Is your meditation practice stalling? Maybe you’re lacking motivation or having a hard time committing to sitting. While there is certainly no such concept of a ‘bad’ meditation session, there is a simple yet profound technique that you can use during meditating to drastically improve your focus. If you’re not already using it you should be.
As of the past few months, I’ve been employing the use of a technique that has radically improved my meditation practice. It’s no revolutionary and something you may already notice from time to time, but the effects of consistency with this technique have an almost immediate effect on our motivation to practice.
We have all been there: sitting on the cushion, realizing you lost focus and wondering how long your mind has been in space. This is a universal feeling amongst meditators’ and especially for beginners happens quite often. Now, when this happens there are two ways we can react. We can either become frustrated at losing our concentration and force ourselves back to the breath or we can acknowledge and congratulate ourselves for recognizing our distractions while bringing our awareness back to the meditation object. It’s a simple shift in mindset that allows us to build positive reaffirmations for noticing when we become distracted. When we respond to our spontaneous ‘aha’ of awareness with frustration or any negative emotion, we are programming ourselves to notice these states of mindless frequently. Meditation is much more effective when we notice our monkey minds and generate joy within ourselves when we notice we have become distracted or spaced out. The more often you give yourself a mental high-five for bringing your awareness back, the less your awareness will wander.
The Logic of Positive Reinforcement
By implementing this technique you are harnessing the power of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning can be broken down into two types of conditioning; positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement aims to present a favorable reinforcer so that the subject will repeat it’s behavior. On the other hand, negative reinforcement presents certain reinforcers that the subject will likely avoid in an attempt to minimize a behavior. For example, in our meditation situation, it is true that we want to minimize the amount of time our mind is wandering. At firsthand one may think that using negative reinforcement such as getting frustrated at the mind wandering would reduce this behavior. However, you must first become aware and conscious that your mind is wandering which in turn leads you to associate the frustration with becoming conscious, not your mind wandering. Instead, we can apply the positive reinforcement to the conscious awakening, when we snap out of our mind wandering and realize “aha,” proceeding to mentally pat ourselves on the back.
Positive reinforcement will allow you to enjoy your practice, because, as we all know calming the mind is an incredibly difficult endeavor. Our mind produces seemingly infinite distractions to combat our goal of focusing on the breath. Praise yourself every time you find yourself present. The amount of time your mind wanders will begin to lessen the more you do. In meditation, it takes work to calm the mind, but you will work smart not hard.
To read more about reinforcements in psychology check out Psychestudy!
I notice a significant amount of jargon when I read blog posts about meditation and mindfulness. Not that there aren’t great meditation blogs out there, there certainly are. However, a great deal of the information I come across appears to be fashionable and trendy. On one hand, this is great, spreading awareness about these topics can help undermine a shift in collective presence, however, projecting meditation and mindfulness as something they are not isn’t so great.
Here are some examples of what ”meditation will do for you”, according to the internet:
•KNOWLEDGE OF PAST LIVES: Witnessing forms, personalities, and events that you have lived through in your past existences. Read more
•POWERS OF HEALING: Bringing about miraculous, supernatural recoveries from serious chronic illnesses or ailments. Read more
•TELEPATHY: The ability to “read” the minds of other people and know, even across a great distance, what they are thinking and feeling. Read more
•VISIONS OF OTHER LANDS: Hearing conversations in different languages, hearing certain events from this and other worlds. Read more
•SEEING THE FUTURE: The ability to move into a timeless dimension where one can perceive things which, in the world of linear time, have not yet taken place. Read more
•SUSPENSION OF GRAVITY: Levitation, walking on water, even flying is sometimes mentioned under this category of powers. Read more
•IMMUNITY TO PAIN: Single-pointedness of mind such that no pain, whether it is physical or mental, cannot reach you. The same is true about hunger and thirst. Read more
•INVINCIBILITY: No external force, whether natural or artificial, can displace even a single hair of you.
•WISH-FULFILLMENT: As an advanced meditator wishes anything, it will be provided by the so-called unified field and without recourse to ordinary, natural principles. Read more
This was an amusing list I discovered where real research has been taken out of context. Keep in mind journalists have a job, and that job involves attracting attention to their stories and reports. What better way to do this than to appeal to our emotions and ultimate fantasies? For example,research has indicated that under the instruction of a certified meditation teacher, over the course of a few days, healthy volunteers reported 40 percent reductions in pain. This pain was purposefully induced and MRI scans of their brains were performed while the pain was induced. This is quite significant, but the conclusion that meditation creates an immunity to pain is absurd.
The real reason I’m writing this is to inform you that meditation CAN give you superpowers, depending on your definition of superpowers. I’m going to be modest when I say that meditation and mindfulness are the most powerful tools humans have discovered. They are tools that give us the ability to enrich life on a profound level. The East has known this for thousands of years, science is proving this now.
What if you could live two to three times longer by dedicating 20-30 minutes a day towards a certain practice? Would you do it? I have a difficult time believing most people would pass up on this opportunity. Well, what about living 2-3 times bigger than you otherwise would have? Seems impossible, but the means is quite simple: meditation elevates a person’s base level focus. By focus, we are referring to the ability to attend to what is relevant in any given situation. By base level, we are referring to how focused you automatically get in daily life when you’re not making an effort to be focused. If you are consistently 2-3 times more focused within your daily life then you’re living life 2-3 times bigger, 2-3 times richer.
If only more people realized these states of focus and presence in life are trainable. You don’t need anything special. All you do is systematically practice, and your baseline focus can and will be improve. We all have moments of sporadic flow, moments of intense focus, but they are often short-lived. When in fact, they don’t have to be.
Imagine trying to strengthen your muscles adequately without learning proper form or implementing the exercises into your habitual routine. You wouldn’t expect to strengthen your muscles without putting prolonged effort into the exercises. You can think about strengthening your focus muscles in a similar fashion. Enhancing your physical muscles will allow you to tap into added strength all day long, not just when exercising. The same is to be said about enhancing your concentration, the added focus is available to you throughout the entire day. Following this logic, meditation is the most important study a human being can undertake considering concentration and focus are the base of all human aspiration.
As you continue to meditate your alertness will become sharper and your relaxation will get deeper. This a result of the increased Alpha waves your brain produces while you meditate. These alpha waves are characteristic of being alert and relaxed at the same time. By way of contrast, the average person who does not meditate can only maintain this state if their eyes are closed. Adept meditators have high levels of alpha brain waves even while their eyes remain open. There are several studies such as this one that show this increase in brain wave harmonization.
Altogether, practicing meditation and mindfulness will boost your base focus in life and allow you to attend to what’s relevant with greater precision. Having efficient concentration is the basis for learning any skill, from mathematics to carpentry. This is what leads me to believe that meditation is perhaps the most valuable tool in the human arsenal. Why wouldn’t you want to increase the richness of your life?
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Deep down it’s as if we know reading is good for us, yet the majority of us don’t read books very often. In fact, about a quarter of American adults said they haven’t touched a book in the last year. Reading is one of the absolute best techniques to learn, hands down. When you make reading a habit, you constantly expose yourself to new information. This isn’t always a good thing, the constant influx of media thrown our away can be overwhelming and harm our concentration. Then again, this is where reading becomes crucial; when you read books you not only accumulate knowledge and information but also improve your attention span. The benefits of picking up a bo\ok don’t stop here.
Reading & Stress
We live in a stressful world, good thing we have books! Those who have become lost within the pages of a fascinating narrative will understand how books can provide powerful stress relief. Researchers at the University of Sussex in England found that reading was the most effective stress reduction technique. Stress was measured by heart rate as well as muscle tension. After reading for just six minutes, on average the participant’s stress levels dropped by 68 percent. I could have just titled this article “How to cut your stress in half with only 5 minutes of your precious time”, but that wouldn’t give the habit of reading enough credit.
Reading & Memory Decline
Reading offers benefits beyond childhood and well into adulthood. In a study of nearly 300 people, those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities such as reading had slower memory decline than those who didn’t.³ Cognitive decline can creep in as early as the late twenties for some adults. As we age, our brains shrink in volume and our cortex begins thinning. In the study, engaging in a mentally enriching activity such as reading was associated with a 32 percent lower rate of mental decline versus those who didn’t. This is a good indication of how reading can actually preserve the structure of the brain and serve as a potent anti-aging mechanism. In addition, other research identifies a strong association between the habit of reading and being less likely to have Alzheimer’s.
Reading & Empathy
I like to think of empathy as a skill in understanding our world and the people around you. Imagine a time where you felt alone or grossly misunderstood, perhaps by a friend or spouse. You were probably in need of empathy, or being heard and understood. This is a basic human need and functions as our emotional support system. It is critical to the interconnectivity of our species. What’s better? Empathy can be learned and practiced.
Authors Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry, MD, Ph.D. describe empathy: “The essence of empathy is the ability to stand in another’s shoes, to feel what it’s like there. Your primary feelings are more related to the other person’s situation than your own.”
One study showed that by reading fiction we not only decrease our stress levels but we increase our empathy towards fellow humans. The study authors stated, “In two experimental studies, we were able to show that self-reported empathic skills significantly changed over the course of one week for readers of a fictional story by fiction authors Arthur Conan Doyle or José Saramago.” These feelings of empathy go along way and are worth cultivating for a variety of reasons. Being able to see the world as others see it without judgment and communicating your understanding of those person’s feelings can make all the difference to them.
It’s important to note a distinction here. This is a rather subtle and hard difference for some to grasp but empathy is not the same as sympathy. Most people will feel as if they’re being empathetic to someone because they feel sorry for them, but this is sympathy. With empathy, we can build a bridge of understanding by listening without judgment, putting ourselves in their shoes, and relating to them without giving biased or unwarranted advice.
As L. Frank Baum put it “No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.” Learning new things is one of the best investments we can make. Reading books is one of the most profound techniques to learn new things. Let’s set aside the fact that we can learn just about any skill, hobby, or profession by reading about it and focus on the reading itself. Just the act of reading allows us to learn new words and thereby increase our vocabulary. Children are exposed to greater than 50 percent more words while reading than watching prime time T.V. This is true even when compared to the child listening to a conversation between college graduates according to a paper published by the University of California, Berkeley. Sure, obviously reading more will help you learn new words and improve your vocabulary, but those who read also score higher on general intelligence tests too! I don’t know about you, but reading seems like the smart thing to do. Nonetheless, cultivating a reading habit can be challenging. I’ve failed many times, so I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Cultivating a Lifelong Reading Habit
Start small read during certain segments in the day. It helps to have 10-15 minute chunks where you know you can read. Make it a habit and do it every day during those certain and short time periods.
Just bring a book with. Going to the beach? Bring the book. It doesn’t hurt to bring your book even if you only read a few pages. Maybe keep one in the car. Make books more available and accessible to you.
Keep a list of books you hear about and are curious to read. Keep it wherever you like but just having a list can inspire you to read more.
Find good books. This may be one of the most important tips. Some books may bore the crap out of you, but that’s okay. Move on; find one that really compels you. A good book will seriously make you want to read.
Lastly, make reading as fun as you can. Maybe that’s cuddling up on a blanket with hot chocolate or it’s going to watch the sunset. Either way, by giving yourself something pleasurable while reading you may grow to enjoy it more.
Lewis, D. (2009), Galaxy Stress Research, Mindlab International, Sussex University, UK
Life-span cognitive activity, neuropathologic burden, and cognitive aging
4. Robert S. Wilson, Patricia A. Boyle, Lei Yu, Lisa L. Barnes, Julie A.Schneider, David A. Bennett Neurology Jul 2013, 81 (4) 314-321; DOI:10.1212/WNL.0b013e31829c5e8a
As a University student, I have vivid memories of cramming for tests while watching my peers spend hours on end studying for finals. This would often lead to a burning out sensation feeling as if a patch of fog is surrounding your brain. This can happen during long study sessions, work projects, or anything that requires hours of focus. I’m sure you can relate. However, preventing this dreaded brain fog is possible if you approach your studying or work in a smart manner.
The Old Approach
For decades the entire field of psychology was convinced that your attention span was limited. Newer research is turning this theory upside down. Ph.D. researcher Alejandro Lleras believes that psychology spent over four decades taking the wrong approach to studying our attention span. The core belief that our attention span was a limited resource may have inhibited us from discovering more about the way we focus. By the same token, this belief prohibits us from optimizing focus. One of the first steps in optimizing your focus is learning that it doesn’t run out. It just needs variety.
“For 40 or 50 years, most papers published on the vigilance decrement treated attention as a limited resource that would get used up over time, and I believe that to be wrong. You start performing poorly on a task because you’ve stopped paying attention to it,” he said. “But you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem,” States researcher Alejandro Lleras.
Dr. Lleras and postdoctoral fellow Atsunori Ariga organized a study to test his hypothesis on attention span. They tested the participants’ ability to focus on a repetitive computerized task for about an hour. The 84 subjects were divided into four different groups:
A control group that performed the 50-minute task with no breaks.
A “switch” group as well as a “no-switch” group that memorized four digits before performing the task and were directed to respond if they saw one of the digits on the screen during the task. Only the switch group was actually presented with the digits (twice) during the 50-minute long task.
A “digit-ignored” group who were shown the same digits as the switch group but directed to ignore them.
Most participants experienced a drop off in their performance and focus over the course of the task. But amazingly, Lleras notes, those in the switch group saw no drop in their performance over time. By taking two simple yet brief breaks during the task responding to the digits the participants in the switch group were able to stay focused throughout the entire task.
DeskTime Logs Breakthrough
Another study that highlights the importance of taking short breaks used 5.5 million logs of employee productivity data. The app DeskTime is designed to allow employers insight on whether their employees are working or wasting time on Facebook. After analyzing 5.5 million logs, DeskTime looked into the top 10% most productive workers, and how they spend their time during the day.
Interestingly enough, the most productive workers engage in tasks related to the job for 52 minutes then take a 17-minute break. “That 15-to-20-minute window is productivity’s “golden hour” (or quarter-hour, as the case may be). It’s long enough for your brain to disengage and leave you feeling refreshed, but not so long that you lose focus and derail momentum on what you were doing”.
It seems like being able to engage yourself in the work comes easier when you know there’s a specified time to disengage. The key is to do your work in a dedicated manner, getting work done, and making progress. However, during the break, you’re resting and completely disengaged from any job-related tasks. For example, if you work at a computer this would suggest getting off the computer entirely, maybe stretch, grab a snack or talk with a coworker about non-work related ideas, but doesn’t include browsing YouTube or social media.
If you find yourself needing to prolong your focus then implementing break phases is highly recommended. When studying or focusing in general, it’s also recommended to avoid social media, turn off the T.V. and putting yourself in a comfortable environment of course. Doing this will set yourself up for success while engaging in your studies or work! Have a happy and healthy week!
Have you ever experimented with your optimal on/off time for studying, learning, or working?
Ariga, A., & Lleras, A. (2011). Brief and rare mental “breaks” keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition,118(3), 439-443. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.12.007
The secret of the 10% most productive people? Breaking! (2018, February 15). Retrieved from https://desktime.com/blog/17-52-ratio-most-productive-people/
The legal classification of psychedelic substances has created controversy for decades, cost trillions of dollars, and countless lives, but with recent scientific advancements, controversy has expanded. Researchers have been discovering incredibly beneficial effects provoked by the use of substances such as psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, and LSD. At the same time, government legal classifications all over the world describe many psychedelics as having no benefits and opponents of legalization claim these substances can be dangerous.
While the controversial arguments continue to keep psychedelic drugs illegal in vast areas of the world, every year researchers are discovering more therapeutic benefits from several different psychedelics. Silicon Valley is a hotspot in the midst of controversy. People ranging from company CEO’s to young tech professionals are claiming that micro-dosing psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, and mescaline allows them to work smarter and more creatively. (Barbar Sahakian, Camilla D’Angelo & George Savulich, 2017). The current legal classification of psychedelic substances, many being schedule 1 drugs, makes it almost impossible to fund continuous research. Proponents of legalizing or reclassifying psychedelic substances argue that they have the potential to bring about significant medicinal value and the systematic scheduling of drugs limits modern medicine. Opponents of legalizing psychedelics believe that the substances possess psychological dangers. But, do these dangers outweigh benefits?
Researchers from the EmmaSofia organization in Oslo, Norway claim that psychedelics are no more dangerous than common activities including playing soccer or riding a bike (Krebs, 2015).
The Literature Review
A psychedelic substance is defined by its ability to induce heightened states of awareness and induce altered states of perception. The use of psychedelics throughout human history has been commonplace. To further interpret the controversy of psychedelic drugs in today’s society, a concise review of relevant literature will follow. This review will begin with the relevant literature, which describes the potential beneficial and therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances as outweighing the consequential effects. Furthermore, the position of those with the belief that psychedelic substances should remain illegal in regards to no medicinal value will be subsequent.
The Argument Against Current Classification
Lately, researchers studying the effects of psychedelic substances have made tremendous advancements. But, in many countries psychedelic substances are classified as schedule one or schedule two drugs regarded as having no therapeutic benefits as well as a high potential for abuse. For example, LSD and Peyote are classified as schedule 1 drugs by the U.S. government, while drugs such as Cocaine and Methamphetamine are classified as schedule two. This kind of classification systematically creates immense obstacles when it comes to funding research into psychedelic substances, making it nearly impossible (Rucker, 2015). Researchers all over the world agree if we are to better understand the potential benefits of psychedelics than they need to be reclassified. This pertains to governments all across the globe including the U.S. and U.K. If we are to take advantage of the therapeutic benefits psychedelics may possess, the first step would be addressing the current literature and rescheduling psychedelic substances to instigate research.
The Argument In Favor Of Legalization On The Basis Of Therapeutic Benefits
One of the main arguments in favor of legalizing psychedelic substances focuses on the safety of these substances, and many scientists claim they are safer than we’ve been previously told. Researchers have been conducting studies administering psychedelic substances to patients in clinical contexts with promising results. For example, researchers at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center administered moderate doses of psilocybin to patients with OCD four times, at least a week apart, patients who had previously failed drug therapy. The results yielded dramatic improvements in the patients OCD symptoms as measured using the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) with no safety concerns (Kirn, 2007).
Moreover, using the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, 60% were determined to have had a full mystical experience. 70% rated the experience as among the top five meaningful experiences of their lives, ranking it on par with the birth of a child or a parent’s death. And 80% said it changed their sense of worth or satisfaction positively. All of this from taking a mushroom?
The therapeutic benefits of psychedelics are not limited to psilocybin. Researchers studying the effects of MDMA on patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are also finding promising results. Several studies have suggested that MDMA assisted psychotherapy relieves PTSD. In one particular study Belmont, MA-based Rick Doblin, Ph.D. administered MDMA to twelve subjects during two psycho-assisted therapy sessions 3-5 weeks apart. Eight people received the placebo. At the end of the study, 80 percent of the trial group no longer met the requirements of PTSD stipulated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV-TR). While only 25 percent of the control group showed improvements with PTSD symptoms (2010). Considerable amounts of studies are showing similar therapeutic benefits from a whole range of psychedelic substances. These benefits have the ability to cut healthcare costs and open patients up to new and improved medicine researchers claim.
The Argument Against Legalization
Many people believe that certain drugs are illegal due to the physical dangers they possess to the user. This is not always the case. However, in regards to psychedelic substances, there may be psychological risks. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long-term effects of psychedelics and hallucinogens include persistent psychosis including symptoms of disorganized thinking, paranoia and mood changes (2016). Research has also shown that psychotic-like symptoms can occur in those who have a history of unstable mental illness.
The NIDA also states “Marked psychological distress, including feelings of extreme panic, fear, anxiety, paranoia, invulnerability, exaggerated strength, and aggression” can occur as a result of higher doses with psychedelics (2016). The most common concerns about psychedelics cater to the safety of the drugs. Because psychedelics cause chemical changes to the brain that may result in emotional or physiological damage, they are considered dangerous. According to researchers at Washington University, the psychedelic substance known as LSD produced profound changes in the blood flow to the brain, electrical activity, communication patterns and alters our brains conscious patterns (Carhart-Harris, et al., 2015). While plenty of legal drugs interact with the chemical balance of the brain, the profound patterns in which psychedelic drugs affect consciousness scare people.
It’s important to note that while the notion of changing our brain’s chemistry and consciousness is perceived as dangerous and therefore used as an argument against legalization, many researchers who yield these results are further intrigued. “This uniquely comprehensive examination of the LSD state represents an important advance in scientific research with psychedelic drugs at a time of growing interest in their scientific and therapeutic value” (Carhart-Harris, et al., 2015). Therefore, it may be beneficial to open up to these substances without a preconceived notion of fear. Similiar methods of changing our brain chemistry have been seen with long-term meditation.
Researchers Believe Keeping Psychedelics Illegal Makes Almost No Sense
Researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a study in which 15 participants, who on average smoked 19 cigarettes a day for 31 days, were given a psilocybin in two subsequent sessions. After a 6 month follow-up, the success rate for smoking cessation was 80 percent.
The systematic scheduling of drugs in the United States is arbitrary, which leads to a discriminative social injustice according to many. Some psychedelic substances such as Psilocybin are schedule 1 drugs, while alcohol and nicotine are legal. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) both alcohol and nicotine are proven to be harmful and addictive (2017). Conversely, Psychedelic substances have not been proven to be addictive. This equates to discrimination against someone who may prefer the effects of psilocybin to nicotine, even under the science that indicates nicotine and alcohol have a higher potential for abuse. Unfortunately, many political factors come into play regarding the legal status of drugs. Industries such as pharmaceutical, tobacco, and alcohol harbor the most money and have an influence on the legality of drugs whether they are safe or not. While legalizing psychedelic substances would most likely cut into profits for these large industries they would bring about economic benefits as well.
Legalizing psychedelic substances could have significant economic advantages over keeping the substances illegal. The current legality surrounding psychedelics creates an unsafe black market; instead, the market for psychedelics could be taxed and safely regulated by legalizing these substances. For example, the state of Colorado has made over 500 million dollars in tax revenue from recreationally legalizing marijuana between 2014 and May of 2017 (Newman, 2017). That’s 500 million dollars going to k-12 education, transportation development and construction projects instead of street dealers. Not only would legalizing psychedelics have the potential to bring in tax revenue, but also regulating the market would create safer products. While most psychedelics are nearly impossible to overdose on, getting the wrong substance as a result of buying off the street could present dangers and even land you in the hospital. Therefore, legalizing psychedelics would potentially cut hospital costs, create tax revenue, and create a more stable and safe market.
When used in the right context, almost all psychedelic substances have been shown to be safe, especially under clinical supervision. While psychedelics can create a profound sense of distortion from reality, urging the importance of putting yourself in the right setting with the right people, there is little evidence that links psychedelics to toxic effects on the brain or body. So much so that researchers from the EmmaSofia organization in Oslo, Norway claim that psychedelics are no more dangerous than common activities including playing soccer or riding a bike (Krebs, 2015). Psychedelic substances are known for altering your perception of reality, which could be dangerous if you’re somewhere that presents physical risks, but research suggests the psychedelics themselves do no damage physically. Not only are the psychedelics safe but they also provide therapeutic benefits.
The most fascinating aspect of psychedelics may be the immense amount of therapeutic potential they possess. Various psychedelics including but not limited to LSD, Psilocybin, DMT, and MDMA have already shown clinical evidence of benefiting people with all sorts of disorders. Researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a study in which 15 participants, who on average smoked 19 cigarettes a day for 31 days, were given a psilocybin in two subsequent sessions. After a 6 month follow-up, the success rate for smoking cessation was 80 percent. The approximate 6-month success rate for the most effective smoking cessation drug on the market, Varenicline, is 35 percent. The study suggests Psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, plays an important role in restructuring our addictive behavior patterns.
Research has unveiled the bountiful and beneficial effects of psychedelic compounds yet they remain illegal. Millions of people throughout the United States suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression, OCD and other grave illnesses. Currently, prescription medications only fill the void with covering up the symptoms temporarily. Psychedelics may very well be the answer. Research into the beneficial effects of psychedelics is nothing short of astounding. Researchers believe if we were to legalize certain psychedelic compounds, even solely for therapeutic purposes, we would be contributing to advancing medical innovation instead of halting it.
Relationships are a fundamental aspect of our society. Almost every single one of us has experienced an intimate relationship. Some of these relationships give us incredible meaning in life whereas some relationships suck the very life out of us. Marriage intends to be the final union between you and your partner, but 40-50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Nevertheless, even with high divorce rates, couples all over the world are happily married and have been for 20, 30, even over 50 years.
Let’s face it, we wouldn’t be in a relationship if we didn’t want it to succeed. Luckily, there are lots of studies and information provided by those in happy relationships, to guide us into cultivating meaningful and lasting partnerships. Some of this advice might seem second nature; some of it might surprise you.
What Kills a Relationship?
A psychologist by the name of John Gottman has been analyzing relationships for well over 40 years. As one of the most knowledgeable researchers, John has tracked couples across decades, within many studies, analyzing behavior that predicts long-term fulfillment in relationships and conversely, divorce.
John has identified many correlations within relationships and there are four that stand out the most. These behaviors are associated with a divorce in an average of around 6 years from the marriage according to professor Gottman. Here are what he call’s the “Four Horsemen” a metaphor depicting the end of times in the New Testament. They describe conquest, war, hunger, and death, respectively. Dr. Gottman uses this metaphor to describe communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship. Gottman even predicted divorce with 93.6% accuracy in a 1992 study.
Don’t jump to conclusions here; there are various forms of criticism that are necessary for a relationship. Have you ever experienced a married couple that doesn’t complain to each other? Interestingly, there is a form of criticism that Gottman identified as being particularly destructive in relationships.
This is apparent when a partner criticizes the core being of the other partner. For example, “You’re busy because you don’t care about me” or “You don’t understand because you don’t listen to me”.
This type of criticism strikes at the very character of the other person. Mistakes are inevitable in any relationship, but notice how this form of criticism portrays the mistake. This criticism implies that the other person is evil or bad on a deeper level.
An easy alternative to this form of criticism is voicing your concern with an appropriate request, “I want to do something with you, let’s schedule some alone time,” or “You seem to be giving most of your attention to work, can we watch a movie later?” instead of “You’re only interested in your work because you’re selfish or don’t care.”
This is what Dr. Gottman calls the worst of the four horsemen, finding it to be the #1 predictor of divorce. It’s when we are truly mean to our partner, treating them with disrespect and mocking them with sarcasm. Contempt can also take on forms such as eye-rolling, name-calling, sneering and hostile humor. The reason contempt acts as a poison to a relationship is because of the disgust it conveys. How can you come to a solution with your partner when they’re giving you the message that they’re disgusted?
Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner, in the form of an attack from a position of relative superiority. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict rather than to reconciliation.
Take for example Allie and Ben at the dinner table after Ben states he’d rather not go out drink tonight, she lashes out:
“You want to just sit inside and do nothing? Wow, what a surprise Ben, you never want to drink. What, do you have something more important to do in the morning? Whatever.”
To add onto this destructive pattern “Dr. Gottman has found that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to suffer from infectious illness (colds, the flu, and so on) than other people! Contempt is the most poisonous of all relationship killers–destroying psychological, emotional, and physical health”.
Everybody has been defensive before. This occurs when we feel like we were unjustly accused of something and then come up with an excuse so our partner will back away. But, this strategy almost never works the way we intend it to, and our excuses often portray a lack of care for our partner.
Imagine a couple conversing about mowing the grass.
She: “Did you mow the grass this morning like you said you would? The fertilizer guys will be coming this evening”
He: “I was just extremely busy today, honestly you knew how busy I was. Why didn’t you just do it?”
Notice how he responds defensively but also puts the problem back on her. A much more reasonable and non-defensive approach would look like this:
“Whoops, I forgot. I should have asked if you could do it because I knew my day would be jam-packed. Let me do it right now.”
“Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that its perceived effect is blame. Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying, in effect, ‘The problem isn’t me, it’s you.’ As a result, the problem is not resolved, and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.”
Stonewalling occurs when a listener shuts down an interaction and withdraws himself or herself from the speaker as a result of feeling overwhelmed. Instead of confronting the issue at hand, when someone is stonewalling they will be unresponsive, turn away, distract themselves, engage in obsessive behavior or act busy.
Interacting with someone who is stonewalling can be frustrating and if continued, completely crushing. So how do you deal with it?
Well, you need to realize that the first step of the antidote to experiencing this unpleasantness is to stop. The second step involves a short process of psychological self-soothing outlined by Dr. Gottmann.
If you learn to do these things when your conversations become fights and tempers flare, you can keep your relationship from experiencing repeated and deeply destructive stress and save yourself and your partner from going nuts.
When to stop:
When things escalate to a level where you sense yourself reaching your boiling point (that feeling of a kettle whistling inside of you, and steam ready to come out of your ears), it’s time to take yourself off the flame! The same goes for your partner.
Let each other know when you’re feeling overwhelmed and say that you need to take a break. This break should last at least twenty minutes since it will take that much time for your bodies to physiologically calm down.
How to self-soothe:
It is crucial that during this time, you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore!”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading a book, or taking a walk around the block.
All four of these behaviors are indicators that your relationship could use some work. It’s important to remember that every relationship experiences these behaviors at some point, and there are antidotes to it. You can learn more at The Gottman Institute here.
What secrets have you learned along the way to maintaining good relationships?
Rhodiola rosea, or the golden root, is a powerful adaptogen with plenty of research behind it. Adaptogens are a category of plants that help your body adapt to physical, chemical, and environmental stress. It’s safe to say Rhodiola is one of the most efficacious of these plants. The herb grows at high altitudes in arctic areas surrounding Asia and Eastern Europe. The Vikings used this herb for strength and the Sherpas used it to help climb high altitudes including Mt. Everest. If you want a boost in cognition, strength, endurance, or a decrease in stress I suggest you read on.
Rhodiola’s Stress Fighting Capabilities
Similar to other adaptogens, Rhodiola provides a biological fortification against stress. In fact, a study in roundworms suggests that Rhodiola acts as a gentle stressor following ingestion, followed by a boost in the organism’s stress defenses. This is an incredible process technically defined as ‘hormesis’.
In 2009, scientists in Sweden conducted a human trial to test Rhodiola’s effect on people “suffering with stress related fatigue”. They found that repeatedly administering of Rhodiola rosea “exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome.” This once again showing the effect of hormesis, only this time, in humans.
We’ve all heard of fight or flight, right? Our systems go into fight or flight all the time just from little everyday stressors. This causes our cortisol levels to shoot through the roof, which promotes a lowering of the blood glucose response, potential weight gain, hormone imbalance, weakened immunity and decreased memory, aside from simply making us feel uncomfortable. These are perfect examples of how important it can be to keep stress and cortisol levels in check. Well, for just ten minutes of your time educating yourself and using your resources like a boss you too could keep your cortisol balanced! All you have to do is take Rhodiola. 
Cortisol levels can increase the rate at which we age, therefore Rhodiola can work as an anti-aging herb making you feel and look your best.
There are many benefits of taking the golden root, one of the most amazing may be that Rhodiola helps your body burn stored fat as fuel. This is due to the active compound called rosavin, which has been proved to trigger a fat burning response in your body and is found in Rhodiola.
A controlled placebo study done on 130 overweight patients at Georgian State Hospital showed that taking Rhodiola rosea extract daily led to a mean weight loss of 19 pounds (11% reduction in body fat), compared to only 8 pounds of loss by the placebo group eating the exact same low-calorie diet. 
Calling All Athletes
If you’re any bit serious about your stamina and endurance, then you should try taking Rhodiola. Rhodiola can significantly increase your red blood cell count. Yes, you read that right! Red blood cells carry oxygen to muscles and having a higher red blood cell count can drastically delay fatigue while improving performance.
In 2004, a study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism claimed the anti-inflammatory benefits of Rhodiola caused rapid muscle recovery and improved endurance. 
Even if you aren’t a serious athlete, you can still experience plenty of benefit by taking Rhodiola. You could be a student, stay at home mother or father, or intense entrepreneur and still enjoy Rhodiola’s proven ability to increase workplace performance and decrease the effects of sleep deprivation. 
I recommend taking Rhodiola with a protein shake, if you use the powder, 30 minutes prior to your workout. You can thank me later.
Depression and Overall Brain Function
Rhodiola works to increase neuron sensitivity in the brain, in specific, two neurotransmitters: serotonin and dopamine. These are the neurotransmitters involved in our focus, memory, pleasure, and mood.
In a clinical trial of 150 individuals suffering from depression, participants were given Rhodiola rosea for exactly one month. At the end of the trial two-thirds of the group had full remission of depression symptoms and daytime weakness had also greatly improved.  In addition, some physicians have been recommending Rhodiola as a treatment for ADHD because of its ability to increase focus.
How to Take Rhodiola/Supplementation
Look for products similar to those studied in clinical trials; 2-3% rosavin and 0.8-1% salidroside. Start with 100 mg once a day for a week and then increase the dosage by 100 mg every week, up to 400 mg a day, if needed. I’ve been taking Rhodiola for over a year now, as a boost for my workouts. It shouldn’t be too expensive and I’d have to say it pays for itself anyways. Stay healthy stay happy!
We’d like to hear from you…
Have you tried Rhodiola? If so what are your thoughts on it?
Have you tried any other adaptogens?
Zakir Ramazanov, Z. et al. (1999) “New secrets of effective natural stress and weight management, using Rhodiola rosea and Rhodendron caucasicum” ATN/Safe Goods Publishing, CT.
De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307.
Abidov M, Crendal F, Grachev S, Seifulla R, Ziegenfuss T. Effect of extracts from Rhodiola rosea and Rhodiola crenulata (Crassulaceae) roots on ATP content in mitochondria of skeletal muscles. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2003 Dec;136(6):585-7.
Provalova NV, Skurikhin EG, Pershina OV. Mechanisms underling the effects of adaptogens on erithropoiesis during paradoxical sleep deprivation. Bulletin Experimental Biology Medicine 2002 May; 133(5) :428-32.
Lishmanov IuB, Trifonova ZhV, Tsibin AN, Maslova LV, Dement’eva LA. Plasma beta-endorphin and stress hormones in stress and adaptation. Biull Eksp Biol Med. 1987 Apr;103(4):422-4.
As a health connoisseur, going to the gym, lifting weights and doing intense exercise all go hand in hand. Not only is lifting one of the best ways to stay in shape, but the sense of discipline that comes from moving heavy weights can be transferred to all aspects of life. So, about a month ago and a half ago, I was walking from the kitchen to the living room when I hear my girlfriend make a slight comment. “Your calves are kind of small”. Maybe a slight little comment to her, but nonetheless a nightmarish feeling erupted inside of me. I peered down, it was completely true. I have been training incredibly hard the past four years and in spite of this, I had admittedly never really trained my calves. That was, until then! I even measured the circumference; a mere 33cm. At that very moment, I decided to go all in with my calves training and started working them almost every day. After four weeks of training them 6 times a week, I re-measured them. To my delight, they were now 37cm in diameter. That’s 4cm in a matter of 4 weeks! I was impressed and I’m going to show you how I did it.
Training Our Calves Effectively
A lot of people believe calves are much more stubborn in terms of muscle growth. This is due to the fact that we’ve already been using our calves every time we walk around. In any case, if you work them hard they will grow and get stronger, even if it takes a bit of time.
Our calves consist primarily of two muscles; the soleus and the gastrocnemius. The soleus lies underneath and is surprisingly the bigger of the two muscles even though the gastrocnemius is the muscle that pops out. It’s important to note that the soleus is commonly comprised of between 70-96% slow twitch type 1 fiber. The gastrocnemius muscles contain almost a 50/50 split between type I and type II muscle fibers, also known as fast twitch (type II) and slow twitch (type I) muscle fibers. Type I muscle fibers, also known as slow oxidative muscle fibers, have a fairly high endurance due to the content of mitochondria and myoglobin. Type II muscle fibers, also known as fast oxidative muscle fibers, have a somewhat low endurance and therefore are possibly better for lower rep and heavier weight training movements. Out of all the muscle fiber types, the type II fibers are the fibers that tire the most quickly.
In layman’s terms, if we want to see better improvements in our calves we need to train them at both low and high reps! Let us dig in…
Part 1: The Gastrocnemius
Start your calf training by training the gastrocnemius first. We do this because as previously stated, the gastrocnemius has a higher concentration of fast twitch muscle fibers and therefore will burn out quicker. The gastrocnemius is better worked when our legs are straight. There are several exercises that are efficient in working the gastrocnemius including standing calf raises with a barbell or dumbbell, donkey calf raises, or calf press on the leg press machine. One-legged calf raises can also be very beneficial to those of you who have imbalances such as one leg being longer than the other. Remember, we want to do both low and high reps for the workout. I tend to start with a specific calf raise machine, which your gym may or may not have, or single leg dumbbell calf raises. First, do a few sets in the 6-8 rep range to target the type two muscle fibers, going to failure and making sure to rest a few minutes between sets. I usually do three sets in this range. Then move up into the 8-14 rep range for a few more sets. Finally, finish off the gastrocnemius with a couple more high rep sets upwards of 20-25 reps.
I should intervene here. There are a few techniques you can do to make your calf training much more efficient.
Our calves have a very short range of motion, which limits the time under tension. Combat this by doing the full range of motion in a controlled manner, specifically going slow on the eccentric part of the raise.
If you bounce your calf raises you’re not recruiting the muscle fibers properly. We can avoid this by holding and pausing for 2-3 seconds at both the bottom stretch and the top part of the exercise. I’ve made a video detailing this technique below.
Part 2: The Soleus
After we work our gastrocnemius to exhaustion, we move on to training the soleus. The soleus is recruited the most when our knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. If your gym has a seated calf raise machine that would be perfect. Otherwise, you may have to sit on a bench and place dumbbells or a barbell across your thighs. As we now know, the soleus muscle is compromised primarily of slow twitch fibers and responds much better to high rep training.
I usually aim to do 3-4 sets with the soleus after training the gastrocnemius. The first set will be within the 12-16 rep range followed by a set in the 16-20 rep range and a final burnout set with half the weight I used for the first set. When we train our soleus we want to use the same techniques highlighted above holding both the top and bottom stretch positions and making sure we never bounce our calf raises.
So there you have it! I’ve been following these methods for the last four weeks and have grown my calves a cm/week on average, and I encourage you to implement them if you’ve been struggling with your lower body. Not to mention, nice calves can be an incredible turn on. Stay healthy stay happy!
We’d like to hear from you!
Have you encountered any different techniques for successfully training your calves?
What’s your primary motivation for being fit?
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