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  • Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

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    2007 I had success with one of my online projects (didn’t become rich but it paid my bills at that time). I was living a comfortable life in the sun in Thailand and everything was good, except nothing was good. I was in a great relationship, lived in a beautiful house and had money to buy whatever I wanted (that means lots of gadgets and cameras for me, not really that big watch type of guy). On top of that I had a lot of free time to do what I felt like doing. I felt so empty and I felt my life had no purpose… so I went traveling and this helped me feel a bit better. It was distraction and as long as I kept seeing new stuff I felt ok.

    The problem was way deeper. I was lacking a mission. Before one online project worked out I had two that more or less failed (the first one really failed, we gave the second one up because it didn’t scale well) but at least I loved those projects. The one that became a bread earner was not something I was overly interested in. I just did it because it made sense at that time (obvious product to market fit, first mover advantage…) and we needed the money.

    I had to change something in my life and thought about a new mission.

    Happiness = Mission + X…?

    I was always really into Psychology after reading a book about manipulation when I turned 18. My aunt who is a hippie turned Buddhist about 25 years ago also raised my interest in meditation, so I went ahead and spent a lot of time learning more about Psychology and meditation.

    Here is what it did to me:

    • I truly realized what matters in life and I’m happier than ever before.
    • I overcame a cancer phobia I had for 10 years (after my father died from cancer).
    • I gained the ability to remove myself from situations and just observe what’s going on inside of me.
    • I gained a hell of a lot of emotional freedom which matters way more than anything else.
    • I became calmer, more balanced and simply a nicer person.
    • I got comfortable with the concept of death (not suicidal yo!).
    • It brought the kid in me back to life. Remember when it was amazing to simply run around trees? It starts to get amazing again!
    • Cool huh?

    I consider what I learned the most important lessons in my life, and I made a free online course out of it for you to check out. There is no hidden sales pitch (I don’t even want your email but if you want updates you can subscribe to my newsletter in the sidebar). I’m also no guru. I really just created this course because A) it would make sure I was learning this stuff properly and B) because its so awesome stuff more people should discover it.

    It is my spin on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and what you learn hopefully shifts your perspective (like it shifted mine). Just having this shift in your perspective is already pretty powerful so… yep I seriously suggest you check it out. Everything is backed up with psychological (MBCT / CBT / Positive Psychology) studies so I’m not just making this stuff up.

    So what’s in that course?

    Chapter 1: Happiness, Control and a Simple Model
    In this chapter you learn about the ABC model which is so freaking essential everyone has to know it. It explains how thoughts and emotions are related to each other.

    Chapter 1 Practice: The ABCDEF Worksheet
    In this practice lesson you learn how to work with the ABC model. If this gets too “school like” for you simply write your thoughts and emotions down every evening for a week and see what it does to you. Writing things down does make a difference and helps you to see how thoughts lead to emotions and how emotions can also impact your thoughts.

    Chapter 2: Awareness & our Spectrum of Perception
    In this chapter you learn about the two states of being. One is being and the other is doing. This is important to understand because all our life we are trained to be good in the state of doing while our natural state is the state of being. If you learn to get into the state of being more often your life will change dramatically. This brings back the kid in you and puts things into perspective.

    Chapter 2 Practice: Mindfulness Meditation
    You train your awareness by doing mindfulness meditation. In this lesson I explain what meditation is really all about and give you some tips on how to meditate. You won’t come across any spiritual yada yada. Meditation is just a mental exercise that can bring you great benefits like being able to take yourself out of situations and just observe. It also makes you more stress resilient.

    Chapter 3: Rumination & Faulty Thinking
    In this lesson you learn about rumination or thinking in a loop. If you enjoy thinking, you know that your brain sometimes simply doesn’t want to stop. It keeps going on and on and on thinking about things over and over. It is important that you become aware of it and…

    Chapter 3 Extended: Faulty Thinking – What is it and How to Get Over It?
    … realize some of the typical ways of faulty thinking we humans tend to have. You will also learn a few ways to overcome your faulty thinking.

    Chapter 3 Practice: 11 Steps to Stop Ruminating
    Learn some more ways to stop ruminating. These steps will help you to calm your mind and simply worry less so you have more time to enjoy life.

    Chapter 4: Do Good, be Happy
    If you do not believe in karma you do not have to. Studies in the field of Positive Psychology show that doing good things and being kind is one of the best ways to make YOURSELF happy.

    Chapter 4 Practice: Is coming soon..
    These will be my final words in this course. Something epic, maybe I hike up a mountain and shoot a video there!

    You can easily cover all this in about two hours. These are two hours well spent. Invest the time in yourself and upgrade yourself for a lifetime.

    Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is super powerful and hopefully will become more widely available in the near future. What you learn here is not meant to help you fix problems (even though this is possible too), but it is meant to upgrade your life to a whole new level. Good stuff!

    Get started here

    P.s. There are also books about MBCT. Seriously dude, this is life changing stuff!

  • My Way Out of Anxiety

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    This article was written specifically for people who suffer from anxiety disorders or depression. But it will be of interest to anyone wishing to worry less and live a calmer, more peaceful life.

    If you suffer from anxiety or depression you might feel isolated and misunderstood, without anyone to talk to and desperate for a way out of this situation. I felt like this some years ago. A few days after my 18th birthday, my father died of cancer. Ever since, whenever I felt a bit weird or some pain in my body, I was worried that I had cancer.

    I had a chronic cough for two years and no doctor was able to find the cause. For me it was obvious: it was a tumor that was too small to be seen on x-rays. I prepared myself to die. I started to have less and less energy and stayed in bed for several days at a time. My thoughts were always racing, I had trouble sleeping. Simply put, I just felt miserable and had not only problems with anxiety but also severe depression.

    There were other episodes when I thought I had other types of cancer, and my anxiety started to affect not just my work but my relationship. When I was worried my girlfriend was worried, too. She was suffering along with me, which only made me feel worse.

    I had to find a way to overcome this anxiety and get my life back under control, so I started to read everything I could about anxiety. I have been always interested in Psychology, so I read books and studies in this field, along with research in the field of neuroscience.

    Here is what I found that enabled me to overcome my cancer phobia:

    1. What is anxiety?

    Anxiety is a normal and healthy reaction to certain situations. But when you suffer from anxiety disorders, your response to anything that triggers anxiety is exaggerated and out of proportion. Or you develop an anxiety response to things that shouldn’t trigger anxiety. Anxiety is a series of changes in the body that alter the way you think and behave and enable you to deal with threat or danger. In a crisis it can save your life.

    But today you do not have to worry about being eaten by a sawtooth tiger while walking in the park. Our society has changed, yet your body responds to everything you perceive as a threat just as if that sawtooth tiger were really after you.

    2. Where does anxiety come from?

    It is true that some people have a lower anxiety threshold than others. There is a genetic component in anxiety, but most of it is learned. Think about it: we are just a body with something called mind that more or less controls it. How you think and what you perceive as good or bad, peaceful or harmful all depends on your past experiences. Otherwise everyone would react in the same way to the same situations and that’s simply not the case. Even twins that look identical develop different belief systems and react differently to situations. At some point in your life we have learned that fire is hot and can be harmful. So we avoid fire and getting burned.

    But our mind is tricky. Everything you believe is considered real by your mind no matter how real it actually is. If you have heard that people often get robbed in parking lots but never heard that people are more likely to get robbed in parks, you will be more anxious while walking the parking lot than you would be in the park. We all live in our own version of reality and this version can sometimes be out of whack. But that’s no problem, because there are ways to fix this.

    3. How does this learning work?


    Whenever we learn something new, nerve cells in our brain, so-called neurons, get together and form pathways. On the first day in a new country, for example, you might hear that people often get robbed in parking lots, and so you save this information in your brain. A group of neurons create a path for that information in your brain. These neurons are also connected to related pathways – for example, your idea of what a parking lot looks like, or what happens during a robbery. So you might think about the threat of being robbed the next time you visit a parking lot, or you might think about a parking lot the next time you hear about someone getting robbed.

    Now let’s say that the following week you hear that somebody got robbed in a parking lot again – but you missed the other five news reports about someone getting robbed in a park.

    So now the “people get robbed in parking lots” pathway in your brain is activated, the connections between those neurons grow stronger, and the small pathway that existed before grows and becomes a little road or even a highway. It also forms more connections to other pathways. The stronger the pathway, the more easily it will be activated in the future. The more you hear about robberies, the stronger your anxiety about parking lots.

    The reality might be completely different – but because you didn’t hear about people getting robbed in parks, you are perfectly calm while walking in parks, but tense and anxious in parking lots.

    Scientists can now observe how different areas of the brain change depending on what you do or learn. A recent study showed that the part of the brain that is responsible for the movement and coordination of your fingers grows in size if you do piano exercises for a few weeks for two hours every day.

    4. How to overcome anxiety?

    So basically there are these neuron highways in your brain that get easily activated in certain situations that trigger anxiety.

    A crucial step to overcoming anxiety is to make these highways smaller. You have to dissolve the overly developed anxiety connections in your brain and unlearn harmful ways of thinking.

    You can learn this in the free Psychology Essentials Course on this website. What you learn is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and has helped thousands of people overcome their anxiety and return to a happy and relaxed life.

    This course is not the be-all and end-all. If you feel that it doesn’t work for you, you might want to look for a CBT therapist in your area.

    Here is an overview of what you will learn in the Psychology Essentials Course:

      1. How your mind works and how thoughts trigger feelings (including anxiety).
      2. How to identify the underlying thoughts that cause your anxiety.
      3. How to deal with those thoughts and observe them instead of getting caught up in them. This helps you let go of the thoughts and the anxiety they bring.
      4. How to stop thinking about the same things over and over. This allows you to break the anxiety cycle in which your worries about worrying makes you feel worse.
  • Project Glass: Putting you back in the moment (or not)

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    The reactions to Google’s video have been pretty mixed. Some can’t wait for “mustaches on everyone” apps (and “porn everywhere” of course) while others see dark future visions of mind control and a state of total surveillance.
    Project Glass
    Original image via Thomas Hawk

    Google claims that the new Project Glass phones enable you to “explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment”.

    I’m certain some people will understand how to make the best out of using Project Glass like phones while many others won’t get it right. Here are some examples of how technology can have a positive or negative impact on our lives.

    • Facebook is a great tool to catch up with friends but if you keep checking it obsessively because you feel a lack of social connection it might prevent you from taking action and getting in touch with people in real life again.
    • Television can be a great medium to learn about current events and entertain yourself but if you watch TV to escape your everyday life, it does not help you to overcome your problems. In fact avoidance behavior can intensify many problems (such as anxiety, depression…).
    • Email is a convenient way to exchange information but if it interrupts your work every 15 minutes it might prevent you from getting things done that really matter.

    So just like drinking too much coffee or tea or doing whatever too much, technology can be also (ab)used in a way that it was not meant for. Big surprise!

    What we can expect from Project Glass

    All of you who use a headset with your phone know that it can be quite convenient to have both hands free while talking on the phone.

    If Project Glass like phones become more common, people most likely will spend more time on the phone. So being more on the phone while walking down the street is not really putting you back in the moment. The processing power of human brains is limited, so diverting part of our attention away from our surroundings has an impact on our experience.

    Instead of experiencing the current moment clearer, people will be even more caught up in their thoughts.

    A few months after people got used to the notification messages, we will also see similar shapes on billboards and in ads trying to catch our attention.

    While the health bar comments made me smile, it is true that having a “user interface for your life™” will make a difference in our lives.

    I often feel the urge of touching on my netbook screen because I mix it up with the touchscreen of my Asus Transformer Prime (Android tablet). A few years ago I also caught myself looking for undo shortcuts while drawing on paper (after using a graphic tablet for a long time).

    Most likely people will quickly get used to interact with their Project Glass phones in certain ways. Nod to accept calls. Nod when hearing the default ringtone.

    In the future we might not have people staring down on their phones anymore while waiting for a bus but instead gaze into the emptiness while watching movies or shaking their heads while playing games. (Metal headbanging music games anyone?)

    There will be also countless situations in which people smile in your direction but of course just because of the funny movie they are watching.

    The user interface will also become part of our memories. We will have it in our dreams and also remember certain situations (like that moment when we enjoyed the view from our balcony on that sunny evening and received the email that we got fired).

    The average person living in a city is exposed to about 5000 advertising messages a day. Needless to say location aware ads and other shenanigans will become part of our daily lives as well so the number of ads we will be exposed to most likely will go up. Not with flashy pop ups (hopefully) but rather with extra information that we get and promotion codes we can redeem.

    Technology takes over

    Project Glass like phones will be great for those who know how to use them. Unfortunately with more invasive technology and technology becoming even more part of our lives many people will use it in a way that will remove them even more from real life.

    Many people will also become more dependent on technology and therefore be less functional once there is something like a power out or software error.

    Stopping the progress is no solution but educating people how to use technology is a first step. It is unlikely to happen of course because companies know how to ride on the “cool wave” and exploit this, lock people into their ecosystem and milk them.

    In the end those who look for ways of escaping real life will have better possibilities to do so in the future and those who use technology responsibly will have greater tools to make their lives easier.

    Want to know what app will absolutely rock the Android download charts? The most unobtrusive user interface for Project Glass (or a porn app of course).

  • Q & A with Scott

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    I had a really interesting conversation with Scott and he agreed that I share it with you. It might answer some of your questions regarding the Psychology Essentials Course and the benefits I described.

    This was a casual conversation via Email so please excuse some of the little typos.

    Read more…

  • The solution to all problems

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    Mike is frustrated. He really wants to watch this great new movie tonight but all cinema tickets are already sold out. That sucks. Peter, a friend of Mike, doesn’t care because he is not really into movies anyway.

    Alright, we all can understand Mike’s situation. He really wants to watch this new movie tonight and it is not going to happen. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that Mike is not accepting the situation.

    The problem is not that there are no more cinema tickets, the problem is that Mike wants things to be different.

    What bothers Mike doesn’t bother Peter. So the situation itself is not the problem, it is how Mike thinks about it, feels about it and reacts to it.

    Having no problems

    We often label situations that are not like we want as problems. People have different problems because people have different expectations, beliefs and value systems. The way out of this is acceptance.

    Instead of wasting energy on negative emotions like anger, fear or guilt, move on right away. Accept the situation as it is and try to understand why you feel a certain situation is a problem at all.

    Very often problems are just expectations you had that did not become reality.

    You might say: But I still want this and that, well that’s your problem you want something but can’t have it. Stop wanting and take things as they are and life gets a lot better.

    Life is pretty perfect without problems

    If there are no problems something must be pretty perfect huh? Several studies show that after the basic human needs are met (basically people have shelter, food and some social connections) your happiness depends on how you live your life. How you deal with all those little situations you experience every day.

    I’m no guru and I also still sometimes want things but if things turn out in a different way I learned to get to the acceptance stage way quicker. That makes life a much more enjoyable ride.

    Acceptance, just like other skills, can be learned.

    The basics of what helped me to change my way of thinking are outlined in the 100% free, no sign ups or whatever required Psychology Essentials Course.

    I don’t sell anything, I created this course to wake people up and help them to understand a few essential concepts that can change lives. It changed mine and it can change yours. Carpe diem!

    Sources:

    Diener, E., Seligman, M. E. P. (2004) Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5: 1–31.

    Rafael Di Tella & Robert MacCulloch, (2008) “Happiness Adaptation to Income beyond ‘Basic Needs’” NBER Working Papers 14539, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.


  • Chapter 3 Extended: Faulty Thinking – What Is It And How To Get Over It?

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    In the Psychological Essentials Course you learn how to observe your thoughts, which gives you the ability to spot faulty thinking. Faulty thinking involves errors that are sometimes hard to spot because we get used to think in a certain way. In Chapter 3 you became acquainted with two very common ways of faulty thinking, “Catastrophizing” and “All or Nothing Thinking.”

    Here are 10 more ways of faulty thinking, along with examples to make it easier for you to spot them:

    1. Overgeneralization:

    Overgeneralization is when you try to categorize every single event as part of a never-ending process. For instance, when you fail to pass a job interview you say, ‘I always fail to impress.’ Similarly, when you fail to win in chess you say, ‘I can never win in chess.’ Words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ are part of the overgeneralization process. Every time you categorize a person, event or thing with a neve- ending pattern, it becomes a part of the overgeneralization process. If you think your friend is ‘always’ mean with you it is overgeneralization.

    2. Overlooking the Positive:

    It is very common for people to overlook positive experiences in favor negative ones. Some people think their positive experiences don’t count, while others don’t even realize their positivity. For instance, if you are able to work 8 hours in a day and your friend works for 9 hours, you will always look at that one hour that your friend works and you don’t. Another good example is that when a currency trader wins $1000 in a day but loses $200, he is depressed about the loss but not happy about the winnings.

    3. Definite Statements:

    Definite statements are also known as ‘should statements.’ These are statements that raise great expectations. For instance, you believe your friend ‘should’ bring you ice cream tonight because you have told him to do so. If he doesn’t, this thinking will lead to anger, frustration and depression.

    4. Blaming Other Factors:

    Very often you will find yourself or others blaming ‘the other factors’ in their lives for their problems. For instance, if your friend didn’t succeed in a job interview he might say ‘I would have passed it if my parents had wished me luck.’ Such statements and thinking are part of the personalization or blaming process. Why blame others for what you couldn’t achieve?

    5. Categorization or Labeling:

    This is an extreme way of black-and-white thinking. Here, the person tends to categorize people under either the good label or the bad label. If your friend didn’t give you his car for a day you would think he is not a good friend instead of realizing that he must be busy or something.

    6. Emotional Reasoning:

    Emotional reasoning is taking feelings as facts and basing your decisions and actions upon them. For example, you feel guilty about having spent so much money on some sports equipment for yourself and then you criticize your partner for having spent a bit more money on some new clothes. Another example would be putting off something important just because you don’t “feel” like it.

    7. Exaggeration:

    Exaggeration is, for example, when you exaggerate the good qualities of a person to such an extent that you overlook their negative points. If your friend helps you out financially you might consider him as a person you can trust even though you have never tried him out.

    8. Predicting the Future:

    In this case, you predict the negativity of a situation or a person without even experiencing it. For instance, you assume that the job interview you are going for will not work out well, and you bring that mindset to the interview.

    9. Mind Reading:

    You might think you know another person so well that you can predict his reaction or attitude towards a certain issue. For instance, if your friend is annoying you, you think it is because he never liked you. You then continue to react with the same mindset instead of understanding why he is actually doing so.

    10. Mentally Filtering Occasions:

    If you are mentally filtering you focus, for example, on a negative detail of an event or person and overlook anything positive that may be there. For instance, your neighbor is actually a good person with just one bad habit: he plays loud music which disturbs you. Instead of talking it out with him, you think it’s of no use because he’s simply evil, even though he might not be aware that the music is too loud.

    Tips to Overcome Such Thinking…

    It’s absolutely normal for us humans to run into some of these ways of faulty thinking while observing our thoughts.

    Here are some tips how to overcome such thinking:

    Believe in the Evidence:

    Instead of reacting to what you believe or think is right about a person or a situation, believe instead in the actual evidence. Examine how others are behaving to such situations or people and why. What are they doing to counter this? Maybe what you assume is not correct. Even if it is right, you don’t have to believe in it until you prove its validity.

    Avoid Double Standards:

    You can put someone down in a harsh way just because you never liked him. He did something you didn’t like and now you are harsh and mean towards him. But if the same attributes were shown by someone you loved, you would shrug it off as not a big deal. Try to avoid such double standards.

    Avoid Black and White…Go for Gray!

    Nothing is ever either completely perfect or imperfect. Instead of categorizing things as ‘perfect’ or ‘imperfect,’ try rating them on a scale from 1-10. Even if you didn’t pass the job interview, you still were shortlisted, weren’t you? This means that your resume or your qualifications were good enough to catch their attention. Therefore, this situation should be rated as an 8-point situation instead of a failure.

    Don’t Use Words that Don’t Mean Anything…

    People often use vague and imprecise words to describe their feelings. For instance, if your partner lied to you, don’t just be ‘angry’ and say to yourself that you are angry. Be more specific and choose the words that best describe your current feelings. Maybe you are disappointed and feel let down and are also angry with yourself for trusting him and now feel as if you were stupid to do so? Try using specific terms to understand your thoughts and feelings. This will teach you to analyze things as they are instead of broadening them.

    The Semantic Approach:

    The semantic approach is all about using terms that are not so emotionally loaded. For instance, use flexible words like ‘rarely’ instead of inflexible ones like ‘never.’ Other examples include:

    Replace… with…
    Should Like or Want
    Should not Do not Like or Want
    Have to Would Like
    Must Wish
    Must not Wish would not
    Deserve Desire
    Always Usually/Frequently
    Forever Until/Unless
    Never Rarely
    Awful Disagreeable
    Horrible Unfortunate
    Terrible Unfavorable
    Perfect Successful

    The Practice of Reattribution:

    Instead of blaming another person entirely for something that has happened, think about the circumstances that may have contributed to the outcome. If a friend has betrayed you, instead of simply saying he’s a jerk and that’s why he did it, consider why he did what he did and believe in the evidence. Maybe he didn’t like the way you behaved with him? Maybe he didn’t know that you would consider it a betrayal? There could be a plethora of reasons that you have overlooked.

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