Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Simple Mind Trick for Lent

While it is traditionally a Catholic observance, the participation in the observance of Lent is beginning to expand beyond the Catholic sect. The transcendence of the Lent practices from Catholicism into the mainstream culture, suggests that there may be real benefits to sacrifice. In an effort to avoid stirring up any religious controversy, I will avoid addressing the theological reasons for Lent. Fortunately there are several mundane benefits to giving-up habits that we enjoy.

Some things that we enjoy are unhealthy and carry with them negative side-effects.  It is obvious why those habits should be avoided. Some habits may be neither healthy nor unhealthy. We may even receive benefits  from temporarily abstaining from those habits. Proactively changing your habits builds confidence. It gives one a sense of power and control. It also builds skills that can be used to change unhealthy habits. If nothing else it teaches us to be mindful.

Many of us become attached to the joy that we receive when we indulge in some behavior. It may be the pleasure of our favorite chocolate bar. It may be the relief we receive from smoking. It may be the attention we get when we dress a certain way. Each of these examples-in fact any example you could come up with-carries with it some psychologically gratifying experience. Once we recognize the experience that we're seeking, then the act of sacrifice becomes much simpler. The trick of Lent becomes one of substitution rather than abstinence.

It is much easier for the brain to engage in a new behavior than it is to simply avoid an unwanted behavior. If we look at the benefits we receive from the unwanted behavior, we can seek out new behaviors that will also deliver that same benefit. By engaging in the new behavior we can circumvent our need to engage in the unwanted behavior. This is a technique that is becoming increasingly utilized by psychologist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioners. It is also the reason why Mindful Measures programs focus on developing new healthy habits for its clients. So, this year for Lent, choose a difficult habit to avoid, and substitute it with a healthy alternative. I would love to hear about your success.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Valentine's Day Attitude of Gratitude

We all want to find that perfect Valentine's gift.  We hope to convey those inexpressible feelings that we have.  This time of year, we are lead to believe that if we fail to do so, we will be inadequate.  Somehow that means out relationship is doomed to failure.

 According to the Forest Institute of professional psychology, the divorce rate for first marriages is 50%. The divorce rate is even higher for second in third marriages; being 67% and 74% respectively. There are several possible conclusions we can draw from this. The first of which is that only half of marriages are bound by a firm commitment. Or perhaps the successful partnerships were clearer on what they needed from a spouse prior to getting married (see my previous blog, "First Find Love Within Yourself”). I prefer to believe however, that most unsuccessful marriages fail due to a lack of relational skills - the divorce rates for second and third marriages bear this out. So then, what skills are necessary to nourish a healthy relationship?

Perhaps the most important skill for people to have any successful partnership is empathy-the ability to see oneself in others. Empathy is at the heart of tolerance and forgiveness. It is also at the heart of appreciation; as it is the Valentine’s season it is this virtue that I wish to emphasize.

Over the past several decades Valentine's Day has become increasingly commercialized. It seems as though, as each year passes, we are led to believe that our appreciation for our loved ones can only be demonstrated by the purchase of seasonal consumables. We are bombarded by the message that, "your affection can only be expressed through giving your loved-one our extravagant box of chocolates, $100 bouquet, or diamond ring." But do these purchases really show our love, or do they merely demonstrate our propensity to spend? Some might argue that the poor man who picks up a second job in order to afford to take his wife out to dinner demonstrates a higher level of love than the rich man who blindly charges a diamond necklace to his debit card. To me this poor man demonstrates a deeper level of appreciation, because he is sacrificing more of himself in order to create and share an emotionally impactful experience. It is very likely that he is given more thought to what his partner would appreciate. By emphasizing the wants and needs of his wife, the poor man has related to her on a much deeper level.

Surely appreciation entails more than the giving of material objects. Indeed, the giving of gifts without the sense of appreciation behind them, seems hollow and manipulative. And if your appreciation is genuine, then no gift is necessary. When we cultivate gratitude towards others within our heart, it beams outwards. It reflects in our facial expressions and body language. It shines through our actions. It fills our words with genuine emotion.

How then can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude? By actively recognizing the positive traits of others, by praising others for their actions, and by openly demonstrating our love we cultivate a deeper appreciation within ourselves. Allow yourself to "gush" with emotion when you think about your loved ones. Feel love through your whole body and let it exude from you. Do this as many times as the day will allow. You will soon feel a deeper appreciation of your loved one-perhaps more importantly, so will your loved one.

And now that you have a deeper appreciation, you will be in a better place to anticipate your lover's needs and wants. Instead of merely giving your special-someone a meaningless gift, you can create a shared experience that will be as unique, and special, as the one you love.