Learn To Love Yourself

With such a strong emphasis on achievement, accumulation, and recognition in our society, we can easily become discouraged or disappointed with who or what we perceive ourselves to be, especially in how we stack up in the “pecking order” with those around us. That's why it is more important than ever that you learn to love yourself and recognize that the relationship you have with yourself is more important than any other.

Being happy with ourselves is a choice that each of us can make every day by taking simple and practical steps to develop habits of happiness. It starts with creating an environment to work and live in that reduces our stress and work load and brings order and ease, making our work and our living easier.

This uplifting environment can also provide us the experience of soothing tranquility rather than focusing on the disorder and chaos that often defines the working and living environments we find ourselves in.

Cleaning out desk drawers, closets, discarding excess, and re-defining what is important to keep and what feels good to get rid of is a first step to creating a peaceful and happy living or working space. Creating an environment that truly resonates with our values is like building an oasis in the desert. By eliminating the need to accumulate more and more “things” around us, we can unburden ourselves in creating a more orderly, relaxing, and peaceful space to live and work in.

This is also true with friends and acquaintances. Just like with material things, we can also accumulate unnecessary or unwanted relationships that can make demands on our time and energy and often insert negativity or sap our physical or financial resources. Clearing out the toxic or unhealthy relationships we may have can bring personal renewal and further our sense of happiness and contentment.

Take the time to appreciate family. For most of us, there are few individuals who have done more for us than our family members. This includes anyone and everyone in our family who support us, are there when we need them, and provide a “safe harbor” throughout our lives.

Losing loving family members can be devastating but no more so than when we fail to appreciate them as they are helping us along life’s bumpy road. By taking time to give back and express our gratitude to those who care and nurture us will not only bring them pleasure and a sense of being appreciated, but it will give us a reminder of how loved and cared for we are, allowing us to feel more content and happy with being who we are. This reminds you to stop and love yourself too.

 

For more information about this topic you can access a free excerpt from the bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.changingbehavior.org.

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The Heart: More Than Just A Pump

There is little question that the heart is a muscular pump that transports nutrient-rich blood throughout the body. This function is, however, just a physical aspect of what the heart does and what influences its function. As with all of our organs and systems, the heart is affected by five specific components: (1) physical (2) emotional (3) nutritional-biochemical (4) environmental and (5) worldview (spiritual).

Beyond The Pump

The first popular books to explore these aspects of the heart’s function include:  Heart and Soul by Bruno Cortis, M.D. and The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearsall, Ph.D. These two highly recommended books offer varying perspectives and insightful information on the heart beyond its role as a pump.

Pearsall’s book explores in depth the emotional function of the heart and its “L” energy. Pearsall describes and clearly explains the impact loving has on a heart that loves. He also explores the effect this love exerts on the recipient of the heart’s “L” energy.  His presentation on the human heart’s independent electrical system (also known as the atrioventricular bundle) gives us an understanding of how the individual heart muscle has an emotional life of its own.

Cardiovascular Research

The current research on cardiovascular disease contains a surprising body of information. It shows that the single greatest factor affecting your chances of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease is not high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, a diet high in sodium or fat, a type A personality, anger, or rage.

Instead, as reported in the Science News Journal, the statically-documented, single most predictive factor of death by heart malfunction is: hopelessness. And it has been shown that stroke risk in women is also significantly linked to hopelessness.

What About The Broken Heart?

Broken heartedness occurs when the heart’s desire has been thwarted or eliminated and the heart is left without hope of fulfilling its desire. It’s been said: “Where there is life there is hope.” But without hope, our dreams perish and our heart breaks.

Although lifestyle elements like exercise, a healthy diet, weight control and having a purpose in life are all part of being heart healthy, it now appears that the primary, most important factor is keeping hopes alive and not giving up on our dreams. Without them, we lose our purpose and the joy for living.

The Power of Hope

A healthy heart is a hopeful heart. When you smile, you cannot be sad or hopeless. Prove this to yourself. Think a horrible thought, then really smile and see if you can think that same thought while you are smiling. You can’t.

When we smile, we tell the heart and brain that life is good and worth living. As the saying goes: “Be happmy be healthy.” When we have fulfilling and successful relationships, our hearts experience the “L” energy we all desire.

Our relationships provide us the L-energy we require; we need to nurture and cultivate the best relationships we can.

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Learning To Forgive

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves that helps us live more peace-filled, healthier lives.It has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, increase self-confidence, improve relationships, and decrease stress. It may also reduce physical symptoms of illness, decrease heart disease and increase immune function. There are many excellent books on the subject to assist with and facilitate the process of forgiving the unforgiveable.

Healing Power

Dr. Luskin is the author of the book Forgive for Good, and a world renowned researcher on the subject of forgiveness. His scientific studies demonstrate the healing power and health benefits from the process of forgiving others for actual or perceived transgressions against us or those we love. Dr. Luskin was the lead researcher on a study in Ireland that included individuals from both sides of Northern Ireland’s civil war. These individuals had all lost a loved one due to this civil conflict. 

In his groundbreaking book, “Forgive for Good”, he outlines what forgiveness is—and, what it is not:

  • “Forgiveness is for you and not the offender”
  • “Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you”
  • “Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel”
  • “Forgiveness is a trainable skill – just like learning to throw a ball”
  • “Forgiveness is a choice”
     
  • “Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness or poor behavior”
  • “Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful has happened”
  • “Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender”
  • “Forgiveness does not mean giving up your feelings”

Learning to forgive starts with understanding the true nature of forgiveness.So then what does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means being willing to find new ways to experience “justice” and to choose not to be victimized by other’s choices or actions.

A New Perspective

It can also mean experiencing an event from a different perspective, which allows us to reclaim our life from the depths of our suffering, loss or despair. This leads to the recognition that while people can do the unimaginable, much of what we experience in our lives is perceived hurt of rejection that causes us not to forgive another. Perceieved meaning that the hurt we feel might not have been intended. 

 

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The Root Of All Misunderstandings

When couples are asked what in their relationship makes them feel fulfilled, the answer is inevitably that they feel “understood and cared about." Contrary to what many believe, misunderstandings are not the real problem in our relationships. It is not the misunderstanding that creates bad feelings and unhappiness in relationships, but rather not feeling that the person care most deeply about doesn’t understand who we are and what we are feeling.

In order to feel loved, we must experience that others understand us and regard us as good and valuable human beings. If our significant others do not understand or get who we are and how we feel, we are left with a feeling of being misunderstood. It can also lead to feeling alone because only someone who truly knows us can truly love us for who we actually are.

When we are in a relationship, we do not want to continually explain ourselves to another person, or justify our values, beliefs or the choices we make. If, after a time, that person cannot be present with us, listening and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, the relationship quickly deteriorates. This is why one of the important focal points in good couples counseling is learning what is called “active listening.”

Being present

The main purpose of active listening is to let your partner know that you are truly listening to them and that you are really “present” to them as well – meaning that they have our full attention. And by giving them our full attention, we can more authentically understand how they feel and what their point of view and opinions are about the important discussions that make up all relationships.

A key component of active listening is reflecting back to the other person what we understand they were communicating to us, so that we can be sure that we understand and not misinterpret their communication. When we do this, we ask questions to clarify, such as “Are you saying that you were upset that I did not go to your aunt’s house for dinner on Sunday, even though you had said it didn’t matter if I went or not?

By working together so that the listening partner and the speaking partner both understand that clarifying their understanding of what is being communicated and also participating in active communication as well as active listening, the relationship can take on a greater depth, intimacy and fulfillment.

Effective communication is always the key to avoiding misunderstanding and nurturing any good relationship.

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The Connection Between Brain Function, Behavior, And Your Emotions

There are three parts of the human brain, referred to as the "triune brain." Paul D.MacLean, an early research director for the National Institute of Mental Health, postulated the Triune Brain Theory. It states that the human brain is a product of three stages of evolution and is actually three separate brains that have evolved into one brain over long periods of time.

Three Parts

The first section [the lowest portion of the brain] is comprised of the top part of the spinal cord, the medulla oblongata, the pons, and the cerebellum. MacClean calls this “the reptilian brain.” As he stated, “at its base [the human brain] was a variation in the elaboration of the reptilian brain."

The limbic system [located in the mid-portion of the brain] states MacClean, "was an elaboration of the new mammalian brain from the Jurassic period". He termed it the "mid-brain" or the neo-mammalian brain (new mammal).

The upper most and largest part of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, encompasses our logic centers, our "intellect." MacClean termed this portion "the neo-cortex" (new cortex).

Fundamental Behavior

The Reptilian or "vegetable brain" [recall the autonomic nervous system functions], is fundamentally concerned with homeostasis, which is involved in regulating all of the body functions that allow each of us to be human, get up every day, and live our lives. If you do not have a well-functioning lower brain, if you have a tumor, if you have a trauma, if you’re in an accident, if something happens to your brainstem, you may no longer have the capacity to control the day to day homeostatic functions to maintain your life.

Interpreting Information

Embedded inside the Limbic System is a structure identified as the Reticular Activating System, which has pathways as well as neurons traveling throughout the lower brain, up through the medulla oblongata, across the Limbic System, and into the Neo-Cortex or the "thinking brain".

The Limbic System and Reticular Activating System interpret sensory motor messages that are "incoming" from the person's environment. It is in this portion of the brain that we not only interpret the "incoming stimuli and information," but we also select methods for survival and adaptation.

Here is where it gets exciting to put the anatomy and physiology of brain function and the psychology of personality together!

Putting It All Together To Survive

We know the neo-cortex is our thinking, intellectual brain – our "smart brain" – and most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually yet they are emotionally dysfunctional in the extreme. Our thinking brain would presume that being "smart" or intellectually capable would exercise dominion over one's emotions, however, the missing piece of information here is that our emotions actually are a survival adaptation mechanism that each of us individually develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning. Nothing is more powerful in the human being than its drive to survive! Hence, our emotions win the day in the battle between thinking and feeling.

It is critically important for each of us to understand that our emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first 0-5 years of our development. Our familial "input" taught us, as did Pavlov with his dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers.

Your Brain And Relationships

This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by the thought process, as the thought process for humans is the "newest" component to our primordial brain. It is in the adaptive portion of our brain where we form our "personality" and where we become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

When we understand the possibility that the interpersonal issues that frustrate us may come not from "being difficult" or having "bad intent" but rather from our drive to survive and our interpretation of the stimulation and environment we were conditioned by, then we can begin to be "kinder and gentler" towards ourselves and others.

In summary, our emotions are the way we learn to live and survive in our world. We cannot "think them" into changing, but we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives.

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The Value Of Truly Listening

Listening to another person lets them know that you value what they have to say and what they think or feel. All people want to be listened to, and sometimes it is the only thing they really want from us. The most precious gift we can give to another person is our full attention – looking at them and sincerely listening to what they have to say. 

The Joy Of Being Heard

We have all had the experience of being listened to by others. The more sincerely and attentively they have listened, the more valued we feel. This is an essential human need to be listened to and to know that our contributions are valued by others.

When Problems Arise

Not being listened to and not being valued in this essential way is the cause of many problems in relationships of all kinds. From couples, to work, to family and children, we see that when people do not take the time to nurture their relationships with mindful, present listening – the relationship declines.

A prime example of this is when we first begin a romantic relationship and we listen to every word our beloved is saying. You can see the same couple out at dinner 5-10 years later, sitting across the table from each other with nothing left to say. This is because the essential communication between the two of them has been damaged.

An Easy Solution: Listen Closely

We damage these relationship communications when we stop listening to the other person but rather think about what we want to say next or what matters to us rather than providing quality attention to them. As a relationship professional, I can share with you that if you want to make just one change in your relationships to truly improve and enhance them, start by listening to the other person. Look them in the eyes and let them know you are there, being present to what they have to say.

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Why Do We Need Emotions?

Most of us perceive the brain as serving “thinking” or intellectual functions. A person often thinks of his or her personality as what is going on “from the neck up.” In fact, several parts of the brain — not just the thinking cortex — contribute to who a person is and how their personality is formed. 

The Cortex Of Survival

The cortex is what we refer to as the smart brain. Most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually, yet they are emotionally dysfunctional almost in the extreme. We often presume erroneously that the thinking brain should be “smart” enough to exercise dominion over emotions.

However, the missing piece of information here is that emotions actually are a survival-adaptation mechanism that each of us develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning. Some of us learn to be assertive or aggressive in our environments. Others may learn to become passive or try to become invisible to stay safe and secure.

Nothing is more powerful in a human being than the drive to survive. Hence, emotions win the day in the battle between thinking and feeling. It is helpful to understand that emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first five years of development.

More Input

Our familial input taught us, as Ivan Pavlov taught his dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers. This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by the thought process; the thought process for humans is the newest component to the primordial brain. The survival adaptive portion of the brain is where the personality forms and where people become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

Relationships And Conditioning

Frustrating interpersonal issues may come from the drive to survive and the interpretation of the stimulation and environment that conditioned us, rather than from being difficult or having bad intent. Understanding that can allow a person to begin to be “kinder and gentler” toward himself and others.

In summary, emotions enable us to live and survive in our world. We cannot think them into changing. However, we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives. We can also explore techniques that allow us to have greater control over our emotions.

For a free chapter download of the award-winning bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills, visit: http://www.changingbehavior.org

Transforming Our Relationships with Easy to Learn, Proven Communication Skills

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All of us, from time to time, identify things about how we behave that we would like to change. Changing our behavior is very difficult because it is the result of the many learned responses we develop as soon as we come into the world. There is research today suggesting that conditioning that can begin even in the womb.

How we learn to adapt to our environment, what outside events or stimulation feels safe or threatening, how we view the world we live in, what our beliefs and values are, and so forth all play a role in how we learn to behave towards ourselves and others. These factors also influence how we learn to communicate.

The variations of how each of us learns to adapt in the world around are most noticeable when we are in relationships with others. What behaviors each of us bring to a relationship determines how well, or not, we are able to work together, live together or love together.

An example of how our conditioning impacts our relationships is seen in how couples relate to each other and get along before and after having children together. It is often, after the children come along, that the couple begins to have conflicts which stem from how each of the individuals was raised, what values they have, or what they believe is best for raising a healthy or successful child.

While it is inevitable that we do have conflicts with others because we are uniquely different and uniquely conditioned individuals, there are easy to learn, proven communication skills that we can all apply to any of our relationships to make them more fulfilling and positive for both ourselves and others.

A basic and simple skill that we can all apply to our very next encounter to improve our communications with others is putting aside the ongoing conversation in our mind, our concerns of the moment, or what we want to say next, and focusing completely on the individual in front of us and what they are  sharing with us. Being fully present to another person shows them that you value and respect them and that you are sincerely interested in what they are feeling, thinking and communicating with you.

We all want to be valued and in our fast paced, electronic-communication world having another person look at us directly while we speak, respond to us with smiles, head nodding or other gestures that let us know they are listening, without their speaking or interrupting us is a wonderfully validating experience that uplifts both ourselves and the person who is generous enough to give such affirming attention.

If you would like more information on how to make your relationships more rewarding and successful through easy-to-learn, proven communication skills, you can download a free chapter from my book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with East to Learn, Proven Communication Skills by going to www.changingbehavior.org

Our Love Affair with Pets

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In an economy that has been reeling in double digit unemployment and unending home foreclosures, the last thing you would expect is that last year we spent a collective 50 billion dollars on our pets. Even more surprising is the fact that this figure represents an 8 billion dollar increase in the last 3 years, during one of the worst US economic downturns.

Pet Care Costs

It is easy to imagine that this information must be a mistake as this represents more money now being spent on pets in the United State than the gross national product for all but 64 countries around the world. A staggering 25 billion of those dollars was spent on pet health care and medicines. These are out of pocket dollars for services not covered by insurance. Maybe the healthcare reformers could learn a thing or two from this data.

Over the last 5 years, pets have grown in popularity, and so has the value we place on them. The 2011 American Pet Products Association (APPA) survey reported that an astounding 62% of all American households have a pet living with them. Americans have come to view and treat their pets in human terms, providing them with everything from designer clothes and jewelry, gourmet pet foods, corrective dental braces and even plastic surgery to improve a pet’s self-esteem.

Pets With Human Responsibilities 

While the pet product industry is doing a brisk business, the majority of pets today share beds or sleeping quarters in their households and are treated as beloved family members. It can even fall to the family pet to hold a family together through difficult times. The shared custody of pets after divorce is now commonplace.

But what fuels our passion to treat our animal friends as humans?  What does it suggest about what may be missing in our human relationships that we are ever increasingly treating our animal companions better than our extended family members or even our partners or spouses?

One of my students recently shared that she had given her mother a puppy for her birthday last year. The student did so because she knew her mother and father’s relationship was emotionally distant and, as a result, the mother was away from the home a great deal. She hoped the puppy would keep her around more often and that would help the relational rift of the parents.

At first, the mother didn’t want the pet and looked to place it elsewhere. In a very short time, the pet became the center of the mother’s life. She home cooked or prepared all of the dog’s meals, and she took it for acupuncture treatments every two weeks for a minor leg injury. The dog has a groomer, trainer, nutritionist and is currently interviewing for a doggie play group. The mother was around the home more often but now placed her whole focus and most of her time on caring for the pet.

What about this woman’s relationship with the husband? The student reported that her mother and father are civil to one another but there is no warmth or affection between them, unlike the unconditional and extravagant love the mother lavishes on the pet. Is it safer to love a pet rather than deal with the disappointment, conflicts and hard work of achieving a loving relationship with those closest to us?

Missing Relationships

Am I suggesting that loving our pets is wrong? Absolutely not–my family is blessed with not only a fabulous Maltese canine but also a yard full of llamas, sheep, horses and goats. Our pets are important to us. Pets enhance psychological and physical well being. They love us, heal us and help us live longer.

Numerous studies demonstrate the healing power of pets. A Perdue University study demonstrated that when seniors face traumas or other adversity, the affection received from their pets and the bond between them helps prevent depression and loneliness. Animals provide emotional support, which is an essential component for health and healing. There is a long list of health benefits from the companionship of animals.

But are we going overboard? The American Pet Product Manufacturers Association (APPMA) estimates that this year millions of pet owners will purchase a Valentine's gift for their pet, spending an average of $17 for the gift. Consumers will also spend an average of $6.30 on friends, $4.97 on classmates and teachers, and $3.41 on co-workers. What does this tell us? Maybe that we feel emotionally safer to love our pets or that perhaps it is less work and less vulnerable to love our pets than to develop close relationships with most of the humans we interact with on a daily basis.

Our pets love us unconditionally. They listen to us, don’t complain or express disappointment in who we are. They provide companionship without the politics or agenda of most human relationships.  They accept our love and affection the way we to give it and best of all–they happily return it. This is a wonderful thing, if it does not become a substitute for intimate human relationships. Emotional intimacy with others of our breed is critical to good health.

Emotional And Spiritual Intimacy 

We are complex beings who require physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy with others. Social networking has become the way we communicate and “do” relationships. These days it is often over e-mail and text messages that we are starting relationships or ending them, sharing major life events–even proposing marriage. The intimate contact with other human beings from even 10 years ago, before the dominance of the internet and cell phones, is being replaced in large part by our pets.

To achieve balance and wholeness in our lives, we need to keep an eye on how we allow technology, and the maddening pace of modern life, to cut us off from one another, create fear and competition that robs us of the beauty and fulfillment of intimate and loving human relationships.

Our pets can be an essential part of the fabric of our lives, but in the end our challenge and our hope is to develop human relationships within which we can share, exchange, empower and enoble one another to make our lives and the lives of others more rewarding and fulfilling. 

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Forgive For Your Own Good

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We read and hear that forgiving is something we need to do for others, and that when we forgive others it allows us to let go of feelings of anger and resentment. There are now numerous studies that show when we forgive others, the biochemistry of letting go of the negative feelings we have carried around with us has the power to transform our own health and sense of inner peace.

In the daily news, we see the most unthinkable and unimaginable events occurring. We see people who harm and kill others, parents who violate and abuse their own children, and even children that murder their own parents. For most of us it is difficult to forgive even benign insults and events in our relationships (such as a rejection or slight), let alone something of horrible tragedy. The thought that a victim of such cruel violence could let go of a grievance against another person who has perpetrated such acts seems impossible.

The Danger Of Holding A Grudge

However, what science is now demonstrating is that the simple act of “holding a grudge” against another person can create chronic long term stress with accompanying feelings of anger and frustration. This chronic emotional and physical response to a perceived hurt or insult can lead us to become sick and even develop ongoing, chronic disease states such as hypertension, asthma or digestive problems.

The use of the term “perceived insults” or wounding is intentional. This is because while there are people in the world who do unimaginably horrible things to others, much of what we experience in our lives is a perceived hurt of rejection that causes us not to forgive another.

What Is Forgiveness?

In 2000, as a result of a lecture arranged at a hospital I worked at, I had the privilege to meet Fred Luskin, PhD, founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, and hear him present his work and research on the subject of forgiveness. Dr. Luskin is the author of the book Forgive for Good, and a world renowned researcher on the subject of forgiveness. His scientific studies demonstrate the healing power and health benefits from the process of forgiving others for either actual or perceived transgressions against ourselves, or to those we love.

Dr. Luskin was the lead researcher on a study in Ireland, which included individuals from both sides of Northern Ireland’s civil war. These individuals had all lost a loved one due to the country's civil conflict. In his groundbreaking book, Forgive for Good, he outlines what forgiveness is—and, what it is not:

“Forgiveness is for you and not the offender”
“Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you”
“Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel”

“Forgiveness is a trainable skill – just like learning to throw a ball”
“Forgiveness is a choice”

“Forgiveness is not condoning unkindness or poor behavior”
“Forgiveness is not forgetting that something painful has happened”

“Forgiveness does not mean reconciling with the offender”
“Forgiveness does not mean giving up your feelings”

So then what does forgiveness mean? Forgiveness means being willing to find new ways to experience “justice” and to choose not to be victimized by other’s choices or actions. It can also mean experiencing an event from a different perspective, which allows us to reclaim our life even from the depths of our suffering, loss or despair.

The Benefits

Forgiveness has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, increase hopefulness, decrease anger, increase self-confidence, enhance relationships, decrease stress and physical symptoms of illness, decrease heart disease and increase immune function. Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves that helps us live more peace-filled, healthier lives. There are many excellent books on the subject to assist with and facilitate the process of forgiving what seems to be the unforgiveable.