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.