A Simple Scientific Fact That Will Unlock Your Happiness and Possibilities

Fotolia_8607343_Subscription_L-150x150I want to share this short vlog post with you that I made while driving down Interstate 5 in Oregon after the World Domination Summit in Portland. So many of us wonder why it is SO HARD to change. Did you know that your thoughts and beliefs are actual, physical, neuronal connections and patterns in your brain? Did you know that it’s not simply a matter of wishing things would change, but that you must actually DO things differently on a regular basis in order to physically repattern those neural connections?

Every time you do things the same way, you make your habits deeper. If you have negative habits and patterns, you need to do  – and THINK – differently to make lasting change.

This is full of hope! Now you know things are hard to change due to actual physical aspects of your brain that need to change – and not isn’t simply because you lack willpower. This takes time – and you can do it!

Warning: there are a few flashes of light for those of you that may be sensitive to strobe etc;)

Freedom Junkie Tips for How To Bounce Back: Developing Emotional Resilience

Major disruptions are a “Gotcha!” that we all experience at one time or another in our lives. We get fired, laid off or passed over; a loved one dies, leaves or gets in trouble; a project stalls or gets cancelled. The list, unfortunately, can seem endless.

For some, the impact of these hard times is overwhelming. Recovery, if it comes at all, can be painfully slow. Others show resilience and are able to glide through these times fairly easily, bouncing back to a normal life again quickly. How do those lucky peeps do it?

Resilience—the strength required to adapt to change—acts as our internal compass so we can skillfully navigate life when the defecation hits the oscillation.

When unexpected events turn life upside down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. The good news is that each of us has the capacity to reorganize our life after life’s shizzle happens to us, and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness.

Though it’s easy to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, life disruptions are not necessarily a bad thing, because they help us grow and meet future challenges in our lives. It’s a lot like a bone that was once fragile or broken, and is now strong from being used. Did you know that? Bones are stronger after they’ve mended. You can be too.

So how can you become more resilient?

Here’s a look at seven key characteristics of people who demonstrate resilience during life’s curve balls:

1. A Sense of Hope and Trust in the World – Optimism!
Resilient people rely on their belief in the basic goodness of the world and trust that things will turn out all right in the end. This positive attitude allows them to weather times when everything seems bleak and to look for and accept the support that is out there. This approach toward the world gives them the ability to hope for a better future.

Do you feel like you were born a pessimist? No worries. You can actually learn how to shift to a more positive perspective. Check out Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism  – or check out an upcoming Jedi Juice call – if you want to learn more.

2. Interpreting Experiences in a New Light
The ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called “reframing”) can minimize the impact of a difficult situation. Resilient people take a creative approach toward solving a problem, and don’t always use an old definition for a new challenge.

I use this a lot when coaching my clients, taking them through different perspectives around an issue. I never cease to be amazed at the power of this skill.

I remember one client who was particularly resistant to trying on another perspective. She was insistent that her current perspective – one of being absolutely helpless at her situation at work – was “the truth.” She had essentially been back-stabbed at work, and she was at risk of losing her entire business. She said, “There is no other way to look at this – these are facts, and I can’t change that. There’s nothing I can do.” She even got angry at the suggestion.

This lasted for the duration of the session. However, later that evening she sent me a message:

Ana, thank you for helping me see that there was another way to look at this. I realized that I had a choice in how I responded to this, and that is making such a huge difference. I can already tell I am going to sleep better tonight than I have in a long time.

And she did;)

3. A Meaningful Tribe and System of Support
One of the best ways to endure a crisis is to have the support of another person who can listen and validate your feelings. Knowing that others care and will come to our support decreases the feeling of isolation, especially when tackling a problem alone.

It’s important to choose people you trust. Don’t be surprised if it takes several friends, each of whom can provide different kinds of support. Resilient people aren’t stoic loners. They know the value of expressing their fears and frustrations, as well as receiving support, coaching or guidance from friends, family or a professional.

4. A Sense of Mastery and Control Over Your Destiny
You may not be able to predict the future, but you can be proactive about a problem instead of feeling at the mercy of forces outside of your control. I like using the contrasting terms of RESPONDING instead of REACTING to life.

Resilient people know that ultimately the integrity of their life values – as well as their success – depends on their ability to take action rather than remain passive. Tough times call for you to tap into your own sense of personal responsibility – you have all you need within you, badass!

This is a lot of what I teach in my Ziji Up! Mastery Program because it has become so blatantly clear to me that creating your dreams – and staying focused on what you need to do to get there – has to do with inner radiant confidence = Ziji!

5. Self-Reflection and Insight
Life’s experiences provide fertile ground for learning –  don’t waste them! Asking yourself questions that invite introspection can open a door to new understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you stand for. When we can’t seem to find the answer, we need to ask a different question.

Giving voice to your thoughts and feelings leads to insight and helps transform the meaning of a problem into something useful. Resilient people learn from life situations and do not succumb to punishing themselves because of decisions made in the past. So let go, and forgive yourself, yo!

6. A Wide Range of Interests
People who show resilience in the face of adversity are those who have a diversity of interests. They’re open to new experiences and ideas. Because their lives are rich and varied, it’s easier for them to find relief from the single-mindedness and worry that often accompany a crisis.

This was something I learned after getting cancer, when I couldn’t run to my usual refuge of the mountains to soothe myself during treatment. I dropped deeper into my other interests of meditation, spiritual studies, and yoga. I worry about people who only have one passion in life. It’s like putting all your eggs into one basket. Developing lots of things to love;)

7. Sense of Humor
Have you ever had a wry laugh during a difficult situation? I sure as hell have. Some would even call it inappropriate if they were watching some of those. The ability to see the absurdity, irony, or genuine humor in a situation stimulates our sense of hope and possibility.

Humor has both psychological and physical benefits in relieving stress because it encourages a swift change in your perception of your circumstances—and when your thoughts change, your mood follows!

Here’s the Bottom Line

When you look to improve these seven areas now—rather than when adversity pays a visit—you’ll be able to bounce back more quickly. So let’s get to it! Be proactive about learning these skills and cultivating more resources in your life.

Here are some simple versions of my personal favorite ways to get through a bad day:

:: Let myself feel shitty for a while – but not too long. I choose a fixed amount of time to wallow;) And I mean REALLY feel it. I let it wash over me like a tidal wave. And I surrender.

:: Do NOT drink alcohol or partake in other mind-altering substances other than the juice of meditation. When you are in a funk and are fully present with it, it WILL pass more quickly.

After the wallow:

:: Do not feel guilty for the things you thought or did while your were in your fixed-time of wallowing. You were just getting it out of your system.

:: Know myself – and what makes me feel good. It is almost impossible for me to feel bad with kick ass salsa music in the background. I can’t help but dance, and when I dance, my body tells my mind life ain’t so bad!

:: Exercise – the hormones released during exercise are GOOD for you. Even if it means just going for a walk.

:: Get outside and LOOK UP! This shifts your perspective and can make the biggest difference.

:: Eat a healthy meal – like an epic salad, or have a green juice. The chi flows through me and shifts my attitude!

:: Take a shower, bath, or jump in a body of water like a blue ocean, a mountain river, or an alpine lake. This takes my physical body and jolts it to the present moment

:: Play music that lights up my soul

:: Listen to a meditation by Pema Chodron or Hiro Boga. Their voices make me smile;)

:: Call upon my posse of girlfriends or my partner. Sometimes I need them to help me do all the above;)

Want more to help you create your own? Here are some recommended resources to start:

  • Mindset by Carol Dweck
  • Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
  • The Resilience Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte

Do you have a story you can share about a time when you got through a rough patch?  Please share it with the tribe below and let us know what worked  – and didn’t work – for you. What you share can possibly make a huge difference in someone’s life!

Onward, Freedom Warrior!

Why Adventure Is Essential To Your Evolution

This moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted and shaky – that’s called liberation” ~ Pema Chodron

You should know that I have always qualified adventure as being a very personal word. My definition of adventure doesn’t have to be yours.

But to give you an idea of what I mean, consider that you can feel adventure when climbing a mountain; you can feel it overcoming a physical challenge like a marathon, or cancer; you can feel it when you risk your heart to be with your soul mate. I even feel adventure when I go to a new city, check out a new restaurant, try a new yoga pose, or learn a new skill.

Good ol’ Merriam says: (n) ad-ven-ture

1: an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks

2: an exciting or remarkable experience

Adventure often involves risk – but not necessarily danger. It can be very self-limiting to confuse the two.

While I don’t think danger is an essential part of spiritual evolution, I do think occasionally taking risks is. This is because what we “risk” is often as simple as losing “what is familiar” to us, and not nearly as dangerous as it initially feels. Yet being willing to risk losing the familiar can open up worlds for us.

However, keep in mind that adventure can also be as “easy” as “an exciting or remarkable experience.” Ahhhhhh….

So why exactly is adventure – and the risks we take with adventures – important to our evolution?

When we are focused on spiritual evolution (inward and outward freedom) and things get routine, our minds grows dull, and the negative thought patterns and limiting beliefs that we all have, which we work on mastering daily, are harder to break.

Things feel more permanent and real.

We think we have “proof” that they are permanent and real because nothing seems to be changing.

They appear that way because to be efficient, our brains choose – and prefer – to travel down the same neuronal pathways and do things the same way they’ve always been done. Therefore, we get the same results.

And nothing changes. Then we say, “See! That’s how things are!”

The problem – and solution – and coolest thing ever – is that things are not so permanent and “real.” When we think they are, that’s when we are not free. That’s when we think we don’t have a choice. That’s when we suffer and get stuck. That’s when we give up.

It becomes the Same. Old. Shit. Everyday.

Our brains have an inherent need to find patterns, which help them work more efficiently. Because of this, simply doing things differently feels like a risk for most of us, and we try to avoid change.

It takes energy to do things differently, and the brain naturally resists change. This was more helpful when our lives needed us to primarily be in survival mode.

It is less helpful when we are trying to evolve.

But when we remain open to change – to the fact that we have choice in our lives with not only what we do, but also in how we think – it creates new neuronal connections, new pathways that allow our thoughts and our actions to create a new life – the life we want.

Life lived your way!

Change is new, we don’t know what to expect, it feels…weird! We have lost our sense of familiarity, and we perceive it as a risk, or as unsafe.

But let’s admit it…even though it is uncomfortable, we tend to feel most alive when we are on the edge, when we are stretching ourselves. This is because when we take those risks – whether to simply try something new, or do something terrifying – we grow!

So guess what is a bona fide scientific way to help your mind be open to change, to new thought patterns, new neuronal pathways and networks…to freakin’ neogenesis of the mind!?

Trying new things.

Doing things differently. Stretching out of your comfort zone aka = Adventure.

I’m not shizzling you.

There’s a great study from the UK where they took a group of individuals and had them do several things:

      • Pick from a list of opposite characteristics every day, and BE in that opposite for a set period of time (a few hours, the whole day). For example, outgoing – shy; likes to talk sports – likes to talk philosophy; optimistic – pessimistic, etc. If you were normally outgoing, you’d spend the time that day “being” shy. If you liked to talk sports, you would spend the time brushing up on chatting about Kant or Descartes.
      • Eat a new type of food twice a week
      • Read something they’ve never read before twice a week (didn’t have to be a book)

And guess what? Over 70% of them lost 11 lbs – at least.

WTF does that have to do with anything?

The conclusion was that they lost weight because they started to realize that everything was a choice – including what and how much they ate. Some of the participants commented on how they would ask themselves why they were eating what they were, if they were actually really hungry, and if they really needed it. And not just with food. With everything.

It makes sense. Afterall, they practiced different ways of being every day, which must have opened up some new ideas about why they were choosing to be in their “normal” state of being so much.

Interestingly, this is the same theory that scientists have about one of the reasons why yoga – even non-strenuous styles of yoga – helps people lose weight. Awareness.

** When you do new things, when your mind is asked by necessity – on a regular basis – to change it up and not fall into the same pattern, it is more malleable. **

You are then open to more options in how you think, the thoughts you choose to focus on, the way you respond, and the way you choose to spend your time…

You are also likely to have less attachment (the bad kind…not the kind to Nutella!) when you don’t do the same dang thing everyday, which means you can adapt to change more readily and easily.

And remember, things are always changing. It’s resistance to it that messes us up.

Too much change can indeed be stressful. But I’m just asking you to juicy things up a bit – a little new salsa here and there, an adventure flick instead of that dark Euro drama (I can’t believe there’s a category for that on Netflix!), oh yes – even a new hanky panky move. Or hell, go to Mauritius instead of Hawaii this year!

Isn’t this all so exciting?! This means that your mind – which, in my belief, is the root of most of our suffering – is malleable, there are methods to increase your successful evolution, and it can become the source of happiness. True happiness.

You can start to eliminate the negative thoughts that run in the back of your mind all day (or on the days of heavy funk, maybe they’re more at the front of your mind). You can create new opportunities and experiences. You can feel more ALIVE and passionate about your life.

That’s good shizzle.

I guess that’s a huge reason for why Freedom Junkies do the crazy things we do. Maybe we didn’t know it when we were younger. Perhaps we thought we just didn’t want to be bored.

But now there is a better understanding of the effect new experiences have on the mind. We now have insight into the effects of new experiences on our sense of freedom, both inside and out – and the reality of that freedom as well.

When you experience how good it feels to be open to change and to not fear doings things differently, when you see glimpses into how free and FUN life is when you create daily opportunities for new things to happen, you too will become addicted to daily adventures.

We now know that adventure (done your way) it is a need, and not merely a want. At least if you want to evolve;)

So how about we make this a party?!!

Let’s get out there and do some new things. You don’t have to do what I do. Or what anyone else does. We all dance to our own drum. Do what works for you – just do something new, something differently – regularly.

Then, see how working with your mind becomes easier. You can more likely respond instead of react. “Create” instead of “fall victim to.” Choose the compassionate and skillful reaction instead of the aggressive one you’ll later feel guilty or ashamed about. Make healthier choices for you body.

Choose happiness. Oh, SNAP! The bonuses are endless!

We all need adventure. We need it to evolve ourselves – and our world. Go git you some.

Take a moment to share below what new adventures you’re going to add to your life, knowing it will help free your mind and create more freedom in the world you experience.

Note: Are you interested in taking this to a deeper level? Keep an eye out for registration for my 2015 Freedom Sessions Adventure Mastermind. We will spend the entire year as an intimate tribe, going on three amazing adventure retreats, working with our minds and inner beings methodically and metaphysically, learning what our old stories are, skills to unravel, debunk, and oust unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs, and rewriting our new life stories – making change more permanent and lasting. This helps us effectively creating the lives we desire – finally! – and we’ll be having FUN while we’re at it;) Use the contact form by clicking here if you’d like to learn more. It will be juicy!

From Hopelessness to Happiness – A Learnable Life Skill

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” ~ Pema Chodron

I had a very sad experience this past week. A family had lost their baby, in the hospital, within 24 hours of their birth, from an accident. The air was heavy with compassion, as well as the underlying fear that something just as horrible could happen to us – by accident. The intensity of the grief was palpable, and I was in awe of how humans can actually make it through an experience like that.

Many people do get through life’s formidable challenges and continue with their lives, albeit changed. I got to thinking about resiliency, and how some people seem to take life’s blows – big or small – with relative grace, and others get thrown and sucked down by relatively less stressful events. What was up with that?

What helps people bounce back (or stay steady to begin with)?

I’ll give two examples of different perspectives that I’ve seen recently (names changed, of course).

If life could be graded, Christina would give hers an F.U. Her new job is stressful, her teenage daughter is struggling with depression, she and her husband are fighting a lot lately, and she hates herself for the extra 30 pounds she’s carrying.

Christina feels hopeless and her life seems depressing and dark. Every setback reinforces her feelings of pessimism and grim certainty that nothing will ever get better.

Barbara’s struggles seem just as daunting. Her husband just lost his job, two months after the birth of their first child. She is responsible for her elderly mother, who is becoming increasingly frail. To make things worse, her best friend and main support is moving to another state (yikes!) and the landlord just raised the rent by $200. Despite all this, Barbara gives her life a strong B+ and knows there are some A+wesome days ahead.

I’ve done my share of studying and exploring mindset and it’s effect on resiliency and optimism. A lot of my interest started because I grew up in the ghetto, and I wondered why some of us “got out,” and others didn’t. Most people don’t believe me when I say that about the ghetto, but then I point out that the movie Dangerous Minds was based on my neighborhood, and then they believe me.

Growing up, I watched most of my friends join gangs, drop out of school, and have babies by the time they were 16. I had a gun pointed at my face, point blank, when I was 15. When he pulled the trigger he aimed it just left of my head to be funny. To top it off, I had a schizophrenic bipolar father, an (ahem) challenging and aggressive mother, and I walked around – literally – with holes in my shoes.

But dangit, if that paragraph had you wanting to buy me a Coke, let me tell you: I was somehow happier than my other friends were.

For a long while I thought I was messed up somehow. For realz! Like I didn’t understand some “mature” truth about life that somehow made it suck more.

Then I started to pick up on the fact that despite my father being schizo-affective, when he wasn’t having paranoid delusions, he was actually super funny and positive. And my mother, while needing a few courses on anger management back then, was utterly unfailing in the way she supported anything I wanted to accomplish, and bounced back from adversity pretty quickly. And it was REAL! For both of them!

Somehow, our life wasn’t “ideal,” but we were going to have enjoy it anyway. And my parents always said, “Obstacles can become opportunities.” (We heard a baptist preacher give a speech at a graduation once, and he went through each letter of the alphabet like that, e.g. challenges into consciousness, and they stuck.) My one other friend from my neighborhood who went to college? Also optimistic. Ever since we were kids it was obvious.

Snap! I started thinking that while optimism wasn’t the only reason, it was probably a big one.

Using the examples above, I’ll bet your bottom dollar that unlike Christina, Barbara sees her setbacks as temporary obstacles to be overcome. To her, crises are a part of life, opportunities for her to gain wisdom and courage.

Put simply, some people are optimists and others are pessimists. However, optimism isn’t an accident–it’s a skill that can be learned, one that can help us feel better, resist depression and greatly improve our lives. I learned it from my parents, for sure. Studies have also shown that some part of optimism (a SMALL part) is indeed a biological wiring of our brain but – HEY! If you have pessimistic tendencies, don’t go down the “permanent” path – it is malleable! You can teach yourself, and learn, how to be optimistic. And that means you can teach yourself to be healthier and happier.

I Can Learn to Be Optimistic? Prove it!


Psychologist, clinical researcher, and bestselling author Martin Seligman has spent 25 years studying optimism and pessimism, and is one of the founding leaders of the Positive Psychology field. In his book, Learned Optimism, he states that pessimistic thinking can undermine not just our behavior but our success in all areas of our lives.

“Pessimism is escapable,” he writes. “Pessimists can learn to be optimists.” Does this mean when you are optimistic that you walk around ignoring suffering and negativity? Hellz no! It means you learn to not spiral down into a place where you are doing yourself more harm than good. And it means you don’t spend all your energy trying to protect yourself from suffering because you get that it is a part of life, so you might as well get on the bouncing-back-quickly bandwagon and learn some skillz. It means that you give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt, and you have a more positive experience in life, and more happiness, even if nothing else in your life changed.

So why not, right?!

By altering our view of our lives, we can actually alter our lives, Seligman says. First, we must recognize our “explanatory style,” which is what we say to ourselves when we experience a setback (aka gremlin alert). By breaking the “I give up” pattern of thinking and changing our interior negative dialogue, we can encourage what he calls “flexible optimism.”

He believes that focusing on our innate character strengths (wisdom, courage, compassion), rather than our perceived failures boosts not just our moods, but our immune system. Research has shown that optimistic people tend to be healthier and experience more success in life; therefore, he encourages parents to develop the patterns of optimism in their children.

Practicing “spiritual optimism” is another way to improve the quality of our lives. Joan Borysenko, psychologist, speaker and author of several books, including Fire in the Soul, encourages people who experience feelings of despair and hopelessness in times of crises to remember it takes courage to live, and that we can find that courage by facing our fears, finding support and using meditationm or prayer.

Similar techniques outlined by Dr. David Burns in his book Feeling Good: “The New Mood Therapy,” have been effective in treating depression. He believes that changing our thinking has a profound effect on our moods, including cases of severe depression. It’s not our lives that depress us, he writes, but our thinking about our lives.

There are multiple theories out there, and a growing body of decades worth of research, supporting the idea that unless Christina begins to change her thinking, her life’s outlook may remain bleak and dismal. Barbara, however, is likely to experience more satisfying and fulfilling years ahead because she believes her life is filled with “challenges and opportunities,” rather than “struggles and obstacles” (same same, but different).

Where do you fall on the scale of optimism vs pessimism? Check out the UPenn site where they have all sorts of fun positive psychology tests (Optimism Test, Compassionate Love, Authentic Happiness Inventory to name a few) that might help you learn more about where you can grow, and where you’re already dropping into how awesome YOU and your life are.

Keep an eye out in April for my upcoming FREE teleseminar, “What the Hell Just Happened!? Adapting to Change.” I’ll probably change the title, but that sounded fun for now;) If you want to get on the wait list, let me know here and I’ll send you early registration (I will limit it to 20 people so we can interact during the call).

In the meantime, try a daily practice of waking up and practicing gratitude first thing in the morning (=before you even get out of bed, even before you open your eyes, or have sex). Its a great way to set the tone for your day’s mindset.

Note: Ana Neff is known as the Ziji™ Mentor. She helps individuals awaken their lives and personal success with confidence, clarity, and passion. Her monthly Ziji Up! eZine goes out to hundreds of subscribers. If you are ready to take your life and your world to the next level, you can learn more about her coaching programs and download her FREE Getting Clear Guide by visiting www.ZijiLife.com