The McGonigal Twins

Have you heard of Jane or Kelly McGonigal? These identical twin sisters are revolutionizing the way we look at the world. Jane McGonigal is a video game designer who strongly believes that games and technology can help channel positive energy and thus, improve our lives. Health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal advocates for compassion and mindfulness as the best stress-coping strategies. Take a look at both of their TED talks!

Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You 10 Extra Years of Life (19:30)

In this TED talk, Jane describes her experience with depression and suicidal thoughts. During that time, she created a game called SuperBetter to help heal her. She explains how harnessing the power of a gamer’s attitude helped to save her life and how a game itself can boost your personal resilience.

SuperBetter Game (3:00)

Get a sneak preview of the SuperBetter game, and don’t forget to sign up and play!

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend (14:28)

In Kelly’s TED talk, she urges us to re-think what we’ve learned about stress. Let’s make stress our friend! New research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Kelly hopes that we begin to see our sweaty palms and thumping hearts as positive reactions to stress.

Jane and Kelly McGongial: Oprah’s Thank You Game (2:31)

In an effort to spread gratitude around the world, the twins teamed up with Oprah to create this interactive way to encourage and display thankfulness. It’s pretty simple. Just give thanks.

Dive into one of Jane or Kelly’s inspirational books!

  • Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain by Kelly McGonigal, (2009, ISBN 978-1572246898)
  • The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal, (2012, ISBN 978-1583335086)
  • The Neuroscience of Change: A Compassion-Based Program for Personal Transformation by Kelly McGonigal, (2012, ISBN 978-1604077902)
  • Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal, (2011, ISBN 978-1-5942-0285-8)

 

*Activity: Download this worksheet (Stress Research TED Talk Worksheet), and while watching Kelly’s TED talk, fill out at much as you can. This process will help to sort out all of these new, innovative ideas about stress.

My Well-Being Action Plan

I am a planner. I love schedules, calendars, agendas, sticky notes, and to-do lists. Planning allows me to set clear, concise goals, stay organized, and assess my progress. A simple action plan like the one below can help with setting two (or more) realistically achievable objectives. This Well-Being Action Plan will bring a piece of positivity into your life, jumpstart your way to a happier, healthier you, and in turn, reduce your stress. You’ll be so focused on all of the good, quality changes that those stressful situations will feel like little speed bumps along your path to a better, more resilient life.

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Photo courtesy of my husband, Tim Dancy

My Well-Being Action Plan

Be Rested and Rejuvenated

  • Consciously decide to get the right amount of sleep (7-8 hours per night)
  • Be consistent with your routine (A schedule with variety is nice to shake things up once in a while, but if your days are too sporadic, it may lead to worry and anxiety.)
  • Try to avoid sugar and caffeine right before bed (It leads to crazy dreams… ahem… nightmares and a stressful night)
  • Bathe yourself in Vitamin D, a.k.a. SUNSHINE. (Apollo was the Greek god of sun and light, as well as the god of medicine and healing… see the connection?)

 

Be Active and Energized

  • Walk your pooch, run a 5k, hike the blue trail at Sleepy Giant, ride your bike, or take a moment to dance
  • Discover an activity you enjoy (tennis, golf, Zumba, horseback riding, CrossFit)
  • Commit to 30 minutes per day of being active

 

Be Healthy and Happy

  • Drink more water (Find a water bottle you love – one with a bright color, a straw, or a fun twisty top)
  • Eat fruit and veggies (raw, canned, frozen… doesn’t matter. They’re all delicious!)
  • Don’t skip meals (especially breakfast). Try a protein shake or smoothie, if you don’t feel hungry in the AM.
  • Try taking an all-in-one vitamin.
  • Before you go to bed, think back on the day’s activities and remember one happy moment.

Be Connected and Content

  • Have lunch or coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while (activate some oxytocin)
  • Call a family member (Shout out to my mom!)
  • Bake a tasty treat for your colleagues/co-workers (They will love you for it.)
  • Do your neighbor a favor (Remember that cup of sugar you borrowed?)

 

Be Aware and Appreciative

  • Take notice of the beauty around you (the sun shining, the tulips blooming, the birds chirping)
  • Remark on the unusual or unexpected (sometimes these moments can be quite interesting… it’s that one thing no one else notices, except you.)
  • Write down three things that you feel grateful for.

 

Be Curious and Engaged

  • Try a different activity (journal writing, guitar lessons, sculpting, camping)
  • Eat at a new restaurant, discover an art gallery, or listen to live music
  • Cook a new recipe or read a book
  • Set a challenge for yourself, accept that challenge, and rock that challenge.

 

Be Giving and Open-Handed

  • Say something (genuinely) nice to someone
  • Remember to smile (Even up here in the big-bad-Northeast region, people still like to see smiles. It’s refreshing J)
  • Volunteer your time (with a non-profit agency, a local business, or someone you know)
  • Join a community group
  • Go out of your way to help someone

 

Which one or two will you choose to do today? Which one or two will you choose to do tomorrow? This weekend? Next week?

*Activity: In the comments, post what you plan to do.
I choose to ________________________________________.

love & peace,
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Mindful Monday

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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The art of mindfulness requires you to be fully present in any activity – the mundane tasks of a daily routine like pouring your morning cup of coffee, a household chore like washing the dinner dishes, or listening to your spouse talk about her day at work.

Mindfulness allows us to embrace the time-consuming activities, enjoy the little moments, and practice focusing our attention. At the core of Buddhist teachings, the practice of mindfulness has been linked to happiness and health. Through mindfulness, the stresses of everyday life become easier to manage.

Studies show that our minds and bodies directly benefit from practicing mindfulness – a psychological state of awareness where we shift our perceptions and concentrate on how we react to our experiences. The more mindful we become, the more tools we add to our resiliency toolbox, including compassion, acceptance, openness, and creativity (Dr. Lynda Klau, This Emotional Life).

We live in a fast-paced, chaotic world, where it’s not easy to stop, think, breathe, think about breathing, or breathe without thinking. We multi-task in order to balance family life and work life. We listen to music, while walking our dog, while chewing gum, while taking a photo, while posting a status update, while chatting with a friend, while checking our email, while crossing the road. You get the idea. And that’s just in our personal lives.

Even at work, we divide our attention and do two things (or three or four things) at once in order to meet deadlines. The workload piles on. To-do lists grow longer. Stress increases. We are distracted. We are constantly in motion. We are habitually bogged down, overworked, rushed, anxious, frazzled, and exhausted.

It’s time to be still and dip into the pool of mindfulness.

In the book 5-minute Mindfulness, Dr. David Dillard-Wright identifies some of the most effective mindfulness tools:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Deep breathing
  • Visualization
  • Massage
  • Reiki
  • Aromatherapy
  • Music therapy
  • Exercise
  • Hypnosis
  • Biofeedback

 

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

*Activity: Practice mindfulness with this breathing exercise. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Inhale, and breathe in what you need in your life. Exhale, and breathe out what no longer serves you (Dillard-Wright 10).

Breathe in love; exhale loneliness.

Breathe in courage; exhale fear.

Breathe in patience; exhale irritability.

Learn how you currently practice mindfulness and how you can improve your practice by taking the Mindfulness Quiz through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley. The quiz draws on a mindfulness scale developed by researchers at La Salle University and Drexel University.

In the comments, feel free to share your results from the Mindfulness Quiz.

love & peace,
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There’s an app for that!

I’ve reviewed dozens of stress-reducing, relaxation apps. Here are a few of my favorites. And the best part… they’re all free! It’s time to turn your smartphone into a device that promotes positive thinking.

Stop, Breathe, & Think

For this app, you have to practice patience. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not one of my best virtues, but I’m trying. The app first asks “How are you?” and encourages you to check in with yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. It then suggests a series of meditations to choose from, each approximately 5 minutes long.

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3-minute Retreat

For those who prefer a spiritual practice in times of stress, enjoy a daily reflective prayer retreat whenever you need it most with a 3-minute retreat, featuring soothing music, verses from Scripture, and questions to ponder.

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365 Happy Days

This app allows you to set a daily, weekly, or monthly notification to receive motivational quotes or daily activities that will help you to live a happier life. Today, I was reminded to help another person because “no kind act is ever too small.”

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Gratitude 365

This app will encourage you to answer the question “What am I truly grateful for in my life?” Create a daily entry and list anything you are thankful for that day. Choose a photo to represent that day! The calendar view shows all of your “gratefulness photos” at one time. There is a $1.99 option as well, which includes additional features.

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Mindfulness Coach

While originally created for Veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this app can benefit anyone. It includes 9 practices ranging from 5 to 10 minutes in length that will help to increase mindfulness. The practices can be audio guided or self-guided.

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Moving Forward

Here’s another app designed for Veterans and Service members, but honestly, it can be used by anyone. It’s an educational and life coaching program that teaches tools and skills to cope with difficult issues. My favorite part is the “Assessment” section, which includes a Problem-Solving Style Quiz and a How-Stressed-Am-I-Now? Quiz. It also tracks your stress over the months in a nifty little graph. The app also includes various relaxation and visualization exercises to help reduce stress.

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Balanced

Today, this app asked me a question (a gentle reminder)… “What have you done for yourself lately?” The app allows you to create a menu of suggested activities to generate more happiness and create a sense of wellbeing and balance in life. A few suggestions include doing yoga, writing a blog entry [check], and uncluttering your life. With the free version, you can choose 5 items to work on, but for $2.99, you’ll have access to unlimited activities.

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 Headspace

This app is all about meditation. Step #1… Watch a few animations (like this one called Blue Sky) that demonstrate how our minds work – the dynamics of our minds – and how meditation can create a calming, natural space of rest. The app refers to the meditation process as Take10 — 10 minutes of meditating for 10 days. Easy, right? Did I mention that patience isn’t my strong suit? I’ll work on it.

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Happier

Move aside Facebook! This fun, social gratitude app helps you find new ways to be happier and promotes collecting (and sharing) happy moments! Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the negativity on other social networking sites, but with Happier, there’s always a bright side. There are Happier Courses like Yoga to Go, Everyday Grateful, and Meditation Vacation. And everyday there’s a new challenge and a happier tip. *Check out Nataly Kogan’s TEDx Talk about sharing joy through her innovative app.

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*Activity: In the comments, share a happy moment in your life (big or small).

love & peace,
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Seeds of Resilience

We are all resilient – to different degrees. Some are more resilient than others. Some have grasped at the ropes of resilience and held firm, and others have dangled onto those frayed strings of resilience at one time or another. Either way, we are all resilient. I want you to think about a time when you’ve bounced back – from anything, whether a monumental life event or a seemingly small, insignificant moment. Think about it.

Maybe a stranger made an offensive comment as he walked passed, and you weren’t even fazed by it.

Maybe you quickly fixed your flat tire, rather than dwelling on the bad situation at hand.

Maybe when an employer laid you off, you productively began job searching the following day.

Maybe you found a way to pay the rent when it first seemed to be an impossible feat.

Maybe you lost your keys, but you looked around the house calmly, rather than panic-stricken.

In what circumstances are you able to adapt quickly and brainstorm solutions? When is it easy to “go with the flow” or “let it roll off your back?” [If you feel comfortable sharing, please comment on this post.]

Here’s a positive thought, a little reminder. You are resilient. At some point in your life, you have been resilient. We will improve upon that resiliency in the following weeks and months, but right now, rest assured that you have already tapped into this ability. Now we need to nourish that seed of resilience with happiness and optimism. Let’s watch it bloom.

*Activity: Resiliency begins with a change in mindset. By silencing your inner critic and eliminating negative talk, you’ll have more room in your head to listen to the good vibes. Embrace the Future, a project of the Mental Health Foundation of Australia, has created a fun Resiliency Balloon Game. It’s not just for kids though; adults can pop those negative thought bubbles too.

love & peace,
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