Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Improve Your Thinking Process By Avoiding Mental Traps: Amplification

Mental traps lead to unproductive thinking.  You can improve your thinking process by avoiding them, but first you need to know what types of mental traps there are.  A previous post discussed the mental trap of persistence.  You persist when you continue to work towards a goal that no longer has meaning for you.  You amplify when you work harder or longer than necessary to achieve a goal that you value.  Both persistence and amplification are unproductive thinking processes because they waste time that could be spent more productively.

Amplification is like using a sledge-hammer to swat a fly.  There are easier ways to do it.  People tend to amplify for two reasons.  Firstly, they over-prepare for things because they want to avoid possible outcomes they see as unacceptable.  Over-preparing for a speech, or continually re-packing for a trip fall into this category.  While it is possible that one more run-through of the speech  will lead to an improved presentation, or that one more re-pack will bring to light something that has been forgotten, the law of diminishing returns make these outcomes less and less likely. 

Repetition, as seen in the above examples, is more likely when it's difficult to tell when the goal has been attained.  How do you know when you are rich enough, or famous enough, or truly loved by your partner?  In the latter case, no evidence may be sufficient so looking for more is useless. This is the time to learn to trust that you are lovable..  

In the case of wealth, fame or power, achievement of a goal may lead to setting a higher goal because you now compare yourself to different people.  The question to ask yourself is if you want to spend your life chasing an ever-expanding goal of wealth, power or fame, or if there are other ways you prefer to spend your limited time on earth.  Is "I am the richest (most famous...most powerful...most...?) person on earth" going to be the thought that sustains you on your death-bed, or are there other things you might achieve that would have more meaning?

In his book Mental Traps: Stupid Things That Sane People Do To Mess Up Their Minds, Andre Kukla goes into a lot more detail about amplification and the 11 other mental traps. He suggests that by being attentive to the present moment, people can break away from habitual thinking processes that lead to mental traps.  Thinking is replaced by attention to the moment until the moment requires thinking. The compulsive need to always be working on things in order to stay on top of a future situation is thus allayed.

Build Up Your Immune System And Protect Yourself Against Swine Flu

With the spread of swine flu so much in the news, it makes sense to build up your immune system to reduce your chance of infection by the H1N1 virus.  There are no certainties in life, you may still get the flu, but a healthy immune system will maximize your chances of a quick recovery from swine flu or seasonal flu.

First, before we get to your immune system, it goes without saying that the normal routes for avoiding any infection are still very important.  Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing the first verse of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) especially before eating and after going to the toilet.  Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for the times that soap and water are not available. Keep your hands away from your face, as touching your nose, mouth or eyes with contaminated hands can introduce the virus into your body through the mucous membranes in these areas.

Eat A Healthy Diet
Your diet is an important line of defence against infection since good nutrition builds healthy cells, and healthy cells build a healthy body. Eating empty calories (i.e. those that do not meet the nutritional needs of your cells) increases your chances of developing chronic disease or of succumbing to infection.

Make sure that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as these are rich in antioxidants that protect your cells from free radical damage and in vitamins and minerals.  Include foods that build up your immune system. The latter include:
  • zinc - lamb, oysters, organic beef, Napa cabbage, spinach, cashews, and lima beans;
  • vitamin C - cabbage-family vegetables, spinach, red peppers; oranges; 
  • vitamin E - spinach, hazelnuts, almonds, asparagus, wheatgerm
  • vitamin A - red pepper, spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, canteloupe
  • Selenium - Brazil nuts, cashews, tuna, cod,
Other foods to include are those with anti-viral properties like garlic and green tea.  The latter also stimulates the immune system.

Take Vitamin D
It is best to get vitamins and minerals from food wherever possible, but vitamin D, which has been shown to protect against bacteria and viruses through production of substances called anti-microbial peptides, is produced by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight.  In the northern hemisphere the sun is too low in the winter to provide enough sun to form vitamin D, and the use of sun-block in summer prevents most people from building sufficient stores of vitamin D to see them through the winter.  So build your vitamin D stores by taking 1000 mg of Vitamin D3 (the natural form of the vitamin) daily.   Avoid the synthetic forms of vitamin D, which will not be helpful.

Avoid Sugar and Refined Grains
Help build up strength in your immune system by avoiding substances that weaken it.  Sugars suppress the immune system for several hours after ingestion, and refined grains act like sugars because they are metabolized so quickly that they stimulate the glycemic response.  Avoid processed foods, pop, grain alcohol, jams and jellies, syrups, sugar and honey.

Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise helps build up immune system efficacy by mobilizing the T-cells.  Moderate activity, such as brisk walking for 30 minutes, is better than intense activity which actually weakens the immune system.

Drink Water
Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day helps to flush out toxins and reduces the work that the immune system must do.

De-Stress Distress
Prolonged stress has a negative effect on the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to sickness.  Events in and of themselves do not cause stress; it is the reaction you have to events that determines whether it is stressful or not, and the reaction depends on the meaning you give to the event.    Stress-reducing practices such as meditation, tai chi, and yoga can assist you to respond, rather than react, to events in a way that is less stressful.  Reducing your stress-level will help build your immune system.

Get More Sleep
Sleep strengthens the immune system.  A recent study in The Archives of Internal Medicine found that those who slept fewer than seven hours a night were three times more likely to get sick than those who averaged at least eight hours.  Even a night without sleep can be harmful.  In a 2007 study, rats that went without sleep for 24-hours showed  a 20 per cent decrease in white blood cells when compared to a control-group that had not been sleep deprived.

Don't Worry
The brain and the immune system are connected through the neuropeptides - chemicals related to emotions.  These chemicals have specific receptor sites on cell membranes throughout the body.  All thoughts and all body functions are linked by these chemical peptides, which are the link between mind and body, and between body and mind.  

Worry and fear can suppress the immune system.  So worrying about catching flu can actually help to make it happen.  Instead look on the bright side.  Believe that your efforts to build up your immune system will pay-off so that you will either avoid the flu completely, or have only a mild case.

Photo by old_wine

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Seven Steps to Improve Relationships With Active listening Skills

Active listening skills are crucial to developing and maintaining relationships. When people don't feel heard by a partner or colleague, their relationship can become a source of pain. Active listening is the way to improve your relationship with each conversation.

Active listening skills acknowledge that the listener is as important in the conversation as the speaker. The meaning of words is subjective and so the listener may interpret what they hear is a way that the speaker did not intend. This may lead to hurt or angry feelings and disrupted relationships.

Step 1: Give Them Your Full Attention
The first active listening skill to master is that of listening intently to what the person is saying, and how they are saying it. Focus only on the speaker without giving attention to anything else, including your own thoughts. Don't decide on your response until it is your turn to speak.

Step 2: Keep An Open Mind
Imagining that you already know everything there is to know about the other will colour what you hear. Instead be interested in what new thing you may learn about this person or situation.

Step 3: Let Them Know You Are Listening
Show the speaker that you are listening by facing and looking at them, and making appropriate physical responses such as leaning forward or nodding. Occasional remarks such as "go on" or "tell me more about that", questions like "what happened then,” or encouraging noises like uh-uh. will encourage them to keep talking.

Step 4: Clarify What You Hear
Speakers tend to assume that they are being understood; listeners need to check that they are interpreting what they are hearing in the way the speaker intends. Reflecting back what you hear "As I understand it you are feeling...," or asking questions such as "What did you mean when you said...," or "When you said ....did you mean...." helps you and the speaker to know that you understand what they are saying.

Step 5: Reflect Back Emotions
If you can sense a feeling in what the speaker is saying, tell them tentatively what you notice. Remarks such as 'It sounds as if you were angry," can validate their emotion or make them aware of it.

Step 6: Find Out What They Want From You
Why is the speaker telling you this and what do they want you to do? They may want your support, sympathy opinion, advice, or intervention or may not want you to do anything but listen while they get what happened out of their system. A simple question such as "What would you like from me?" will let you know how to respond.

Step 7: Practice Your Active Listening Skills
While learning active listening skills, evaluate yourself after every conversation. Where did you do well and where did you fall down? Communication habits are difficult to change, so start by focusing on one skill at a time, making sure to use it in every conversation you have. Next day, focus on another skill. Soon you will be using all the active listening skills in every conversation you have.