words, by the time most kids are in kindergarten, barely on the threshold of grade school—girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant; and they start to rule out certain activities as “not for them” by virtue of not being smart enough. They may be absorbing cultural stereotypes about brilliance. If they watch television, they may realize that geniuses portrayed on television are almost exclusively men (think Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”). And if they watch their parents, they may be picking up on the stereotypes that Mom and Dad imperceptibly uphold and advance.
Think modern parents aren’t guilty of gender bias? Aggregate data in 2014 from Google searches reveal that American parents are two and a half times more likely to Google “is my son a genius” than “is my daughter a genius.” And this is despite the fact that girls consistently show larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences from an early age.
Parents also Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as much as “Is my son overweight?” Again, this is fueled by bias – not reality. 33 percent of boys, and 30 percent of girls, are overweight. But parents see, and ruminate over, what they want to see.
In an Illinois study, ninety-six children were told two stories: one about a “really, really smart” person and one about a “really, really nice person.” The children were shown four pictures (two boys, two girls) and asked to guess which one might be the person in each story. At age five, boys and girls were equally likely to associate intelligence with their own gender. But at six, the likelihood of girls picking other girls as the “really, really smart” one sharply declined. Many girls, and most boys, picked the boy. And this remained consistent across all races, parent education and family incomes.
Another test asked children to play a game that was either for “really, really smart” people or one that was for children who “try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested in the former game, indicating a strong preference for the latter.
All the more reason for parents and teachers to make a conscious effort to battle ingrained, even unconscious stereotypes; encourage girls to develop broad interests; and take as much an interest in our daughters’ minds as in their bodies. E-commerce giants like Amazon has launched a subscription service for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) toys. Despite recent gains for women in the workforce, women in STEM are still under-represented. We can change that with a few adjustments to our thinking.
“Health is not only to be well but to use well all the powers that you have.” – Florence Nightingale
We all know January is the “time to chill.” But in this post, we’re going to discuss chilling as a means of reducing stress, tension, anxiety and negativity in your life. To that end, here are some key facts about stress:
The good news: positive emotion is the antidote to stress in every way, and this mode of thought and reaction grows stronger with practice. And because it utilizes the same receptors as stress, it’s literally impossible to feel stress while you’re cultivating positive emotion and positive thinking. One strategy to do so is a combination of deep breathing and gratitude for the joyful things in our lives. Place your hand on your heart, visualize your breath moving in and out through your heart, and think of a person or place that brings you joy. You can use this practice before you fall asleep, when you wake up in the middle of the night, to prepare for an important communication (from a meeting to a mingle), and to recoup or recover from a stressful situation. Studies show it leads to improved relationships, improved sleep, improved performance at work and at play, and a greater sense of balance and ease.
Most of us approach the new year with a resolve to lose weight—but it gets difficult when popular diets undermine and contradict each other. We should go meatless but eat like a caveman? We should avoid sugar yet indulge on fruit? We shouldn’t eat between meals, but we should subsist on frequent snacks?
And so our weight loss gets stalled before it begins. How can we possibly decide whether to embrace or avoid fats, carbs, sugar, dairy, gluten, wheat, grazing, and snacks?
In a recent article, Greatist.com counsels to “think of dieting like dating.”
“You wouldn’t choose to be in a relationship with someone you despise from day one, so why would you do that with the foods you eat. Every. Single. Day. You will quit the plan, you will learn to hate healthy eating, and you’ll probably end up more frustrated and confused than when you started.”
So if you love bread and pasta, don’t attempt to restrict your carbs. If you love dessert, avoid restricted sugar eating plans. If you enjoy waking up to a hearty breakfast or ending the day with a late-night snack, don’t buy into diets that prescribe huge lunches.
At the end of the day, “diet” is the wrong approach. But enjoying your food, honoring your hunger, and observing portion size – day in and day out – will all help you lose weight without finding it again, without the drama and heartbreak of a toxic relationship. To that end, remember these general guidelines:
Drink water, eat fiber. Both water and fiber-rich foods can battle bloat and better sync your gut and your brain so you stop eating when you’ve had your fill. Try crunching on zucchini and cucumber (not chips), popping frozen grapes as a late-night snack, and warming up with peppermint tea instead of soda.
Beware the “health halo.” That’s the blinding light surrounding certain foods that beguile us into eating badly when we think we’re making a healthy choice. For example: granola bars, protein shakes, veggie chips, fruit juice, and frozen yogurt. There’s nothing wrong with having these in moderation – just watch your portion size; otherwise sugar levels can approach that of a king-size candy bar.
Keep it real. Consoled with fat-free or sugar-free versions of your favorite food? The health halo strikes again. When food makers take out fat, they replace the lost flavor with sugar and salt. When they take out sugar, they replace the lost flavor with fat. All experts say to eat the regular version of anything, from cheddar to chocolate, in moderation. You’ll be far more satisfied.
Savor and socialize. No need to shy away from dinner with family or friends! When you enjoy every bite, and every conversational bit, you will feel fuller much faster.
Don’t skip meals! It messes with your metabolism and sets you up for more overeating. If you over-indulged at lunch or dinner, it’s okay. Make the next meal “green and clean”: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruits, to keep your energy up and your willpower strong.
Get enough sleep. Besides suppressing hormones that fuel hunger, eight hours of shut-eye means less incentive to nosh late at night, sharper focus in the morning, and more energy to jump into activities you enjoy.
We’ve all heard it: New Year, New You. We’ve done everything we’re
“supposed” to do: joined a gym, cleared the fridge, sharpened our pencils, upgraded our software, and installed that zen-like Meditation app on our phone.
Here’s the problem: most habits don’t have the sticking power to see you through 2017. You might start to break them before you even make them—and throw in the towel before you’ve even brought it to the gym. Maybe that’s because you (secretly) don’t like the treadmill; or you start to fidget when you’re told to “relax”; or a salad with dressing on the side just doesn’t fill you up. Understandably, willpower erodes quickly.
A new approach to change called the Fogg Method reboots the self-inflicted “torture” – think of any diet regimen, abandoned painting project, or dust-gathering gym pass – that inevitably crumbles, backfires, and drains our resources. The psychologist behind the method, B.J. Fogg, lists three steps to focus on training your brain to succeed at small adjustments, celebrate small victories, and draw confidence from them to create momentum and rewrite the “scripts” from inevitable failure to resounding success.
These snowmen hot chocolate (see picture) from BuzzFeed remind us that home isn’t only where the heart is; it’s where the hearth is! Don’t get us wrong; we love outdoor adventures when the sun’s blazing and the flowers blooming. But in winter gloom, staying put has its perks.
Cranking up the heat will guarantee a warm house, but it gets expensive quickly. Foregoing heat is not an option, either. And it’s inefficient to lower the heat drastically when you’re out – you’ll just expend energy ratcheting it up when you return.
Here are ten ways to lower the thermostat and lower your bills:
Cheers! This week you’ve got Christmas leftovers, Hanukah latkes, family dinners, New Year’s toasts, lazy afternoons, and access to enough food to send you into hibernation. Next week you’ve got clean breaks, fresh starts, work obligations, time crunches, goals to meet, and resolutions to uphold.
Let’s get these two weeks working together, rather than locking horns. Here’s our guide to getting a “running start” toward successful resolutions, without skimping on fun this week.
Drink water, eat fiber. Both water and fiber-rich foods can battle holiday bloat. To accomplish both at once, try water-rich vegetables such as zucchini and cucumber. And to warm up with stomach-soothing hydration, try peppermint tea.
Linger over meals. You read that right! Take advantage of the more relaxed pace of holiday week by eating socially, and slowly. Help yourself to cookies — and enjoy each bite. When you savor each bite as much as you savor the people around you, you will feel fuller much faster…so much so, that three cookies (instead of seven) will do the trick.
Freeze some grapes. They’re the perfect (water-filled) snack to pop while you’re cuddling on the couch, watching TV. (Other ideas: plain popcorn, sliced strawberries, hummus and black-bean chips.)
Get enough sleep. Even when you’re out to dinner or a party, block off eight hours for shut-eye. You’ll have less incentive to nosh late at night and sharper focus in the morning. Which brings us to our fifth suggestion.
Get moving every day. Power through the food coma; you’ll feel better almost instantly. From a 15-minute walk after a big meal to a family hike outdoors, staying active helps body, mind, and soul feel satisfied—not sluggish.
Don’t skip meals! It messes with your metabolism and sets you up for more overeating. If you indulged to much at lunch or dinner, it’s okay. Make the next meal “green and clean”: lean protein, fish, vegetables, fruits, to keep your energy up and your willpower strong.
Eat with your non-dominant hand. Strange, but true! Check out this article from Dr. Oz: http://www.drozthegoodlife.com/healthy-lifestyle/body/tips/a1767/stop-overeating-wrong-hand-trick/
“We don’t fight winter; we take advantage of it.” – The Book of Hygge
America winters are rough, but Nordic ones are even rougher. That may explain why countries such as Norway and Denmark invest in the concept of hygge (hoo-guh), which roughly translates to finding joy in your current situation – in this case, winter – by warming your body and soul and cultivating the comfort of home, whether you’re there or not. Think soup, mulled wine and hot cocoa with marshmallows; slippers, robes and scented candles; and lots of time with family and friends — plus blissful solitude, whether engrossed in a book, curled on the couch and/or submerged in a bubble bath.
We’re on board. But, with that said: how do we explain the surging popularity of ice hotels? These are temporary lodging places (rebuilt, post-thaw, each year) in which the walls, fixtures and fittings are made entirely of ice or compacted snow, cemented with an ice-coated packed snow called snice (that’s “snow” and “ice”).
You wouldn’t camp out in an igloo or mold drinking vessels out of snow; so why pay to sleep on a bed of snow and toast to your health (or lack thereof) with ice glasses at a solid-brick ice bar?
The Nordic countries have their share of ice hotels, some built from the frozen waters of local rivers. Here in North America, Quebec’s Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel) first opened in January 2001. Its ice beds have wooden frames, deer skins and arctic sleeping bags; and before turning in for the night, guests can enjoy a shot of vodka at the Absolut Ice Bar.
In fact, how-to videos for sleeping on ice all recommend that guests warm up with a cocktail before bed. Guests report feeling so warm and cozy – safely ensconced in the snow – that many shed their thermal underwear by morning. The breakfasts include hot juice, of course.
Would you venture into an ice hotel during the camping hiatus? Tell us why!
When campgrounds and other warm-weather sites close down, winter can turn dreary in more ways than one. Spring may lie around the corner; but this trek through the woods seems impossibly long. For this series of blogs, we’re exploring ways to bring joy, light and that warm, fuzzy feeling into the coldest months. We’re kicking it off with a fun one: owning (or borrowing) a pet! If you have one, you can attest to the list below. If you don’t, and certain family members are requesting one for Christmas, this list might tip the odds in their favor.
Remember: Taking on a pet, particularly in winter, requires responsibility. (Yet another value for the list above!) You’ll want to avoid lighted candles, tape extension cords to the wall, and sweep your rug free of pine needles, ribbon and tinsel.
As holiday time approaches, many parents begin to anxiously crunch the numbers in their budgets for gifts. Will they be able to spring for the latest gaming system, sneakers, jackets and boots?
Family vacations, such as camping trips, merit the investment of money and time – because research shows that shared experiences are remembered more vividly than even the most lavish gifts. In the mind, campfires and creek walks burn longer than couches and consoles.
But with camping season on hiatus, how can families channel their kids’ energy and appetite for “the latest”, the must-haves, the little luxuries that stuff stockings and lift spirits?
The solution might be simple, for the season and for a New Year’s resolution. Have kids work. In many cases, allow kids to work.
Kids have a natural industriousness and a craving for responsibility. In his book The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron Lieber, money columnist for the New York Times, says he’s heard countless stories about kids redeeming cans and bottles for refunds. And yet many families refuse to entertain the thought of a child performing chores around the house, or a teenager holding a part-time job after school.
“No one wants to return to the days when children worked full-time on the farm or in factories at the age of 12,” he writes. “But many parents have swung to the opposite extreme in the past decade or two, shielding even their oldest children …from paid work altogether.” For the latter half of the 20th century, 45 percent of American kids ages 16-19 had jobs; by 2013, it’s at the all-time low of 20 percent. Part of this flows from the anxiety of the college admissions game. But the skills imparted by a job –including work ethic and “grit” to persevere, not to mention entrepreneurial muscle – can boost life skills as much as any drama club or soccer captainship. A recent study shows that high “grit” scores are more predictive than IQ tests on academic performance, from spelling bees to retention at West Point.
In one of his book’s most fascinating chapters, Lieber visits a farm family in Utah where seven boys (ranging from 6 to 19 years old) raise 1,800 cows. The youngest started working at age 5, steering tractors through cowpens while his older brothers supervise the feedings or stack bales of straw and hay. They fit in workloads at dawn or after school, between Boy Scout meetings and wrestling practices; and each receive a paycheck for their efforts.
For kids who are too young to hold a job, at-home chores can lay the groundwork for “grit,” particularly meal preparation. Consider the nine-year-old girl who cooked Beef Wellington on the final rounds of MasterChef Junior, deftly handling knives and open flames.
While extreme, this talent points up a child’s ability to actively participate in some sort of meal preparation, from setting the table to serving the soup. We often have kids pitch in while we camp; why not bring teamwork into the kitchen, especially around holiday time?
You’ll be easing your task burden, carving out more time for relaxed eating around the table. You’ll show kids how to build confidence, life skills and work ethic – not to mention an appreciation for food.
Combine industrious can-do attitude with generous holiday spirit, and you just might find the solution to stretching your budgets and your patience this year.