In this week's Further, we're exploring a couple of key elements that can improve the quality of your life. And they may not be obvious to you.
First up is how to develop optimism to aid your work and relationships — and also your heart health. Then we explore why music has research-backed healing and emotionally satisfying aspects that you may not have considered.
And if you need a little boost in your day, don't miss this week's Further Flashback. Guaranteed to raise your spirits; just don't stage dive off your desk.
Plus, here are three more items from around the web that are solid resources for living your best life:
If I Can't Change Your Mind
One of the most frustrating things you can attempt is to try to change someone's mind. But if you're going to give it a shot anyway, this is the way to go about it.
Going further is all about the next level, the next step, the next achievement, right? But what if it wasn't? What would happen if we stopped constantly lifting our eyes to the next target?
The power of habits isn't that they're a substitute for willpower. Here are some alternative ways to think about how to form good habits that aren't about how to get yourself to “stick to” challenging or tedious behaviors.
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Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holiday
If you're a fan of The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, you won't want to miss the final installment in the “trilogy” — Stillness is the Key. And if you haven't read or listened to the first two, do yourself a favor and pick up all three. Highly recommended. (Amazon)
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by Brian Clark
Being an optimist isn’t all that easy at times, but it’s apparently worth it. Optimism has been shown to provide favorable physical health outcomes and greater success in work, school, and relationships.
And now, a meta-analysis research study shows a positive outlook can help your heart:
Analysis of the 10 studies that looked at heart disease, which pooled data on 209,436 people, found that compared with pessimists, people with the most optimistic outlook had a 35 percent lower risk for cardiovascular events.
The studies reviewed had an average of 14-years of follow-up, and controlled for various health and behavioral characteristics, including typical cardiovascular disease risk factors. So, score major longevity points for those with a sunny disposition.
Are optimists just healthier?
Is it optimism that leads to health, or do optimistic people just take better care of themselves? Turns out it’s both:
“It seems optimists have better health behaviors,” said the lead author, Dr. Alan Rozanski, a professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “They’re more likely to exercise and to have better diet. And there is evidence of direct biological effects — they have less inflammation and fewer metabolic abnormalities.”
Which brings us to the next question — can you learn to become more optimistic? If you currently have trouble finding the silver lining, you can be (ahem) optimistic about your ability to change.
How to prime a positive outlook
As with many things, optimism comes down to how we perceive and respond to events and challenges in our lives. That means we can shift our attitude in a more optimistic direction, even if we’re naturally more on the gloomy side.
Techniques that work include reframing stressors, practicing self-compassion, letting go by stopping rumination about past missteps, and avoiding comparing ourselves with others. Plus, expressing gratitude for what you have and the life you lead helps immensely (I know it has for me).
Perhaps most of all, keep a sense of humor. Life can be absurd, I know … so maybe laugh instead of cry. But not like a clown — that’s just creepy.
- A Positive Outlook May Be Good for Your Heart (New York Times)
- How to Prime Your Mind for Optimism (Greater Good)
By Trudi Roth
It’s not like you need to be told that music is powerfully healing and emotionally satisfying. I know when I’m down, cranking up the tunes yields an instant mood and attitude adjustment.
That’s probably why I’m a sucker for Spotify’s “listen like you used to” campaign, which encourages Gen Xers to bring music from back in the day into our current day-to-day. After all, you need tunes for the evening wind-down:
1983 – UB40, Red Red Wine. 2019 – You be 40, red red wine.
By the time the lyrics “memories won’t go” get stuck in your craw, you’re likely enjoying a buzzy dopamine download driven by neural nostalgia. This is what Confucious meant by music producing “a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
But music’s power goes far beyond stimulating happy hormones. Loads of research shows it can help reduce blood pressure, pain, and anxiety while improving your sleep quality, mood, memory, and mental acuity. In other words, a great way to tune in to getting better at getting older.
This is your brain on music
Just as learning a new language improves cognitive functioning, music also boosts neuroplasticity, helping your brain form new connections. Unlike more effort-driven tasks, even passively listening to music gives your brain a workout by activating neurons in both hemispheres.
As a Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist explains:
Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next. You may not be aware of it, but your brain has to do a lot of computing to make sense of it.
From the first note, your auditory cortex starts blending beat, harmony, and melody into a holistic experience. If you sing along, your premotor cortex joins in to plot and sync movements. Dance, and your neurons align with the beat.
And if you have strong memories associated with the song, your prefrontal cortex — the seat of willpower, logic, decision-making, creativity, goal-setting, and problem-solving — is activated.
Instrumental as you age
Amazingly, it’s not just complex classical compositions that train your brain. From pop to punk and all genres in between, research shows that your mind responds to the music you love best.
Since the 1980s, there has been a growing body of work focusing on the healing power of music. Neurologists like Dr. Oliver Sacks, whose pioneering work on the benefits of music therapy in helping patients with age-related ailments like Parkinson’s, dementia, and strokes, helped pave the way to turn a scientific ear on its therapeutic promise.
Now that we’re living longer than ever before, leading medical organizations, including the National Institutes of Health, are turning up the volume on music-related research. Finding more empirical evidence and applications for music’s healing power sounds like Nirvana to our aging ears.
- Keep Your Brain Young With Music (Johns Hopkins)
- NIH Bets $20 Million Music Can Heal Our Brains (Forbes)
The Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go
Live at Shea Stadium, 1982
The Clash. Live at Shea Stadium in 1982. Should I Stay Or Should I Go. If this doesn't get you fired up, I'm not sure what will. (YouTube)
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