The Scientific Benefits of Awe

The Scientific Benefits of Awe

Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”

This quote highlights the importance of awe, that feeling you get when you are overwhelmed by the beauty of a mountain, the miracle of birth, or a spiritual insight. You know the feeling is a good one, but you don’t quite understand it. It’s a feeling that can bring goosebumps, tears, or feelings of euphoria.

Interestingly, awe has increasingly become the subject of scientific research because of its benefits for us on both an individual and group level. For example, research has shown that experiencing awe can have a positive impact on our health; specifically, it’s linked with lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. (Sustained high levels of cytokines are associated with poorer health such as depression, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes.)

And when it comes to emotional health, awe is also a natural stress-reliever. It expands our sense of time, and makes us less prone to impatience. Research has also shown that people who experience awe on a regular basis are more inclined to be generous to strangers. In one study, students who had the awe-inspiring experience of spending a short period of time looking up at some majestic trees were more likely to help someone who had a minor accident than other students who had been looking at a building. The researchers argued that awe fills us with a feeling of connection to others.

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4 Ways to Use Your Body to Boost Your Mood

4 Ways to Use Your Body to Boost Your Mood

By now, most of us have heard so much about the mind-body connection that there’s no question that the choices we make about how we use our bodies affect other aspects of our lives. For example,

In this latest article that I wrote for MindBodyGreen, I explore some additional interesting research about how paying attention your gait, facial expressions, and posture can have an impact on your emotional well-being.  They’re some really simple tips to apply that can make your life significantly better. Check them out!


Have you ever seen someone practically skipping down the sidewalk, exuding absolute joy? Did you ever think to yourself Wow, that person’s life must be great? Did you ever wish you had some of whatever that person possessed?

While it would be reasonable to assume that these Mary Poppins types of individuals are just naturally happy people who happen to show it in their enthusiastic walks, a research study out of Queen’s University shows that things could also work the other way around: the way people walk could also have a role in affecting their moods.

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5 Mental Strategies to Boost Your Confidence

5 Mental Strategies to Boost Your Confidence

This is my second article in MindBodyGreen, a fabulous website full of tips to live an inspired and fulfilled life. I hope you enjoy it!

 You know you could achieve so much more in your life if only you had more self-confidence.

You would listen to that nagging urge to start your own business. Or, perhaps you would get up the gumption to approach that handsome stranger you always see at the coffee shop. Or, maybe you would speak up more at parties and in meetings.

You’ve tried time and again to talk yourself into having more confidence, yet, despite all the affirmations you recite, there’s something in you that doesn’t quite believe them.

Luckily, there are research-based strategies that will help you get to the root of the thinking patterns that undermine you. Here are some tips to get you well on your way to a more positive view of yourself.

1. Challenge your self-talk.

A lot of times we respond to our thoughts as if they’re gospel truth, without ever questioning them. To fix this, start observing how you talk to yourself. Then take on the role of scientist. Being as objective as possible, question whether what you’re saying to yourself is really true. And, if you hear yourself saying “always” or “never,” that’s a warning sign that you’re probably not taking the whole picture into account. 

For example, if you say to yourself, “I’m always terrible at making small talk,” think about examples that disprove that. What about the way you chatted with the barista in the morning? How about your morning drive-bys with your co-worker? As you start to notice instances that disprove the ways you discredit yourself, you’ll develop a more accurate, well-rounded view of yourself.

 

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One Simple Strategy That Will Help You Accomplish Your Goals

One Simple Strategy That Will Help You Accomplish Your Goals

Have you ever set a goal for yourself, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, enthusiastic about what pulling it off will do for you?

 

Maybe you decide you’re going to meditate every night. Or you commit to eat more fruits and vegetables. Or, perhaps you  promise yourself to spend an hour every day writing your great American novel.
 
You take your first steps toward the goal, proud of your accomplishments, delighted that you’re becoming the version of yourself that you always envisioned you would be.
Then, all of a sudden, without warning, it fizzles out. 

 

Instead of meditating you’re watching trashy reality television. Fruits and vegetables are replaced with processed snacks. Novel-writing time is replaced with Facebook stalking.
You’re not alone.
 
 
As most of us know, developing new habits can sometimes be surprisingly difficult. However, luckily there’s one easy strategy that can help you to accomplish your goals.
It’s called self-monitoring. 

 

As the name would suggest, it simply involves monitoring how you’re progressing towards a goal by tracking it in some way. So, whether you keep a written log in a notebook, use an app to assist you, or make a checkmark on a calendar, research shows that recording your desired behavior increases your odds of accomplishing your goal. It’s deceptively simple, but incredibly effective.

How does self-monitoring work? 

 

If, for example, you set a goal to meditate every day for fifteen minutes, you’ll increase your chances for success if you hang up a calendar in a conspicuous location and document each day that you engage in your practice.

Or, if you want to be kinder, taking time each evening to write down your acts of kindness for the day will increase your odds of developing that aspect of your personality.

Or, if you decide you want to finish a self-study course in a certain time frame, you’ll be more likely to do it if you map it out on your smart phone calendar, set reminders for yourself, and mark off each completed lesson on a chart you place on your bulletin board.

So, why does the act of tracking a behavior and comparing it to a goal you’ve set for yourself increase your odds of success?  

 

First, self-monitoring helps to keep your goal top of mind. After all, if you are diligently logging your progress, it’s pretty hard to forget about the commitment you made to yourself.

Second, self-monitoring helps keep you accountable. So, if you are assuming you’re consuming 1,500 calories a day, but your calorie counter tells you that your fast food lunch used up 1,200 of those calories, self-monitoring will make you all too aware of how the choices you make are affecting your progress. (Plus, knowing that you’ll have to enter that gargantuan hamburger into your log can act as a deterrent from eating it in the first place).

In a related vein, self-monitoring helps guard against denial. If you feel like you’re putting a bunch of work into your new business venture, but your work log shows you’ve only put in 3 hours for the past two weeks, you’ll be busted, and know you need to put in more time towards your goal.

Finally, self-monitoring gives you immediate gratification when you’re doing well. For example, when you see a week of smiley faces on your calendar for hitting 10,000 steps on your pedometer each day, you’ll get a boost of pride for the good job you’re doing.

 

So, set yourself a clear goal, and start measuring!

 

And, if you really want to boost your chances for success, share your goals with others.  The additional encouragement or “peer pressure” associated with knowing that others will see whether or not you are doing what you have committed to do, will provide additional motivation to follow through.

Have you ever tried self-monitoring? How did it work for you? Share your experiences in the comments!
Stressed Over Your Start-Up Business? Read This!

Stressed Over Your Start-Up Business? Read This!

 

We’ve all heard the stories of start-ups that had their origins in dorm rooms or garages and are now publicly-traded companies that are raking in billions. The possibility of similar success can lure many people into trying their hands at creating their own companies and going after their dreams. And, being an entrepreneur can be a highly rewarding experience – it gives you the opportunity to follow your passions, be your own boss, and set your own schedule. It also provides you with valuable challenges that allow you to use your strengths, stretch yourself in ways you may not have anticipated, and become incredibly resourceful.

However, the truth is, the path from taking the first step of hanging out your shingle to raking in millions can sometimes be a long and arduous journey. As a result, self-doubt, anxiety, and stress are issues with which many entrepreneurs deal. Therefore, learning how to manage the uncertainty associated with getting a business off the ground is a valuable skill for all entrepreneurs to ensure they maintain a sense of well-being.

Recently, I was featured in an article in Madame Noire in which I addressed this very issue.  If you are an entrepreneur, or are considering becoming one, I suggest you read this article that provides some helpful tips for dealing with the frustrations associated with launching a business.

Click here to read more.
Want to Make a Good Experience Great? Share It!

Want to Make a Good Experience Great? Share It!

About ten years ago, I noticed that everywhere I turned, I was met with pictures of lean and beautiful celebrities, strolling in their designer yoga pants, carrying their environmentally-friendly yoga mats, looking impossibly serene despite the sea of paparazzi through which they had to walk to get to their yoga class.  “I want that!” I declared to myself, and purchased several yoga videos to practice at home.

I know these videos work for some people (my sister has done them religiously for years), but for some reason, I just couldn’t get into them. Within about ten minutes, I was impatiently checking out the clock, wondering how much longer I would have to do sun salutations or struggle through downward dog. After a few weeks, I got tired of forcing myself to do the videos, and abandoned them altogether.

Six years later, I watched the movie version of one of my favorite books, “Eat, Pray, Love” and was swept away yet again by Elizabeth Gilbert’s journey. So, I decided to give yoga another try.  However, this time, I ventured into a local studio and signed up for a class.

Immediately I was transfixed. The experience of being part of a small community of people all manipulating our bodies into various versions of the same poses, listening to the same ambient electronic music, smelling the same sandalwood incense, and reverently joining our voices in the same “om” at the end of the class, relaxed and nourished me in ways that doing it alone couldn’t touch. Interestingly, I felt an overwhelmingly positive experience even though I didn’t talk to anyone except for the teacher during my first few forays to class. Each time I left totally renewed, feeling as if I was walking on air, while also feeling a sense of connection to my classmates.

So had I grown immensely as a person across those four years? Perhaps. Had I just made horrible choices as a consumer in picking the videos the first time around? Maybe (though the five star reviews they got would suggest otherwise). Had my muscles become more flexible across time, making the yoga contortions easier this time? Sadly, definitely not!

New psychological research provides another possible reason as to why my encounters with yoga were so different both times around. In two studies, Yale researchers found that sharing an experience with others, even without communicating, amplifies that experience. In the first study, the researchers had people taste chocolate and found that the subjects rated the chocolate as more flavorful and likable when they tasted it at the same time as another person (compared to tasting it in the presence of another person who was doing something else).

In other words, a positive experience became more positive when it was shared with someone else, even though it was a stranger with whom the subjects weren’t communicating.

The flip side, however, is that negative experiences are also amplified by others’ presence. In the second study, the subjects were given bitter chocolate to eat.  In that instance, they rated it as being less pleasant when they were with someone else who was also tasting it with them. The researchers suspected that when you are sharing an experience with someone else, it causes you to be more focused on it, and as a result, it heightens your experience, positively or negatively.

One of the researchers also noted that our attention to technology can cause us to miss out on opportunities for amplifying positive experiences. So, for example, if you are checking your email while with a friend at the park or posting on Facebook while at dinner with your spouse, you are missing out on possible positive shared experiences.

The bottom line? To up the ante on your positive experiences, share them with someone. You will be better off for it!

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