Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tip #64: Stop - Look - Go

As I reflect on the past year, I have to say that it has been a very generous one in every possible aspect. I have had an abundance of health and friendship, wonderful travels, far and near, and many interesting developments in my job, the main one being that I am now surrounded by an excellent team of caring people, who have become my teachers and my daily inspiration. I have also lost way too many friends from my support groups, but I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity to meet these caring, kind and brave women who have now become angels.

I know my presence in the blog has not been as frequent as last year and I'm not too sure why, but I think that it is a sign of my business with regular life, which I think it is ultimately a good thing. On the other hand, I do believe this blog helps me in ways I cannot know, so I'm hoping next year will be a slightly more prolific one. I will not give myself challenges or deadlines, but I will work on my discipline to get the things I feel I need for my well being done, but with ease, and mostly, with love.

Today I have a lovely TEDTalk to share with you, which contains a message worth repeating to myself: only by being grateful, we can be happy. The speaker is the Benedict priest David Steindl Rast. He has a simple but powerful message that he summarizes like this. In every situation in life we should do three things: Stop, look and go, just as if we were crossing a street. This is what he means, (as explained in his recipe for grateful living in 2014, found in his wonderful website):
Stop! -- so that you will not hurry past the gift this moment offers you.
Look! -- so you will recognize this gift: the opportunity available now.
Go! -- that means: Do something with this precious opportunity!
He reminds us that every moment offers an opportunity, and, as it is the end of the year, I'm thinking that we can apply that to 2014 as well. I'm hoping that this new year I will be able to recognize the gift I have been given just by being here writing this. Here's the link to his talk, as I'm unable to embed it here, but I hope you watch it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Happy New Year and thanks so much for reading my blog!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tip #63: Quantify yourself (a little, at least)

The beach where I take many of my daily walks
About a month ago, I bought myself a Jawbone UP, which is an activity tracker that you wear on your wrist. I decided to get it because Gym-Pact, the iPhone app which motivates you to work out and which I have been using since January 2012, started accepting 10,000 steps as a daily workout, tracked by the Jawbone UP. From my readings about bone building exercises, I knew that you need to move more than just 30 minutes a day if you want to make a difference in your density, so I felt I had to move a bit more.

Today, I'm happy to report that I love my Jawbone UP. It not only tracks your steps, but you can also configure it to do different things, like let you know that you have been sitting down for a certain amount of time (I have set it up for 30 minutes), wake you up within a time window when it feels like your sleep is not too deep, track your sleep, etc.

And I also want to share a very short talk (under 6:00 minutes) about the new phenomenon known as the "quantified self," which fits well with my Jawbone UP and Gym Pact obsessions. If you haven't heard about this, it is the idea that we can now measure and track many aspects of our lives (food we eat, time we sleep or exercise, etc.) thanks to smartphones and smart devices and apps. We can then use all the data we collect about ourselves to improve, in theory, our life.

Of course, this can be taken overboard, like this woman who wears 21 fitness trackers, but I think that judiciously used, these trackers can definitely help us improve any aspect of our lives. Here's the talk:

For more information, here are some more links:
  • A comprehensive article from the New York Times, The Data Driven Life, written by the same journalist who gives the TED talk.
  • An NPR segment, Self-tracking Apps to Help you Quantify Yourself, which mentions many interesting apps.
  • A very intriguing website called Personal Experiments, in which you can sign up, devise your own experiment (say, take a specific supplement) and track your health with and without it, as well as share the results with other people who may be doing something similar.
I have to say that I've discovered that 10,000 steps is a long time walking! Many days I (accompanied often by my husband, sometimes the kids and friends too) go to Seaside Park, a beach near our house - in the picture - to complete the required steps. But, although it is time away from my busy day, I am finding some added benefits: the peace and serenity of the ocean fill my heart, I breath calmness, feel close to nature and, on top of all that, I'm sleeping much better. 

Do you use any of these apps or trackers? Let me know!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tip #62: Learn (or relearn) another language

Well, it took me some time, considering my job is precisely teaching a foreign language, but here it is. I'm going to tell you how new advances in neuroscience are showing that the brains of bilingual individuals are "nimbler, quicker, better able to deal with ambiguities, resolve conflicts and even resist Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia longer" (From TIME, How the Brain Benefits from Being Bilingual). And, according to this other article,  The Bilingual Brain, it seems that the effects on the brain of knowing another language help children be able to focus more and concentrate longer during school tasks, but the benefits are also extended to adults, not only because of the already mentioned delay in dementia and Alzheimer's but also because bilingual adults seem to have a more dense gray matter, which helps them process language and communication better. One possible explanation, according to the same article,  is that bilinguals may get more oxygen and blood to the brain and keep nerve connections healthy, which, in my view, could possibly benefit the whole person.

And today I'm going to share with you a TED talk, which is not really about all this, but it is still fascinating. It describes a start up called Duolingo, which you may have heard about. As a professor of Spanish I prefer to think that to learn a language it is still better to take a class, or better yet, take a class in the country where the language is spoken, but I definitely see a lot of pedagogical value in Duolingo. And I do like that it is free. At the moment, you can learn Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, English and German, but they plan on adding more languages. What I like is that it is very simple, and it is also fun (as they have taken cues from gamification), and you can create a team with friends so you can motivate each other.

But besides checking out Duolingo, I would like you to see the talk because, to me, it is very inspiring. The speaker is a wiz kid from Guatemala who is one of the computer scientists who invented the "Captcha" system. He explains that part in detail, so I will not say more here. But I am extremely excited to see how he (and his team at Carnegie Mellon) have taken the idea of all (millions) of us doing just a little (typing a few words, spending 10 seconds on it) and using that labor to actually digitize old texts. And with Duolingo, his goal is to have everyone translating the web. I'm not sure that Duolingo can do that, but I have a feeling that he knows what he's talking about.

Although I also see the potential for this kind of enterprises to obliterate many jobs in the future, maybe even mine, I still see this type of projects as the beginning of something remarkable which will be helpful for all humanity. For example, in medicine, when we can use the data from every single patient who has something like cancer, we can probably start seeing more clearly patterns which will help us find a solution to it. I already touched a bit upon this when I talked about abundance, and this talk reinforces that idea.

Here's the talk, with the subtitles in Spanish, so we all start practicing:

And do not get discouraged if you feel like you are too old to learn a new language. I think that that's one of the beauties of Duolingo, that they make it simple for everyone, and, if nothing else, treat it as a game, which is also very good for you, as we will see in an upcoming tip.

Let me know if you have tried it already. And, as always, thanks for being there, on the other side of the screen, for me.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tip #61: Be open to new teachers

Last May, I saw a documentary named Living on One Dollar. It looked like something that could be useful for my classes, as it was about four young Americans traveling to Guatemala, and experiencing the life of the poor in that country. Well, I really enjoyed it, did show it to some of my students, who also really liked it, and then got to work trying to find the funding to bring the two young creators (two of the students in the film) to our campus so our students could have a chance to meet them and be inspired. I'm glad to say that they will be in Sacred Heart University this Wednesday (Sept. 18th, 2013) at 7:00 pm, just in case any of you also want to see them. But, fret not if you can't, as they also happen to have a TED Talk that they gave in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last year, before the launching of their documentary and the campaign which has followed, Livingonone.org.

There are many inspiring messages for young people from their adventure, like follow your dreams, don't just think about things but do something about them, friends together can do incredible things, and so on. But in this tip, I just wanted to point out something that Zach Ingrasci mentions in the TED Talk. Both he and Chris Temple were Business students and their motivation for going to Guatemala was to try to find a solution to poverty by first understanding how the poor really live. So, they knew the theory, they wanted to live the practice. But, among many other surprises, they found that the poor themselves became actually their best teachers. They showed them what needs to be done in order to survive and how they used ingenuity, wisdom, and tools like cooperation to achieve it. I hope you have a chance to watch their talk (aptly subtitled "The Financial Secrets of the Poor.") explaining it much better then me.

I don't think we need to travel anywhere to find teachers and lessons to be learned around us. But we do need to have our hearts open to them. We often dismiss the known or obvious or, sometimes, do not consider that others can show us anything new, but we need to listen with love, wonder and patience until the lessons are revealed.
In the same manner, I do believe that we all are teachers and we have to remember that our message or our actions will touch people in ways that are not known to us. We just need to keep saying it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tip #60: Change your lens

This is one of my favorite talks. I have already talked about it before in Tip #19: Nourish your friendships and Tip# 52: Start with happiness. I always enjoy watching it because Shawn Achor is not only interesting but also very funny.

He specializes in positive psychology, which has as its aim to improve everyday life by trying to understand all the fulfilling aspects of human behavior instead of focusing on mental illness.

I hope you watch it, as it is quite entertaining, but if you don't, here are some of my favorites quotes from it.
It's not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.
90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world
75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.
If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise.
Dopamine, which floods into your system when you're positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way. 
Recently, the New York Times had an article about a new book called Up, from a professor of medicine, Dr. Hilary Tindle. She connects a positive outlook with better health outcomes. So, it is not only that a positive frame of mind helps us to be more successful and happier, but also to be healthier.

And, if you need further reading, Lissa Ranking (Mind over Medicine) tells us about 10 fun ways to reduce cortisol levels, which can be making it harder for us to be more positive in our daily lives.

Let me know what you think. And if it you are a pessimist, I definitely want to know your thoughts!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tip #59: Forgive

Beautiful present
In honor of Mother's Day, I decided to look for a TED talk suited for that theme. I just went to TED.com, wrote the word "mother" in the search box, and voilá, here we go, I found the absolute perfect one, not so much because it is about mothers, but because I found a topic, forgiveness,  which I have been meaning to write about anyway. I'm still surprised I had not talked about it before, so I'm really glad this is giving me the chance to include it here.

I know from experience that forgiveness is hard, but if we just look at its health benefits, it can help us lower blood pressure and cholesterol, make us sleep better, and strenthen our inmmune system.

But, of course, it is also much more. According to my beloved psychologist Rick Hanson this is what it can do for your spirit: 
      Fundamentally, forgiveness frees you from the tangles of anger and retribution, and from preoccupations with the past or with the running case in your mind about the person you're mad at. It shifts your sense of self from a passive one in which bad things happen to you, to one in which you are active in changing your own attitudes: You're a hammer now, no longer a nail. It widens your view to see the truth of the many, many things that make people act as they do, placing whatever happened in context, in a larger whole.
And Michael McCullough, author of Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct, explains in this interview for the radio show On Being that we are actually wired for forgiveness, but also for revenge, and that they both served an evolutionary purpose, but in the end, forgiveness is the more important, as it enables humans to build peaceful communities. But his research suggests that we do need to work hard at it, and that the more we forgive, the easier it gets and the better we will feel.

I think we all know this already. But it is great to see that the science of well being and evolution agree that this is something worth our while.

I'm going to leave you with some more stories to read of amazing acts of forgiveness, including today's TED talk. Read them when you cannot forgive the stupid guy that was so annoying today at work, so you can realize that, yes, that stupid guy is also a human being like you and maybe he was just having a hard day today as well. These stories describe incredible acts of courage. I hope they inspire you as well.
  • Can Forgiveness play a role in Criminal Justice? A rather long, but very compelling, New York Times article about the concept of "Restorative Justice," illustrated with the story of the murder of a young woman by her boyfriend, and the actions that her parents took to actually help him. 
  • No more Taking Sides, Another episode from the radio show On Being that describes the unlikely friendship between an Israeli woman who lost her son to a Palestinian sniper and a Palestinian man who lost his brother to an Israeli soldier. As the description of the program says, "they don't want to be right; they want to be honest."
  • Finally, here's today's TED talk about two mothers who found forgiveness and friendship after 9/11.
Although Mother's Day is an artificial holiday, I still enjoy the idea that we take the time to celebrate mothers (or nurturers, sometimes you do not need to actually have your own kid to be an incredible mother to those around you). Mothers do tend to be quite good at forgiving. Let us all learn from them.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tip #58: Make sure you know what you are eating

Not just apples
Today's TED Talk is the story of an ordinary mother whose child suffered an allergic reaction while having an ordinary breakfast. This mother, Robin O'Brien, is now being called the Erin Brokovitch of food, as she is on a mission to educate and empower consumers in the US about what corporations are doing to the food we are putting in our plates and into our bodies. Before being a full time mother, she used to actually work as a food industry analyst, but she has turned all that knowledge and energy into researching the impact of food in our health, particularly new ingredients, such as engineered milk proteins or modified corn or soybean seeds. She also has written a book about her experience, The Unhealthy Truth, and has created The Allergy Kids Foundation, whose mission is "to restore the health of our children and the integrity of our food supply."

I know that most of you already know about Genetically Modified Foods, and other artificial ingredients in most products sold in our supermarkets, but I still hope that you watch her talk, as it is powerful, full of interesting (and terrifying, I must add) information and quite inspiring.

(Here's the transcription of the talk into Spanish) 

Here are some of my takeaways from the talk:
  • Any product from the supermarket which comes in a box probably contains allergens.
  • In the US, if it hasn't been proven dangerous, then it is fine to eat. Thus, many countries around the world do not allow ingredients that are considered perfectly fine here. 
  • Our tax dollars are actually contributing to the protection of corporations that use genetically modified seeds which are patented.
  • Organic foods are much more expensive than regular food in part because there is additional regulations that organic farmers need to comply with. 
  • Companies like Kraft, Coca-Cola and Walmart use different recipes in different countries, always leaving the worst ingredients for the US, as the regulation is so lax here.
  • Our health care system is also impacted by these GMOs. Our bodies are not used to these synthetic new products and our health care system cannot take care of all the new numbers of ill people because of it.
  • We all have the power to change the world, even if it starts just by changing what we serve at our table.
And as she said on Twitter today:
All this reminds me of the newest book by Michael Pollan, Cooked, in which he tells us that in order to be healthier and probably happier we just need to go back to simply cooking what we eat. He mentions that corporations use the cheapest, lowest quality products they can find, and then add lots of unwanted ingredients that make us like their stuff by masking it. It's not so much a matter of eating one group of foods or another, but making sure we buy real ingredients, preferably organic if we are talking about produce, not from GMO crops, cooked at home from scratch, and try to enjoy that meal with those you love, in a slow way. I try to apply his rules about processed foods when I go shopping: don't buy anything with more than five ingredients, ingredients that you cannot pronounce or that your grandmother would not recognize.

Do you read the labels of the food you eat? Are you concerned about GMOs? Tell me what you think and, as always, thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tip #57: Context is everything

Everything I have learned in my journey to health and happiness so far points into one direction: cells, alone, don't determine what will happen to us. Isolated events are not what can heal us, but connectedness is always necessary. This TED talk explores this notion as well. Mina Bissell is a Distinguished Scientist in the Life Sciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.The talk is actually very entertaining to watch, even if you are not that interested in cancer research, because it is one more example of how we do need to look at things from different points of view and her journey through that idea as a scientist is quite inspiring.

Most scientist, even still now, believe that a single cancer cell is sufficient to cause cancer. And maybe this is true. But I learned from Servan Schreiber that autopsies of people who die in accidents or other causes show that most of them had cancer cells in them, but those never became full blown disease.
In this talk talk, Dr. Bissell gives us several examples of how the context and architecture surrounding the cells will determine what happens to them, not the cell alone. For example, mammary gland cells of pregnant mice will get ready to produce milk, but if you transfer them to a Petri dish, this stops happening immediately. In the talk, she gives us some examples of cancer cells which also will behave differently according to the environment where they are placed, and if they are injected into an embryo, they do not grow, but stay suspended there, peacefully. 

I remember when I first I learned about Kris Carr, after my rather gloomy diagnosis, I thought "Wait, this lady has changed her life around 100%, has changed what she eats, what she does, what she thinks, even puts coffee in weird places in her body and she is not cured???" And she still not. It's been 10 years since her diagnosis and she is thriving but her metastases are still there, not moving, not growing, not gone, but still a part of her. I had to learn that it is not the cell itself, it is not cured / uncured. It is more like, "change your life ~ find what works for you ~ change the context" What happens next is a mystery, but it can be a beautiful one.

In this talk, Dr. Bissell at the end mentions these lines from the poem "Among the School Children" by Yates:
O body swayed to music,O brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
I hope you enjoy this talk and remember that it does apply to everything in life, don't you think?

As always, thanks so much for reading.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tip #56: Let's get in an abundance frame of mind

About to burst.
You all know by now that I'm quite the optimist, who likes to look at the positives aspects of life. And that's why this is one of my favorite TED talks (although, I will admit I have many, many favorites). Here's this nice man, who sounds very intelligent, telling me that we all have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, even though there are several wars going on, there is poverty, we are destroying the Earth with our pollution, and we still haven't found a cure for cancer.

He tells us something very different: how extremely fortunate we are to live in this moment in history.  This talk is 18 minutes, but I still hope you watch it. The speaker is Peter Diamandis, and the talk is based on his book Abundance, the future is brighter than you think. (By the way, I like to have the subtitles in Spanish for my family in Spain who reads the blog, but as a Spanish teacher I also think it is another learning tool for those of you who took Spanish in the past, as I'm sure it can bring back words long forgotten or you may even acquire new ones, like cognates. In any case, I hope it is firing up your neurons! You can also just turn the subtitles off).

Here are some quotes I like from the talk:
Over the last hundred years, the average human lifespan has more than doubled, average per capita income adjusted for inflation around the world has tripled. Childhood mortality has come down a factor of 10. Add to that the cost of food, electricity, transportation, communication have dropped 10 to 1,000-fold. Steve Pinker has showed us that, in fact, we're living during the most peaceful time ever in human history. And Charles Kenny that global literacy has gone from 25 percent to over 80 percent in the last 130 years. We truly are living in an extraordinary time. And many people forget this.
Consider each one of those statements and pause. In just one hundred years our life span has more than doubled. Which means that if I had been born in any other time before I may have been already dead. This, alone, is extraordinary and a cause for celebration. The same for everything else in that quote.
When I think about creating abundance, it's not about creating a life of luxury for everybody on this planet; it's about creating a life of possibility. It is about taking that which was scarce and making it abundant. You see, scarcity is contextual, and technology is a resource-liberating force.
It is the part about "creating a life of possibility" that I really like. I was brought up believing you had to go though life working hard and being nice towards others, which I think it could still be a good goal, but it does not sound like a life of possibility. Now, through the things I write on my computer I can reach people I don't even know, who may find solace or learn something in what I have to say. That, to me, is just incredible. And it is so true that scarcity is contextual. We often consider life from the things we don't have: time, beauty, money, and we forget to be thankful for everything we do have: time (like the Holstee manifesto says: "if you don't have enough time, stop watching TV."), beauty (honestly, look at yourself in the mirror, will ya? Yes, you are definitely cute.), money (do you have a roof over your head? I thought so.). The scarcity point of view permeates everything we see.

And he also tells us about other miracles:
Think about it, that a Masai warrior on a cellphone in the middle of Kenya has better mobile communication than President Reagan did 25 years ago. And if they're on a smartphone on Google, they've got access to more knowledge and information than President Clinton did 15 years ago. They're living in a world of information and communication abundance that no one could have ever predicted.
Yes, scarcity is contextual, and that quote let us see how far we've come.

And this is how he ends (for those who will not watch it):
 Ladies and gentlemen, what gives me tremendous confidence in the future is the fact that we are now more empowered as individuals to take on the grand challenges of this planet. We have the tools with this exponential technology. We have the passion of the DIY innovator. We have the capital of the techno-philanthropist. And we have three billion new minds coming online to work with us to solve the grand challenges, to do that which we must do. We are living into extraordinary decades ahead. 
I see it already. I know we still do not have a cure for cancer and many of my friends are still dying from it (and I may too), but I see that finally doctors are looking at things differently, that young investigators are collaborating in innovative ways, that many new types of treatments are in the pipeline.

I'm also hoping you see it too. In fact, you can and probably will also contribute to this abundance. We are definitely lucky to live in this moment.

Let me know your thoughts. Are you in an abundant frame of mind?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tip #55: Sometimes, we all need a pep talk

I'm still doing my walks to work, on most days.
Well, it's been a bit of a long pause, here at the blog. I guess the idea of two posts a month did not work out that well in February. And I have started a new professional project that keeps me away from many things I should be doing, like my weekly yoga (I still do Priscilla, but just 3 days a week), even mediation, when I finally had found a program I was really enjoying (and had paid for!). I feel a bit like the picture on the left, a bit bare from the winter, with ugly piles of snow that I need to get rid of, but there is still a bright, big, beautiful sun above and I need to concentrate on that. So, this will be a brief post, but I just needed to be here again. And what I most needed was a Pep talk and, as always, one found me, for within the mostly seriousness of TED talks, this was also there. I'm sure many of you have already seen this kid and, if you haven't, you need to watch this clip (less than 3:30 minutes). He is cute, funny, clever, sweet. And, in real life, this 9 year old boy actually suffers from Osteogenesis imperfecta, or Brittle Bone disease, and has already broken his bones more than 70 times. But that doesn't stop him from doing his favorite activity, dancing, and he encourages us all to do the same, among many other awesome things, like he says.
Please, watch it and smile with me.

These are my favorite quotes from it, with my comments:
  • And if life is a game aren’t we all on the same team?. Yeah, really, what's wrong with us, people.
  • This is life people, you got air coming through your nose, you got a heartbeat. That means it’s time to do something. It's true, we all can do something. I can write a blog that makes me happy, can't I?
  • But what if there really were two paths. I want the one that leads to awesome. Me too. Even though sometimes that's just so hard, because we don't believe that we are enough.
  • If we can make everyday better for each other, if we’re all in the same team, lets start acting like it. 
And this week, I was also inspired by this blog post by Seth Godin, You already have permission.
Just saying.
You have permission to create, to speak up, and stand up.
You have permission to be generous, to fail, and to be vulnerable.
You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.
No need to wait.
So, people, like Kid President says, you've just been pep talked. Now, go do something. :)

Let me know if you liked it. And feel free to give me a pep talk anytime. I tend to always need one.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tip #54: Write letters (to strangers)

So, I have to say that I both miss writing a weekly post and enjoy the free time I now have on Sundays. I am then working on how to balance those two things. But it's a funny thing to observe that the deadlines I set up for myself do work, and procrastination is always at hand and thus, I said I would write two posts a month and here we are, the last day of the month, inching up to the last minutes before the (fictional / personal / why important) deadline expires.

In the meantime, I just saw this talk and I felt that it could really become a great tip. It has the added advantage that it is a short one to watch, just under 5 minutes. I found out about it in this  teaching blog (if you teach languages, that's one of my favorites). Hanna Brencher is a young woman who has battled depression in her life. When she was in college, her mother used to write her letters (not e-mails or texts) and she felt that those letters always comforted her. She decided one day to start writing nice, cheerful, kind letters to strangers and she just would leave them everywhere, in libraries, coffee shops, the subway. She wrote about it in her blog and two things happened: one, she started feeling much better, as she discovered a purpose in her life which gave her immense joy; and two, people started asking for letters, mostly for others, sometimes for themselves. From that, the wonderful webpage More Love Letters was born. In there, you can ask for requests of a letter or a bundle of letters for you or someone else, or you can volunteer to write these love letters to strangers.
Here's her talk (with subtitles for my family.-NOTE, if you get this in an e-mail you may not see the talk. Just go click on the title to go to the page).

I'm not sure whether I will actually do this tip myself or not. Maybe I will. But I was inspired by it because I think she is making connections which are so crucial to our well being. And I was also reading this week about a study which shows that giving time, gives you time.  This is what they observed:
"We compared spending time on other people with wasting time, spending time on oneself, and even gaining a windfall of “free” time, and we found that spending time on others increases one’s feeling of time affluence."
I think I may start by writing love letters to people I know, like the suggestion of "Charge your battery" in Tip #52. I have to say, I've been getting some of those lately and it does feel amazing to be on the recipient side. On a silly note, I have found a  "machine" version of the love letters. It's an app for the iPhone called At-a-boy, which was developed by Dan Ariely, a researcher in behavioral economics. The app gives you a compliment (which has been submitted by people - so it's not totally machine-like) every time you open it. Ariely says that we humans are not only affected by negative comments, but also by positive ones, and I have to say it is true. It's one of my favorite apps. I love to get those compliments, every single time.

Have you ever thought about writing to strangers? Would you do it? Let me know!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is there scientific proof that we can heal ourselves? Lissa Rankin

So, as it tends to happen, life got in the way this past week and I decided to change the topic for this post. I will leave Shawn Achor and his positive ideas for the next one.

Lissa Rankin is a doctor (gynecologist) who is now researching the topic of spontaneous remissions. Next May her book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself will be published and I, personally, cannot wait. In this TEDx Talk she gives us a preview of what that book will be. She talks about the placebo effect, which we are all familiar with. How is it possible that a percentage of people do get better with just a placebo pill? But she also talks about the "nocebo" effect, which is getting worse when you expect something will hurt you in some way. In this article from the NYT (Beware the Nocebo Effect) we see how when patients expect side effects, sometimes they do get them, even in the cases in which they are not taking the actual pill, but the placebo. But this nocebo effect can also happen to patients taking the real medications, particularly if the doctor points those side effects to you. In the talk, Lissa Rankin does end up by mentioning that patients do believe their doctors, so doctors have to be very mindful of how they present the news to them.

I think it is not only what doctors tell us, but the stories we tell ourselves, which are important to our recovery (or our health in general, or even our happiness). There is one experiment in which a teacher (Jane Elliot) in order to teach how discrimination felt, separated her class into blue-eyed kids (who were treated as superior) and brown-eyed kids (or inferior) (She later also reversed them). Many (awful) things happened during the event, but one of them was that the "superior" kids performed much better than expected for their age in academic task, while the "inferior" group did the opposite. If we tell ourselves (or society tells us) that we are dumb, we will be dumb and vice versa.

And this week I got another reminder of the importance of what we tell ourselves. In the online group to which I belong (I've talked about them before) which is made up of incredible brave and wonderful women, we lost two members recently. And this what follows is just my opinion, but, with one them, I do feel that maybe her life was cut a bit short because of what she said to herself. She had the BRCA gene, which predisposes you to have breast cancer. And, in one conversation we had many months before she passed, she mentioned how other women in her family who had died from the disease had never lived more than 63 years. I never thought anything about this comment, until her death. I actually thought she was already older than that, but then I read that she had just turned 63.
The other story I think is the opposite effect. This young, beautiful woman who just left us last week, had a very aggressive form of cancer, but she was really dedicated to her young boys. This summer she decided to do a cross country trip with them but had to cut it short as she was rushed to the hospital a couple of times. She commented to the group how one of the doctors that saw her (who didn't know her) was shocked she was traveling at all. This doctor was brutal and almost mean and told her basically you should just go home to die. But she didn't listen. As she kept getting worse, she mentioned to us around November (maybe even October), that she wanted to spend one more Christmas with her family and also see The Hobbit with them (she was a Lord of the Rings follower). She had her Christmas and went to the movie theater, in a lot of pain, December 28th. She died 10 days later. She died when she said she was going to die.

And, as I'm crying now remembering these two friends that are now angels, let me leave you with this very hopeful talk.

Just remember that what you say to yourself really makes a difference.

Do you have any other examples?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My plan for 2013

So, this is my first post for 2013 and here's my plan for the year. Instead of tips, I would like to write about TED Talks that I have found inspiring in some way. Last year I wanted to watch one every day (that was one of my resolutions for 2012), but that didn't last too long. Still, I was able to see many talks that I really felt were important and should be shared. I know that actually, TED Talks have become so popular that now you can find them in many, many other spaces, where you can also discuss them. Here are some:

One of the things I definitely learned last year with my series of tips is that you become a more positive person if you are surrounded by positive experiences. Writing the tips was very positive and beneficial for me. Watching these talks has the same effect, and by writing about them I can compound the effect, particularly with the addition of your feedback. I tend to find interesting talks through Twitter and also in my iPad or iPhone app, as it has a menu for recent talks as well as one for popular ones.

Of course, I will center myself on talks that have to do mostly with health or happiness, to follow the theme of my blog. I find that these topics are of interest to a majority of people, so not surprisingly, many talks do touch on those topics.

Here's a list of talks I have already covered in previous posts:
This year, I will write every other Sunday. I do feel I need to spend a bit more time with my family and doing other things (my other blog, the one I'm supposed to really be working on, is really not thriving). And 26 Ted Talks is probably more than enough! For next week, I would like to talk about Shawn Achor's talk "The happy secret to better work," as I have also mentioned him recently in my tips (and it is truly one of my favorites).

I still may write more tips too, as there are some that I certainly think I need to investigate for myself, like the role of nature on our well being, or acceptance (and resistance), and definitely would love to write one tip titled "be yourself" but I want to practice that one myself first :)

Well, what do you think? Would you like to come on board with this adventure? Do you have any talks that you would like to discuss?

As always, I love to hear your comments.