Category Archives: sustainability

Beyond Meditation: Improving Brain Health And Performance

Image Source: Medicalxpress

Brain health is a fascinating topic. We know so little about our brains yet they drive everything we do. Meditation and the concept of mindfulness are popular topics, yet we don’t understand how we arrive at the benefits that everyone talks about. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of us don’t know how our brains actually work.

The good news is that we’re in new period of health and wellness where doctors can accurately see how our brains function, and even pinpoint the specific areas where our brains malfunction. This is very different from the traditional, assumption-based approach to making diagnoses in mental health. We are also learning that in many cases, real treatment doesn’t require the help of chemical drugs in order for us to find balance or heal.

 The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. is an informative read that focuses on brain elasticity. He presents the concept that that we can redesign our brains by understanding how they work from a mechanical perspective.

For example, you know when you have trouble recalling a memory, or a specific word? Blame it on the gradual neglect of the brain’s attentional system. In short, our brains become noisy. When this happens, the signal for a new memory can’t compete against the background electrical activity of the brain. This causes a signal-to-noise problem.

Using practical explanations paired with real-world stories, Doidge covers topics ranging from healing through neuroplastic therapy to everyday practices for preserving our brains.

In Change Your Brain, Change Your LifeDr. Amen calls out the main issue with  mental health today – we are “throwing medication-tipped darts” at issues unproven through science.

He relies on a technology called SPECT  to discover which areas of the brain over or under perform. Unlike an MRI or CAT scan,  a SPECT scan shows the electrical activity happening within your brain as it functions. Based on this, he is able to find the cause of a problem through factual evidence.

A SPECT scan is expensive – it’ll set you back $3,500. In Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, he presents methods for anyone to improve their brain health. Treatment methods are broken into four core areas, or 4 overlapping circles, where we can take a balanced approach to assessment and healing.

  1. Biological – how your body actually functions. This is the physical aspect of how your brain and body work together. Factors include nutrition, exercise, sleep, hormones, genetics, and overall physical health.
  1. Psychological – developmental issues and how you think. This includes how we talk to ourselves, self-concept, body image, traumas, upbringing, and significant developmental events.
  1. Social – social support and your current life. This includes the quality of one’s relationships and current life stressors. For example, depression is often triggered by stressful life events involving others, and the health habits of the people with whom we spend time with have a dramatic impact on habits and well-being.
  1. Spiritual – your sense of meaning and purpose. Having a sense of purpose allows us to reach beyond ourselves to affirm that our lives matter.

Mental health is a topic we tread lightly, as though we are somehow considered “broken” or “weak” when addressed. The irony is that our brains are actually the CEOs of our bodies –  influencing every thought we have, each action we take and the behaviors we choose to express. If we treat mental health in a reactive way rather than a circumstantial one, we can break these taboos and become higher functioning human-beings in the process.

8 Ways Minimalism Can Increase Your Productivity

I’ve moved a handful of times in the past few years. In order to make each transition go smoother than silk all efforts were made to donate or sell as much as humanly possible. (The word I used on repeat was “…catharsis!”)

In the end, it felt great to donate all those clothes I’d never wear again. I was initially sad to part with all the books I secretly knew I’d never read, knowing they’d find a better use in the end. The cooking supplies I’d barely use and stacks of house records I was holding onto for reasons only the vinyl gods know why — all of those things I simply didn’t need any more. They were a nice to have, but didn’t define or help me grow in any significant way within the present tense.

Change can be tough, but it has its silver linings. In the end, when I moved from New York to San Francisco my things were narrowed down to two suitcases and ten medium-to-large boxes. I could’ve pared it down even further but for some reason felt inclined to retain a shred of comfort found in the semblance of “stuff.”

After landing in San Francisco I moved into a studio apartment with only those two suitcases. I’d live there for two weeks as the boxes were in transit. On day 2, I realized that I’d packed a (mostly fabulous) wardrobe in those two suitcases but nothing more. So, I went to the store and purchased basic silverware, a cup, two plates and a french press. I then realized that if the boxes never arrived I’d be okay with that — there was something freeing about living with just the basics.

It was then I made the decision to bring new things into the apartment only when absolutely necessary. If something new was acquired, something old had to go. A year later, I’ve managed to keep my studio apartment fairly clean and relatively clutter free even after the boxes finally did arrive. This approach has done wonders for my head space too.

Here are eight ways that living a minimalist lifestyle has helped me to become better organized, slightly more focused and increasingly productive. I hope it helps you in some ways, too!

1. Your priorities are in clearer view.

When my space is very simple I am better able to focus on what needs to be accomplished in the present moment. Focusing on only the essential in the physical realm has helped me do the same in business. I pick two to three targets and use them as “bullseyes” to hit for the day. Like “stuff,” the challenge then becomes re-prioritizing the rest of the incoming noise trying to get in.

2. Less physical clutter = less mental cutter.

This sounds like a no-brainer but is truly revelatory when put into regular practice. You’ll be able to focus more when there’s less around you to visually and mentally take in.

3. You’ll spend less energy decision-making.

My diet is mostly vegan — on busier weeks I’ll order from a service like Hungry Root and other weeks cook simple dishes with slight variations at home. My closet consists of a  basic color palette of all neutral colors (black, white, gray, navy blue). I have go-to outfits for board meetings and other events for when it’s necessary to step it up a notch. Having quality pieces ready to go removes my mind from the details of getting ready, and instead puts me in the mindset of whatever it is I’m preparing for for the day.

4. Quality becomes a priority.

Back when I was buying things to satisfy a temporary need it was perfectly fine to buy cheap, throw-away items. Clothing that would fall apart in the wash, poorly made furniture, rickety kitchen appliances. I look at things now as more of an investment to buy only once.

5.  You’ll save tons of time.

I’ve been able to dedicate more time to the important things like investing in personal projects or in meaningful relationships with others. You’ll save time on housekeeping to-dos like cleaning and maintenance. Not to mention, the urge to “shop” or “run errands” completely goes away. All kinds of extra time opens up for the things that matter most to you.

6. Your pocketbook will thank you.

‘Nuff said!

7. There is literally nothing holding you back.

I have a home but don’t feel tied to it. I can comfortably travel, spend the weekend at my S/O’s, and feel happy and content knowing that if I need to move again at a moment’s notice — or have the opportunity to travel the world! —  I can easily do so. A tie no longer exists to  physical things that restrict me from moving around the world with ease.

8You will find yourself living a simpler, more conscious lifestyle with more intention and clarity than ever before. That’s the goal, at least! : )

Life Essentials: Core Values + Relationships

If you’re like me you’ve probably had many jobs over the course of your career. And as the first generation to grow up truly digital, we live in a hyper-connected world that allows — and even encourages — the ability to try many kinds of roles in a relatively short amount of time.

Even within specific types of work, titles and set responsibilities are changing. They’re becoming loosely defined — either due to the adaptation of technology, or the evolution of industries acclimating to change.

We’ve gained the freedom to break from the mindset of keeping a job for two years or longer, an informal rule created to establish credibility in the working world. We also have the ability to take on our own clients, work with friends, and start companies with little overhead — provided we’re willing to break from our personal comfort zones and venture into the unknown to do so.

The great news? The unknown is where incredible things happen! And now is a great time to go for it.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to create this change. And if creating change were easy, everyone would go about it. Yet whether we invoke it or not, change is inevitable.

During shifting times it’s important to stay steady and focused, whether you’re going out on your own for the first time or seeking direction in your present position. After all, someone wise once said that everything comes from within.

I’ve found that in my own journey so far, these two little things help.

1.) Have a set of core values.

Core values are, simply put, the words you live by.

Pick 3-5 words that you sincerely believe are key to who you are and what you stand for. You’ll notice that these words inform your interactions with others and your day-to-day working process.

They can be anything. Love, perseverance, influence, peace…you get the idea. If you’re someone whose core value is money, then you’re willing to do anything for money. Live by a set of beliefs, or values, and it becomes easier to prioritize everything in your life. You’re also setting a moral compass to help navigate through tough decisions.

For what it’s worth, mine are Respect, Honor, Passion, and Integrity. I’ve left jobs because actions made on behalf of the leadership team were not something I agreed with based on these values. If your heart isn’t in the game, the resulting output won’t be great. And who wants to do anything less than great? Life’s too short for that!

For me, having respect for others – and respect for myself – helps to build better relationships. I often feel that it’s my duty to honor the passion in others. I also try to work with integrity, which in turn makes the quality of my work better.

2.) Build and maintain core relationships.

Core relationships are the relationships we have with others. They are personal, professional, and sometimes a combo of both.

Grow these relationships and nurture them without any expectation of return. When you hit a roadblock, your network will be there. These people are a deep well of knowledge, support, and connections to help navigate through tough times.

When I lost my previous job, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at how quickly folks in my network came calling. I was amazed at the incredible support I received — simply from putting forth some effort into building relationships over the years.

Here’s the most important part: Put the needs of your network first. It’s never about you. Help them. Find out what they need and what you can do to help. Check in regularly. It may sound too much like The Secret, but it really is true — after you put it out there, you’ll be helped in more ways you can ever imagine.

I’ve always experienced overlap in my personal and professional life simply by finding ways to network and being curious about the individuals I met along the way. These relationships come in different shapes and sizes and often don’t reveal its true meaning until later on.

For example, a casual Friday afternoon meeting once yielded a good relationship with a client. Over time, we began to meet regularly for happy hour and began including others, too. This created a little network that eventually expanded and gave everyone involved a sense of community and professional connectivity. And as it turns out, one of these connections led me to my next full-time job!

The point of telling you this is to underline how individual philosophies are helpful in bridging the gap — not only across personal and professional environments, but in reinforcing our personal goals and objectives in a changing working landscape.

We must know ourselves well enough to know what drives us.

It can sound tempting to take a job with a company with a cutting edge product and forward-thinking staff, but if you don’t agree with their underlying philosophies it may be better to wait and research other options — then, consider a position with a company that does.

If you adhere to these two principles, you’ll find your way regardless of path or circumstance. Having them will give you solid ground to stand on and support your underlying goals. It’s critical that we connect with the passions that drive who we are as individuals — and as workers in today’s changing economic world.

5 Things I Learned From Working at Startups

So far in my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work at various startups ranging from a music production house to a buzzy mobile product to an executive staffing firm. At each of these organizations I was fortunate enough to learn a lot – and find myself in various scenarios with equally interesting people.

I didn’t just perfect my description of wearing the proverbial amount of hats and/or make endless jokes about the definition of adequate health insurance (it should be preventative, not circumstantial!). In hindsight, I took away more positive concepts and ideas that affect how I think about doing business as a whole.

For example, many opportunities arise in startup situations as opposed to companies where roles and assorted responsibilities are noted and documented in a more comprehensive way.  Startups offer opportunity – for everyone – if they’re chosen to be found. Below, the top five takeaways I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Nurture your talent.

Once you get them in the door it’s not enough. Look in unexpected places for underlying skill sets and strengths. Encourage each hire to grow on a professional and individual level – these criteria go hand-in-hand. Your talent is the only thing that matters. Value their opinions, pay close attention to direct feedback not only related to their contributions but to the company as a whole. In day-to-day tasks allow them flourish at what they do – then get out of the way.

2. Don’t do it just for the money.

Build something that matters. Ask yourself – at the end of the day, will this product or service help people? How can we maximize what we’re doing to make a contribution in the world? Which leads to…

3. Invoke personal investment through Passion.

It’s simple: when people are passionate about what they do on a daily basis, they place greater value and a subsequent higher level of tending to their work. Demonstrate interest, acknowledge value, encourage communication, and ignite passion.

4. Create structure.

Don’t do things like allow programmers to work for 24 hours straight. Totally #uncool. To be fair, it’s easy to let that happen when everyone is under the gun to get something out the door. But people are not machines, and even the most promising of products is not assembled via assembly line. Humans need rest and sunlight too. Create infrastructure through clear job descriptions and duties, regular interdepartmental meetings and 1:1’s between supervisors and direct reports.  Keep everything organized, stick to timelines – and demonstrate accountability, respect and value for your team members.

5. Be wild.

Be creative, have fun! Allow pets (within reason), offer classes, go on bowling outings, trips to the zoo, paint, draw, create, collaborate. Allow the magic to happen!

Are Plastic Water Bottles Finished?

I practice yoga, running, and cycling several times a week (mainly to stay sane). For my yoga practice, I typically visit the TruYoga studios because it’s convenient – they’re downstairs from my office – and the roster of rotating teachers is incredible. Lately, I’ve been branching out a bit by taking advantage of Groupons and other deals in an effort to try new styles and mix it up a bit.

I noticed in tonight’s class over at Core Power Yoga that the studio offered bottled water to drink – but it was in glass containers, not plastic. It’s such a simple idea that makes so much sense. We already know that plastic bottles are not only toxic but wasteful.  It was great to see a little system in place where glass bottles were implemented. There was definitely some style happening there, too!

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