Social psychologist Mathew White conducted a study at the European Centre for Environment & Human Health involving 20,000 people, the findings of which suggest that those who spent at least two hours a week in green spaces were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who did not. This was true regardless of variables such as gender, occupation, ethnic group, SES, area of residence, and regardless of whether they were living with chronic illnesses and disabilities at baseline. This is just one of many studies presenting such findings, and so the goal of today’s mindfulness exercise is to help bring our attention back to our connection with nature throughout the day, to let it nurture us.
One topic that seems to keep coming up in recent weeks has been compassion. It is something that we would all benefit from giving more of to ourselves and to those around us. When Mindfulness Monday last covered this, we discussed the work of psychologist Kristin Neff, who studies compassion. She tells us “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself as you would act toward other under the same circumstances. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?”
When you see, hear, touch, or taste something, sensory information first heads to the thalamus, which then sends that information to the relevant brain areas including the hippocampus for memory-related tasks and the amygdala, home to a good deal of our emotional processing. But with smells, it’s different. When it comes to olfaction, scents bypass the thalamus and go straight to the olfactory bulb which is directly connected to the amygdala and hippocampus. This helps us understand why the smell of something can so immediately trigger a detailed memory or even intense emotion, and why we are focusing on this sense today.
Today, our mindfulness exercises focuses our present-centered attention on the ordinary, to offer it our appreciation. As you listen along here, or as you go about your day, choose any 5 commonplace things in your life. The things that sustain you, that have become such a given that we rarely notice them, but without which our lives would be more difficult or less meaningful.
As you go about your day, keep tabs on these things. Take note of their inner workings, how they are benefit you and perhaps those around you, notice the finer, more minute details.
Often times we find ourselves so focused on the next thing that we lose sight of what is right in front of us. The purpose of this exercise is to help you to cultivate contentment with the present moment.
Today, pick a chore or a routine task. One of those things you “have” to do, something you usually try to rush through to get done before moving onto the next thing. Today, challenge yourself to treat this is a completely new activity rather than the chore it has become.
A good example is washing the dishes, or simply washing your hands. While doing this, you can observe the job through your five senses. You can notice the feeling of the water on your skin, the sound it makes as it hits the sink. Perhaps you can observe the smell of the soap, and visually attending to the lather as it builds, and then as you wash it off, aiming for specific areas of your hands as you clear the later.
Get creative as you discover new experiences within the familiar!
Often the focus of wellness initiatives is on physical health, followed by mental health, and sometimes spiritual health. Often times we forget to focus on what makes us, us – our intellectual wellbeing. For adults and children alike, COVID has changed the way we engage with those things have kept us cognitively sharp and engaged in the world around us. And so today’s wellness post comes to us from Tracy Kennedy and provides 12 ways to improve your intellectual wellness.
1. Try Something New – Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. Your brain can change and adapt through stimulation, stress, and experiences. What new thing will you try to do outside your comfort zone today? You might start with a Wikipedia Treasure Hunt to generate future ideas!
2. Read – One of the common habits of the most successful people in the world? They read. Oprah, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, Sheryl Sandberg, LeBron James are all avid readers. Don’t start with War and Peace, start with a shorter work on a topic you already like just to build the habit.
3. Exercise – Not only is exercise good for your heart and body, but it can also help improve another major muscle, your brain. In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular aerobic exercise—the kind that gets your heart and sweat glands pumping—appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning. So get out and walk, run, swim – get active anyway you can!
4. Be Social – We are social beings hardwired for connection. That means we need to spend time engaging with others to thrive as we learn how to get a life we can enjoy. Studies have shown that people who socialize often have higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. Plus, when you’re around others, we learn and grow because we hear different perspectives and new stories.
5. Stay Curious – Curiosity increases brain activity and activation. Being curious about something not only improves learning about that specific subject but increases your overall learning and retention capabilities, too. Curious why your local baker started her bakery? Ask her. Curious about the plant-based movement? Watch a documentary!
6. Eat Well – The food you eat fuels not just your body but your brain. In fact, your brain consumes about 20% of your daily calories! Inflammatory foods such as sugar, dairy, and refined carbs affect you negatively, while clean, nutrient-dense foods affect you positively.
7. Get Creative – Creativity stimulates your intellectual wellness and improves your overall health. Take music, for example. You’ve likely heard that music makes you smarter. One study showed that executive functions (EF) were enhanced in musicians compared to non-musicians. These include problem-solving, working memory, processing speed, and cognitive flexibility.
8. Stay Hydrated – The human brain is composed of over 75% water, with some studies suggesting that the number is closer to 85%. Do you want to improve your focus and clarity? Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses daily. Increase the hydration factor by adding electrolytes or a little sea salt to increase absorption into your cells.
9. Sleep – Sleep. Sleep, you say? Doesn’t that seem like an odd thing to do if I want to grow my intellectual capacity? Shouldn’t I be actively doing something? When we sleep, our brain removes stored toxins and takes out the ‘mental trash,’ which allows our brains to function better. According to research, “sleep has a restorative function. Lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects.”
10. Practice Self-Reflection – Just like physical wellness is about growth and strength, so is intellectual wellness. Taking the time to reflect on yourself and your life is a great way to engage your brain. It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior, and beliefs. Self-reflection improves self-awareness, provides perspective, facilitates a deeper learning level, challenges your assumptions, enables learning and growth opportunities, and even improves confidence.
11. Meditate – Meditation and mindfulness seem to be the answer to all that ails you, and yes, they can help with increasing your brainpower, too. Meditation allows you to calm your thoughts and achieve greater mental and emotional clarity.
12. Pick Up Your Rubik’s Cube – Working through puzzles or finding words in patterns uses a great amount of brainpower. Increasing your ability to work through these activities can maintain and build your intellectual wellness. Want to go old school? Pick up a crossword puzzle, grab your book of sudoku, or play a game of chess. New school? Grab your smartphone for a game of Words with Friends or check out one of the many free brain game apps like Lumosity or Brain HQ.
Can you go from feeling stressed to calm in under 30 seconds?
Phil Boissiere shares his simple technique, 3 by 3, to bring mindfulness to your busy life, any time, anywhere.
He is an adult ADHD and couples counseling specialist based in the San Francisco Bay Area and an expert in brain science, the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), and adult ADHD.
He also founded Beyond Focused, a web based video learning series for adults with ADHD and others who are looking to achieve optimal cognitive, occupational, and personal success.
Learn more about his work in his TedX Talk below.
While the ways in which we engage in work, school and our personal lives have significantly changed over the last year the demands placed on us throughout the day have remained steady, if not increased. While it may be easy to bring our bodies from one physical space to another, or click over from one video conference to the next, or minds are often elsewhere – either hung up on things discussed in a previous appointment, or dreading some upcoming task. This prevents us from being focused on the task at hand and can leave us cognitively and emotionally drained. This is why companies like SAP encourage what they call the “Minute to Arrive,” which is based on the mindfulness practice of Simply Stopping, and which is the focus of today’s exercise.
It’s common to experience a barrage of planning thoughts throughout the week, and even on the weekend as it creeps along. This meditation will be dedicated to, and focused on, grounding yourself in the body. It’s from this foundation that we can move forth, in both body and mind, into the week.
As you work toward building your mindfulness practice, sometimes it is helpful to start your day with a brief, 5 minute exercise. This meditation, from the folks at MindfulPeace, is meant to gently ease you into your day.