Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Boost Your Brain-Power

Have you ever been sitting at the table with family, when something comes on the television that causes you to whip your head around so fast that you realign your neck?  This recently happened to me, while having dinner with my in-laws.  They love to watch the news during dinner.  Generally I ignore the news, as each time I watch it, I need to meditate on the goodness of man in order to counterbalance what the depressing reports of doom and gloom and violence.

So we were sitting there, when a report came on that spoke about increasing your brain functioning.  Actually, I think it may have been some sort of marketing piece, as it was produced by Sutter Health; but hey, if it's good information, who cares if they hope to make a sale out of it, right?  ;-)  Anyhow, what I found most interesting is that their top 5 things to increase brain functioning are all things that Mindful Measures focuses on with our product line.  Without tooting my horn any more than I have to (and you all know how much I like to toot my own horn) let's look at what they recommended:

  1. Use It or Lose It - Sutter Health recommends that we challenge our brains in order to keep them performing optimally.  They suggest puzzles, brain-teasers, learning a new language or taking a class.  As the strength comes from establishing new neuro-pathways and strengthening new ones, I would also add learning new habits to that list as well.
  2. Brain/Body Work-Out - They recommended exercising as a means of increasing blood-flow to the brain.  30 Minutes or more of aerobic exercise helps bring much needed oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
  3. Veg Out - Sutter Health points out that the brain needs a balanced diet in order to function optimally.  They recommend increasing your vegetable intake, while decreasing the amount of animal protein you eat.  I generally qualify this by stating that everyone's lifestyle and work requirements are different, so you should visit a qualified nutritionist to evaluate your particular dietary habits.  But certainly eating more vegetables never hurt anyone (except perhaps that guy who choked on a baby carrot).
  4. Keep it Friendly - They pointed out that socially connected individuals are less likely to experience dementia as they get older.  I would add to that, that it is our relationships with others that stimulate the emotional registrars in the mammalian part of the brain.  The strategies that we employ to keep those around us happy incorporate the outer layers of the neocortex.  But most importantly, by creating and nurturing healthy relationships with others, we experience more profound levels of joy and happiness which are required for optimized learning and brain functioning. 
  5. Good Chemistry - Sutter Health actually placed this as their 4th item on their list.  Whether that was an attempt to tame down the self-serving nature of their video, or whether it was considered as more important than good relationships, I do not know.  Their point was that feeling depressed or regularly down is often an indication of a chemical imbalance.  They recommend seeking help from a qualified professional.  I would as well, though I am generally reluctant to recommend prescriptive drugs to counteract the imbalance (except in rare cases for short-term results).  Our brains and bodies naturally produce the bio-chemicals that we need in order to feel good, assuming we are following the rest of this list.

So there you have it.  Sutter Health and Mindful Measures have been suggesting the same tips for optimal brain functioning.  That's two highly qualified sources, with no agenda to sell you anything ;-).  If you would like to see the Sutter Health video in full, please visit
If you would like to see what I have had to say on the subject, then please feel free to browse through my earlier postings and visit my Youtube Channel for Vlog posts.  We will continue to provide more content, so please feel free to follow our blog, subscribe to us on Youtube and become a fan on Facebook.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What did you just say to your child?

Have you ever taken a moment to listen to your child while they are playing?  I often catch myself hiding behind a doorway, while my daughter is playing pretend with her toys.  Although I have to fight the thought that I am acting like a stalker, I am always amazed by what comes out of her mouth.  It is through these few moments of stealth that I can hear the world through her mutterings. 

Of course not all of the things our children repeat are ours.  Some things they pick up are from teachers.  Some are from their friends at school.  My wife and I debate over who gets to claim some of the things out of our daughters mouth.  But in general it is pretty easy to differentiate who those phrases are coming from.  But here’s the catch, when listening to your child, don’t bust in and interrupt them.  Just listen. Then go back and reflect on what came out of her mouth.  Those words of “pretend time” eventually become your child’s Self-Talk, so if you find it negative, then now is the time to alter how we communicate.

Here are a few tips on what we can try:

  1. Instead of simply telling your child “NO” or what they can’t do, tell them what they CAN do.  If I tell you, “don’t think of an elephant” your mind is likely to fixate on elephants.  However, if you are thinking of an elephant, and I suggest that you “think of a zebra,” then the mind can quickly and easily alter its focus.
  2. Teach your children “Why”.  I know this can be impractical at times.  And certainly there are times when it is inappropriate or dangerous to have to get into the “Why’s” of what we want our children to do.  That being said, explaining “Why” helps our children see the larger picture.  It helps instill a bigger perspective that will help them later in their life.  This is particularly the case in learning situations…and as a child, every situation is a learning situation.  I know that there are some of you who will scoff at explaining yourself or a situation to your child, as if it is somehow beneath you as the authority.  I would merely as if you are trying to raise a drone, or a leader, and leave it at that.
  3. Instill a scientific mindset of exploration.  Demonstrate how to explore and problem solve with your child.  If your daughter or son comes to you with an issue, then help talk them through how to resolve it.  I know that this takes more time and energy than simply fixing it for them (or simply ignoring them-can’t we put down our video game for one minute?), but consider it a time investment.  Those moments we invest now, will be time saved down the road once they learn to solve their own issues.  And it is certainly better than having to clean up some crazy teenage mess.
  4. Tell your child how brilliant they are.  By constantly telling your child how kind, intelligent, strong, and beautiful they are, they will begin to believe it.  Point it out to them when they demonstrate those traits and the reinforcement strengthens the belief.  This is the kind of Self-Talk we can program into our children that will have a positive lasting impact.  By arming our children with an arsenal of positive self-beliefs, we can hope to protect them against the barrage of peer-pressure and image advertising they will face later in life.  Besides, nothing will make you more proud than when your child tells her Snow White doll, “Good!  You are soooo smart!”  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reduce Holiday Stress - 10 Things You Can Do to Ensure a Happy Holiday!

So the holidays are finally upon us, and already many of us are starting to feel the stress.  Even for those who are not directly feeling the pangs of a tough economic environment, this time of year presents many challenges.  On top of our normal load at work (and you mothers who work the “Second Shift” at home), we have our kids’ holiday parties, our office holiday parties (which should require a babysitter…lol), guests visits, holiday portraits, a home to decorate, and shopping (or gift making) for everyone under the sun.  Wow!  It’s exhausting just typing it all!  For those who travel to visit family (bless your brave hearts) your timeline gets condensed even further.  For many of us, Holiday Stress is more tangible than Santa Claus. 

Of course, deep down, the holidays represent a very special time of year.  Besides whatever religious meanings the holidays hold for you, it also represents a great time of coming together.  A time of hunkering down with family and friends.  A time of connecting deeply with those closest to us.  And yet, too often, the stress of it all gets in the way of those special, and deeply meaningful moments. 

So here are a few tips or tricks that we can try, in order to maintain our sanity this year.

  1.         Make your travel plans early - Remember, much of the stress we feel comes from the feeling of insufficient time to accomplish what we set out to do.  Making travel arrangements early can add a strong sense of structure to the coming season.  It also gives you a legitimate reason to say “No” to invitations that you might otherwise feel obligated to attend. 
  2.         Keep a “Calendar of Events” – Simply having everything jotted down (or typed in) to your calendar, clearly illustrates what you do and do not have time for.  The clarity of time will lead to a clarity-of-mind…and that is priceless.
  3.         Don’t look for the “Perfect Gift” – This is one that I struggle with every year.  But after many decades of searching, I can assure you that there is no such thing as the “Perfect Gift.”  The only thing that is Perfect is the love that is behind the gifts you give – and that part is free and abundant.  Granted, some gifts may reflect a deeper understanding of the recipient, but we can never express our gratitude towards others through material means, so let’s not look for it on some shelf at Nordstrom’s or Best Buy.
  4.        Make decorating the house a fun, family bonding event; not a chore – I remember as a child, one of my favorite days of the year was the day we would decorate the house and the Christmas tree.  Yes, it ranked up there with Christmas day itself – which is quite amazing considering that Christmas was the day we actually received our gifts.  But there is something to be said about the joy that the Anticipation of Christmas brings.  So make it fun, bust out the hot chocolate and the Christmas music, and let the kids go at it (even if it doesn’t look perfect – you can fix it after the kids go to sleep).  Decorating the outside of the house…that’s a different beast all together.
  5.         Don’t over-decorate the outside of your house – It is amazing that Home Depot now has an entire aisle dedicated to external home decorations for Christmas.  And I’m not talking about one of their small Pop-out aisles.  They are dedicating major square footage to it.  And it’s no surprise with the amount of money Americans are spending on lawn and roof decorations.  Never in a million years would I have thought that everyone on the block would have a fan-powered, big-enough-to-snag-Rudolph-out-of-the-air-in-mid-flight, Santa Claus on their lawn.  Who are they doing that for, anyways?  Is it to impress their neighbors who already bought one?  Or is it to scare off the Christmas goblin (perhaps the left-over Halloween candy is still affecting my brain functioning)?  Here’s the deal, sometimes less is more.  We don’t need houses confusing Southwest Airlines pilots; they already have enough to worry about.  And really, the overdone house decorations really tell me more about your Ego issues than your financial status anyways.  However, if you are going to go all-out on your lawn decorations, please let me know…my daughter thinks they’re pretty.
  6.         Just Say No! – I know that we all hate to “let people down,” but sometimes we have to decline an invitation.  Remember that nobody wants an stressed-out, exhausted scrooge attending their holiday party, so don’t go if you have too much to do.  Politely decline the invitation, and feel free to let them know that you would like too, if you had more time.  And don’t worry, there will be plenty of other people who will not be able to set appropriate boundaries at their party, so your absence will most likely go unnoticed. 
  7.         Don’t expect a perfect holiday picture – I know this is a tough one for many of us.  Year-after-year we get those perfect holiday cards with our friends and families perfectly lined-up, sitting nicely, with Hallmark smiles on their rosy little faces.  Blah!  Our favorite pictures of our friends are the ones where someone is looking off in the distance, hunched-over-trying-to-escape-dad’s-gasp, and somebody either is or has been crying.  Now that is real!  That is something I can relate too.  And let’s face it, just because someone had the stars align perfectly for that one moment that the shutter of the camera snapped the picture, that in no way means that they are any less stressed out than you, any happier than you, or any more in love with life than you. 
  8.        Plan your gift purchasing adventures – Know what you want, and where you are going to go to get it.  At the very least, know which store you are going to go to in order to find that “Perfect Gift” that I warned you against searching for.  I get that we don’t always know what to get someone, but we should at least know what store they like to shop at.  And if you don’t even know that, then frankly, you are not close enough to that person to burden yourself with the feeling of obligation-to-buy-a gift (unless that person is your boss, then you might want to get to know him a bit better- see you came for stress tips, and you get free career advice- Merry Christmas).  Make sure that you make a list before leaving the house, and yes…check it twice.
  9.         Shop during off-hours – No, I don’t mean at 3AM (that’s just insane).  I mean during weekdays from 10-3.  Take a vacation or sick day if you have to.  I discovered many years ago that the best time to shop, is when everyone else is working.  You know who I saw at the mall?  Guys.  And some stay-at-home mothers who looked far more relaxed than the general population – which is saying something considering that they are usually the ones working twice as hard.  But let me tell you, if ample parking, stocked shelves, available clerks, and short lines sound like a Christmas fantasy you would like to see-to-believe, then trust me on this.  Shop during the week, when everyone else is working.  And don’t forget to bring that list you made.
  10.      Limit your Gift-Exchanges – I know how great it feels to give.  It is one of my deepest joys.  But I have to ask myself if this is the time of year to give a gift to everyone I know.  A few years ago, my wife and I started having frank conversations with many of our circles-of-friends requesting to avoid exchanging gifts for the holidays.  We were amazed at how many of them were totally relieved to be free from the obligation.  The conversations went like this:

Us:  Hey (insert name here), we’d really love to go do (x, y, z) with you soon.  You know how hectic the holidays can be though, is it ok if we catch up once the holidays have passed.
Them:  Sure!  We’re totally swamped, too. 
Us:  Oh, and when we get together, please don’t bring any holiday gifts.  While we always appreciate everything you’ve done for us, we’d really rather you spend the money on your kids/family.  We promise we’re doing the same.  Is that cool?
Them:  Totally!

See how easy it is!  Ok, maybe that was a bit simplified, but you get the idea.  And we have never had any awkward moments with any of them during those conversations.  It has freed up time and money, and is single-handedly one of the biggest stress-relievers we have had.

Those are a few of the things that I can think of to restore sanity back to the holidays.  What do you do?  Please share your Stress-Relieving tips below.  It’s the quickest, cheapest gift you can give this Holiday Season.