"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Don’t let brain trick you into being blue

By on March 29, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

June DarlingBy June Darling

A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.

— William Blake

One way of thinking about life is that we all are carrying a load in a metaphorical sense.

We have problems, projects, and challenges that weigh upon us, burden us.

In positive scenarios, we inherit, stumble upon, or cultivate resources that help us carry our load so that we function well and feel good. Resources can be inner strengths like humor, grit and courage or outer things like useful books, money and good friends.

Researchers have been playing around with this concept in unusual ways for at least 10 years. They seem to think that a lot of our ability to fail or thrive has a lot to do with our perceptions about our load and our resources. They have fooled around with ways of tricking our minds.

For example, you won’t be surprised to hear that researchers at the University of Virginia have found that we over-estimate the steepness of hills and the length of distances when we’re tired or have a heavy pack on our backs. You may have experienced that yourself.

What might shock you is we under-estimate the steepness of hills when a good friend stands beside us — the friend doesn’t help us or say a thing, but just stands there. In a different situation, trying to figure out difficult math problems, we feel less cardiac stress if our pet sits by us.

When a good friend or family member, even a pet, physically stands beside us, we feel as if we are more competent, more efficient, more in control and have a greater sense of belonging. We can click right along.

It’s easy to see how that’s relevant for living the good life.

And there’s more…

My story happened on Valentine’s Day. I was stressed the night before. I had problems with no apparent solutions, stacks of paperwork, and people needing my help — not to mention heaps of laundry, dirty dishes and a broken arm.

I woke up frazzled. My heart skipped a beat, which is often a signal to me that all is not going well inside me.

I reached for my cell phone. Often there’s an uplifting message from a blogger I read. While looking at email, I saw a message from Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist and best-selling author. He was writing about a practice he called “feeling the support.”

Then a Happy Valentine’s Day message popped up from a friend. In my being overwhelmed, I had completely forgotten about Valentine’s Day. I wanted to send a message to a couple of people, which I did. Then I got a few back.

Within 10 minutes I was in a totally different psychological state. All those loved ones were with me, not physically, but in my mind.

I jumped out of bed, straightened the house, made a plan for getting my work done, and jumped on the treadmill.

The notion that social support serves to physically and psychologically unburden people is well established these days.

What is new are studies suggesting that maybe we don’t even require actual physical presence to get benefits. We can just connect with or think about people (maybe pets as well) who support us.

These studies remind me of many people telling me they were able to pass tests, run a marathon, or achieve some arduous task by imagining a loved family member being with them. This is the essence of the practice Hanson was writing about with “feeling the support.”

The practice that Hanson recommends is taking a few minutes each day to think of, see in our minds everyone and everything that supports us — our close friends and family, our pets, clean air and water, our legs and lungs, music, smiles from people on the street, our tendency to find silver-linings, our fortitude, the farmers who grow our food, the FEDEX delivery person, our teachers and doctors, neighbors, civil servants… and really feel the support.

When we feel all that support, then notice our load — it seems much lighter. We build our energy by connecting with, remembering, and imagining our resources.

We can use April Fool’s Day to remember that our mind often tricks us by pulling our attention to the heaviness of our packs. Then in our depleted state, we believe the hills are way too steep to climb. We despair, curl up in a ball, and give up.

We can wise up. Reverse that trick by taking a few minutes each day this month to remember the research, and take charge of our focus. We can purposefully notice and feel all the support we have — allow our spirits to soar.

Now that big mountain starts to look more like a little molehill we can easily climb, victoriously plant our flag, and live the good life.

How might you move up The Good Life by feeling the support?

June Darling, Ph.D. can be contacted at drjunedarling1@gmail.com; website: www.summitgroupresources.com. Her bio and many of her books can be found at amazon.com/author/junedarling.

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