The Positivity Company http://thepositivitycompany.com Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:17:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 Introduction to The Science of Well-Being: Oct 12 2018 • 12:00 PM http://thepositivitycompany.com/introduction-to-the-science-of-well-being-oct-13-2017-%e2%80%a2-1200-pm/ Wed, 15 Nov 2017 15:52:44 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/?p=1477 Applying Neuroscience, Positive Psychology & Mindfulness Fascinating 8-month class held the second Friday of each month (16 CEs) Concord, NH (33 Pleasant Street) Cosponsored with The New Hampshire Psychological Association. We hope you can join us for a fascinating eight-month class held on the 2nd Friday of the month beginning October 12, 2018 from 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm. During ...

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Applying Neuroscience, Positive Psychology & Mindfulness

Fascinating 8-month class held the second Friday of each month (16 CEs)
Concord, NH (33 Pleasant Street)

Cosponsored with The New Hampshire Psychological Association.

We hope you can join us for a fascinating eight-month class held on the 2nd Friday of the month beginning October 12, 2018 from 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm.

During their 60+ years of combined experience the husband and wife team of psychologists, Sher Kamman and Kirke Olson, began to feel something was missing in their life and work. While they felt it certainly was helpful and rewarding to assist people to heal from illnesses, it did not seem to be enough and the work could be draining. Almost fifteen years ago these seeds of discontent led them to study with Marty Seligman, Ph.D. as he began his journey with positive psychology, and Dan Siegel, MD who was beginning his work with interpersonal neurobiology. Kirke had a long-term off-and-on meditation practice and Sher a lifelong interest in spirituality, which made it an easy transition to the study and practice of mindfulness.

During the past fifteen years, Sher and Kirke have come to passionately believe that their work in the helping professions (psychotherapy, education, consultation) is far more than assisting people to fix what is wrong, it is helping people find and amplify what is right. For more than a century therapists, educators, and consultants have been doing a great job helping millions of people fix what is wrong by helping them learn, change and heal from things like depression, anxiety, and trauma. But, not being depressed is different from being happy; not feeling anxious is not the same as being relaxed. Healing, curing, problem-solving, and alleviating symptoms all resolve negative states, but now we are beginning to understand what fosters well-being and flourishing.

They invite you to join them on a journey combining the research from positive psychology, neuroscience, and mindfulness. A journey that will likely change your perceptions of your life and the people you help and teach.
We are living in the middle of an explosion of research about the brain, positive psychology, and interpersonal relationships. This rapid expansion of knowledge is having and will continue to have a powerful effect on all of the helping professions (e.g., teachers, nurses, physicians, counselors, therapists, etc.). It is difficult for us working professionals to find the time to learn this information while we separate the wheat from the chaff. It is even more difficult to apply it. This eight-month training series teaches the information and gently guides professionals while they learn to apply it.

This eight-month training will incorporate didactic and experiential learning, as well as ample opportunities for discussion. It also includes numerous handouts in notebook form for reference later. Everything we do and talk about will be evidence-based. For example, there will be homework, because neuroscience shows it helps learning.

Participants will:

1. Define well-being using its five elements (P.E.R.M.A.)
2. Apply evidence-based positive psychology exercises including: “Me at My Best Story,” “Reflected Best Self Letter,” And “Gratitude Journaling.”
3. Utilize a standardized strength assessment tool (VIA Signature Strengths Survey).
4. Recognize Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build Theory and the power of positive emotions to build resilience and improve problem-solving
5. Describe how neural networks develop habits (“what fires together wires together”).
6. Describe how mirror neurons work.
7. Apply evidence-based mindfulness exercises and understand the neuroscience supporting mindfulness.

Details

Credits Earned
You can earn 16 CE credits by completing this course.

Class Dates
Oct. 12, Nov 9, Dec 14, 2018, Jan 11, Feb 15, Skip March, Apr 12, May 7, June 14, 2018. Noon – 2:00 PM

Cost
$750 payable in two $375 payments (other arrangements are possible)

REGISTER HERE

This program is co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Psychological Association (NHPA) and The Positivity Company. NHPA is approved by the American Psychological Association to offer continuing education for psychologists. These credits are also accepted by the State Board of Mental Health Practice for all New Hampshire licensees. NHPA maintains responsibility for this program and its contents.

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Tired and heading to burnout? Neuroscience offers some help. http://thepositivitycompany.com/tired-and-heading-to-burnout-neuroscience-offers-some-help/ Sun, 05 Feb 2017 23:33:07 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/?p=1032 Feeling exhausted from working with your clients, students, or patients? It may not be much consolation, but you certainly are not alone: “54.4% of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout in 2014, up from 45.5% in 2011.” (Shanafelt, Tait D. et al. 2015) “40%-50% of new teachers may leave their profession within the first five years. This is ...

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Feeling exhausted from working with your clients, students, or patients?

It may not be much consolation, but you certainly are not alone:

  • “54.4% of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout in 2014, up from 45.5% in 2011.” (Shanafelt, Tait D. et al. 2015)
  • “40%-50% of new teachers may leave their profession within the first five years. This is at a time when there are a ballooning number of new teachers entering the field.” (Riggs 2013, Ingersoll 2012)
  • “Across several studies, it appears that 21-67% of mental health workers may be experiencing high levels of burnout.” (Morse, et al. 2012)
  • “In a 2014 survey, 68% of family physicians and 73% of general internists would not choose the same specialty if they could start their careers anew.” (Bodenheimer & Sinsky, 2014, p 574)
  • “A 2013 survey of 508 employees working for 243 health care employers found that 60% reported job burnout and 34% planned to look for a different job.” (Bodenheimer & Sinsky, 2014, p 574)
What is going on in the helping professions? More importantly, what can we do about it?

When I delve into the reasons for the exhaustion and burnout I could go on to quote research about electronic medical records (a major culprit in the fatigue and frustrations of physicians, mental health providers, and their staff.), authoritarian managerial style, or perceived school climate.  But the research about the causes of fatigue and burnout, while factual, does not offer something to do right now to help.

Luckily, neuroscience research offers a hint for something to try, with no downside.

I’m writing this after an exhausting week that included battles with insurance companies, a suicidal client, a student death, and too many clients’ vivid descriptions of traumatic events. My week pushed me to investigate the concepts of compassion fatigue and burnout, because I was experiencing it myself.

Charles Figley (2017) the researcher who coined the term in 1996 states “Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Compassion fatigue can lead to something worse: burnout, which Miriam Webster’s dictionary defines as, “exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.” People who experience burnout usually leave their job, their profession, or if they remain on the job can seem like zombies to others.

I discovered a peer reviewed research article that was eye opening for me and I hope for you.

First, let me briefly describe the study: The researchers advertised and found a group of thirty willing women participants, (previous research has shown differences between men and women regarding social emotions like empathy and compassion and to avoid confounding variables they decided to exclude men). They divided the participants into two groups, and began with fMRI’s for everyone. One group (control group) was then given a six-hour training in a method for memorizing lists. The second group (experimental group) was given a six-hour training in empathy. After a brief lecture about empathy the participants were guided to emotionally resonate with their own difficult experiences, visualize friends who have had difficult times in their life, and others who were not doing well. While visualizing these incidents they were told to silently repeat phrases such as “I share your suffering” or “I see your pain.” Following the trainings both groups went back into fMRI machines while they watched video clips of low emotional or highly emotional events involving other peoples’ suffering. Then there was a second day of more memory training for the control group, while the experimental group was trained in compassion, which is also known as loving kindness meditation. Like the empathy training participants were asked to visualize difficult situations for themselves, for friends or others who are suffering. This time they repeated phrases such as “”May you be sheltered by compassion” or “May you be safe.” These are the phrases often used during loving kindness meditation. After the trainings everyone returned for a final fMRI as they watched similar low emotional or highly emotional video clips of people suffering.

Here are the results quoted from the study and they gave me an idea (the emphasis is mine):

“Indeed, we found evidence for different patterns of emotional experiences and neural plasticity associated with the sequential training of [empathy and compassion] within the same participants: a short-term training in empathy increased empathic responses and negative affect in response to others’ distress. In addition, watching others’ suffering after empathy training was associated with activations in a network spanning insula, aMCC [anterior mid-cingulate cortex], temporal gyrus, DLPFC [Dorso Lateral Prefrontal Cortex], operculum and parts of basal ganglia. These results align with and extend previous cross sectional meta-analytic findings on a crucial role of insula and aMCC in empathy for pain (Fan et al., 2011; Lamm et al., 2011), as well as their involvement in self-experienced pain, and negative affect in general.”

In other words, empathy alone turned on the neural networks associated with physical and emotional pain as well as negative emotions.
Quoting again:

“Importantly, compassion training reversed these effects: it decreased negative affect back to baseline levels and increased positive affect. On the neural level, compassion training increased brain activations in mOFC [medial Orbitofrontal Cortex], pregenual ACC [Anterior Cingulate Cortex], and striatum a network previously associated with positive affect (Kringelbach and Berridge, 2009), affiliation (Strathearn et al., 2009) and reward (Haber and Knutson, 2010). (Klimecki, Leiberg, Ricard & Singer (2013) p 5).”

The Take Away:  Loving kindness meditation reversed the distress and fatigue caused by empathy for others because it used different parts of the brain.

Empathy activates the brain’s circuits that are involved with self-experienced pain and negative emotions. While compassion or loving-kindness meditation reversed these effects and was associated with a brain network involved with positive affect and human connection.

Since discovering this research, I’ve been trying an experiment on myself. I’ve been practicing short loving kindness meditations between appointments and I’ve found it helpful.

If you want to try it, I suggest you start by listening to Barbara Fredrickson’s guided meditation (she is a well known researcher in positive psychology) http://www.positivityresonance.com/meditations.html. Then using a similar format focus on an upcoming client, patient, or student.

If you do try it I’d love to hear from you about your experience kirkeolson@mac.com.

If you would like to read the full study here is the link: https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/9/6/873/1669505/Differential-pattern-of-functional-brain

References:

Bodenheimer, T. &  Sinsky, C. (2014). Triple to Quadruple Aim: Care of the Patient Requires Care of the Provider. Annals of Family Medicine: 12:573-576. doi: 10.1370/afm.1713
Figley, C. (2017). Retrieved on line February 1, 2017. http://www.compassionfatigue.org
Ingersoll, R. M. Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us. The Phi Delta Kappan published in Education Week online: May 16, 2012
Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Ricard, M. & Singer, T. (2013). Differential pattern of functional brain plasticity after compassion and empathy training. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, nst060.
Kringelbach and Berridge, (2009). Toward a functional neuroanatomy of pleasure and happiness. Trends in Cognitive Neuroscience, 13, 479-487.
Morse, G., Salyers, M. P., Rollins, A. L., Monroe-DeVita, M., & Pfahler, C. (2012). Burnout in mental health services: A review of the problem and its remediation. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 39(5), 341–352. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10488-011-0352-1
Riggs, L (2013). Why do teachers quit? Why do they stay? The Atlantic Magazine October 2013.
Shanafelt, T. D., Hasan, O., Dyrbye, L. N., Sinsky, C., Satele, D., Sloan, J., & West, C. P. (2015, December). Changes in burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance in physicians and the general US working population between 2011 and 2014. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 90, No. 12, pp. 1600-1613). Elsevier.

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Don’t let a half-second ruin your life. http://thepositivitycompany.com/dont-let-a-half-second-ruin-your-life/ Thu, 05 Jan 2017 02:10:34 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/?p=1004 Sally, a single mother and pediatric nurse friend of mine, was stunned when her son Josh arrived home from school sobbing, ran to his room and slammed the door. Josh was a gentle happy soul who loved school and did well. This was a first and Sally was worried. She listened patiently at his door until the sobbing quieted then ...

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Sally, a single mother and pediatric nurse friend of mine, was stunned when her son Josh arrived home from school sobbing, ran to his room and slammed the door. Josh was a gentle happy soul who loved school and did well. This was a first and Sally was worried. She listened patiently at his door until the sobbing quieted then gently entered the room to comfort him. Slowly– haltingly – tearfully he described scenes of bullying at school, that he was too ashamed to tell anyone let alone his mother. The next day, over Josh’s protests, she met with the principal who agreed to talk to Josh’s tormentor and do what he could to make the bullying stop. A few weeks later her crying son stormed into the house again this time with disheveled hair and a story of being dunked in the boy’s room toilet by the same boy. Again she met with the principal with the same result. The pattern of events repeated several more times during the year, her frustration growing with each meeting with the principal. In spite of the reassurances nothing seemed to change.

As the school year drew to a close, Sally volunteered to chaperon a school field trip to a museum in a distant city. Before boarding the bus the teacher suggested the students take a last minute bathroom break. Josh and a group of others left for the bathrooms. As they returned, Sally noticed Josh was missing. She walked down the hall and as she reached the boy’s room door a wet haired crying Josh burst out closely followed by his laughing tormentor. Sally grabbed the tormentor and angrily threw him against the wall, where he hit with a loud thud. She immediately realized her mistake, but it was too late. The principal saw the incident and called the police. Sally was arrested and charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor that might cause her to lose her nursing license.

What happened to this warm and loving mom in that moment?

To begin with it is important to know that our brains are complex and have many regions working simultaneously (that is how we can walk, chew gum, digest lunch, and talk at the same time). One region that is always on line checking to be sure we are safe is the limbic region (a group of structures deep inside the brain that includes the amygdala, the brain’s alarm system). Research is now suggesting that the limbic region with its amygdala can spark behavior and emotions about one-half second faster than our cortex can decide on the best course of action. This is a dangerous time lag in our complex world. It is likely that the amygdala evolved when the world was less complex – a time when life was either eat or be eaten. Life is still simple for the amygdala, because it only answers one question: Fight or Flight? Then immediately puts things in motion. Meanwhile back on the ranch, the cortex is weighing the options by considering information from many sources to determine the best action (e.g., memories, social rules, possible consequences, etc.). All that deliberation takes time, which turns out to be about one-half second (Cozolino, 2015).

It in the half-second it took for the tormentor to fly through the air and hit the school wall, Sally’s cortex caught up with her amygdala and limbic region. In that half-second her cortex was able to consider the options, one of which was that throwing any child against the wall is a wrong. That was when she realized her mistake. “Back in the day,” that is many thousands of years ago when humans were often preyed upon by other fierce animals, it was imperative to immediately attack or flee and the amygdala no doubt saved many lives. In today’s complex world the same system that saved our lives back then can cause problems such as Sally’s. In other words, Sally realized her mistake too late, not because something was “wrong,” but because her brain was functioning exactly as it should. It could happen to any of us and one technique that is showing promise to prevent problems is practicing mindfulness, but more about that in a later blog.

Sally’s story has a happy ending. This perspective was presented in court and the judge lowered the charge to a violation, she paid a small fine and kept her nursing license. By the way Josh is doing well, is an excellent student, and will soon graduate from high school.

Cozolino, L. (2016) Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains. New York: WW Norton & Company.

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The Invisible Classroom http://thepositivitycompany.com/now-available-the-invisible-classroom/ Wed, 04 Jan 2017 04:50:03 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/NEW/?p=834 The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience & Mindfulness in School, By Kirke Olson Published by W. W. Norton & Company, Available here and in bookstores everywhere The book provides practical understandable principles drawn from research in neuroscience, human relationships, and mindfulness, illustrated with true stories drawn from the real imperfect world of education, and offers realistic ideas for classroom applications in ...

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The Invisible Classroom: Relationships, Neuroscience & Mindfulness in School, By Kirke Olson Published by W. W. Norton & Company,

Available here and in bookstores everywhere

The book provides practical understandable principles drawn from research in neuroscience, human relationships, and mindfulness, illustrated with true stories drawn from the real imperfect world of education, and offers realistic ideas for classroom applications in the midst of the ongoing pressures of teaching.

At its core The Invisible Classroom is about the importance of the web of human connection for students and educators.

Greater Good at the University of California Berkeley chose The Invisible Classroom for an honorable mention as one of their “most thought-provoking, important, or useful nonfiction books published in 2014.”

Click here to read more about this recognition!


The Association of College and Research Libraries (A division of the American Library Association) recommended The Invisible Classroom for purchase by college and graduate school libraries.

Click Here & Order Your Copy Now!

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Nothing to Fear, but Fear Itself http://thepositivitycompany.com/nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself/ Thu, 10 Mar 2016 03:43:33 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/?p=1012 All these years later I can still feel the echoes of my fear. Fear sparked by Hal, a large rage filled teenager with a chair raised high over his head, charging across my science classroom directly at me. His rage and my fear were suddenly interrupted by the noise of smashing glass as the chair crashed into the low hanging ...

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All these years later I can still feel the echoes of my fear.

Fear sparked by Hal, a large rage filled teenager with a chair raised high over his head, charging across my science classroom directly at me.

His rage and my fear were suddenly interrupted by the noise of smashing glass as the chair crashed into the low hanging overhead light fixtures. We were both stunned. The stunned silence was gradually transformed as one-by-one the 27 boys in my residential school’s classroom began to chuckle and then laugh uproariously. Hal and I looked each other and joined in the laughter. It was one of the many unforgettable experiences during the first year of my career of working with difficult to teach students.

Revisiting this dramatic incident continues to offer learning opportunities especially as new research on the brain deepens our knowledge and improves our hindsight.

During the few seconds of this event, my vision and hearing – all of my senses and all of my thoughts – were narrowly focused on Hal. The narrowing began a full half-second before I could actually comprehend what was happening. Fear and anxiety immediately narrows our senses and our thoughts focusing them on the threat in order to protect us (Siegel, 2012). Through out the incident I saw only Hal and the chair, because he was a real threat to my life. I was no longer a first year science teacher, I was prey and Hal was predator.

My thinking narrowed, because the primitive survival system of my brain (the fight-fight-freeze system) was turned on and the higher-level default system designed for human connection and well-being was turned off. Steve Porges (2011) describes this in detail with his polyvagal theory. Briefly, he states that the vagus nerve regulates three neurological levels designed to control our response to the environment. The highest and evolutionarily newest level is wired to connect us to one another, keep our heart rates low, and our immune systems functioning well. It does this mostly through the vagus nerve that regulates our heart, lungs, the tiny muscles in the middle ear used for focused listening, facial muscles that control eye gaze, and the muscles in the throat that regulate our voice tone. Perhaps you can see how voice tone, facial expressions, and focused listening can be the neurological foundation of how we connect with each other. The vagus nerve operates nonconsciously, out of our awareness because it plugs into the brain stem, which is far below the brain regions that allow us to have conscious control. Because I had a nonconscious neurological response to Hal, (Porges would call it a neuroception of danger), there was no “thought” in that first half-second. My body reacted before I could “think” about it, which included putting my hands up to protect myself and ducking from the flying glass.

The nonconscious default system that is designed to keep us connected and reasonably relaxed is incompatible with what is needed when we are under attack. The default system shuts down as the second and more primitive amygdala and the fight-flight-freeze system turns on – that was when I turned from science teacher to prey. When this happens, long-term well-being is sacrificed for short-term survival (Cozolino 2013). Short-term survival was definitely a good thing for me, but it had long-term consequences when my fear morphed into chronic anxiety. Had Hal’s chair not hit the light fixtures it is possible that the third and most primitive part of the vagus nerve would have clicked on. This ancient system, present in almost all animals, is designed to protect us from predators by faking death. In other words I would have fainted dead away.

Luckily that did not happen, but through out the balance of that school year the recurring memory of the incident (and others) fueled my anxiety. My anxiety continually activated the same neurological system as the short-term fear, but to a lesser degree. For example during the incident my body released Adrenalin for the quick response that was necessary. Cortisol was also released but it takes longer to affect the body (minutes instead of fractions of a second).

Perhaps you might like a two minute refresher on the practical differences between fear and anxiety… Here is a short (98 second) video that clearly describes the difference between the two.

Adrenalin and cortisol are designed for incidents like mine. There is a problem, however, because when cortisol is continually released as it was with my anxiety, it suppresses the immune system, increases blood pressure and blood sugar levels, decreases libido, contributes to obesity, and more. At the time my anxiety narrowed my thinking to obsessively thinking of and watching Hal, made it hard to sleep, and made me dread the morning drive to school.

Another consequence of the narrowed thinking caused by my anxiety was that it made it difficult for me to connect with and learn from my highly experienced teacher mentor. I found it impossible to take her advice and become flexible and innovative with my teaching.

It is the same with our students, anxiety dampens the circuits that connect them to us and each other, narrows their thinking, and has a negative effect on their learning, just as it did on me with my teacher mentor (Cozolino 2015). As you can see it is important to make our classroom islands of safety to quiet fear and anxiety so students can be open to new learning and we can maintain the flexible thinking that is so important when teaching, learning, and making decisions in our complex world.

As I revisit this incident with the knowledge of how the brain works and the negative impact fear and anxiety have on learning and flexible thinking I have gained even more appreciation for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote from his first inaugural address:

“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts…” (March 4, 1933).

 

REFERENCES

Cozolino, L (2015). Why Therapy Works Using Our Minds to Change our Brains. New York: WW Norton & Company, Inc.

Porges, S. (2007). The polyvagal theory: New insights into Adaptive Reactions of the Autonomic Nervous System.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108032/

Porges, S. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication & Self-Regulation. New York: WW Norton & Company, Inc.

Siegel, D (2012) The Developing Mind (Second Edition) How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. New York: Guilford Press.

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Between You and Me – Short Film http://thepositivitycompany.com/between-you-and-me-short-film/ Mon, 16 Mar 2015 02:44:14 +0000 http://thepositivitycompany.com/NEW/?p=881 Please enjoy this film focusing on exploring human relationships. What is “the glue” in your relationships? “Film Questions: – How much appreciation lives in the space between you and me? – How much gratitude lives in the space between you and me? – How much trust lives in the space between you and me? – How much love lives in the space between you and me?” Click here, switch off the world ...

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Please enjoy this film focusing on exploring human relationships.

What is “the glue” in your relationships?

“Film Questions:
– How much appreciation lives in the space between you and me?
– How much gratitude lives in the space between you and me?
– How much trust lives in the space between you and me?
– How much love lives in the space between you and me?”

Click here, switch off the world & play full screen.

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