Why mind over health, matters

The human brain is ‘Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones’. —Psychologist Rick Hanson

Did you know humans have a natural negativity bias? Apparently we remember on average seven times as many negative things as positive ones.

With such odds stacked against us, how can we turn that around? Glad you asked. It’s as simple as paying attention to the present moment, or being “mindful”.

Monash University’s clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers says mindfulness techniques train our mind to unhook from unproductive thought patterns.

Is being mindful hard to do? No. It just takes practice using cognitive behavioural strategies (CBT) that teach us to be kind to ourselves, as opposed to being critical or judgmental.

Adopting a mindful life is about paying attention to “what is” and not “what if”.  It’s having the ability to distinguish between what our imagination is telling us and reality. That is, when we get caught up in “what-if” scenarios we allow ourselves to become stressed, angry or even sad. Our imagination takes over and instead of looking at hard cold facts, we fill in the gaps. It’s a recipe for disaster mentally, emotionally and physically.

So how does this negativity bias manifest?

Say you have a health goal, you’re trying to be healthy like eating well and exercising, or trying to lose weight or get a good night’s sleep … have you noticed when you focus on the negative what-ifs you fail?

For example, we tend to ask ourselves:

  • What if I can’t sleep tonight, and then we begin focusing on the fact we can’t get to sleep.
  • What if I don’t reach my goal weight, and then we decide we may as will give up and eat unhealthy food to comfort us.

The way out of it is to focus on the here and now. Paying attention to what is going on around us is a first step in cultivating mindfulness. The practice teaches us to live each moment as it unfolds and accept what’s happening.

As part of my journey with Health Storylines, I’ve noticed since adopting a mindful approach to life, I can reduce stressful thoughts. I find tracking my progress on things such as symptoms, weight, mood, documenting health concerns, or writing in a journal brings me back to “what is”.

After I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours and had surgery, I used the Health Storylines app every day. It became my greatest support in helping achieve peace of mind and later providing encouragement to reach my health goals.

It helped me track symptoms so I could calm myself with “what is” instead of going into meltdown over “what if”.

Using the Health Routine Builder, I went from walking as little as 2000 steps a day to 10,000, and using Guided Meditation, I learnt how to master mindfulness in an instant.

As previous Self-Care Ambassadors have written before me, the purpose of Health Storylines is to help people improve their quality of life through their own data.

It’s a really powerful tool so I have accepted the challenge to encourage family and friends as well as readers of this blog to monitor their health through the app.

PAPER TRAIL

So if you’ve got a health challenge in mind and you want to come along with me on this Health Storylines ride and face “what is” and leave the “what ifs” behind, then my first challenge to you is not only to track your health via Storylines but also to track your stool health using the Stool Diary tool.

Yes, not the most glamorous of first challenges but an extremely important one as it is a window into understanding digestive health. It tells a story of an individual’s wellbeing.

My symptoms manifested this way but I didn’t realise the importance of how our digestive system regulates the body’s inflammatory and immune responses. So it is especially helpful to track your stool if you have experienced symptoms such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea, or irregular bowel movements.

Bistol Stool Chart
Here are more detailed steps to start tracking your stool:
1. Open the Health Storylines app on your phone, or click here to use the online version
2. Click on the ‘Tool Library’ in the menu (if using the app version, simply scroll left on the top of the screen and click “add tools”)
3. Click on ‘Stool Diary” and add it to your home screen
4. To document your stool, simply click on the picture which most resembles your stool, followed by the colour
5. Click done, and repeat regularly (you can also share your results with your doctor)

Once you start tracking your health you can compare your stool to the Bistol Stool Chart (pictured) and find out what’s your normal.

If you notice anything amiss, like blood in your stool, or very dark stools, experience diarrhoea or constipation over long periods of time, make sure you mention it to a health-care professional.

Of course, if you’ve switched to a healthier diet you’ll notice changes here (more frequent movements or more formed stools that are lighter in colour). Walking will also get you moving, in more ways than one, so let’s end this challenge with a poop poll! 

The author has used Health Storylines app since being diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours of the small intestine in 2016. After more than a year documenting her health via the app, she was approached to become a Self-Care Ambassador as part of a pilot to encourage others to track their health. She gleefully accepted the challenge. Show your support by tracking your health using this link: https://judyw.healthstorylines.com/app/#/register

For every rejection there’s another connection


Every dog has his day. ~ Miguel de Cervantes

The saying you can’t teach old dogs new tricks is limited by those who believe they can’t be retrained. We’re not talking individuals here but companies’ perception and value of older workers and their ability to learn.

Sure, individuals can be held back by their own negative beliefs but when that extends to external challenges outside their control, it makes things all the more difficult.

It’s been three years since the Centre for Skills Development surveyed 8000+ employees across G7 countries. The Older Learners in the Workforce study found more than one-third expected to continue working in some capacity during their retirement. It also confirmed demographic changes meant the use of older talent would need to be maximised.

The report cited four popular age stereotypes: Older workers do not want to learn; Older workers cannot learn; Older workers have great difficulty learning new technology; and Investment in training older workers provides a poor return. Motivation was also mentioned as a significant barrier, and perceptions around older workers’ inclination to learn were more negative than around their ability to learn.

The report cited four popular age stereotypes: Older workers do not want to learn; Older workers cannot learn; Older workers have great difficulty learning new technology; and Investment in training older workers provides a poor return. Motivation was also mentioned as a significant barrier, and perceptions around older workers’ inclination to learn were more negative than around their ability to learn.

Barking up the wrong tree: Despite findings revealing skills development of older workers would hold long-term benefits for employers and society, it seems few companies globally have embraced the necessary changes to cope with an ageing workforce.

In fact most appear to be winding older workers’ contributions down, or out.

You have to forgive companies. Many organisations are still struggling to understand this demographic change. The study explains why companies favour youth over experience. No surprise it is a misguided bottom line assumption based on the belief younger workers have longer in the workforce to provide a better return on investment.

And yet the same report revealed that many workers 50 and older are at the height of their career, not at the end of it, and could continue to contribute. Moreover they wanted to.

So of course it is disheartening to be fighting for recognition among such a huge throng. You’ve been there and done that. Back then it was being noticed among a pool of young upstarts. You might have been the biggest upstart of them all. You worked hard early in your career to gain that edge, now you have to do it all over again!

Chasing your tail gets you nowhere:  Why in 2014 are companies still turning their backs on an ageing workforce? In 2011, the study put the reason down to employers not having access to information or data on the productivity and return on investment of older workers, hence a leaning towards the traditional model of valuing younger workers which prevails today.

Crazy at a time when workers 50+ are the fastest growing segment of the workforce, and numbers in this group will continue to grow until 2030. Crazier still when stats show generation LIKE are groomed to pop in and out of as many as 10 to 20 jobs in their lifetime, showing there’s merit in maintaining loyal older workers.

Trust that those age stereotypes being held within organisations WILL fall by the wayside. Sheer scale favours such an outcome. While older workers wait, fill in the time to upskill, reskill and learn new tricks until companies catch up. The power of technology to tailor one’s own e-learning can only enhance the experience until firms come round to providing older workers access to training and employment opportunities.

Believe the stats showing organisations in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand putting incentives in place for older workers are the trigger for change. After all, the study also suggested the flow-on effect from innovation in HR practices and within organisational cultures most likely would dispel the misconceptions of older workers’ abilities and worth.

So now is not the time to give up. Do what it takes to retrain and be part of shaping the new workforce because every dog has its day and for every rejection there is always a new connection. As fellow blogger and motivational speaker Jeff Moore — My Everyday Power — says, there are three things to consider:

  1. Recalibrate who you are.
  2. Look at what strengths make you the best version of you.
  3. Let the past be the past.

Good advice. 

Judy Wilkinson is a blogger and freelance journalist who has spent quality time since 2012 upskilling, reskilling and trying out new tricks.

Inventive is as inventive does

If the company depends entirely on you — your creativity, ingenuity, inspiration, salesmanship or charisma — nobody will want to buy it. The risk and the dependency are too great. — Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker whose motto is: ‘Let’s not play the game, let’s change it.’

Image

In a Latino enclave off Lincoln Avenue near downtown Buena Park Mall, California, a young guy yells down the phone to a ‘friend’ while holding up an advertising sign. He’s doing the best he can with the skills at hand.

His friend is obviously dissing him for the current job he’s taken on but he’s not buying into it. “What are you doing? Nothing? I’m doing something and someone thinks enough of me to pay for it …”

You have to applaud a young guy who believes in himself no matter what friends say, especially given a few steps down the road there are kids the same age sitting around with their hand out, smoking while they wait for someone to offload their loose change.

On the corner an older woman leans on a stick next to a cart filled with her life’s possessions. She’s also holding a sign, this one promoting her plight. “Homeless, need money for housing”.

Depending where you are in the United States you see these scenes playing out over and over. Those who do, those who don’t and those in dire need. The first and last show real ingenuity, they’re not afraid to try something, anything to help themselves.

It’s these situations that promote such a feel-good factor. Asking the woman why she needed money, Australia’s SBS TV show Front Up sprung to mind where host Andrew Urban would walk up to strangers to ask questions. More often than not he would be rewarded with a rich personal tale.

Abril’s partner hadn’t been paying down the house. After losing his job the truth about where their hard-earned money had been going was revealed. He’d been sending it back to Mexico to fund another family that she knew nothing about. It also went to pay for those frequent trips he needed to visit ‘family’.

At 52, Abril kicked him out after finding out about his hidden life with a Mexican wife and that they never owned their home in Anaheim, it was a rental. Homeless and too proud to contact relatives in nearby states, she’s been surviving on the generosity of passers-by while waiting for ‘public’ housing.

Depending on how much money she collects on the street depends on whether she can pay for a roof over her head in hostels on any given day. She even has a part-time job stacking shelves. Twice a week the local Hispanic grocery store employs her to stock it. She isn’t paid much but there’s the promise of more shifts.

I never expected to hear such a heartfelt story and when I tried to offer Abril a little more than just loose change, all she wanted was enough to buy lunch. That night she was working and the next day she’d be able to afford a hostel room and real food.

I never got to ask the guy with this sign his life story. By the time I returned to the spot where he was standing he’d left for the day but somehow I reckon his tale would have been just as compelling.

It’s stories like Abril’s that really resonate. Back in the 1990s, the SBS Front Up show was a precursor to the best of the reality shows that followed and for me trump even the most interesting social media stories currently doing the rounds.

That said, with print media in Australia, as in the US, going through the biggest shakeup and shakeout in a century, it is social media that is shaping the way news is being delivered and received.

There are so many great stories out there. For journalists wanting to stay in the game and continue to bring compelling real-life stories in real time, their core skills don’t need to change but it’s more important than ever to master new mediums, learn to move ever more quickly, adopt the latest trends in disseminating news and find new ways to get word out.

Like Abril and the guy holding the sign. Believe in yourself, try something new. Try anything as long as it shows promise. Sure there’s a lot to learn to master and the big bucks may not roll in as fast as they did by way of traditional media … but life’s more interesting if you’re on the front foot and able to effect change, even in a small way.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger whose been on a quest for the past year to master the ins and outs of social media in hope the big bucks indeed will start to roll in!