Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Staying Healthy As We Age

Do you want to be as healthy as a 40 year old, when you are 70? Margie E. Lachman and Stefan Agrigoroaei from the Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts looked at what factors seem to affect health in midlife and old age.

They found that 3 factors were highly protective of health (especially when combined):

  • Control beliefs -  how much participants thought that they could influence what happens in their life including whether they believed that their actions could bring about good health. If we believe that our actions can impact on our health then we are more likely to make healthy choices. 
  • Social support (How much do members of your family really care about you?)
  • Regular exercise
The study controlled for three risk factors known to impact on health:
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse
  • Waist Circumference 

Older adults who believed they could influence their health through their behaviour; who had good social support and took regular exercise had health that was similar to younger and middle-aged people

If you have all three factors in your 50's you are more likely to be healthy in your 60's.

My new Vibram's - oh the excitement!
So I am going to put on my running shoes and go for a jog with my about you?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

How To Stop Your Kids From Becoming Drug Abusing Delinquents

Research on how to rear happy, healthy kids is becoming pretty impressive - here are the top tips from the research:
  1. Protect them from emotional, physical and sexual abuse
  2. Protect them from cruel environments (teasing, criticism, harsh punishment)
  3. Sort out conflict between parents in kindhearted and effective ways
  4. If either parent becomes depressed, do something about it
  5. Don't use coercion and harsh punishment to try to control their behaviour instead be warm and flexible
  6. Feed them Omega 3 supplements
  7. Teach and encourage kind and empathic behaviour by prompting it (Sarah, how do you think Kate is feeling? Do you think she needs a hug?'); noticing and praising it ('David, you were so kind to play Barbie with Katie. She looked so happy.') and modelling it yourself. 
  8. Send them to a school that encourages kind and empathic behaviour.
  9. Give them attention. Play with them, chat with them, be interested and caring.
  10. Notice when they do the right thing. It can be so easy to react when kids do the wrong thing and ignore it when they get things right, consciously try to focus on what they get right whilst also dealing with any poor behaviour.
  11. When they are learning new and difficult behaviours, such as sharing their toys or handling conflict well, break it down into small steps and set up some form of reward system (like a sticker chart) but don't overuse external rewards.
  12. Where possible give them choices (and coach them to understand the likely consequences of those choices).
  13. Make sure they are supervised after school - including in their teenage years.
  14. Encourage them to be mindful.
  15. Help them to choose their values and then encourage them to make decisions in line with their values.

If you have young children then I highly recommend the Triple P program which is summarised in this book. Not only does it have strong evidence to support it but also I used it with my kids and they would both say it was a good approach! What more proof do you need!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What Does a Great Birthday Present Look Like?

Positive psychology tells us a few important things about present giving:
  1. Materialism makes us unhappy
  2. Meaningful experiences give us longer lasting happiness  compared to buying stuff.
  3. Giving makes us happier than receiving.
It was my birthday recently, so I decided to apply these findings to my own life. I spoke to my loved ones and we came up with some non-materialistic gifts.

My new down-pipe!
My partner donated some money to my two favourite charities - MSF and Oxfam. I feel very happy every time I think of it. He also fixed my leaking down-pipe. This also makes me happy not only when I walk past it but also whenever it rains!

My son, Patrick has designed a swanky new e-newsletter for my business. He is also giving me some running lessons. It is astounding that I am approaching 50 and I don't know how to run, isn't it?!

My daughter, Ellie is teaching me how to style my hair and is going to help with my packing for our upcoming trip to Europe (She is an expert in 'One Bag' packing).

I am thrilled with all of these presents. 

What would non-materialistic birthday presents look like for you? Would you enjoy them more than some new stuff?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

What Have You Done Today To Make You Feel Proud?

Marching for Equal Love

Today Ellie and I went to the Equal Love rally. We marched and shouted our support for the rights of LGBT people to have their love recognised through marriage.

A gorgeous drag queen, in red and black sequins, lipsynced to this song and the crowd loved it!

What have you done today to make you feel proud?
Now, this seems like a good question. But it is actually a bit problematic.

Because pride is a tricky emotion. We probably don't come programmed with instructions for when to feel pride. The people around us teach us when to feel it. This means that sometimes the things that make us feel proud can be kind of messed up. Some of us think that we have to do something extraordinary (like win gold in the Olympics or make a million dollars or look like Barbie) before we can feel proud and others think just showing up is enough.

And, for most of us, pride and shame are poured from the same cup.

For example, I felt proud to be taking action on an issue that is close to my heart and I also felt ashamed because:
1. This is only the second gay rights march I have ever been on. Why do I claim to care about it and then not join the protests?
2. I know that one of the best ways to combat homophobia is to be 'out'. So that people can see that LGBT people are their friends, colleagues, neighbours and relatives and not so strange and scary. But over and over I have chosen to hide my own sexuality (I am bisexual) because I don't want to risk prejudice (or more commonly, creepy invitations to threesomes - yuk).

So if we can't use pride as a marker for a life well lived; what question should we ask instead?  A question that is more likely to steer us in the right direction might be:

What have you done today that moved you towards your values?

Okay, I know it isn't quite as catchy! But it is better because we can consciously choose our values and then we get to choose what is worthy of pride. This seems better than continuing to act out the emotional scripts that we have unconsciously learnt. Of course sometimes, even when we are doing the right thing, pride refuses to show up. We can then choose to acknowledge that we have made a small step in the right direction and eventually, step by step we become more the person we want to be.

So, how did you live your values today?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why Do You Have Your Hair Like That?

Every single action you take throughout your life can either be a move towards your values or a move to avoid painful thoughts or feelings.

The place that this choice (and all the other small choices we make) comes from, makes a big difference to the quality of our life. Choices that are mainly about expressing our heart's desire about who we want to be in the world and what we want our lives to stand for, will tend to lead us in the direction of vitality and emotional well being. Choices that are mainly about avoiding social disapproval will tend to lead us towards a narrow and constricted life.

From the outside it can be hard to tell which it is. Look at these two women:

We have no way of knowing whether Kim Kardashian or Martine Batchelor are expressing their values through the choices they have made about their hair or whether they are just trying to avoid social disapproval from the very different communities that they inhabit.

So if I can't tell which I am doing just by looking at my behaviour, how do I choose?  Wel, I can ask myself this question:

If everyone important to me approved of....(insert area of your life here - from your haircut to your choice of career) ...whatever I chose to do, what would I choose?

To explore this further, I recommend the personal values questionnaire.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Telling Children What to Do Is Often A Bad idea

Adults teach children how to behave. One of the things we teach kids is that they need to follow instructions: 'Go and wash your hands and come and sit down for dinner'; 'Say, 'Thank you' to Grannie'; 'Come and help me with the washing up'. We praise kids when they do as we ask and punish them in some way when they don't. Eventually they learn that it is a good idea to do what people in authority ask you to do.

Following instructions with good grace is an important skill. We all know kids (and adults) who haven't learnt that skill and they are painful to be around - everything feels like a battle.

However we want our children to be discerning about this. We don't want them to blindly follow instructions. We want them to question authority. We don't want them to be trapped into being a people pleaser. We don't want them to just go along with peer pressure. ( If you are in doubt about this then read Philip Zimbardo's works on the dangers of compliance.)

So we need to teach them another more important skill. This skill involves being in contact with what is going on in the present moment (How do I feel? What is really happening here?); being able to consider the longer term ramifications of their actions; draw on some values that feel personally meaningful and then making a decision how to act.

This skill is psychological flexibility and it is strongly associated with well being.

Which is why we often need to pause when we have the impulse to just tell our kids what to do and instead coach them to come to their own decision. So when Grannie gives them a present that they don't want, we might take a moment (whilst Grannie is in the garden) to talk through how they feel (disappointed), how Grannie might be feeling (worried that she has got it wrong?), what they want their relationship to be like with Granny and then help them decide the best approach to this. Which might be to give Granny a big hug and a thank you now and perhaps on another day have a conversation with Grannie about how they would love to go shopping for their next present with Grannie and choose it together.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jumping Off a Piece Paper

Do you have something important that you need to do but even the thought of it makes you feel so uncomfortable that you just avoid it?
It might be risking rejection; doing something boring; risking looking stupid.....
In this great podcast, DJ Moran talks about slicing these challenges up really thinly. Finding the point where you have made it small enough that you will take action. He uses the metaphor of jumping off a piece of paper. Even though the jump is really, really tiny; you are still jumping and that is very different to not jumping at all.
And once you have gotten moving, you might tackle jumping off the phone book next!
Another cross post from Working With ACT