How To Take Your Sweat To The Next Level: The Mind-Body Connection

 

Mindfulness and mindful practice is a force in today’s pop culture: from meditation to hygge (the Danish cultural phenomenon) to meditation apps and meditation studios, the world is pushing forward with strong momentum towards a more conscious lifestyle.

Humans are incapable of living without a functional brain; where dysfunctions in the brain can impact a person’s ability to live and lead a normal life. It’s no surprise then that muscle contraction and body movement depend and originate in the brain.

The basics to movement and muscle contraction is this: the Central Nervous System (CNS), which encompasses the spinal cord, the brain, and the nerves, is a quick communication channel that acts as the control center for movement and muscle activation.1 (Side Note: There are more complex depths to this relationship, but for my current purpose, this brief explanation is sufficient.)

The human body wouldn’t be this miraculous marvel if it didn’t have a brain and the same is true for the brain if the opposite were true. The brain’s capacity is limited to the body it belongs to. Exercise culture tends to focus a lot on aesthetic benefits, but if the body is nothing without a brain and if the brain is only limited to the body that it is in, then what’s more intriguing to understand is how exercise benefits from cognitive function and how cognitive function benefits from exercise.

A study by Duke University found that the prefrontal and frontal region of clinically depressed and older participants were enriched in an exercise-versus-medication study of 84 individuals.3 Those who exercised found improvements in memory, “as well as in executive functions pertaining to planning, organization and intellectual multitasking.” Neuroplasticity, the brain’s lifelong capacity to adapt and change, is part of the reason why this is possible. The relationship and dependency of the brain and the body are what is worth paying attention to because each plays a significant role in defining the capacity and capabilities of the other. The physiological reality is that without the brain humans are nothing.

Here’s why this is important & how this information can help you take your sweat to the next level by optimizing the mind-body connection:

1. To optimize my sweat time, I need to participate in mindful sweat sessions

As highlighted above, the body depends on the brain and the brain depends on the body. If exercise is treated as a mindless activity, where my mind is contemplating about what to wear this weekend versus staying conscious of the movements and muscles I am working, then I am falling short on optimizing on my sweat time. I am putting in the time and most of the work, but cheating myself from reaping the full benefits.

2. To optimize my sweat sessions, I need to think about the muscles being worked

It’s not necessary to know the anatomy of the whole human body, but the more I know the more it helps. Think of it like this, when I first started texting, I had to look at the keypad in order to type. After sometime typing became much more automatic. Now as I type on a touch screen, typing without looking is possible, but I am much more accurate with my texts if I look. This analogy can be applied in regards to muscle activation in exercise; especially when it comes to the more dominant muscles. Although muscle activation can happen quite automatically, especially if the exercise and movements are familiar, thinking about the muscles as I move will create better accuracy.

3. To avoid a plateau, I need to continue to stimulate my brain and my body.

Think back to when toddlers first learn how to walk. Learning how to walk was difficult for everyone. No baby came into this world knowing how to use his or her limbs. It took months of growth, months of practice, and more than a couple of tries before the mind was able to direct the body to walk.

Learning how to walk is the same as learning how to exercise correctly. We all started at zero at some point and everything needs to be learned, but once it’s learned it tends to become automatic. This is why I don’t believe in doing just one type of exercise. I am an advocate for cross-training because it is only natural for the body to adapt. If I want to optimize on challenging both my mind and my body, then I need to also challenge myself with varied types of exercise. The more unfamiliar I am with the activity, the more challenging it becomes for my body and my brain. Therapists and trainers working with older populations have even started to incorporate brain games to help improve overall reception to training.3

4. To help motivate myself to exercise, I should think about the benefits of exercise beyond aesthetics

Aesthetic gains win people’s attention, but aesthetic gains are such a small part of the real benefits of exercise. There’s what feels like an infinite list of the benefits: from physical health to mental well-being, to improved mood, and so much more! (Check out What Happened When I Added Weights and What’s To Gain With Strength Training).

In understanding the essential connection the brain has with the body, it’s easy to see why I like to place emphasis on training beyond the physical body and beyond aesthetics. The mind is a powerful tool and if we want our body to optimize on function and health, it requires more than just physical health, attention to the mind and mental stimulation is also necessary.

Resources:

1. Hargrove, Todd. “The Central Nervous System.” BETTER MOVEMENT, 2008, www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/the-central-nervous-system.

2. McGrath, Brent. “4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection!” Bodybuilding.com, 16 June 2010, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-tips-to-help-train-brain-massive-gains-mind-muscle-connection.htm.

3. Myers, Carrie. “Creating the Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.” ACE Fitness, www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1748/creating-the-ultimate-mind-body-connection%20/.

 

 

Why Emotions Impact A Change In Lifestyle

 
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The common belief is that emotions are fixed and that most human beings experience specific emotions in more or less in the same way. Paul Ekman, a leading psychologist, and pioneer to the study of emotions identified ‘core emotions’ through his research as disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, anger, and sadness. Concluding that all human beings more or less experience these pillar emotions in more or less the same way. Ekman’s conclusion is an important pivot in the study of emotions as his work was then widely accepted as the basis to how we understand emotions and therefore how the majority of researchers after him studied emotions. But, can emotions and therefore human experience be generalized this way?

In a podcast I was listening to, titled “Decoding Our Emotions” (TED Radio Hour by NPR Radio), one of the most significant revelations was learning that some cultures are absent of certain emotions. That some languages in the world do not share the same ability to identify the emotions Ekman had identified as ‘core emotions’ applicable to all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a Harvard researcher, uses the example of Tahitians, who do not have a word for sadness or Russians, who have multiple kinds of sadnesses. Being bilingual I can relate to this experience, as there are feelings in Bahasa (the language spoken in Indonesia), that aren’t translatable into English. There are feelings in which I can express in Bahasa with one word, that I must dive into an elaborate explanation for when I am trying to explain the feeling to a non-Bahasa speaker. This highlights the subjective, contextual, and cultural boundaries in which emotions are felt, expressed, and identified. This also identifies the inherent boundaries language can create, as Barrett made the point that if an emotion is not available linguistically in the mind, then such emotion will be harder to surface due to the limitation on naming that particular emotion. Barrett concludes that emotions are not universal for all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations, rather emotions are subjective and contextual.

Barrett asks an important question: “does a human brain come pre-wired with the capacity to make anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and so on...the answer is no.” What is clear is that “there’s no single objective fingerprint, single objective measure for any emotion that holds across all instances, across people, across cultures” and that emotions are experienced by how the “brain is basically making predictions, guesses, that it’s constructing in the moment with billions of neurons working together.” In other words, humans have “the kind of brain, that allows us to transmit culture by wiring the brain of the next generation to make perception and experiences in the same way that we do, and so,...  emotions are real, they're absolutely real, [but] they're real in a very situated way, because we've learned and agreed on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.”

What’s significant about the learnings from Barrett’s research is the emphasis she places on experiencing emotions based on context, an individual’s brain, and the agreement and acceptance “on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.” What then, if a person chooses to disagree? Even if there’s a collective agreement based on culture, emotions, at the end of the day, are an individual’s autonomous cognitive appropriation of their reactions to context and situations outside the mind. What comes to light is the opportunity and autonomous potential each individual has when it comes to taking control of their own emotions and how they perceive emotions in others.

In conjunction, the rise of technology and the globalization of ideas exposes people today to higher variables of contexts (i.e. culture and language). Whether it’s due to moving around, mixed-race couples, or even through a hunger for knowledge (made widely available through the internet and technology), culture and context are much more fluid today than in previous generations. The connection I see between this research is how individuals today have more opportunities to take responsibility into their own hands by having more choice about what to agree on and what gets transmitted into the wiring of their brain.The liberating truth to realize is because emotions are fluid, not fixed, and not predetermined, emotions become an opportunity for change. Further, within the climate of today’s globalized world, the potential for each individual to set the context and culture in how emotions influence their life becomes greater.

If emotions are situated and contextual, then the decisions prompted by our emotions are also situated and contextual. The life we choose to live (i.e. whether it’s in the promotion of a healthier self or lack thereof) is dependent therefore on what we’ve learned and what we chose to agree on. The emotions which arise are fluid enough for us to take control of. If exercise causes rise to negative emotions, it is in one’s autonomous capacity (and I would argue responsibility) to change perceptions within their own minds in order to improve the emotional dialogue one has to something that’s meant to better one’s life. It is clear that the responsibility sits with the individual. What’s more important to grasp is how each individual’s unique context and culture (and therefore the emotions associated with healthier choices), are in reality non-universal and autonomous. Finding an individualized approach to achieving a healthier lifestyle becomes dramatically more important. There’s no denying the role emotions play on a lifestyle change and understanding that it is in my power to shape how I experience and express my emotions is a major key to helping me further my journey towards my healthiest self because it is in my capacity to reject any negative or resistant emotion which may arise to the positive changes I wish to embark on.

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The podcast featured more than one TED speaker, but I chose to focus on Lisa Feldman Barrett’s research in order to arrive and elaborate on my own conclusions about the relevance of how we understand emotions in relation to making a lifestyle change.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

 

 

Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important

 

There’s no questioning the role drive plays in our behavior. Drive is what motivates us to take actions, it is what pushes us towards decisions, and it is the momentum towards what we desire. Drive is a foundational element to how we behave. When it comes to working out, this pattern of human behavior is no different. I need to find what drives me in order to figure out what works for me.

Every person possesses free will and an autonomous mind, so no matter how much I try, I will never be able to experience or perceive the world in exactly the same way as another. The only fact is the shared experience all of us claim to share, but there’s no way to prove the accuracy of this claim. How I experience one thing may seem similar to how another experiences the same thing, but we can never experience another’s mind in first person. The mental dwellings in which drive resides is therefore unique to each individual.  

If I am free, autonomous and unique in this world, then what drives me can never be the same with another. There may be similarities in what drives us, but the reality of human existence is that we are unique (even when we are genetically identical, such as the case of twins). Our individuality is what dictates the uniqueness of each individual’s drive.

This is why identifying what drives us is critical to our success in life, and of course, in fitness. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you driven by statistics?

Are you someone who likes to see numbers? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment if you achieved a better score in something? Does things like, cutting down your mile time or seeing the number of calories you’ve burnt after every session satisfy you?

If you’ve said yes to all of the above, then you’re probably someone who loves numbers! Whether statistics helps awaken a competitive edge or whether statistics satisfy an admiration for numbers, if you’re someone who is satisfied by comparing and seeing numbers then this attraction for statistics may be your golden ticket to a successful fitness routine.

There are plenty of gadgets, apps, and gyms out there which can help with this. In the age of technology, there’s always an option which prides itself on numbers. Whether it’s a studio who has a live feed of statistics (like F45 or Orange Theory) or whether the gadget you’re wearing is tracking your distance and calories (like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch), there’s an option for you out there. Make collecting and comparing statistics a priority. Make sure to also set numerical goals for each session.

Are you driven by how you feel?

Are you someone who doesn’t enjoy counting calories? Do you prefer running as much as you can or running at a specific time and/or distance? Does the number on the scale matter to you? Are you someone who judges their health and athleticism based on reports or numbers?

If you’ve answered against numbers and statistics, then feeling is definitely your drive. I am in this category. I am less driven by statistics and numbers. I don’t even really pay attention to my weight unless I have to. I hate counting calories and when it comes to health and fitness, my decisions are driven by how I feel.

When I run, I run as much as I can until I feel like I can’t go any further. I never count calories, I eat what I feel is right at the time. If I’ve had a bad meal or a bad weekend, I will feel sluggish, so I will eat healthier the next couple of meals. Rather than going with statistics available through so many studios, apps, and machines these days, I track my effort by feeling. Do I feel exerted or do I feel I can give more? I also almost never weigh myself, I’d rather go with how I feel in my clothes or how I feel in general.

These are signs of a person driven by feeling. If you’re like me then the way to figure out what routine is best for you is by getting in touch with how you feel before, after, and during a workout. How does running make me feel? How does circuit training make me feel? Do I feel like I have more energy in the morning or at night? Go by what you feel and try motivating yourself by feeling. Think about how amazing and accomplished you’ll feel after a workout or think about how guilty you’ll feel if you don’t work out. Make feeling a priority.

I can sense all of you out there thinking, “what if I never feel like working out?” Well at the end of the day, whether you’re driven by statistics or driven by feeling there’s still a need to take the first step. If you want to see results, if you want to live an active lifestyle, then the first step is always to do something about it. Whether it’s to run, try out a new gym, hire a personal trainer, doing on online workout at home, the options are endless, but identifying drive is what will help direct you in your choices and hopefully help you stay consistent with your routine.

 
 

Am I Enough?

 
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Confidence, positive self-image, security, and contentment in myself is something new in my life. Where I am today is not where I was even a year ago. The power self-defeating thoughts had over my mind and my life had always been the larger struggle. The negative internal dialogue was sometimes crippling and I know is damaging. Where I have arrived today on my journey is somewhere that’s liberating. It’s a space where I am happy with myself and how I am. It’s a place where I am comfortable in my own skin. Finding this comfort is why I want to share my revelations because this way of living is so much more fulfilling.

The dominant damaging thoughts which sabotaged my life were:

“I am not skinny enough.”

Those who have known me all my life will tell you that I’ve never been overweight, nor have I ever been close to being overweight. I gained around 9 kg (approx. 19 lbs) in my first year of university in the US, but I never really struggled with being overweight. Then there was a time in high school when I was scary skinny. I was about 43 kg (approx. 94 lbs) with a height of 160cm (approx. 5 ft  2 in), this was a point where my friends and even my teachers were concerned. Yes, I’ve had my share of fluctuations. What is intriguing is the fact that even with no real concern of being overweight, I used to suffer from the perpetuating thought that always told me I wasn’t skinny enough.

A lot of reading has told me that this self-defeating thought probably had something to do with experiences in my past, whether it’s personal, due to societal pressures, influence from the media, or because of certain relationships, the reasons are complex. Whatever the cause though, it is troubling to remember the demons I battled when it came to my self-image. I wasn’t physically overweight, but my thoughts were so strong in their portrayal of my body, that I always felt that I was never skinny enough.

I can laugh about it now because I’ve finally realized something really powerful. In this self-damaging thought I had, who is the ideal I was trying to be skinny for? If I kept thinking, “I am not skinny enough,” the real question should be, “but for who?”

“I am not strong enough.”

There was a time in my life where I was intimidated and immobilized by challenges. I mean who isn’t, but I had an unhealthy relationship with my fears which led me to never take action or ever be willing to put myself out there to take a risk. The honest truth is this was one of the reasons why I never tried Barry’s Bootcamp when I was in the US. After hearing about how hard the class was, I was terrified at the thought of having to go into an environment I was not familiar with and risk failure (I am laughing at how silly this seems now).

The fearful voice inside my head refused to hear the positives about the class. All my energy was focused on the worst case scenario (i.e. I embarrass myself and am unable to complete the class), which ended up stopping me from stepping into an experience which I could have enjoyed. The voice inside my head stopped me from something I might have enjoyed, even without experiencing the class or knowing the real outcome. Sounds familiar?

“I am not smart enough.”

I remember moving to a new school and really struggling, especially when I moved into middle school. I had really poor grades. Cs and Ds were my friends. I remember feeling stupid, unaccomplished, and incapable, until one day in 8th grade one teacher who believed in me and suddenly everything changed. I became a straight A student that year and even got the most improved student award. From then on, I became an above average student. What happened?

That was a really long time ago, but this experience has stuck with me because anytime my mind goes into a downward spiral of thinking that my intelligence is lacking in some way, I think back to this moment in my life and realize that it’s all in my head. I mean I can never know everything, nor can I even try to know everything so lack in knowledge is normal and of course I am not speaking about technical knowledge, but what I am focusing on here is that feeling of not being smart enough for anything. What I remind myself now is that there’s always something I can do about it. Whether it’s to find books and read up on certain things, find a friend or a person who can help fill the gaps, or in some other way take action to minimize whatever gap I feel I have; there’s always a way if we’re willing to find a way.

“I am not enough.”

I struggled with this statement a lot more before. It’s something that rears it’s head here and there even now on some occasions, but I’ve learned how to handle such thoughts. When reality kicks in I realize something simple, almost obvious, but also powerful. All these self-defeating statements and thoughts are exactly that; they’re thoughts! They’re a created and sometimes imaginary perception sitting in my mind. The power it has over myself and my life is only as strong as I allow myself to believe in these thoughts.

What’s interesting about thoughts are that no one else, but I have the power to change my thoughts. My thoughts may be influenced by external things. My thoughts may be a reaction to external things, but ultimately the final decision about what I choose to think about, how I choose to think, and what lies in my mind is in my control.

Self-defeating thoughts exist in my mind. If I choose to believe it’s true, then it will be true in my experience of myself in the world. If I choose not to believe it’s true, then it will remain false in my experience of myself in the world. It sounds simple, but this is why acquiring a strong command of my mind is such a priority in my life. The strength of my thoughts is as strong as I allow it to be. At the end of the day, I am in control.
 

 

What Is Certainty?

 
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What is life if not a constant cycle of change and unpredictable predicaments? There is never true certainty in life. What’s certain is 1 + 1 = 2, but when it comes to the determinants of events in the sequence of time in association to life, can we ever be certain of what comes next? Can we ever be certain that how I see yellow is how everyone else in this world sees the color yellow? Or does crossing the street feel the same to me, as to the person next to me? Certainty is a made up construct, whether in regards to the sequence of events within the confinements of time and space or whether in identifying an experience. When we move forward (whether physically or metaphorically), nothing is absolutely certain and that’s the beauty of life.

Walking through my day-to-day, I sometimes sit and wonder what it would be like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes. I wonder does joy and happiness feel similar between two people or are experiences of happiness exclusive to the definitions identified by an individual. If different, how different is the experience of happiness between individuals? Are the experiences dependant upon past experiences and environmental contexts? What if each individual experiences everything in entirely different ways? How then, within our human capacity, would anyone discover this distinction? How can I be certain that what I identify as happiness is exactly what someone else identifies as happiness? The truth is, no one will understand the intricacies and level of each individual's distinction of experience. Nor do I have the capacity to truly understand the consciousness of another. The acknowledgment of a shared experience is the only evidence I have to rely on, but certainty is inadmissible.

"...DO I HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF ANOTHER. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A SHARED EXPERIENCE IS THE ONLY EVIDENCE I HAVE TO RELY ON, BUT CERTAINTY IS INADMISSIBLE."

On this planet, we are made singular. Although the world has witnessed thecloning of a sheep, I side by the notion that even if genetically identical, an experience is still absolute. Meaning no two experiences are identical. An experience is experienced by an individual in a particular moment, in a very specific way that's unique to that individual's experience. Even in identical twins, how will each twin experience the world?  This also sets the stage for the debate between nature versus nurture, or maybe it is a combination of multilayered influences from both nature and nurture which shapes what we call human experience. The one thing that's certain is although explanations and observations can lend to an understanding of another's experience, the capacity to actually experience how someone else experiences the world is unachievable within current human capacities.

What I am pointing to is that I can never know whether Anna experiences eating oranges in the same way I do. I can say that we do. I can claim that I am tasting the same tastes, feeling the same sensations, and understanding different experiences in the exact same way, but I can never really truly know. Therefore, I am here to encourage every individual to take ownership of their life.

There’s no one else in this world that experiences life and the world in the same exact way as I do. There’s no one else on this earth that loves chocolate the same way I do. There’s no individual on this planet that loves yellow in exactly the same way I do. There’s no one on this living breathing planet that resembles me in the exact same way, so why let choices be held down by a world that I know doesn’t always understand everything in the same way I do? Why allow the doubtful voices of others (and maybe even my own voice in reaction to others) change the way I want to live?

This is a call to action, for myself (and hopefully for anyone reading), to stay true to the callings of the heart. This is a call to action to commit to the voice within. If there’s one thing I can boast about knowing, is the fact that I will only know how my life is and how I experience life because in truth the only thing that’s certain is that I am the only one that will experience my life and my journey.

 

The Real Power Of The Mind

 

The following commentary is part of my series of reflections after reading the incredible book The Emotional Life of The Brain by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and contributor, science journalist Sharon Begley. I am mesmerized by the profound truths discovered through Davidson’s thirty-year commitment to understanding emotions and personality through his work on the brain. What’s even more exciting (at least for myself) are the revelations which support the importance of the mind in relation to the brain.

Davidson's research agrees with a hypothesis I have always believed and try to advocate that my attention is due to how my mind operates because thought alone is enough to change how I experience the world; and even more compelling, how the brain functions. What I found so fascinating about this read is the deeper education I received in expanding my understanding of the brain.

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The newer findings in neuroscience prove just how powerful the mind is in relation to the functions of the brain. The research revealed in The Emotional Life of the Brain confirms the heightened connection between the mind and the brain. Therefore, the attention given towards the well-being of the mind is even more important as research points to the significant implications of the mind over brain function, as “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

Dated neuroscience dogma falsify the widespread understanding about the connection between the mind and the brain. The problem which has permeated through the decades is that most are uninformed of the specific advancements in this field, “the decades-old neuroscience dogma” promoted “that the adult brain is essentially fixed in form and function,” but the latest research confirms that this “is wrong.”  (The last time I learned anything about emotions – in a textbook and classroom setting, was back in high school and there was no mention on how the brain is involved because the research was dated).

What’s accurate to say is, that “the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity—our thoughts.” This is an incredible departure from the past understanding of the brain and of mental activity. The profound discovery is in how the brain is constantly able to change and adapt “throughout life.” That in itself is a riveting truth!

The adaptive capacity of the brain is illustrated by how the brains of people who were blind from birth was able to adapt, despite a lack of sight. For the blind, reading braille, “the writing system based on tiny raised dots that the fingers slide across,” is an experience which witnesses “a measurable increase in the size and activity of areas in the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex that control movement and receive tactile sensation from the reading fingers.” From the deprivation of sight, the brain adapts its functions and the blind’s “visual cortex—which is supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images—undertakes a radical career change and take on the job of processing sensations from the fingers rather than input from the eyes.” Who would’ve thought that no part of a functioning brain will go to waste despite other functional misfortunes. If it’s a working brain, it’s smart enough to adapt use its capacity for worthwhile and significant endeavors.  Even more so, the adaptive capacity of the brain is influenced by more than just sensory stimulations.

What the book goes on to clarify is how “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, our thoughts and intentions.” The example used in the book is how athletes are able to “engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike,” can cause “the regions of the motor cortex that control the required muscle [to] expand.” This is a tremendous shift in my understanding of how the brain works, because this validates the strength of the mind’s influence. Further, how much value and importance is necessary when considering my mind and how it impacts the quality of my life because, “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

If thought alone can create such an impact, then doesn’t the quality of thoughts matter more than ever. If thought alone can influence change my brain’s networking, then isn’t investing more time and energy to devote to my mind’s well-being become even more significant. Paying attention to mental health—or the health of our mind (which I feel is an underrated topic)— is paramount. Investing in our mental state is a worthwhile endeavor.

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Resource: Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

The Transformational Power of The Mind

 
Malibu & Agoura Hills, California

Malibu & Agoura Hills, California

There’s something about committing myself to making an effort on bettering myself that’s remarkably transformational.

I first encountered this phenomenon in a pretty dark period in my youth. Like a lot of teenagers, I went through a rather turbulent self-discovery period (turbulent also for my inner circle). It was a time of great self-discovery, of intense desires to retaliate, and an undying mandate to carve out who I am as an individual in the world. Yes, those days of turbulence and satisfyingly rebellious achievements back in my teenage years (probably a common experience for most) was when I learnt something very important.

Transforming my life starts with the attitude and mindset I manifest within which will then shape who I am and how I am in the world. I can’t recall what elated me to this epiphany, but from that day forward this truth has never left me as I continue to navigate this unpredictable life I live. What’s transformational was the idea that the quality of my thoughts will impact how I behave, how I speak, how I react, and how I am in the world. If I think positively, positivity is what I am returned with. If I think negatively, negativity is what I am returned with.

Awakening to this understanding and knowledge allowed me to empower myself to dig deep and force myself to think positively. In darker times, I forced myself to look optimistically at my future even if it felt hopeless at the time. In darker times, I forced fed all the positivity I can muster and handle. I told myself how wonderful life is (even if I didn't believe it quite yet). The life changing learning was realizing I was in control.

I realized that no matter how I was or how my mind reacted, life will keep moving forward. The world is not going to check in on how I am doing, the world isn’t going to tell me what I allow into my mind. The world will keep going and time will not stop.

The moment I committed my mind to a positive and optimistic attitude was life changing. A lesson which has stayed with me all these years and one that has taught me never to let my life slump so low. I am the owner of my mind. No matter how I react or what I think about life will keep moving forward, the world keeps going, and time will never stop. The world will never pause to console me. It’s about the choices I make about how I react to the world and how I think about it, which will manifest into the life I live (even if it means force feeding positivity from time to time).

 

The Danger on Focusing on Yourself (I Rarely Hear About)

 
Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Working on yourself is a great thing, but when focusing on the ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘Mine,’ don’t forget about the people around. Remember to continue to love, care, and set time for others too, especially with friends and loved ones.

It is a hard pill to swallow when my imperfections are highlighted. It’s normal to go into self-denial and maybe even anger or feel insulted when someone feeds me a dose of truth about myself that I don’t like to hear. It’s hard to sit still and take it in, especially if I am in the mindset of the victim and in the mindset of being attacked. Naturally, if any living thing feels like they’re being attacked or threatened, our innate instinct is to protect ourselves; even plants have immune systems to protect against pathogens and bacteria. It is in our instinct to protect ourselves in the way we see fit.

Here’s where my hard truth hit me. If I take the time to consider the perspective of the other person, if I take the time to see things through another’s circumstance and place myself in their shoes, then I will realize and empathize with the truth of their circumstance and how they are experiencing things. Coming out of denial is an incredibly hard but humbling task, especially when leaving denial meant facing my ugly truth and admitting I was wrong.

In my experience, it is important to realize where these truths are coming from. If it’s said by a negative person or an enemy of some sort, there’s probably little truth to what they are saying. But, in my case, when I paid attention to the source of my truths, these truths were said by those who love me most. Accepting these truths was my wake up call.

In my precision and focus to find happiness in myself, to improve myself and my life, I had completely lost myself in the ‘I,’ the ‘My’ and my world of ‘Me.’ I neglected to take notice of everyone else around me. I didn’t even considered what their experience was like on the other side. It was about what I want, how I’m feeling, how I’m doing, and nothing about what they want, how they're feeling, and how they're doing. There is a level of danger in magnifying the self and here is my reminder to myself.

Everyone has problems of some kind or another, everyone has a world of considerations, thoughts, emotions, plenty of experience, suffering, and unexpected turns thrown at them, so don’t think for once that I am the only one going through something because I am not. Especially when going through something with others, remember to look up, look around, and consider what other people are going through or what they are experiencing because maybe listening to what others are going through and finding the shared experience in whatever it is I am dealing with is where happiness in myself, happiness in relationships, and happiness in this world is found.

 

 

Life Is Full of Imperfections

 
Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Living in a world where we are bombarded with messages, visuals, and the demands for perfection, it is easy to forget that nothing in this world is actually perfect and that all things are imperfect in one way or another. If we observe the world truthfully, we will see that reality is far from perfection and that the world is inhabited by imperfection.

If life was perfect, change becomes unnecessary. If life was perfect, there will be no reason to grow, learn, or improve. What is even perfection if in absence of that which is imperfect?

Life is imperfect for a reason. Imperfection rewards me with the space to continue to strive for better. Imperfection leaves me room for change, to better myself and my situation. Life is not static.  

In the acknowledgement and acceptance of imperfection, what I am left with is a decision about how to interact with the imperfection. If my imperfections take form in a mistake, then what are the steps I take now in realizing my imperfections.

What's important in life; which I seem to lose sight of, especially in troubling times, in the face of challenges, or when encountering pain, is accepting the reality of the imperfect world we live in. Imperfection is what makes me human and it is what makes the world unique. Mistakes are part of the standards of imperfection. Mistakes is what can catalyze positive change. Mistakes is what can help me accomplish my mission towards the best version of myself. 

Whether mistakes were made, whether wrongs happened, whatever my past holds, there’s no way to change what has happened. Imperfection is a reality to embrace, as perfection in this world is impossible. Even with the conflicting messaging culture and society glorifies, being a perfect human all the time in all situations is an impossible task. The good news is there’s a lifetime of opportunities to improve from the wrongs of the past.

 

What Self Work Is Like

 
Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Self work (or working on yourself) is easier said than done but to me it is about making a conscious commitment to myself, to devote my energies to my well-being, and to strive towards a goal to develop myself in the best way possible. I believe self-work takes a level of isolation as I am the only person in this world who is truly in touch with my own self and if my goal is to arrive at the best version of myself, most of the work I do for this journey should be done alone.

I aim to get to know myself as much as I can so that how I value myself, how I see myself, and how I think about myself is not dependent on other people. The extreme is where I am completely confident in myself and are so sure of who I am, that no one and nothing can change how I see myself; but of course this is an unhealthy extreme if attained. The people around me, my ever changing circumstances, and my ever evolving life should make different impacts along the way, whether positive or negative. My main objective here is to remember to look inwards amongst the commotion in order to have the space to develop myself authentically as an individual.

My aim is to get to a level of certainty and confidence in my own self, to a point where I know what is right and what is wrong devoid of the people and circumstances around me. What I want is to be able to stay true to who I am as an individual despite what the world throws at me. I liken this goal to an immovable water buoy, I may sway with the currents and be changed by the winds but no matter how turbulent or strong they pass through, my core values, vision, and self remains.

I don’t believe there’s a way to short change this, if I want to know myself, I must know who I am when I am alone. I must understand what drives me, what discourages me, what distracts me, what brings me a sense of adventure, or as simple as what do I want to do in my spare time. Sure, I can learn a whole lot from friendships and relationships by understanding how I am in the context of others, but I see these learnings from others as indicators not as what defines who I am.

What I think is paramount is to first understand myself without the disruption of the needs, wants, and desires of others. Only then can I give back in a healthy way into my friendships and relationships, which are crucial to our very human need for social connections.