Friday, June 2, 2017

10 Eating Tips to Boost Your Brainpower

Ginseng, Fish, Berries, or Caffeine?

Listen to the buzz about foods and dietary supplements, and you'll believe they can do everything from sharpen focus to enhance memory, attention span, and brain function.

But do they really work? There's no denying that as we age, our body ages right along with us. The good news is that you can improve your chances of maintaining a healthy brain if you add "smart" foods and drinks to your diet.

Caffeine Can Make You More Alert

There's no magic bullet to boost IQ or make you smarter -- but certain substances, like caffeine, can energize you and help you concentrate. Found in coffee, chocolate, energy drinks, and some medications, caffeine gives you that unmistakable wake-up buzz, though the effects are short-term. And more is often less: Overdo it on caffeine and it can make you jittery and uncomfortable.

Sugar Can Enhance Alertness

Sugar is your brain's preferred fuel source -- not table sugar, but glucose, which your body processes from the sugars and carbs you eat. That's why a glass of something sweet to drink can offer a short-term boost to memory, thinking, and mental ability.

Have too much, though, and memory can be impaired -- along with the rest of you. Go easy on the sugar so it can enhance memory without packing on the pounds.

Eat Breakfast to Fuel Your Brain

Tempted to skip breakfast? Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. Students who eat it tend to perform better than those who don’t. Foods at the top of researchers' brain-fuel list include high-fiber whole grains, dairy, and fruits. Just don't overeat; researchers also found high-calorie breakfasts appear to hinder concentration.

Fish Really is Brain Food

A protein source linked to a great brain boost is fish -- rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are key for brain health. These healthy fats have amazing brain power: A diet with higher levels of them has been linked to lower dementia and stroke risks and slower mental decline; plus, they may play a vital role in enhancing memory, especially as we get older.

For brain and heart health, eat two servings of fish weekly.

Add a Daily Dose of Nuts and Chocolate

Nuts and seeds are good sources of the antioxidant vitamin E, which has been linked in some studies to less cognitive decline as you age. Dark chocolate also has other powerful antioxidant properties, and it contains natural stimulants like caffeine, which can enhance focus.

Enjoy up to an ounce a day of nuts and dark chocolate to get all the benefits you need with a minimum of excess calories, fat, or sugar.

Add Avocados and Whole Grains

Every organ in the body depends on blood flow, especially the heart and brain. A diet high in whole grains and fruits like avocados can cut the risk of heart disease and lower bad cholesterol. This reduces your risk of plaque buildup and enhances blood flow, offering a simple, tasty way to fire up brain cells.

Whole grains, like popcorn and whole wheat, also contribute dietary fiber and vitamin E. Though avocados have fat, it's the good-for-you, monounsaturated fat that helps with healthy blood flow.

Blueberries Are Super Nutritious

Research in animals shows that blueberries may help protect the brain from the damage caused by free radicals and may reduce the effects of age-related conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Studies also show that diets rich in blueberries improved both the learning and muscle function of aging rats, making them mentally equal to much younger rats.

Benefits of a Healthy Diet

It may sound trite but it's true: If your diet lacks essential nutrients, it can hurt your ability to concentrate. Eating too much or too little can also interfere with your focus. A heavy meal may make you feel tired, while too few calories can result in distracting hunger pangs.

Benefit your brain: Strive for a well-balanced diet full of a wide variety of healthy foods.

Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements?

Store shelves groan with supplements claiming to boost health. Although many of the reports on the brain-boosting power of supplements like vitamins B, C, E, beta-carotene, and magnesium are promising, a supplement is only useful to people whose diets are lacking in that specific nutrient.

Some researchers are cautiously optimistic about ginseng, ginkgo, and vitamin, mineral, and herb combinations and their impact on the brain, but more proof is still needed.

Check with your doctor.

Get Ready for a Big Day

Want to power up your ability to concentrate? Start with a meal of 100% fruit juice, a whole-grain bagel with salmon, and a cup of coffee. In addition to eating a well-balanced meal, experts also offer this advice:

o Get a good night's sleep.
o Stay hydrated.
o Exercise to help sharpen thinking.
o Meditate to clear thinking and relax.

How to Succeed in College and Life

By Jeanette van der Lee

The professors behind NYU’s Science of Happiness course explain how to flourish in life—no matter how old you are.

You should get some exercise, eat healthy, and sleep enough. You should be supportive of your friends. You should do what you’re passionate about. We’ve all gotten such well-meaning advice, and it’s good advice. But there’s one problem: People rarely tell us how to achieve these worthy goals.
Luckily, there is a new book that gives you the “how,” and will help you not just survive, but thrive. U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) by Daniel Lerner and Alan Schlechter—two New York University professors who teach a course on the science of happiness—is the book I (now a grad student) wish I had had when I started college.
Based on positive psychology research, it covers a wide range of topics relevant to thriving, bringing them to life with humor, practical exercises, and even college slang. And while the book was written primarily for college students, the information is relevant for anyone wanting to cultivate a happier, healthier life.

Skills for thriving

In their book, Lerner and Schlechter draw on the work of Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, who identified five factors that help people thrive: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement. They highlight many studies showing why these and other factors, such as optimism and goal-setting, are crucial to thriving and how we can deliberately increase them to improve our well-being.
Positive emotions. Happiness—a positive emotion—has a long history of being almost synonymous with thriving, especially when it is developed through the pursuit of meaningful activities. The authors recount research showing how happiness can be increased by doing five random acts of kindness on one day each week, which is just one of the many research-based tips readers can use to increase their own happiness.
Relationships. Many students feel lonely in their first year of college. But getting enough social interaction has important benefits, such as higher stress tolerance and more happiness: The happiest 10 percent of students have more social relationships than less happy students. One way Lerner and Schlechter suggest improving your relationships is by sharing good news with others, which helps you experience more positive emotion and well-being, especially when others respond constructively.
Engagement. To increase engagement and meaning, Lerner and Schlechter suggest using your character strengths (which you can discover for yourself if you don’t already know them). Character strengths are personal qualities—like being curious. loving, and hopeful—that have been identified by psychologists and shown to positively impact various domains of life, such as work and relationships. 

Optimism. According to the authors, another trait we can cultivate in order to thrive is optimism. Optimists receive more social support, cope better with stressors, and stay healthier, among other benefits. However, optimism is not always good: Pessimists focus on what might go wrong, and they are sometimes more prepared when things actually do go wrong.
As a result, the authors suggest a strategy called “mental contrasting,” or WOOP (which stands for wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) when working toward goals. WOOP involves focusing on the benefits of reaching your goal to increase motivation, but also focusing on the potential obstacles so that you can plan for them. In a study with low-income schoolchildren, using WOOP helped them to improve their attendance, conduct, and overall academic performance.
In at least one case, the authors’ recommendations seem a little outdated, though. Lerner and Schlechter write that willpower is like a muscle: You can’t just keep using it, because after a while it will weaken. However, multiple researchers have tried and failed to replicate this effect. Still, the chapter offers useful advice on how to increase your willpower under certain circumstances, even though the willpower-as-a-muscle analogy may be flawed.

Realistic tips for college and beyond

<a href=“”><em>U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life)</em></a> by Daniel Lerner and Alan Schlechter (Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 304 pages)U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life) by Daniel Lerner and Alan Schlechter (Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 304 pages)
Though Lerner and Schlechter do focus on the importance of health and getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition, they don’t simply preach about eating veggies or snoozing eight hours per night. They realize that the behavior of college students is sometimes less than ideal.
“It’s bound to happen sooner or later: the paper you dreaded writing, the dense book you never got around to reading, the web page you neglected to design…and now the assignment you haven’t even begun is due tomorrow and you have no choice but to pull an all-nighter,” they write.

Rather than admonishing students, they recommend keeping a food and mood journal to help identify patterns, such as how the types of food you’ve eaten and the context in which you eat are related to increased and decreased energy. The authors also guide you in thinking about incorporating more exercise into your life, whether that means going to the gym or simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Lerner and Schlechter stress the importance of excellence, meaning, and passion—topics I found particularly relevant to my own life—and uncover some important distinctions, like the difference between harmonious and obsessive passion.
Harmonious passion means doing what you love, while leaving room for other pursuits; you focus on learning rather than winning, so that failing is seen as an opportunity to learn. In contrast, obsessive passions are pursued for reasons other than love—like money or status—and can be all-consuming, so setbacks seem like failures.
To nudge obsessive passion in a more harmonious direction—and increase well-being—the authors suggest making time in your calendar for other pursuits (such as meeting with friends), changing your language to be more positive (e.g., saying “would like to” instead of “have to”), and finding additional passions to pursue.
Reading this book will equip you with many ideas like these on how to not just survive, but thrive—whether in college or in life. But you have to do more than read the book—you need to use it. Personally, I found the book’s message to be inspiring and convincing. It motivated me to pursue a job that I feel passionate about and to incorporate exercises that will help me thrive into my daily routine.
As the quote by Maya Angelou included in the book says, “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Hopefully, this book will inspire you to answer Angelou’s call, too!

Inspirational Quote – June 2, 2017

“Forgive people who do you wrong….they unknowingly make you strong.”

Although we won’t be thinking along these lines while people are or have done us wrong, this is actually very true. Later, thinking about it, we begin to realize that, in having to cope with what they put us through, we do grow stronger. This could also help us cope better with the same or similar situations that confront us in the future, who would have thought it eh?

Life is the Network Not the Self

What if the fundamental unit of biology is not the self, but the network? What if plants, and really, all species, are made of interacting relationships and networked connections that are intertwined? A simple backyard experiment looking at the biological make-up of a maple leaf revealed to Professor David Haskell that a maple leaf is not an individual made of plant cells, but "a community of cells from many domains and kingdoms of life" -- fungus, bacteria, protist, alga, nematode, and plant. As scientists know, "microbe-free plants likely do not exist in nature and, if they could be constructed, would quickly die for want of the vital connections that sustain life." In this article, Haskell, professor of biology at the University of the South, Tennessee explores these ancient and dynamic biological networks, and the practical and metaphorical consequences of holding the perspective that all life is connected.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

When Is Sacrifice Bad for Your Relationship?

By Amie M. Gordon

A new study suggests that sacrifice is only problematic when your partner isn't supportive.

You asked your partner to pick up milk, but find no milk in the fridge for your coffee the next morning. The phone rings and you and your partner get invited to dinner with friends of his you don’t really like. It’s the end of a long day and both you and your partner are exhausted, but someone has to put the toddler to bed.
These moments of conflicting desires are inevitable in relationships, but it’s not always clear the best way to respond. Do you focus on your own desires, be true to yourself, and complain about the lack of milk, say no to the dinner, or beg your partner to put your toddler to bed? Or do you suppress your desires and put your partner’s needs first—do you stop yourself from complaining, agree to the dinner, and encourage your partner to relax while you read bedtime stories?
Some research shows that suppressing your own needs often backfires, leaving you feeling less authentic and satisfied. And your partner doesn’t really benefit either: They can sense your true feelings, even if you try to hide them. These small moments of sacrifice and suppression add up, and the more people sacrifice for their partners, the more depressed they tend to be.
But someone has to put the toddler to bed; for relationships (and families) to work, sacrifice is sometimes essential. The good news is that a new study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests that suppressing your desires for the sake of your partner is not necessarily a bad thing.
When is it not a bad thing? When your partner provides you with strong social support.
Surveying 141 Taiwanese couples, Wei-Fang Lin and colleagues found that, in the moment, participants who often suppressed their needs and desires in their marriages were less satisfied with their marriages and more depressed than those who suppressed less often. This is consistent with the prior research suggesting that frequent sacrifice can be hard on personal and social well-being.
However, over time, suppression only seemed to be bad for well-being (marital satisfaction and depression) if participants were not in supportive relationships. If their partner reported providing strong social support, then suppressing their needs and desires had no effect on their satisfaction and depression a year later.
In this study, social support meant encouraging and listening to your partner, understanding your partner’s thoughts and feelings, and expressing care and concern for your partner.
Why does having a supportive partner buffer against the negative effects of suppressing your own desires in a relationship? The authors suggest that sacrifices are costly, and having social support helps balance out those costs by providing you with other resources.
“Sacrifice, by giving up one’s own desire and wishes to satisfy a partner’s need, could be viewed as a loss of personal resources, making sacrifice stressful,” the researchers write. Support from a partner “could help an individual deal with feelings of vulnerability as a result of making a sacrifice.”
Having a partner who is encouraging, understanding, and caring may also change the very nature of sacrifice. Perhaps holding back a complaint about your partner forgetting the milk doesn’t feel so inauthentic when you know that they really care about you and wouldn’t be thoughtless on purpose. Perhaps, instead, holding back that complaint or taking on the bedtime routine feels like a gift you are giving your thoughtful partner rather than a suppression of your own needs and desires.
Indeed, other research has suggested that when people sacrifice for positive reasons (to make their partner happy, to bring them closer together), sacrifice can be good for the relationship. These findings also align with work showing that doing more chores may actually make people happier in their relationships if their partners make them feel appreciated for their efforts. And feeling understood by a partner can buffer against the negative effects of relationship conflict, as well.
Other research on sacrifice in relationships has largely been done with participants from the United States, so it’s notable that participants in this study were Taiwanese. Although there may be some cultural differences in how couples deal with sacrifice, at least part of the dynamic seems to be similar.
So do you complain about the milk or put yourself first when it comes to the dinner and bedtime plans? The research cannot tell you what to do—but it can give you some important questions to ask.
What is the state of your relationship—do you feel loved and supported? Do you give each other the benefit of the doubt? If you don’t feel supported by your partner, then biting back your complaint or begrudgingly taking on the bedtime routine may add to a growing pile of resentment, boding poorly for your relationship and mental health over time.
If, on the other hand, you feel loved and supported by your partner, then sacrificing for them may feel like an act of kindness. It might have momentary costs, but it could contribute to your satisfaction over time, perhaps by providing support for your partner and encouraging them to respond in kind.

Inspirational Quote – June 1, 2017

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

The image this bring to my mind is of a miner’s lamp! You know what I mean, the lamp they have on their helmets so they can see in the darkness of the tunnels they work in? In life, there will be times when all of us encounter darkness, totally devoid of any welcoming light, and very scary indeed. However, perhaps by focusing and believing in the light, we can turn a tiny, tiny glimmer of light into a light bright enough to banish all the darkness and shadows surrounding us. Remember, this will take total belief and focus, but we are all capable of achieving this, so the next time the darkness begins to close in, you know what you have to do, don’t you?

Addressing Social Justice with Compassion

Professor Rhonda Magee is a faculty member at the University of San Francisco law school, an expert in contemplative pedagogy, the President of the Board of the Center for Contemplative Minds in Society, and a teacher of mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions for lawyers and law students. She has spent her career exploring the interrelationship between law, philosophy, and notions of justice and humanity. Having grown up in a segregated North Carolina, Magee developed an early interest in racial and social justice, as well as a deep sense of spirituality and inner work - both aspects of her personal life that profoundly inform her daily work. In this Awakin call conversation, Professor Magee shares of her commitment to inner transformation work, and the role of the inner dimensions in "ensouling" the justice system and resolving conflicts.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why Curious People Have Better Relationships

By Jill Suttie

Research suggests that being curious might be a social glue that strengthens our relationships.

There’s an old saying: “Curiosity killed the cat.” It implies curiosity is bad for you and leads to dangerous risk-taking behavior. But this idea of curiosity is pretty outdated—in humans, at least.
Curiosity—the desire to approach novel and challenging ideas and experiences in order to increase one’s knowledge—has long been associated with intellectual pursuit, engagement with the world, memory, and learning. Now, more recent research suggests that curiosity may also play a role in our social relationships.
Studies have found that people who are curious are often viewed in social encounters as more interesting and engaging, and they are more apt to reach out to a wider variety of people. In addition, being curious seems to protect people from negative social experiences, like rejection, which could lead to better connection with others over time.
Here are some of the ways science suggests that curiosity can improve our relationships.

Curious people connect better

Given that curiosity involves the motivation to experience novelty, it makes intuitive sense that someone who is curious might be better at connecting with strangers. Research bears this out.
In one study by Todd Kashdan of George Mason University and his colleagues, participants were paired with a trained “confederate” (someone working with the researcher, unbeknownst to the participant) to engage in an intimacy-building conversation. The pairs took turns asking and answering a series of questions that moved from less to more intimate in nature—e.g., If you could invite anyone, living or dead, for dinner and conversation, who would it be and why? When did you last cry in front of another person? (The confederate was trained to respond with the same answers, regardless of the participants’ answers.)
Participants filled out questionnaires before and after the conversation that measured curiosity, positive and negative emotion, and social anxiety levels (how comfortable they were in social situations). Afterward, the confederates rated how attracted and how close they felt to their conversation partners, and participants tried to predict how well they came across.
Results showed that the confederates were more attracted and felt closer to curious participants than those who were less curious. In addition, curious participants better predicted how well they were received by confederates. Even when considering how much positive and negative emotion and social anxiety the participants felt—all factors assumed to impact social interactions—curiosity still had a unique link to intimacy scores, suggesting curiosity is a trait that might aid social closeness.
This result did not surprise Kashdan. “Being interested is more important in cultivating a relationship and maintaining a relationship than being interesting; that’s what gets the dialogue going,” he says. “It’s the secret juice of relationships.”
And the benefits seem to go both ways. In another study by Kashdan, participants were prompted to have intimate conversation or small talk with other participants they hadn’t met before. After actually engaging in these types of conversations, the more curious people felt closer to their partner in both situations, while less curious people did not.
“When you show curiosity and you ask questions, and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you,” says Kashdan. “It sets up a spiral of give and take, which fosters intimacy.”

Curious people may also be better at “reading” others. In one study, 96 participants filled out questionnaires rating their own personality traits and how socially curious they were—meaning, how curious they were about how other people think, feel, and behave. Then, they were randomly paired and told to interact for 10 minutes before guessing the personality traits of their partner. Those who were highly curious were able to better predict the extraversion and openness levels of their partners than those who were not very curious, purportedly because they were more accurate in picking up verbal and nonverbal cues.
Taken together, these studies suggest that the quality of curiosity can help people to connect better with others, even strangers.

Curious people cope better with rejection

We all can encounter difficulties in our social relationships from time to time. But there is some evidence that being curious helps you to deal better with those negative situations.
In a study conducted in Japan, researchers surveyed 20-39 year olds on their overall curiosity as well as their life satisfaction, sensitivity to social rejection, and experiences with social rejection and social inclusion. To measure sensitivity to rejection, the participants were asked to read nine hypothetical situations and report how much anxiety or concern they would feel in them, and how likely it was that the other person in the scenario would be accepting of them. For social inclusion and exclusion, participants reported how often they experienced things like receiving invitations or having friends deny their requests.
Analyses showed that, even when they faced social rejection, curious participants were less likely than their less-curious peers to experience reductions in life satisfaction or increases in depression. In the case of life satisfaction, this was true even for those who were more socially anxious. In other words, something about staying curious might allow us to recover more quickly from social rejection—an experience that can feel devastating.

Curious people are less aggressive

Besides rejection, aggression is another behavior that can be destructive to relationships—and curiosity may help with that, too.
Another study compared how curious people behaved in various emotionally charged situations. In one two-week experiment, participants were measured on personality traits (including curiosity) and asked to report daily on any social experiences that provoked feelings of hurt, how they responded to the hurt, and how close they felt to the person who hurt them. More curious participants reported less aggressive responses toward those who caused hurt feelings than participants who were low in curiosity, while other personality factors like openness and conscientiousness did not impact aggression levels.
In another experiment, romantic partners performed a competitive task that involved seeing who could push a button faster. The winner was then told to choose the length and intensity of a loud blast of noise that the loser would suffer. The researchers found that more curious partners were less likely to choose to aggressively punish the loser—meaning, they chose shorter and less intense noise blasts—than those who were less curious. This was particularly true when the relationship was newer—and it couldn’t be accounted for by the curious partners’ self-control, mindfulness, or narcissism.
According to Kashdan, this may have to do with curiosity’s connection to perspective-taking. He suggests that because curious people are motivated to learn and understand different viewpoints, rather than judging others, being curious may help in conflict situations.
“Self-regulation is great—you can control your reactions in emotional encounters,” he says. “But if you don’t engage in perspective-taking, the conflict will continue to simmer.”

Curious people enjoy socializing more

Not only might being curious help us recover from negative social experiences, it seems to foster more positive ones, as well.
In a series of experiments, participants high or low in social anxiety were paired with same-sex partners (confederates) to engage in conversations designed to build intimacy, or paired with opposite-sex partners (also confederates) for intimacy-building conversations or small talk. Participants reported on their positive and negative emotions at different points in the conversations, and these were compared to their social anxiety scores.
Participants who were highly anxious tended to experience more negative emotion during small talk than in more intimate conversations. However, those high in curiosity experienced more positive emotion in their conversations compared to less curious participants no matter what the context was—same or opposite sex, intimate conversation or small talk. This suggests that curiosity breeds positivity in social situations, even for those who are socially anxious.
Indeed, curious people are generally rated more positively in social encounters. In one study, curious participants who’d been videotaped conversing with a stranger for five minutes—with the only prompt being “talk about whatever you’d like”—exhibited more “positive emotional expressiveness, initiation of humor and playfulness, unconventional thinking, and a non-defensive, noncritical attitude” than non-curious people.
Kashdan says that curiosity seems to help in longer-term romantic relationships, where keeping interest alive is key to preventing breakups. He points to research by Arthur Aron that found most relationships don’t end because of conflict or financial difficulty, but because of boredom. Engaging in novel, interesting activities together can be key to making even long-term relationships closer, he says.
This and other research suggests that curious people bring many positive qualities to their social interactions, making them more enjoyable for everyone.

Can curiosity be enhanced?

Curiosity seems to benefit social encounters—or, at least, curious people fare better socially. But the million-dollar question remains: Can curiosity be trained, or is it a fixed trait?
According to Kashdan, no one knows for sure—there has not been a lot of research to uncover the answer. But many positive social traits—like generosity, compassion, and empathy—appear to be trainable, and that suggests curiosity is, too. Given that curiosity naturally fluctuates throughout one’s day, it can probably be piqued by deliberate actions or supportive contexts.
When it comes to social interactions, Kashdan suggests that you “fake it ‘til you make it.” Asking open-ended questions—those where the answer is truly unknown to the inquirer—and showing interest and asking follow-up questions are likely to make a responder go deeper, which will likely produce more curiosity in you.
“If you can pop out the open-ended question, the person often gets so excited and reveals so much more that you end up getting interested naturally,” he says.
Curiosity can be difficult, of course. Sometimes, we’re afraid of interacting with those who are different from us or who might seem intimidating in some way—maybe they are super attractive, intelligent, accomplished, or cool. But giving in to these obstacles will more likely lead to remorse than happiness, Kashdan says.
“What we know from science is that our greatest regrets don’t come from trying and failing, but from not approaching at all. That inaction bothers us more,” he says.
Instead, he argues, the road to a good life is paved with curiosity. If we seek to uncover what’s most interesting in each other, we will augment our relationships, and that in turn will lead to more happiness.
“You may not be able to change your happiness by turning a dial, but you can change your curious mindset—you can make yourself more curious—in the moment, and that will make a big difference in your life.”