Friday, 29 May 2015

Hypnosis and fertility: how can hypnotherapy improve the IVF experience and increase the chances of success?

By Sjanie Hugo

Conception is defined as the union of a male sperm and a female ovum resulting in a zygote. Prior to the first pregnancy which resulted from in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in 1973 it was believed that human fertilisation must occur within the woman’s body. Although this pregnancy only lasted a few days, it wasn’t long before further experimentation resulted in the successful birth of Louise Brown in 1978.

Louise Brown has gone down in history as the first ever ‘test tube’ baby, signifying the beginning of reproductive endocrinology. Since her birth extensive research and further discoveries have meant that couples with fertility problems now have a variety of medical options available to them. Many couples, who may never have been able to have a baby, are now parents because of assisted reproductive technology (ART). And yet there are many others, who after countless attempts at a variety of interventions remain childless.

Unfortunately ART only offers people another option and isn’t necessarily the solution to fertility problems. When it comes to having a baby, there are no guarantees. With all the advancements in science, embryologists still can’t say who will and who won’t go home with a baby. The creation of life is wonderfully intriguing and mysterious, and I suspect the answers can’t be found under a microscope.

It isn’t hard to see how difficult having fertility problems can be. And with an ever increasing number of people choosing to try IVF(1), it seems that this struggle may have become compounded. IVF is a very time consuming, intense and demanding procedure. People put a lot of financial and emotional investment into it, and some believe that there happiness depends upon the successful outcome.

Irrespective of the outcome, going through a cycle of IVF is likely to have a negative effect physically, emotionally and psychologically. The impact of which is magnified by treatment failure. The demanding nature of the procedure can also affect people’s work and social life. The high financial cost of IVF is well known and with some couples choosing to do 3 or more cycles the financial burden can become heavy. It is also quite understandable that relationships may suffer sexually and emotionally under these kinds of stressful circumstances. Simply put, IVF can affect every aspect of life, and in the case of an unsuccessful outcome, people may be left feeling devastated, disappointed, exhausted, stressed and without hope.

In the time that I have worked with people undergoing IVF, I have heard repeatedly that hypnosis has made such a positive difference to their experience that they can’t believe anyone would go through IVF without it. Whilst some fertility units offer counselling to their patients, I think that the inclusion of hypnosis offers so much more than talking therapy alone.

Firstly, clients can be taught how to achieve a deep state of relaxation using hypnosis which will help to significantly reduce levels of stress. Secondly, hypnotherapy can be used to equip them with tools and inner resources which will help them to cope better and handle an unsuccessful outcome more easily. Thirdly, hypnosis can be used to help prepare mentally, emotionally and physically for IVF. This preparation can range from positive lifestyle changes, changing limiting beliefs to eliminating a needle phobia. And lastly, hypnosis can help to increase the chances of a successful outcome.

According to a study presented to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Berlin in July of 2004: hypnosis can effectively double the success of IVF treatments. The study was conducted by Professor Eliahu Levitas and his team at Soroka Hospital in Israel to determine if hypnosis could improve the success of the embryo transfers stage of IVF.

The study of 185 woman found that 28% of the women who were hypnotized for the IVF treatment became pregnant, compared to 14% of the women in the control group(2). Professor Levitas studied the effects of hypnosis for the IVF treatment and embryo transfer only, because prior studies that demonstrated the stress of the procedure created small contractions of the uterus that prevented the successful implantation of the fertilized egg. The professor indicated that tranquilizers had been used in prior studies, but nothing worked as well as hypnosis. “Performing embryo transfer under hypnosis may significantly contribute to an increased clinical pregnancy rate,” Professor Levitas told the conference in Berlin.

A few months ago, a young woman called Mary (3) came to see me for hypnotherapy because she was due to go for her fourth and final round of IVF treatment. She, like many others, had been diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Instead of giving up after trying naturally for 18 months, her and her husband decided to give IVF a go. After a year of unsuccessful fertility treatment she felt at an all time low. She spent some time telling me about what the last two and half years had been like for her and how it had left her feeling. She explained how trying to have a baby had become all consuming, and that without her attention the other areas of her life had begun to deteriorate. She had turned down work opportunities, social engagements, holidays and family gatherings all in an attempt to get pregnant or avoid the heartache of not being pregnant yet. She had changed her diet and entire lifestyle to include only things which she believed would help her to conceive. She spent hours every day on infertility chat rooms and seemed to know as much about infertility and medical treatments as a reproductive endocrinologist. Although her relationship with her husband was strong, he had finally drawn the line and said that he was only prepared to do one more cycle of IVF. He could see how much their attempts to get pregnant were affecting her, and he did not want the next 5 years of their life to be on hold while they continued trying.

Although terrified at the prospect of stopping, she knew that she could not go on like this for much longer. Her health and psychological wellbeing were suffering, and she felt she no longer had the energy to keep on struggling. Knowing that this was her last attempt at IVF, she decided to try hypnotherapy. She was hoping that hypnotherapy would help increase the chances of success, but also knew that she needed some help to cope with each stage of IVF, as well as the outcome.

Mary is a very typical example of the kind of IVF case that I hear. In a situation like this, I like to follow a simple six stage therapeutic framework:

This framework has come to be known as the Fertile Body Method, and can be applied in varying ways to the treatment of any fertility case. Below I have illustrated how this method was used in Mary’s case to help bring about the changes that she wanted.

After hearing about Mary’s situation we began detailing what outcome she wanted from the hypnotherapy treatment. I used solution focused (4) questions get a detailed and specific goal for therapy. Through this process we identified significant markers along the path to this goal, as well as some of the resources she may need to get there.

Mary’s goal focused on wanting to feel ready mentally, emotionally and physically for the IVF treatment. We discussed in detail, what this would be like and how she would know she was prepared in the way she wanted to be. We identified some unhealthy beliefs that would need to change, as well as what she would need to be doing differently before and during this cycle. She then went on to describe how she would feel when all of this is happening.

Mary knew she would need inner strength to be able to come to terms with the possibility that it may not work, and greater perspective so that she could see how her life could be happy without her own children.

Once the outcome for therapy was clear, we began by looking at how we could restorebalance to Mary’s life. This stage in the process is vital, and really needs to precede all other therapeutic intervention. This stage ensures that general wellbeing is restored and that the client is in a stable and resourceful state before continuing to address more complicated issues.

During this second stage we did some work together to help her give the different areas of her life the attention they needed. We created mini-goals to identify what changes she would like to make to her relationship, social life, work, hobbies and lifestyle. This immediately broadened her narrow baby focus to include the rest of her life. She began putting more energy and time into the areas of her life which gave her a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. I also taught her self-hypnosis so that she could enjoy some time each day in deep relaxation.

After a couple of weeks Mary felt that she was well underway to having a more well rounded life, and was already noticing the benefits of having made these changes. Now in a more stable and resourceful state it became much easier for her to access her inner resources which we worked together to develop and build.

Mary now felt ready to begin to address her fear of being childless and resolve some of the unhealthy beliefs she had about herself as an infertile woman. She believed she was a failure if she didn’t have a baby of her own, and that she had let everyone in her family down. She also believed that her life could not be worthwhile without children. All of these beliefs were contributing to her high levels of anxiety and preventing her from coming to terms with being childless.

With a combination of cognitive behavioural techniques and hypnosis, Mary was able to overcome her fear and begin to see how she was worthwhile irrespective of whether she had children or not. I also asked her to create a picture collage of how she would like her life to be like if she did not have children. During this process she began to think about what some of the benefits of not having children might be and was able to see how she could be happy without children. This brought her such a sense of relief and she explained that she felt as if a weight had been lifted.

I created a tailor made self hypnosis CD with specific guided visualisations designed to help enhance fertility. The CD contained visualisations for the different stages of IVF: stimulation, embryo transfer and implantation.

We spent our second last session together focusing on helping her to feel ready andprepared for the IVF treatment which was due to start within the next couple of weeks.

I also taught her some self help tools which would help her to feel more in control throughout the treatment.

Mary used the self help tools and self hypnosis CD throughout her IVF treatment and booked her last appointment with me after she had heard the results of treatment. To her absolute disappoint, the IVF treatment failed. When I saw her for our session together I was so inspired by the courage and strength that she showed. Despite being very disappointed that the treatment had not worked, she felt she was able to handle it because she knew that it no longer meant the end of her world. She also told me that the treatment had gone really well and she had felt the best she had ever felt. She knew that she had done everything she could and it was now time for her and her husband to focus on building their life together. Because the outcome of the IVF had been unsuccessful the focus of the session was to support Mary through this time of grief and moving on. She came to see me after that for one more session to help support her to maintain some of the positive changes that she had made in her life and to continue to build a happy and fulfilling life for her and her husband.

When I received a phone call from Mary 3 months later to say that she had conceived naturally and was pregnant, I was shocked but not surprised. The work we had done together had helped Mary to make many changes to her life, and above all else had helped her to let go of the anxiety and fear that she had about being childless. How and why she conceived will forever remain a mystery. However the transformative journey that Mary undertook in an attempt to become a mother, will have a long lasting effect on her and her family’s future. It may even be that it was a very necessary part of her unique preparation for parenthood.

Time and time again I have witnessed the wonderful effects of hypnotherapy on couples undergoing IVF treatment. I feel very passionate about the benefits of hypnotherapy becoming available to more people with fertility problems and would love to see it offered as a standard part of IVF treatment.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The Pessimist's Guide to Being an Optimist

If you're a pessimist, you can vault yourself into a worst-case scenario in a nanosecond. You get an invitation to dinner from a new neighbor, and you imagine an awkward meal, followed by a lifetime of mutual dislike right on your own block. New clothes are a torment, lying in wait for a ruinous dab of salad dressing. A trip to one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the country? At best, you'll be miserably cold or break an ankle; at worst, you'll wind up snow-blind.

Negativity may appear to be a great defense mechanism: If you keep your expectations low enough, you won't be crushed when things don't work out. But new research has revealed that the tendency to be a wet blanket in just about any situation—a trait the experts call "dispositional pessimism"—doesn't merely ruin a good time and prevent you from making friends. It seems that it's a bad strategy by about every measure. Optimists, it turns out, do better in most avenues of life, whether it's work, school, sports, or relationships. They get depressed less often than pessimists do, make more money, and have happier marriages.

And not only in the short run. There's evidence that optimists live longer, too. A 9-year study of cardiovascular health in more than 900 men and women in the Netherlands found that pessimists not only die sooner of heart disease than optimists, but they also die sooner of just about everything. It's enough to drive a pessimist crazy—and sure enough, pessimism has been linked to higher odds of developing dementia. (See how optimism is the happy way to protect your heart.)

Fortunately, a grim outlook doesn't have to be permanent. Leading researchers say that optimism and pessimism are two ends of a continuum, with about 80% of the US population scattered from mildly to relentlessly optimistic. But research reveals that if you're hunkered down on the other end, you can slide on over—or at least get some of the benefits that usually cluster on the optimistic side of the scale, says Suzanne Segerstrom, PhD, an optimism researcher at the University of Kentucky and author of Breaking Murphy's Law. It takes only a few changes. They're small, gradual—and not what you'd expect.

Don't try to be happy

In one of Segerstrom's favorite studies, researchers asked a group of people to use a beautiful piece of classical music to raise their moods, while telling other volunteers simply to listen to the symphony. The result: The concert didn't help those who were focused on lifting their spirits—but the others wound up feeling much better.

"To truly be happy, you have to stop trying," says Segerstrom. Even monitoring yourself—Am I feeling better yet?—gets in the way, studies show. Instead, aim to be engaged. "Engagement bypasses pessimism," she says. One reason: When you're fully involved in something, it can distract you from a pessimist's favorite pastime—rumination. (That's what psychologists call the destructive pattern of obsessing endlessly over problems or concerns.) When you're ruminating, it's not just a bad day—it's always a bad day, and a bad life, and you're a bad person. The habit will blow up even a minor problem to billboard size. It takes up so much bandwidth, who has room to focus on a solution? It's no surprise that optimists accomplish more than pessimists.

Attitude adjustment
Find quick distractions you can use when you realize you're stuck on the same negative thought, suggests Segerstrom. Try activities that demand your full attention: Go to a yoga class (or a kickboxing or aerobics class, where you have to commit fully to avoid falling on your face). At the office, try calling a friend or switching on some absorbing music.

Imagine that it's the end of the world

Ruminating is just one road to pessimism. Another habit that dims your outlook: a process called catastrophizing, mentally rewriting grim possibilities until they become true doomsday scenarios. A simple cough turns into pneumonia (and not the kind you recover from, either). One missed deadline is the first step in a fast trip to permanent unemployment.

This rumination-and-catastrophization combo packs a terrible one-two punch: Worst-case scenarios may be absurd, but playing them over and over makes them seem not only logical but inevitable. And it sucks the joy out of life.

Attitude adjustment
Exaggerate those scenarios to the point of comic hilarity, says Karen Reivich, PhD, codirector of the Penn Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania and coauthor of The Resilience Factor. "At some point you think, Oh, come on, now. Am I really going to be living beneath an underpass in a refrigerator box because I'm a day late on a project?"

Don't stop with the refrigerator box. Picture yourself trying to trap squirrels for supper—maybe even whipping up some squirrel fondue for the other bag ladies you've met under the bridge. Then paint the opposite scenario. Your project makes your company a million dollars! You're promoted to CEO! Finally, write down the outcome that's most likely. Chances are, it won't include the executive suite—or the one under the freeway.

"The beauty of this goofing around is that you feel a bit of power over your thoughts and the situation," Reivich says. "That sense of control is the antidote to pessimism."

Go ahead, blame someone else

Researchers have learned that optimism and pessimism both boil down to little more than our "explanatory" style—a person's distinct way of interpreting life's ups and downs. When a good thing happens, pessimists dismiss it as a fluke; optimists take the credit. When bad things happen, pessimists blame themselves and expect to suffer a long time, while optimists see bad events as having little to do with them, and as one-time problems that will pass quickly. A pessimist who misses a shot on the tennis court says, "I'm lousy at tennis"; an optimist says, "My opponent has a killer serve."

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD, author of Learned Optimism and a pioneer of positive psychology, was the first to discover that a person's explanatory style is fairly stable—and that it often explains why pessimists fail when optimists succeed. After all, it's easier to keep practicing your tennis serve if you're sure you'll do fine against someone at your level.

Thanks to the power of their explanatory style, optimists have an easier time even when things go wrong. Optimistic breast cancer patients are just as depressed by bad news as their pessimistic counterparts, researchers have found. But women with an optimistic disposition are more likely to expect their cancer ordeal to have a positive outcome, studies show; not surprisingly, these women report significantly greater emotional well-being during treatment, while pessimists suffer more distress.

The good news: Researchers have found that pessimistic, self-blaming people can learn to come up with alternative explanations for setbacks and move forward to problem solving. However, making a long-term mindset switch takes continuous effort.

Attitude adjustment
When you catch yourself thinking like a pessimist, reframe the problem so that it's not all your fault. Instead of standing alone at a party thinking, No one is interested in talking with me—I look pathetic! try something like Where's the hostess? I'd never let a newcomer fend for herself without making introductions!

Of course, a true optimist wouldn't go looking for a scapegoat—and you do have to acknowledge your contribution to a problem if you want to make it better. But it helps to recognize that you're not the problem, even if your behavior could use some tweaking. Finally, set a small, achievable goal: Find that hostess and ask her to introduce you to three people at the party.

Try, try again

Why do optimists tend to end up with so much to feel good about? Long after pessimists have given up and gone home, optimists keep trying to solve problems. In one study, optimists continued to work on unscrambling an impossible-to-solve anagram 50 to 100% longer than pessimists.

There wasn't a lot of payoff for persistence in the anagram exercise (and the pessimists are still thinking, suckers!). But in the real world, studies show that persistence leads to more success in school, a fatter paycheck, and a host of other perks.

In fact, in a study of law students, Segerstrom found that a person's level of optimism in the first year of law school corresponded with his or her salary 10 years later. The impact wasn't measly: On a 5-point optimism scale, every 1-point increase in optimism translated into a $33,000 bump in annual income.

Attitude adjustment
The quickest way to get yourself into the positive-feedback loop that keeps optimists going strong (hard work leads to success, which leads to more self-confidence and a willingness to work even harder, which leads to...) is to act like one. What's more, studies looking at the "fake it till you make it" approach show that it can have a surprisingly strong—and immediate—impact on your emotions. In research at Wake Forest University, for example, scientists asked a group of 50 students to act like extroverts for 15 minutes in a group discussion, even if they didn't feel like it. The more assertive and energetic the students acted, the happier they were.

What's best about this kind of cognitive behavioral change is that it doesn't even require much faith, Segerstrom says. "You don't have to believe an antibiotic is going to work for it to work." The same is true of reaping the benefits of adopting a positive mindset.

Make friends with an optimist

If you're not in the mood for play acting, hooking up with an optimist may be the next best strategy. A yearlong study of more than 100 college-age couples from the University of Oregon found that both positive thinkers and their partners have greater satisfaction in their relationships than optimist-free pairs, in part because happy-go-lucky types tend to see their partners as supportive.

"If you are the partner of an optimist, both of you will be more satisfied in the relationship and more constructive in resolving conflicts," says Sanjay Srivastava, PhD, lead researcher on the study. It's not that a rosy worldview is contagious, it's just that you'll feel more positive about the relationship.

Attitude adjustment
Besides "slipstreaming" on your partner's optimism, socialize with cheery friends and bounce ideas off your more positive colleagues; research hints that these kinds of relationships with up-side types can make you feel better, too. And if you happen to be married to a pessimist, or are on your own? Your optimistic friends and coworkers are your best sounding board.

The Quickest Feel-Good Moves

You don't have to spend years in therapy to become more positive. Studies have shown that these three strategies take just 1 week to make a real improvement, according to Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD, a pioneer of the positive psychology movement and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Use your signature strengths in a new way 

Researchers asked study participants about their top five strengths—generosity, for instance, or creativity—and then told them to use one of these strengths in a new and different way every day for 1 week. The result? The volunteers measurably increased their happiness for a full 6 months.

Write down the good things

Every day a group of adults were asked to write down three things that had gone well and why they happened. And again, even though the experiment lasted only 1 week, participants reported feeling happier for 6 months afterward.

Pay a gratitude visit

People were given 1 week to write and then deliver a letter of gratitude in person to someone who had been especially kind to them, but whom they had never thanked properly. The happiness boost from this experiment lasted about 1 month.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Psychology Behind the Film 'Boyhood'

Oscar Wilde famously quipped that youth was wasted on the young. When you hear this quote as a young person, either you don’t get it, or you get reactionary and think, “Hey! Youth isn’t wasted on me!” Of course it’s not, it’s not wasted on anyone. The quote is really all about perspective. The very reason why youth isn’t wasted on the young is because for the most part, young people don’t have their youth on which to have a perspective: they’re just right there with it, in every moment (a presence of being adults have to work very hard for). Once we get perspective on our youths, it’s too late, and we don’t get a do-over. We get one stab at it, and we get this stab without the benefits of everything that we learn later in life – and that’s what makes childhood and youth so special. Not special in a rose-tinted-glasses sort of way, but special as in all-things-are-new, or as Dad (Ethan Hawke) says, to paraphrase, we feel more when we’re younger. Spoilers follow.
Richard Linklater has done a pretty amazing thing in this movie, which was shot over 39 days spanning 12 years (Mark Kermode). The viewer has the uncanny experience of watching Mason Junior (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelie Linklater) grow from children to young adults in just under three hours. Yes, it’s a long film, but their childhoods disappear quickly, just as ours do in real life. It seems that just as you get used to seeing their little puppy faces, they shift into something new – from awkward pre-adolescence right through young adult. Grasping back to their younger selves in an earlier frame is parallel to those moments we try to grasp our own younger selves.
Their lives, and the lives of their parents and transient family constellations are tracked by the music of the times and by the changing technologies of the day. We move as easily from Coldplay to Lady Gaga as we do from Gameboy to Wii to i-Phone 4. But these are only accoutrements, the real story here lay in what ultimately makes a man and what makes a woman. Namely, this is family – notably the parents, and we know what Philip Larkin says about parents:
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

(Poem link: 

Larkin’s perspective here is a notably dark one – and no doubt lots of people feel this way about their parents and are pessimistic about overcoming faulty family dynamics. Ultimately, of course, we don’t get to choose our parents or our carers. How much choice we have in how we respond to our childhoods is a deeper question – a question that is hinted at in the film. Resilience is both constitutional and psychological – but it can also be learned. Anybody can become aware of old family dynamics and aim to shift them to make better choices than their parents did; after all, this is what dynamic psychotherapy is all about.

We enter Mason and Samantha’s life already after a family rupture where the father, having some difficulty putting his own youth behind him, is absent from his children’s lives. Mom (Patricia Arquette) is bringing up the kids on her own. Recognising her personal and economic struggle, she seeks to better herself by going back to college to get her degree in psychology. Later (after a second marriage in which she has to save her children from an abusive stepfather) we find her teaching a class on John Bowlby and Attachment Theory – sharing with her class that if we don’t learn how to love in those first crucial years of life, we’re in trouble. Love between child and primary caretaker builds resilience – and it’s clear that despite the knocks along the way, both the children appear to have come away from their complex family lives with a lot more than simply being fucked up. We don’t know whether Samantha and Mason will repeat some of the same bad choices made by their parents, but they are clearly products of their upbringing and the hope is that they use their experiences well, developing sensitivities and making better choices than mom and dad did. The best we can hope for is that their mistakes are different than their parents and hopefully not as harmful to themselves or their chosen families.
While Boyhood follows both Mason and Samantha, as the title suggests, it tracks Mason more closely. It is, in many ways, it is his eyes that we look through in our vicarious growing up (again) through him. It is his knowing pause when he clocks that his mother and her psychology professor are more than student/teacher – he does the same with his father at the bowling alley, and then again when his mother repeats and reverses the student/teacher romance with her third husband. Mason is a constant observer of the imperfect adults around him. He is aware of and sensitive to his environment and it is through his sensitivity that we get to re-visit some of the tropes of growing up – tropes that become more distant as time carries on.
Like in Terrence Malick’s more diffuse Tree of Life, we get these distilled moments of childhood that we can compare to our own – fights with siblings in the back of the car, the excitement of seeing the return of the absent father, the close friendships of boyhood — or more darkly — the threat of the bullies at school, seeing mother beaten up on the floor of the garage, and the real fear of violence from a drunk and out of control stepfather. Watching the film we can see Mason’s absorbing all of this experience – but not passively like a sponge – but thoughtfully and oftentimes somewhat aloof, as if he is above it all.
Mason is railroaded with “helpful advice” from all of the adults around him who seem unable to take it themselves. The endless lectures from parents and teachers about how to be a good person. Dad’s voluminous “fatherly advice” that sounds worn and trite, rules dictated by stepfathers who spectacularly fail as exemplars, mother’s defeated nihilism and self-pity revealed towards the end of the film, and most clearly, the platitudinous nonsense delivered by his boss at the restaurant where he works. Mason won’t get the answers he’s looking for from the adults around him, he will have to find them himself.
As Alan Watts says:
Children are in no position to see the contradictions in [society’s] demands, and even if some prodigy were to point them out, he would be told summarily not to ‘answer back,’ and that he lacked respect for his ‘elders and betters’. instead of giving our children clear and explicitly explanations of the game rules of the community, we befuddle them hopelessly because we – as adults – were once so befuddled, and, remaining so, do not understand the game we are playing
Mason seems to be this prodigy-like child with one of these internal bullshit monitors allowing him to identify the unworthy sources of life-information. He is a young existentialist – mindful of being in the world and not needing to be a conventional member of it. As the film winds up he enters his dorm room, already adorned with poster of mushrooms (magic, presumably) on the wall. He transcends conventionality by accessing another – drug induced – perspective on the world – forgoing the conventional “orientation” he was expected to attend as a new student. Instead he hikes with his new friends to Texas’s Big Bend in an open ending reminiscent of the finish of The Graduate.
This is the moment (and you can feel it in your bones) when Mason’s life really opens up. Now he has the chance to make his own decisions, based on his sensitivities and all that he’s learned at home can come together and direct him forward. The fullness of the opportunity is so palpable that it’s bound to give anyone over the age of 19 a bit of “Youth Envy” – and hopefully the encouragement to anyone, of any age, to remember that life’s not so much about seizing the moment as it is allowing the moment to seize you.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Peace of Mind Checklist

In his seminal book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra defines success as “the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realization of worthy goals.” I suggest that this definition implies the attainment of “general peace of mind.” Considering this concept, or definition, a reasonable question one may ask is “how is this done or achieved?” Another reasonable question could be “what processes can we employ or use, to experience general peace of mind”?

The following is a list of processes and attitudes that may assist us in living a life with greater peace of mind. When we become more consciously aware of these concepts, and practice them, we will live a happier life.

Basic concept: worrying is one of the most common things we do on a daily basis that blocks our attainment of peace of mind. Worrying is usually a waste of time and often creates anxiousness, stress or anxiety. Basic solution: replace worrying thoughts with concentration, focus, and follow-through on solutions to our problems. For more on this see the article “Worry or peace of Mind?”
Pessimism vs Optimism
A pessimist is a person who dwells on the negatives of the past, allows those negatives to ruin their day, and anticipates more negatives occurring in their life. An optimist is a person who lets go of the negatives of the past, makes a decision to enjoy their day, and anticipates better things happening in their life. Basic solution: think of optimism as a verb, it’s something you do, practice or can learn. It’s not a noun, something you have or don’t have.
A perfectionist is someone who expects themselves to be perfect, who expects events and others around them to be perfect. This generally is an unrealistic goal, so the perfectionist sets himself or herself up for experiencing disappointment, frustration and anxiety. Basic solution: replace the goal of perfection with the goal of excellence. Excellence is still a high standard and is achievable on a daily basis. For more on this see the article “Perfection or Happiness.”
The more gratitude or appreciation we express, the happier we will be, it’s that simple. Someone observed that the expression of gratitude is one of the most endearing of human expressions.

In his book Thanks, Robert A. Emmons reports a study in which one test group kept a gratitude journal. It was found that the people of this group experienced overall feeling happier (than the other groups), as well as having lower blood pressure and practicing better health habits.
Purpose in Life
When a person is consciously aware of their many purposes in life, it gives meaning to their life experience. Suggestion: make a list of the various roles you play in life and assign a value to each in terms of satisfaction, say on a scale from 1 to 10. This will help clarify and make you conscious of your purposes, helping you to understand the truly meaningful aspects of your existence.

A few excellent sources to more fully understand this concept are Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and Eckart Tolle’s A New Earth Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.
The more we practice the techniques of patience, the less stress and anxiety we will experience. Patience is similar to optimism in that it’s something you do (a verb), not a noun (something you have or don’t have). An example of practicing patience is telling yourself “it takes as long as it takes” when waiting in line of when stuck on a freeway. Many more techniques are available in the book The Power of Patience by M.J. Ryan.

This list or inventory is only a partial list, but it’s a good start in attaining more general peace of mind. Other factors to consider for peace of mind: practical time management, procrastination, how to handle troublesome relationships, coping with losses in our life.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Manage Stress with the Waterfall Technique

Stress is a powerful influence on how we feel, emotionally, mentally and physically. This powerful technique can be used anywhere to help you relieve stress and relax. All you need is two minutes and a quiet place where you can close your eyes.

You’re stressed out – admit it. Everywhere you go, you are subjected to stress. Your boss at work, standing in line at Starbucks while the lady in front of you tries to make up her mind (how can she not know what a mocha is?), and sitting in traffic during rush hour. That’s enough to get anybody’s blood boiling!

Why do we get so stressed out? Are we really in that much of a hurry? Are we that worried that we are going to look bad? Are we overstimulated? Are we too busy trying to cram everything into our lives that “somebody” thinks we should be doing?

That’s part of it. But realize that much stress is related to events from your past. Emotional stress from the past plays a big part in your blood pressure readings. Here’s why.

Your subconscious mind is the part of you that manages your emotions. It creates them and then you feel them in your body and your mind. But what happens when you don’t feel the emotions – what if you don’t process them? For instance, if you have a lot of emotion all at once, and you still have to take care of life events – like when someone close to you dies, or you get into a car accident…you don’t have time to process all the sadness, grief, fear, shock, guilt, anger and other emotions that might be present. So what happens to them? We’ve all heard of stuffing emotions, right?

Your subconscious mind will be kind enough to store the emotions for you. It’s just doing it’s job – protecting you from being overwhelmed. So it might store the emotions along with the memory that created them. It’s easy to tell if this is the case – when you access that memory, or think about what happened, you will feel the emotion – even though it may have happened years before. Or the subconscious might store that energy in your body somewhere – in effect blocking other energy and possibly causing physical issues. Especially excessive stress.

So, here’s a technique you can use, pretty much anywhere you are. It’s a visual exercise, but don’t worry if you are not visual. Just imagine or pretend…it works just as well.

Find a place where you won’t be disturbed for a couple of minutes. After a little practice, it will only take you seconds to do the exercise, but for now give yourself plenty of time. And since your eyes will be closed – don’t do this while you are driving…

Close your eyes and take a couple really deep breaths. Breathe all the way down to the bottom of your stomach, filling your lungs completely, and exhaling all the way. As you breathe, mentally will all of your muscles to unwind – imagine that you are a bowl of spaghetti, and mentally untie all the knots in your muscles and let them go loose.

Keep breathing, and as you do, imagine yourself walking along a beautiful stream. As you walk, pretend that you can hear the birds, frogs and crickets around you as the stream rushes by. Imagine that you can feel the wind cooling your face and the sun warming your back. Take a moment just to visualize it…to feel it…to really internalize how that would feel.

Now imagine that you see a gentle waterfall. You can feel the mist on your face and hands as you approach it, watching the water bounce off the rocks at the bottom. You might even see a rainbow as the sun glistens of the mist. Raise your hand and put it into the waterfall, and feel the perfect temperature of the water, refreshing and cool. Imagine stepping into the waterfall and feel it splash down around you, gently rushing over your head, your neck, your shoulders and down over the rest of your body – it feels wonderful. Now it occurs to you that this is a very special waterfall, and as the water rinses the stress from the surface of your body, the energy from the waterfall penetrates deep inside you, rinsing away negativity and old emotions that are simply not needed anymore. You look down at your feet and see a darkness from your body seeping out into the water as the energy from that intense, cleansing waterfall rushes over you. Let it go…let it all go. The stress, the worry, the anger, the fear, the guilt, the shame, the sadness, the grief. Watch with amazement as it is rinsed out of your body by that cleansing, pure waterfall. Let it all go. And as the water at your feet begins to run clear, feel yourself begin to fill up with a wonderful sense of peace and well being. Breathe it in to every cell in your body. Allow yourself to feel it – give yourself permission to really feel good, relaxed and peaceful. Let it resonate with your deep inner being, with your spirit, your soul. Notice how good it feels.

Take another deep breath, and step out of the waterfall, feeling refreshed, cleansed, optimistic and objective. Open your eyes when you are ready.

As you use this visualization, you will be able to imagine it more and more intensely, and it will get much faster for you. Soon you will be able to use this technique for relaxation even if you just have a few seconds. The more you use it, the more powerful it will become for you. You are training your mind to let go and relax. Use it often, and enjoy!

Saturday, 9 May 2015

VIDEO The Power of Group Meditation

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

8 Powerful Questions That Can Change Your Life

By Jonathan Alpert, Author of
Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days

As a psychotherapist over the past 15 years I've seen countless patients from all walks of life. I've worked with patients ranging in age from teenage to elderly. I've seen students, blue-collar workers, professionals, entertainers, billionaires, and some of the brightest and most talented business leaders and entrepreneurs of today.

Regardless of the demographic, educational level, or bank account, there have been questions and things I have asked patients to think about that have resonated and served as a catalyst for them to make impactful changes and improvements in their lives. Many of the questions are explored in my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

For now though, take a look at the questions below and start to make powerful changes in your life:

Imagine your life one year from now. If it's the same as it is right now, will you be okay with that?
This question is designed to get you to think about what you're doing now and how you'd like life to be. It puts your current life smack dab in your face and asks you to consider if it is what you want life to be like one year from now. If not, then the question can be a catalyst to change.

What are your strengths and what are you good at?
So often when people are anxious, depressed, dealing with relationship issues, or going through a life transition, their thoughts linger on what isn't right, their faults, and perceived weaknesses. Redirecting your attention to what you're good at and your strengths is a powerful step to bring about change.
What is truly important to you and what do you value?
Before knowing what you want from your career or relationship, you have to know what you deem to be of great importance and value. For example, in a relationship, one might value good communication, honesty, and shared passions.
What are your goals?
Similar to the question above, one must know what they want to accomplish before they can take steps to change. Knowing where you want to go will tell you where to step.
What can I control?
Frequently people who worry and who are highly anxious think about things that are way beyond their control. For example, they might check the weather forecast obsessively if they have to go out. Will checking it change the weather? Probably not. Can we really control the weather? No, but we can control how we might dress if it is raining. By directing energy towards what is within our control we'll get to a solution more quickly than if that energy is exerted on things beyond our control.
Ask yourself: what's an alternative explanation?
People often jump to erroneous conclusions. They explain away things without any evidence or support for their thoughts. For instance, if your spouse comes home from work at the end of the day and is in a bad mood, rather than personalizing it and thinking that he/she is mad at you, consider alternatives: he had a bad day at work; he isn't feeling well, he is tired. The simple act of not personalizing, but rather, exploring other explanations can help to prevent a lot of anxiety.
Suppose I do, then what?
This is a powerful question to ask yourself if you're trying to eliminate an unhealthy behavior. I'll often pose this question to patients who are trying to get past an ex and obsessively check that person's Facebook page or other social media. They realize there is no positive outcome from checking. Another example -- someone who might reach for junk food to deal with stress. The question might trigger them to realize how unhealthy the behavior is and lead to exploring more healthy ways of managing stress.
If I gave you a million dollars, could you figure out a way to make a change?
Money remains a huge motivator for people and can lead people to dig in deep and think about how they may come up with solutions. Remember when you were younger and your parents offered you a few dollars if you washed the car or did some chores? Without the incentive you probably wouldn't have done it. Well the hypothetical million dollar offer works the same way (of course it's never paid out). It does though trigger a line of thinking that can be productive.

So, next time you feel stumped, stuck, or unsure where to go, ask yourself these powerful questions that will serve as an impetus to change.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Knowing You're Going to Die Strange Cases of Death Visions


In 1912, timber worker William Toogood had a vivid prophetic dream of his impending death and the gruesome way in which it would occur. The following day William told his workmates of the disturbing dream, describing how logs had to be lifted to recover his battered body. Later that day, William Toogood died, precisely in the manner in which his dream had foretold.

Prophetic dreams are surprisingly common. Sometimes however, people simply have a sense, or feeling that their time will soon be up. There is no vivid dream, no profound vision, but just, well, a hunch.

This week, we delve into some of these curious cases of presentiments of death.

An affectionate farewell letter to his wife
The South Australian Register on 27 February 1891 reported on the death in gaol of the Reverend Dr Keating. It appears he knew beforehand that he would soon die in gaol.

"The Rev. Dr. Oswald Keating, who was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for assault on a little girl, died in Darlinghurst Gaol today from cerebral apoplexy.

"After sentence had been passed upon him he asked to be allowed to see his wife for a few moments, and was permitted to have a short interview. During the conversation, Mrs. Keating displayed considerable emotion, and her husband enjoined her to be calm, as it was probably the last opportunity she would have of seeing him.

"From the time he entered the gaol he seemed to be convinced that he would not live long, and just before he was seized with the fit, which ended in his death, he wrote an affectionate farewell letter to his wife.”
Timber worker takes heed of his hunch
In 1894, another timber worker, Francis Dubedah, had a feeling that he would be struck by a tree and killed … and therefore took what he thought were the necessary precautions.

The South Australian Register on 1 May, however, reported on the untimely death of Francis Dubedah, despite his attempts to stay safe.

"At Gundare Station, near Coolah, today Francis Dubedah met his death in a singular manner. The deceased was engaged in felling a tree with another station hand, and having had for some time a presentiment that he would meet his death by a tree falling on him he sought shelter behind the trunk of another prior to the one which was being cut down falling.

"Strange to say, however, as the tree was toppling, it struck a large branch of the one behind which Dubedah was standing, and breaking it off, the limb slid along the trunk and struck the man on the head. Death was instantaneous.”
Sad tale of the sea and its strange coincidence
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate of Parramatta on 22 July 1899 reported in Sad Tale of the Sea and its Strange Coincidences that Mrs. W. O'Donnell had died in Tenterfield, NSW. Mrs O'Donnell was a widow whose husband had drowned in the wreck of the Maitland exactly 12 months earlier to the very day.

Apart from the coincidence of departing this earth exactly 12 months after her husband had drowned in the Maitland wreck, it appears that Mrs O'Donnell had had a feeling her husband was in danger prior to his taking his fateful trip.

"On the night prior to his taking ship in the Maitland, Mr. O'Donnell sang at a concert at Auburn. Next day he was to be off, but his wife had a strange presentiment of evil, and tried to persuade him to postpone his trip.

"The shock of' the loss of the vessel as well as the loss of her husband, is said to have broken the lady's heart; and, strange to relate, she died just 12 months to the day (5th July) that her husband was drowned. Four young children, are left orphaned, the eldest being 14 years of age.”

While it may be considered not all that extraordinary to have a feeling of impending death when working in a dangerous occupation or when taking a possibly hazardous sea voyage, it is a different story when these feelings of death occur in an apparently happy and healthy young girl.
Something is telling me I know where I am going
The Argus, on 12 November 1900, included the following sad tale of the sudden and unexpected death of a young girl.

"The peculiarly sudden death of a girl named Jane Fraser occurred on Saturday night at the Servants' Training Institution, Berry Street, East Melbourne.

"The girl, who was 15 years of age, had been an inmate of the institution since February, 1807. Her mother was dead, and her father, who was a butcher in St Georges Road, North Fitzroy, had not been heard of since 1893, when he left the place.

"On Saturday afternoon the girl was apparently in the best of health, and was laughing and playing with her companions, though she had a presentiment that she had not long to live.

"A girl named Hannah Friend, who lives in the institution, was talking with the girl during the afternoon, and the latter, while taking off her skirt, said, 'I feel that I shall never live to put it on again'. On being asked why, she replied, 'Oh, something is telling me I know where I am going.' At about 4 o'clock she became suddenly ill, and complained to Miss Watson, the matron, of feeling bilious.

"She was put to bed, and during the night another girl named Annie Foster was sent to look after her. She slept beside her, and on awakening at 5 o'clock yesterday morning found the girl Fraser lying dead in the bed.

"Dr W H Bovd was called in, but declined to give a certificate and an inquest will be necessary. A sister of the deceased, aged 19, who is also an inmate of the institution was with her most of the day, but noticed nothing strange about the deceased.”
Double mining fatality … an inkling of impending doom
On 4 December 1907, the Albany Advertiser reported on a double mining fatality at a Ballarat mine in which one of the men appeared to have had an inkling as to his impending doom.

"Harry Cadd and Charles Edmonds were killed in the Britannia East mine at Ballarat East yesterday. It is supposed that they fell out of the cage and were drowned in the water at the bottom of the shaft. Edmonds had a presentiment of evil, for before going down he said to a mate that he was dying. Both men were married.”

The following day, the Singleton Argus expanded on the events that followed Edmonds' 'presentiment of evil'.

"It is thought that Edmonds fainted descending the shaft, and that Cadd either clutched at him to save him from falling, or was seized by his mate, and thus was dragged to his death.”

Nurse's grim feelings of typhoid attack
On 1 March 1910, the Singleton Argus reported on the death of a 25 year old nurse from typhoid fever, who had for some time, somehow knew that not only would her time soon be up, but the way in which she would be taken.

"The death has occurred in the Tamworth hospital of Nurse Grimm from typhoid fever. Deceased, who was 25 years of age, was in her fourth and last year of training, and was very highly thought of.

"It is stated that on several occasions she had told her friends that she had a presentiment that she would have an attack of typhoid fever at the end of her third year, and that she would succumb to its effects.”
I have a feeling I have not got long to live

On 13 May 1926, Perth's The Daily News detailed yet another presentiment of death, this time from a police inspector recovering from a bout of ill health.

"Fate sometimes moves in curious ways, and many strange stories have been recorded of people being warned by some subtle influence of their near approach to the valley of the shadow of death. Some such feeling entered the life of Inspector John Walsh shortly before he met his untimely end. On the night he so mysteriously disappeared, Walsh expressed his opinion to Inspector Condon that death hovered near.

"Some time ago Walsh had not enjoyed the best of health. Forty years of the hardships encountered by Western gold fields men was telling its tale on the once strong, athletic frame. Just before bidding his last farewell to his old friend, Inspector Condon inquired if he felt fit and well again and strong enough for the work on which he was engaged. 'Oh, yes; I am all right now,' replied Walsh, 'but somehow I have a feeling that I have not got long to live.'

"At the time Inspector Condon paid little heed to the reply, but the full import of it was borne upon him with tremendous force when the mutilated portion of all that remained of John Walsh's body was uncovered to his horrified gaze.”
If a chap is killed somebody will get £500
In early 1927, a young jockey was killed after he fell off his mount while racing at Hill End in the Central West of NSW. He had had a bad feeling about racing on that track that day, but decided to ride in the race anyway.

The Singleton Argus reported on 4 January 1927:

"Edward Wright (25) was killed when he fell from a horse during a race at Hill End on Saturday. Wright was riding A. Mackie's Triacre, when the horse ran off the course into the scrub. Wright either fell or threw himself off the horse, and his head struck a log. When picked up he was dead, his skull being fractured and his collarbone and wrists broken.

"He apparently had a presentiment of death before the race, since, while chatting to some friends, he is said to have remarked, 'I don't like the course; but if the other boys ride, then I will. Any how, if a chap is killed somebody will get £500 out of the insurance.'”


A reasonable assumption that dying is a possibility when faced with a dangerous situation?

A subconscious 'knowing' that something is not right with your body?

Or is presentiment of death something not so easily explained?