Play & Building Your Anti-Depressant Brain

Person blowing bubbles

For years I’ve been studying what makes people happier and more resilient. I’ve looked at my own life, I’ve analyzed the experiences shared by clients and students, and I’ve studied the research from a psychological and neuroscience perspective. What the research points to, and what I’ve witnessed personally and with clients, is that each and every one of us possesses a core set of natural anti-depressants. When we tap into those natural anti-depressants, it helps shifts our brain activity in ways that make us less susceptible to depressive moods and thoughts. One of the most accessible and fun natural anti-depressants that can help break a bad mood and encourage positive neural activity is Play!

In my book, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I describe play as “a flexible state of mind in which you are presently engaged in some freely chosen and potentially purposeless activity that you find interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.”

Here’s a great video from SoulPancake that shows adults that don’t know each other playing together:

What did you notice?

What I noticed were adults who were put in an enriched environment where the cues elicited play. Through play, they became more engaged, more open, and most of them seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.

Research from Marion Diamond at UC Berkeley showed that rats in an enriched environment with toys and playmates showed growth in their cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s involved with cognitive processing. The rats in the enriched environments ran mazes quicker than those whose environments weren’t enriched. What’s more – the rats in what could be regarded as a “depleting environment” absent of toys and playmates showed a reduction in the thickness of their cerebral cortex.

This type of research has been repeated over and over with similar results. Engaging play reduces stress, and promotes creativity, productivity, openness, while revitalizing our sense of aliveness. It is literally a natural anti-depressant.

So, how can we create more enriched environments for ourselves, our children, our pets, and society as a whole?

One answer lies in understanding how our brain responds to cues. Most of the time our brain is making automatic decisions, and cues in our environments are influencing those decisions. If we’re often alone, there’s a lack of nourishing people in our environment. This cue is more likely to lead to depression and anxiety because we are naturally a highly social species. But, if our environments afford lots of access to playmates, these playful cues create more resiliency.

Encourage play at home and at work

Consider whether your environments at home and at work elicit cues of play. It’s good practice to be conscious of those cues. Routinely ask yourself how you can create more cues in your environment to elicit a more playful neural response.

Many companies are starting to create more enriching environments because the research is clear that it leads to happier, less stressed, more loyal, and more productive employees. If your workplace doesn’t have a program, look for ways in which you can help enrich the environment – create a joke board, take mini-breaks where you intentionally watch a short video like the one above, or hang out with nourishing people as a source of connection.

At home, consider what play means to you. It may be something you’d like to do, but a nagging voice in your head told you it wasn’t important, or “there are more important things to do.” (In Uncovering Happiness, I call these “Negative Unconscious Thoughts” or NUTs, because we often feel nuts when they’re around!) Maybe you want to pick up the camera more, reconnect with old friends, read a pleasurable book, or make a date with yourself to do something out of your routine that feeds you (the latter one is how I got started).

In the US, we see playtime as a luxury because we tend to overvalue work and productivity and our minds often tell us that play is unproductive. This is one of the biggest lies that our brain tells us. The research is clear – those that integrate play into their lives are more likely to run the mazes of life faster and more efficiently!

There are other tricks to uncovering a more playful life and to finding playmates, but the first step is always going to involve looking at our current cues and formulating ways to create more enriching, playful environments. Then, we need to actively create these enriched environments for ourselves even in the face of our NUTs or criticisms from others.

Being mindful of play and routinely engaging it in your life can create positive neural shifts that, when practiced and repeated, can build resilience and lead to an increased sense of self-worth and happiness.

Take a moment and share with us below – what does play mean to you? How do you bring it into your life? Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

This post originally appeared on www.elishagoldstein.com.

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7 Ways to Know If Your Sacrifices Are Worth It

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Have you ever looked at the path you’ve chosen and questioned if your sacrifices have been worth it? If you’ve prioritized the “right” things, pursued worthy goals, and ultimately, made “good” choices?

Have you ever wondered if you’ll one day look back on your life and regret not only what you did, but also what you didn’t do, because maybe you’ll feel you wasted your time or somehow missed out on something important?

If you answered no to these questions, you’re my new hero. I admire anyone who lives with such presence they never question what they’re doing because they’re too busy living it.

But I, a consummate over-thinker, am not that person.

I started thinking about this just recently after listening to the second episode of Next Creator Up, a podcast I’m producing with my partner in many things and show host Ehren Prudhel.

In this interview, LA-based actress and filmmaker Melissa Center talked a little about what she’s had to sacrifice for her dreams. And though she got emotional when discussing the very different lives her friends and family are living—lives with houses, children, and financial security—she ultimately concluded that, for her, all the sacrifices have been worth it.

She explained her reasoning, and I admired her sense of certainty. Because I know how easy it is to doubt yourself in a culture that not only promotes the idea of “having it all” but also bombards us with images of people pursuing alternative, seemingly better paths.

I also know how hard it is to feel confident in our decisions, particularly because of many of us are disconnected from ourselves. If we don’t know what we stand for, it’s awfully hard to ascertain what’s worth prioritizing and what’s worth giving up.

With this in mind, I decided to create this list of ways to know if your sacrifices are worth it. A lot of this comes down to knowing yourself.

If you’ve been questioning your path, perhaps this will help you fully commit to it—or make the tough decision to change directions.

7 Ways to Know if Your Sacrifices Are Worth It

1. What you’re doing aligns with your values.

We all have different core values—things we stand for and regard as crucial for our overall life satisfaction.

When we live in alignment with our values, and honor them through our choices, we feel a sense of peace, even if our lives are sometimes challenging. When we we’re out of alignment, we feel internal conflict.

For example, my top values are freedom, creativity, adventure, family, and integrity.

I could never sacrifice my integrity to make money. Sure, I’d love to roll around on a bed full of cash, but the pain of acting without integrity would override the joy of financial abundance.

I could never choose a lifestyle that leaves little room for spontaneity or limits my ability to visit my family. No matter what the rewards of said lifestyle, I would ultimately feel conflicted and dissatisfied.

If your choices require you to sacrifice the things that matter most to you, regardless of the potential rewards, you will ultimately feel unfulfilled. If your sacrifices don’t threaten what’s most important to you—or at least not beyond the short-term—then they’re far more likely to feel worth it.

2. You’re living your own version of success.

Much like we all have our own values, we all have our own definition of success. Contrary to what our culture might suggest, there’s no one-size-fits-all scenario.

My grandmother, who was one of my greatest heroes, lived a life very different from mine to date. She lived all of her eighty-two years in the same city, married young and had four kids, and devoted every bit of her free time to her family.

She rarely traveled, didn’t have much money, and seemed perfectly content—ecstatic, even—to live the same day over and over again.

If you gave her a table crammed with her loud Italian kids and grandkids, and a big pot of pasta to feed them, she was happy.

Because she valued family, she never complained when caring for my grandfather, who ultimately lost both of his legs to diabetes. Caring for him took much of her time and energy, and she rarely did much for herself.

But this—this love, this loyalty, this generosity of spirit—this is what defined a successful life to her, so ultimately, it was all worth it.

Ask yourself what success looks like to you, and why. What do you do? What do you give? What do you gain?

If you’re living your own version of success, then the satisfaction of enjoying what you have likely far outweighs the pain of accepting what you lack.

3. You’re not trading happiness today for the hope of happiness tomorrow.

You may have read the story of the Mexican fisherman before, but if not, here’s a condensed version:

An American investment banker ran into a local fisherman in a small Mexican village and, seeing the several large tuna in his boat, asked the man how long it took him to catch them.

When the fisherman said it didn’t take long, the banker questioned why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more. The fisherman said he had enough to meet his family’s needs.

When asked what he did with the rest of his time, he answered, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

Hearing this, the banker offered the fisherman his help in creating a business—so he could buy more boats, catch more fish, and eventually be at the helm of an empire. This would require him to relocate, but in fifteen to twenty years, he’d be rich.

The fisherman asked what he would do then, to which the banker responded, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I think of this often when making life choices. If there’s nothing about an opportunity that excites me and fills me passion and purpose—if it’s solely about creating some ideal life down the road, or worse, meeting an ego need for success or validation—it’s most likely not worth my time and energy.

Stop and ask yourself: Is this is a process I can throw myself into with enthusiasm? Or am I sacrificing potential joy now in the hope of finding joy later?

4. You could be satisfied with your choice even if you didn’t reach your ideal outcome.

Building on the last point, you know your sacrifices are worth it if you could be content with your choices regardless of where they lead you.

If you need to make a certain amount of money, or reach your ideal goal exactly as you visualize it, to justify what you’ve given up, then you’re setting yourself up for potential heartache. Because there are no guarantees in life.

No matter how hard you work, how much time you devote, or how smart or talented you are, you could one day realize that your efforts didn’t pay off in the way you hoped they would.

Or, they could pay off for a while, and then something could change—you might have to switch gears to care for a loved one, or could lose everything due to circumstances you couldn’t possibly have predicted.

If you could look at the time spent and conclude it wasn’t wasted—because you enjoyed yourself, felt a sense of purpose, or made a difference for other people—then in the end, your sacrifices are more likely to feel worth it.

 5. You’re still able to meet your needs, despite your sacrifices.

When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama said, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

No rewards—monetary or otherwise—are worth sacrificing our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

If you’re working so hard that you have little time to eat well, exercise, and get sufficient sleep—and you end up overweight, exhausted, and on track for a heart attack—would any reward or glory really justify it?

There are many things I would sacrifice for a cause I believe in or a dream that excites me—I don’t need luxuries, I don’t mind buying used, and I also don’t care if I own a car or a home.

But I won’t sacrifice the things I need to function at my best. I can’t be present, and I’m no good for anyone or anything, if I’m physically weakened and so stressed that I’m constantly ready to snap.

 6. You only or mostly question your sacrifices when you compare yourself to other people.

Though I’ve sacrificed a sense of community because I’ve chosen a free-spirited, nomadic life of adventure, I don’t often regret the path I’ve taken for all the reasons listed above.

But every now and then I compare myself to other people and question if perhaps I should have what they have.

I see people on Facebook who are a lot like my grandmother—lifers in one town, well connected to many, dialed into local causes—and I wonder if I’ve prioritized the wrong things.

I’ve lived the life George Bailey fantasized about in the 1940’s holiday classic. But wasn’t his life lauded as somehow more wonderful than the life of an adventure-seeking dreamer and wanderer—and also far more meaningful?

I see old friends on Instagram building new memories with people they’ve hung around with for decades, and lament that, unlike them, I’d have a hard time creating a large bridal party if I were to ever get married.

Aren’t connections the most important thing in life? And do mine really count if they involve less face time—if I’m not at every family dinner, every holiday, and every milestone?

But when I put my phone down and dig my heels into my own life, I remember that no matter what I choose, it’s a choice not to do something else. No one has it all. And those who have what I lack likely envy and glamorize what I have at times, just like I sometimes romanticize their circumstances.

If you feel happy on the whole when you’re fully present on your path, and only question it when you take your eyes off the road, then odds are, your sacrifices are worth it.

 7. Your current path brings you meaning.

We are all wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain—what positive psychologists refer to as hedonic happiness.

This is what we feel when we do something that boosts our mood, and it’s why we often chase varied highs. We sometimes think “the good life” means abundant leisure time, fun, and excitement. And those things are definitely awesome, which is why we’re often willing to make sacrifices in the present in the hope of having more of them in the future (see #3).

But there’s another kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on hedonistic pleasure. It’s called eudaimonic happiness.

This is what we experience when we have meaning in our lives. When we devote ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. When we take on new challenges, grow, and use our strengths to contribute to the greater good in some way.

If you’re doing something that feels deeply meaningful to you—if you’ve dedicated your life to a cause, you feel engaged in your devotion to it, and you feel proud of the impact you’re making—it will be a lot easier to make peace with sacrifices.

This might mean working at a non-profit that pays you very little but enables you to make a tangible difference in other people’s lives.

Or volunteering during your free time, which limits some of your social options but fills you with a sense of pride and purpose.

Or raising children and going without sometimes, knowing your sacrifices are directly benefitting them and enabling them to grow into strong, healthy people.

Ask yourself: Do I feel a sense of meaning? Am I proud of the person I’m being? Am I doing something that matters not just to me but also the world at large? Odds are, if you answer yes to these questions, you’ll look back without regret for what you gave up in order to give what you gave.

The number of realities we each could be living is absolutely mind-blowing if you think about it. Change any one choice and, through the butterfly effect, our lives could look completely different.

And each of those little worlds would have its own gifts and challenges. In every possible scenario we’d have some rewards, some sacrifices, and some occasional doubts about whether the former justifies the latter.

The good news is, as long as we’re still breathing, it’s never too late to change directions. If ever we recognize we’re not being the people we want to be or doing what we really want to do, we can take a new path, or even pave one where there is none.

At any time we can decide to rebuild our lives around what we value, live our own version of success, and create a life of joy and meaning.

If you’re interested in listening to Melissa’s interview, about her experiences with her short and first feature film and the sacrifices of being an artist, you can find it here. And if you haven’t heard the first episode yet, with singer/songwriter Kelley McRae, you can find it here

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post 7 Ways to Know If Your Sacrifices Are Worth It appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

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What I Believe and Why My Life Is Better Because of It

“Seeing is not believing; believing is seeing! You see things, not as they are, but as you are.” ~Eric Butterworth

I didn’t always understand this, but I now know that my beliefs shape my experience of the world.

As I learned from Tony Robbins, our beliefs guide our choices, which ultimately create our results.

Our beliefs can either be a prison, keeping us trapped in negative thinking and behaviors, or they can be empowering and lead to courageous action and new possibilities.

For example, if you believe people are fundamentally bad, you may live life guarded, close yourself off to new relationships, and end up feeling lonely and bitter.

If you believe people are fundamentally good, you’ll try to see the best in them, develop close bonds with some of them, and end up feeling connected and supported, even if people occasionally disappoint you.

If you believe good things never happen for you and they never will, you’ll likely sit around feeling indignant and never make any effort.

If you believe the past doesn’t have to dictate the future, you’ll probably keep trying different things and eventually create possibilities for passion and purpose.

Same world, different beliefs, different choices—totally different results.

Knowing that I can choose what I believe, and that this can either fill my life with meaning or leave me feeling empty, I choose to believe the following:

1. Life happens for me, not to me.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs

Sometimes, it’s near impossible for me to believe this. I don’t expect anyone reading this to easily adopt this belief either. Because in those moments of pain and suffering, boy, it feels like life is happening to me, and it’s not even remotely helpful to think about how life could be happening for me. However, in time, as the clouds disperse and the pain passes, I’m able to look back and connect the dots.

Were it not for my mental health struggles, my personal development journey may have never began and I would never have grown into the strong person I am today.

Were it not for my string of failed romantic relationships, I never would have learned the power of loving myself first.

And although I sometimes struggle to see that life is happening for me, a deeper part of me knows it benefits me to believe this is true.

This deeper part encourages me to look back and connect the dots, and sometimes, in the midst of suffering, look for meaning in the moment by asking questions like: What lesson could this be teaching me? And what is the opportunity here?

This deeper part of me knows that, no matter what happens to me, I can choose the meaning I give to what’s happening and how I respond.

As Viktor E. Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

When I believe life is happening to me, I feel like a helpless victim. Although there is no shame in feeling like a victim, I don’t want this to become my full-time identity.

Undeniably, life is hard, cruel, and tragic, but life is also beautiful. By choosing to believe life happens for me, I’m sometimes able to move from victim to victor.

2. More is possible than I currently think.

“Just remember, you never know what’s possible until you risk finding out.” ~Jasinda Wilder

When it comes to knowing what’s possible for me in my lifetime, I know nothing.

How could I? How could anybody else? Knowing requires me to be certain, and I know I’m certain more is possible than I think.

Human history teaches us the boundaries of possibility are forever being pushed. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that our willingness to discover what is possible is forever being pushed.

Just think about how many Ideas were once considered impossible, even crazy!

Electricity, the Internet, putting humans on the moon!

As I look back over my own life, much has happened that at some point I thought was impossible, like speaking another language and being able to play the piano reasonably well.

This belief empowers me because it makes life feel like a never-ending adventure, a game, where I get to discover and challenge the boundaries of possibility for myself.

3. My life is about “we,” not just “me.”

“As we lose ourselves in the service of others we discover our own lives and our own happiness.” ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf

A wise friend of mine once advised me to “give away freely the very things I wish to receive.”

At the time, it seemed counterproductive. I mean, to give money even though I want to receive more. To offer praise to others when it was me who wanted to be praised. To make an effort to be more understanding when it was me who wished to feel understood.

Having faith in my friend, I decided to live life this way for a while, and so I gave away freely the very things I wished to receive without any expectations or hypotheses of what would happen.

I gave more money—to the homeless and sponsoring friends for events.

I gave praise—reaching out to people I love and admire, just to share my appreciation of them.

I gave my ear—listening non-judgmentally so I could better understand people.

I gave and gave and gave, and true to my friend’s advice, I received—so much more than what I’d given away.

I received a sense of connection to the world and to the people in it, a deeper connection than I’d ever felt before. I realized the idea of separation is, as spiritual teachers often suggest, an Illusion. We’re all connected to one another—tied together by something the eye can’t see but the heart can feel.

Through giving, through living in service of others, I received back abundantly, which helped me to form my third empowering belief, that life is about “we” and not just “me.”

What makes my belief so empowering is the sense of connection that comes from knowing my life is connected to yours and to every other life, tied and woven by forces greater than I know or understand.

This sense of connection alone gives my life meaning.

My life is better because I choose to believe these three things, and I act on them. Which beliefs make your life better?

Get in the conversation! Click here to leave a comment on the site.

The post What I Believe and Why My Life Is Better Because of It appeared first on Tiny Buddha.

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Are you Imperfect? Join the Club!

woman breaking glass

Most of us want to do things well. Some of us want to be perfect.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, at some point you need to make peace with your imperfections. If you don’t, you are destined to suffer.

I’m not intending to paint a bleak picture but the fact is we all have imperfections. Maybe we don’t have the perfect body, we don’t take tests well, or we struggle to keep houseplants alive. Whatever the flaw, the closer we come to accepting the reality of our shortcomings, the closer we move towards self-acceptance.

From an evolutionary perspective, we all just want to belong and feel secure. If we’re not accepted we’re at risk, so the mind goes into overdrive to help us be more perfect so we can “fit in” with our tribe and feel safe.

We may constantly be in search of the perfect outfit, gadget, home furnishing, or we may regularly go out of our way to say something smart to impress the right people. Or we might pick more destructive habits, abusing drugs, alcohol, or sex as a means to fit in. Underlying all of this is a subtle belief that we are not okay just as we are.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan, PhD to address the two opposing notions: “I’m perfect just the way I am” and “it’s time for me to change.” DBT can help individuals to manage stress, regulate emotions, and improve their relationships, and the therapy is largely rooted in teaching self-acceptance.

How to Practice Self-Acceptance

Start by acknowledging things as they are and try to put aside your lenses of judgment. There are many opportunities to do this.

If you’re waiting in line, the moment you notice yourself feeling aggravated, stop and acknowledge the aggravation. Explore the feeling in your body and investigate the contours, spikes, and expansion of the emotion. By the time you’ve finished the exercise, you’re likely to feel less aggravated and perhaps more aware of, and empathetic toward, others around you.

If you find yourself feeling ashamed of some imperfection, acknowledge it and investigate the shame in the same way.

When you do this, you’re opening up to understand the feeling while caring about yourself at the same time. Understanding and caring are the pillars of acceptance. If you felt understood and cared about you’d feel accepted, right? That is what we’re practicing, and we can do it with a range of emotion, whether fear, anger, calm, love, joy, anxiety, or even confusion.

Every time you do this you water the seeds of self-acceptance and begin making peace with your imperfections.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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Play & Building Your Anti-Depressant Brain

Person blowing bubbles

For years I’ve been studying what makes people happier and more resilient. I’ve looked at my own life, I’ve analyzed the experiences shared by clients and students, and I’ve studied the research from a psychological and neuroscience perspective. What the research points to, and what I’ve witnessed personally and with clients, is that each and every one of us possesses a core set of natural anti-depressants. When we tap into those natural anti-depressants, it helps shifts our brain activity in ways that make us less susceptible to depressive moods and thoughts. One of the most accessible and fun natural anti-depressants that can help break a bad mood and encourage positive neural activity is Play!

In my book, Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion I describe play as “a flexible state of mind in which you are presently engaged in some freely chosen and potentially purposeless activity that you find interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.”

Here’s a great video from SoulPancake that shows adults that don’t know each other playing together:

What did you notice?

What I noticed were adults who were put in an enriched environment where the cues elicited play. Through play, they became more engaged, more open, and most of them seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.

Research from Marion Diamond at UC Berkeley showed that rats in an enriched environment with toys and playmates showed growth in their cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s involved with cognitive processing. The rats in the enriched environments ran mazes quicker than those whose environments weren’t enriched. What’s more – the rats in what could be regarded as a “depleting environment” absent of toys and playmates showed a reduction in the thickness of their cerebral cortex.

This type of research has been repeated over and over with similar results. Engaging play reduces stress, and promotes creativity, productivity, openness, while revitalizing our sense of aliveness. It is literally a natural anti-depressant.

So, how can we create more enriched environments for ourselves, our children, our pets, and society as a whole?

One answer lies in understanding how our brain responds to cues. Most of the time our brain is making automatic decisions, and cues in our environments are influencing those decisions. If we’re often alone, there’s a lack of nourishing people in our environment. This cue is more likely to lead to depression and anxiety because we are naturally a highly social species. But, if our environments afford lots of access to playmates, these playful cues create more resiliency.

Encourage play at home and at work

Consider whether your environments at home and at work elicit cues of play. It’s good practice to be conscious of those cues. Routinely ask yourself how you can create more cues in your environment to elicit a more playful neural response.

Many companies are starting to create more enriching environments because the research is clear that it leads to happier, less stressed, more loyal, and more productive employees. If your workplace doesn’t have a program, look for ways in which you can help enrich the environment – create a joke board, take mini-breaks where you intentionally watch a short video like the one above, or hang out with nourishing people as a source of connection.

At home, consider what play means to you. It may be something you’d like to do, but a nagging voice in your head told you it wasn’t important, or “there are more important things to do.” (In Uncovering Happiness, I call these “Negative Unconscious Thoughts” or NUTs, because we often feel nuts when they’re around!) Maybe you want to pick up the camera more, reconnect with old friends, read a pleasurable book, or make a date with yourself to do something out of your routine that feeds you (the latter one is how I got started).

In the US, we see playtime as a luxury because we tend to overvalue work and productivity and our minds often tell us that play is unproductive. This is one of the biggest lies that our brain tells us. The research is clear – those that integrate play into their lives are more likely to run the mazes of life faster and more efficiently!

There are other tricks to uncovering a more playful life and to finding playmates, but the first step is always going to involve looking at our current cues and formulating ways to create more enriching, playful environments. Then, we need to actively create these enriched environments for ourselves even in the face of our NUTs or criticisms from others.

Being mindful of play and routinely engaging it in your life can create positive neural shifts that, when practiced and repeated, can build resilience and lead to an increased sense of self-worth and happiness.

Take a moment and share with us below – what does play mean to you? How do you bring it into your life? Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

This post originally appeared on www.elishagoldstein.com.

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Dan Nevins: A Memorial of Hope

I’m not a guy who’s big on wearing jewelry (at all), though I wear a bracelet on my right wrist every day. Really. Every single day, without fail. It isn’t made of precious metals, or any sort of healing stones. It isn’t to symbolize intentions of love. No one was tying a knot, intentions of peace or wholeness infused in the process. I’m quite sure the creator wasn’t thinking much of anything at all, actually. If I had to guess—which is totally a guess—I’d say that it was made by a machine that stamps out the black powder-coated piece of straight aluminum, 1 millimeter thick, and then engraved with the words that I chose and bent by my hand to fit my wrist.

My bracelet reads: “SFC MICHAEL C. OTTOLINI” on the top line and under that is inscribed “TF TACOMA 10 NOV 04 BALAD, IRAQ”. It’s not a fashion piece. It is a memorial bracelet that I wear to honor my good friend who was killed in action in combat.

It was supposed to be a 72-hour dismounted counter-insurgent operation. The mission was cut short by a deafening early morning explosion, that erupted under our eighteen thousand pound, up-armored vehicle, sending it into the air in a ball of fire and fury that killed Mike and ultimately took both of my legs below the knee, and left me living with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

It is a memorial bracelet that I wear to honor my good friend who was killed in action in combat.

As a combat vet and “military guy” I never expected that I would wind up as a yoga teacher. It actually still feels weird to say it. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not weird that I’m a yoga teacher, it’s just weird to say it. It’s actually the most significant work I’ve ever done. Let that land for a second… Let it sink in. Those words are coming from a guy who has led soldiers in combat; who has led teams in the non-profit world with great success and contributed to the success and growth of Wounded Warrior Project, one of the most respected and largest Veterans Service Organizations. Those words are coming from a dad to three amazing daughters. The work that I find myself in now, as you probably know if you’re reading this, is very powerful. It’s an access to healing and self-discovery unlike anything I’ve seen, and I am committed to sharing it with as many people as I can, veterans and non-veterans alike.

You see, that explosion didn’t just kill Mike and leave me with physical wounds. The explosion—coupled with a myriad of other experiences and losses from combat—left me with the invisible wounds of war. You’ve probably heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I didn’t have PTSD. Sure, I had trouble sleeping. I had intrusive thoughts and memories that would haunt me at all times of the day and night. I retreated… and hid in plain sight. I did a damn good job of pretending that everything was OK. My marriage failed as a result, and my oldest daughter who was 10 at the time I was wounded, didn’t have the best dad she could have had from 10 to 18.

I didn’t have PTSD, because that is a diagnosis that you get from a mental health professional. I didn’t see any mental health professionals. I was “too tough” for that. I wasn’t weak so I didn’t need to see a shrink. That was for people who couldn’t hang, for people who were soft. Other people, but certainly not me.

I was an idiot.

The silver lining of my circumstance was that I actually didn’t suffer for great lengths of time. Thanks to my work in the veteran’s service space, I had learned many coping skills to work through the times when the invisible wounds started to fester and show their faces. I had tools to keep the resurfacing of the trauma to a minimum. The wounds were always there… mostly dormant, but there, and when they showed up I could take action to keep them at bay…

Until I couldn’t.

Teaching yoga is the most significant work I’ve ever done. Let that sink in.

All of my coping tools were physical: riding my road or mountain bike, riding horses, playing golf, fishing, hiking, climbing mountains. It wasn’t until my last surgery—my thirty-sixth to date—that changed everything. While recovering from that surgery, I was homebound on one prosthetic leg and crutches. So when the invisible wounds started to manifest, I wasn’t mobile enough to do any of the physical things I would normally do to combat the demons. I was stuck, and in a bad place and sinking deeper. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was on the way.

Thankfully a friend of mine convinced me (that’s a whole other story) to try meditation while I was still healing from surgery. That gave way to a physical yoga practice once I was back to “normal.” I can only say that I am beyond grateful for that invitation. Her gesture of offering to help a friend who she knew was struggling, changed everything for me. I had such a profound experience on my mat, that I was enrolled in teacher training before I finished my third practice. Yoga saved my life.

Since becoming a teacher I have dedicated myself to teaching veterans and warriors at every opportunity. Most vets that I know have memorial bracelets like I do. Some wear them, some don’t, but all of them experience the void that is left by who the bracelet is for. My commitment is to do all that I can to help. I teach yoga because, for me, before yoga I coped with combat stress, now with yoga in my life, I’ve healed from it. All of it. I still have all of my memories from combat, but none of the guilt or grief that used to accompany them.

I had such a profound experience on my mat, that I was enrolled in teacher training before I finished my third practice.

I have worked with hundreds of veterans and I have witnessed incredible transformations. I’ve seen warriors healed as I was healed. I’ve seen families that were broken, restored. I’ve seen miracles on yoga mats.  I have even recently started my own, very small non-profit called Warrior Spirit Retreat, which is intended to help warriors heal from the invisible wounds of war by using a curriculum grounded in yoga, mindfulness and meditation and integrated into the mindful-based recreational activities of golf, fishing and horsemanship on weekend and week-long retreats. This work… its everything.

As I pause and reflect on Memorial Day. I look down at my bracelet and remember Mike and the amazing man he was. I am reminded of the men and women, heroes all, that sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom. Memorial Day is in recognition and honor of our fallen; and the families left with the impossible feat of carrying on without them. On this day, I remember our countless heroes memorialized at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, and all of the heroes known on memorial bracelets all over the world. This day is for them. From my perspective, there is no better way to honor them than to help heal their brothers and sisters who are still with us.

So, this Memorial Day, I have one request of you: Invite a veteran to yoga. You just might save their life.

Dan Nevins is a professional speaker who has been inspiring audiences around the world with his message of perseverance, resiliency and hope for more than a decade. A highly decorated soldier, Dan was severely injured during combat in Iraq in 2004 after an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated beneath his vehicle. He lost both legs below the knee, and lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the emotional wounds of war. In 2008, Dan received WWP’s highest honor, the George C. Lang Award for Courage, and went on to become the director of WWP’s Warriors Speak program. Dan became a Baptiste Yoga teacher in 2015, and now incorporates the notion of “yoga for every-body” into his speeches and classes, encouraging people from all walks of life—and veterans in particular—to take up the practice.

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How to Make Lasting Changes

Have you ever wanted to establish a new habit and then found that after a few days, weeks, or months you revert to your old ways?

Everyone suffers from the same problem.

Creating lasting change is difficult, as I found when I started the GLZ Epic Fitness Challenge. In the research I’m doing for my upcoming book about the secrets of youthful aging, I found the following, powerful strategy in an obscure book about the Telomere Effect.

The science of behavior tells us that if you want to make a change, you need to know why you’re making a change. But for that change to last, you need more than knowledge.

When it comes to change, our minds work irrationally. The donut or the piece of chocolate seems more attractive than a salad, and our resolution can weaken when it’s time to start exercising or meditating.

How to Line Up the Whole of Yourself

If you want to make lasting changes, you need to line up your thoughts, your emotions, and your actions. To ensure the whole YOU is lined up for change, put yourself through the following powerful self-interview.

The three critical questions you need to answer are about readiness, meaning, and confidence related to the change you want to make.

Please use a notebook or digital file to record your answers.

1. What is the change you want to make?

Choose a new habit you want to establish. State the change you desire as clearly as possible and write it down.

2. Rate your readiness to make the change (use a score from 1 to 10)

If your score is at 6 or lower, you are not ready to make a change in the area you’ve chosen. It’s best to choose a different goal or find a smaller behavior change. One change leads to another, so it’s fine to start small. If your readiness is 7 or over, you are ready to tackle the change you want to make.

Here is an example: If you want to wake earlier and target a waking time that’s one hour earlier than usual, you might not be ready to make the change. However, if you scale your goal down to getting up just 5 minutes earlier, you may be ready to go for this goal.

Notice whether scaling down your goal works for you. For most people, choosing a smaller goal will boost readiness. However, there are also some people for whom choosing a smaller goal doesn’t work because it ‘doesn’t seem worth the effort’.

In your role of an ‘interviewer’, notice and respect the thoughts and feelings that arise with each question.

3. How is This Change Meaningful for You?

If we find deep meaning in a change, we are more likely to make it last.

Try to tie your goal to your deepest priorities in life. For example, your motivation could be: “I want to be there for my children or grandchildren and be healthy and fit enough to have fun with them.”

The key here is to choose intrinsic goals related to relationships, enjoyment, and meaning in life, instead of choosing external goals related to wealth, fame, or how others see us.

Once you have a sense of the underlying motivation for change, make a mental snapshot of the answer.

It’s best if you can find an image that represents your motivation. This visual image is a weapon to use when the going gets tough.

Find a picture that you can use to remind you of your motivation. If you have photos that will work, print them out and tack them to the wall, or use them as a wallpaper on your phone. If you don’t have a fitting photo, take a look through magazines or search online for an image that expresses your fundamental motivation.

Here is an example: Looking for ongoing incentive for writing the series of books on Youthful Aging, a picture of a book, or of people applauding would do nothing for me because this would be an image related to extrinsic motivation. However, a picture of mature people enjoying life would remind me that I’m on a mission to change people’s lives. That’s a strong motivator.



Find and record your strongest motivator before moving onto the next question.

4. How Confident are You About Making this change? (use scale from 1 to 10)

If you are at a 6 or lower, I suggest changing your goal to make it smaller and easier to achieve.

If your score is over 6, think about what obstacles you might have to overcome to achieve the change you want to make. Make a realistic plan of how you could overcome these obstacles. Think of these obstacles like challenges. At this point, it’s useful to think of proud moments when you were able to overcome other challenges in your life.

The question about being confident about making the change is crucial. The Positive Psychology movement calls this self-efficacy. Some psychologists even rate self-efficacy above talent in a recipe for success. That’s why we need to pay attention to our confidence when setting goals to make sure our efficacy beliefs are in line with the changes we want to make.
Long before the advent of Positive Psychology, Gandhi expressed the flow from thought to action like this:

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny. – Mahatma Gandhi

The confidence about whether you can make the change determines whether you will even try the new behavior in the first place and whether you will persist, once you hit an obstacle.

Once you’ve completed the 4 self-interview questions, review your results. You may want to go through the process again with a smaller or entirely different change you want to achieve.

5. Schedule the New Habit

Your next step is to schedule your new habit and include it in your calendar. When the time for the activity comes, don’t try to make a decision; just do it! After all, making decisions is exhausting.

Start with the easiest, possible step in your sequence of getting ready for the activity. That might be something simple like changing your clothes to get ready for the activity.

For example, when I get ready for a karate class, I set an alert to start my sequence. The sequence starts with ironing my gi (karate uniform) and then tying on my black belt. The next step is to grab my karate bag. Then I get into the car. Once I’m through the door of the karate dojo, I’m ready for the actual training.

In the same way, you can create your own ‘getting ready’ sequence. When you are in your ‘getting-ready’ sequence, just focus on the next step, not on the activity ahead.

6. Celebrate Your New Habit

Each time you take action to make your new habit a reality, celebrate! Give yourself a high-five or do a little victory dance.

To recap, here are the steps:

1. Establish the change you want to make
2. Establish your readiness to make the change on a scale from 1 to 10. It should be 7 or over, otherwise, choose an easier change.
3. Find your meaning behind the change and find an image that encapsulates your fundamental motivation for the change.
4. Check your confidence for effecting the change on a scale from 1 to 10.
5. Schedule the new habit.
6. Celebrate each time you practice your new habit,

If you go through the self-interview, you’ll be able to create lasting change.

Your life is like an artwork; make it beautiful.

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Goodlifezen Blog

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Happiness Means Looking Beyond the Body and Seeing the Person

If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how different our ideals of beauty would be

More often than not, as soon as we open our eyes in the morning, “stories” immediately start running through our minds. Some of these stories may be relatively innocuous (prioritizing tasks for the day at work, mapping out that new route for a commute) while others might actually influence the way we see other people. We may start the day with preconceptions about our spouse or partner, our child, or a roommate based on a recent experience or interaction. And beyond the home, we may already have “stories” about our neighbors, grocery store clerks, work colleagues, the barista in our favorite coffee shop, and even complete strangers.

Looking at the surface, we may make a snap judgement that a person is beautiful, or not. We’re wired to do this, to base assumptions on appearance, but when we dismiss others in this way, we miss out on seeing the person that exists behind the body, beyond our preconceptions of who they are.

Sometimes it’s easier to operate on auto-pilot in our everyday relationships, but this tendency to automatically interpret the world can lead to disconnection, dis-ease, and unhappiness in life.

However, if we intentionally practice being more open and receptive to others, and repeatedly make an effort look beyond the surface, we can create real and lasting connection, which is an essential ingredient for enduring happiness.

I invite you to try this 4 step practice today with anyone you come in contact:

  1. Put your lenses of judgment aside. Whether you believe it or not, you instantly judge someone as soon as you see them. It may be the color of their skin, their ethnicity, a memory you have of this person, or maybe the expression on their face at the moment you meet. See if you can set that aside for a moment and adopt fresh eyes.
  2. Really see the person. Remind yourself that this is someone who has a history of adventures, who has experienced failure and/or trauma, someone who loves, fears, regrets, triumphs, someone who presumably has a family and friends. They have a beauty inside that they likely aren’t even aware of.
  3. Ask yourself: “What does this person most deeply want?” The answer is likely within you, and it involves being treated kindly and feeling a sense of belonging.
  4. Provide a gesture that feeds this need. Smile at the person. If appropriate, ask them if you can help them in some way. Listen to what they have to say. If it’s a family member or a friend, tell them you love them. There are so many ways to do this. Aim to continuously ask yourself if what you are doing is in service of connection or disconnection. It’s a simple question that can sometimes lead to important answers and actions.

The fact is, when we and others around us feel understood and cared about, a sense of acceptance and belonging arises. This breaks down barriers and makes our relationships deeper and stronger.

As Mother Teresa said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis but rather the feeling of not belonging.” A moment of connection may have rippling effects across many people, in the same way that a pebble thrown into the water creates ripples of waves.

Give it a try!

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

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