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Just One Thing

Simple Practices from Dr. Rick Hanson

We are so busy these days that it’s great to have just one thing to focus on: a simple theme to reflect on and be inspired by.

These practices are grounded in brain science, positive psychology, and contemplative training. They’re simple and easy to do – and they produce powerful results. For example, one practice asks you to take a few minutes each day to notice little things you appreciate or feel grateful for, like the smell of an orange, or the smile of a friend. This may not sound like much, but research has shown that this practice will lift your mood, protect you against stress, and even strengthen your immune system.

Enjoy Sobriety

Enjoy healthy self-control, a centered enjoyment of life, and inner freedom. Think of sobriety in terms of the big picture, and in the context of a life well-lived. Sobriety is a gain – of health, self-respect, unclouded mind, peace with others and bliss.

Find Your North Star

What’s the light that will guide you out of your own tangled woods – both the woods “out there” in the world and the ones “in here,” in your own mind?

Do Freely

There’s a way to relate to the endless To Do list that’s freer and less burdened. When we “do freely” we refresh in having a sense of choice.

Cling Less, Love More

Clinging is never relaxed and has a sense of strain. As you cling less, it becomes natural for one to lighten up, have more compassion and forgive.

Hold Wants Lightly

Be aware of wanting inside your own mind. List wholesome wants that you would like to pursue more. Your wholesome wants will help crowd out the unwholesome ones.

Find Your Ground

What can you do when you’re shaken? Find your ground. It’s clear that we all need a place to stand. A physical place to be sure – hearth and home, land and sea, a bed to curl up in – but also psychological or spiritual places, such as feeling loved, a calm clear center inside

Let It Go

Are you holding onto at least one thing that’s way past its expiration date? Self-critical thoughts, obsessions, defensive about your issues, or drinking too much. These things are relatively straightforward to deal with, even though it could be difficult.

Make The Offering

Try considering your contributions as offerings, particularly the little things. Listen to your heart for offerings calling to be expressed. Maybe it’s the offering of never speaking out of anger, or really starting that novel, or determining to give love each day.

Find the Facts

When you find the facts, you’re more able to handle threats and fulfill opportunities, understand others, and make wise choices.

Trust Yourself

See what happens when you bet on yourself, when you back your own play. See what happens when you let yourself fall backward into your own arms, trusting that they will catch you.

Feel Cared About

Feeling cared about buffers against stress, increases positive emotions, promotes resilience, and increases caring for others. Learn how to feel cared about to gradually fill any holes in your heart.

Know You’re a Good Person

Is it hard to believe you are a good person? Try to take in the good of feeling cared about; recognize goodness in your acts of thought, word, and deed. Enjoy this beautiful goodness, so real and so true.

Gift Yourself

When you give more to yourself, you have more to offer others.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Try to understand what causes you to feel fault, resolve it and move on. Inner criticism tears you down. Commit to skillful corrections. Take a big breath and very deliberately name to yourself three strengths or virtues you have and let them sink in.

Forgive Yourself

It’s important to acknowledge mistakes and learn from them so they don’t happen again. But most people beat themselves up past that point.

Refill Your Cupboard

Most parents are busy one way or another most of the time and hitting the red line on stress. They look around and wonder, where’s the support?

Enjoy Four Kinds of Peace

“Peace” can sound sentimental or clichéd but it’s what most of us long for. When you experience peace, enjoy it, let it sink into you, weaving its way into your brain so it increasingly becomes the habit of your mind.

Let It Flow

Can you stay mindful and peaceful when your thoughts and life get bumpy? In life there will be gain and loss, praise and blame, and pleasure and pain. If you let them flow, you can ride the waves of life with gratitude and grace, and without drowning.

See Progress

If you don’t see progress in your own life, then you will feel stagnant, or declining. Learn to notice the things that are improving all around you.

Notice You’re Alright Right Now

To keep our ancestors alive, the brain evolved strong tendencies toward fear. It’s important to regularly remind yourself that you’re alright right now.

Accept Difficulty

When things are difficult, we often add a lot of unnecessary frustration, anxiety, and self-criticism by resisting the difficulty of them – often with an underlying attitude of “it shouldn’t be this way.” Find more peace by accepting difficulty instead of getting aggravated by it.

See the Big Picture

The tree or the forest? See the big picture. The vast majority of human acts each day are constructive: making meals, tending to children, saying hello, restraining anger, completing tasks, planting seeds, teaching, healing, nurturing, cooperating

Remember the Big Things

In every life, reminders arrive about what’s really important. While it’s good advice not to sweat the small stuff, we also need to nurture the large stuff.

Embrace Fragility

Be mindful of both actual and potential fragility in yourself and others. Do what’s in your heart about what’s fragile in our world. Be at peace with the inevitable: things fall apart. Yet there is something beautiful about this part of the truth.

Grow a Key Inner Strength

What’s your “Vitamin C?” “Vitamin C” is. Daily life is full of opportunities to notice or create experiences of inner strength, a psychological resource. Take it into yourself, making it a part of you.

Hug the Monkey

Hug the monkey inside yourself helps satisfy an innate human need for connection can remedy old pain and provides that fundamental human sustenance: love.

Be Home

When the body is not disturbed by hunger, thirst, pain, or illness, and when the mind is not disturbed by threat, frustration, or rejection, then most people settle into their resting state, which is our “home base” – our fundamental nature as human beings.

Your body and mind want to come home: that’s where energy is conserved for the marathon of life. Try this practice to help yourself come home more naturally.

Feed the Mouse

When you feel fed – physically, emotionally, conceptually – you naturally let go of longing, disappointment, frustration, and craving. The hungry heart gets a full meal; goals are attained and the striving for them relaxes; one feels lifted by life as it is. What a relief!

Feeling fed also helps you enjoy positive emotions such as pleasure, contentment, accomplishment, ease, and worth. As researchers have shown, these good feelings reduce stress, help people bounce back from illness and loss, strengthen resilience, draw attention to the big picture, and build inner resources. And when your own cup runneth over, studies have found that you’re more inclined to give to others; feeling good helps you do good.

Drop the Stone

Are you lugging around a needless burden? Carrying an unnecessary load can be stressful and harmful. Instead, it’s OK to drop the load and let go of repetitive preoccupations.

Grow Inner Strengths

Inner strengths are the supplies you’ve got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life.

Rest in Center

There is a deeper place that is undisturbed, your center. As you deepen your sense of connection with this core of your being, you’ll be more resilient, happier, and at ease.

Pet the Lizard

The brain is highly integrated, so these three key functions – avoiding, approaching, and attaching – are accomplished by all parts of the brain working together.

Make Good Bargains

Life is full of tradeoffs between benefits and costs. Sometimes the rewards of going for a run, getting fresh air, and improving health may be worth the cost of losing half an hour of work time while gaining a pair of achy legs.

Relax, You’ve Arrived

Part of this comes from our biological nature. To survive, animals – including us – have to be goal-directed, leaning into the future. This focus – can get confused and stressful.

Feel Whole

When you open to the whole of your experience you feel more at home in yourself. With moments of practice that add up over time, you feel more like a whole person, less fragmented. As this happens, you feel more fed and fulfilled – and more connected, more entwined with the world as whole.

Come to Center

When feeling scattered, collect and concentrate your thoughts and feelings. Return to the reliable rewards of feeling already full. Savor pleasure, move, lift your eyes to the horizon, enjoy art, feel the core of your body, and come into the present moment.

Pay Attention

Controlling your attention – being able to place it where you want it and keep it there, being able to pull it away from what’s bothersome or pointless.

One Breath at a Time

To know yourself more deeply, track the breath inside yourself. Inhale, oxygen surges into your brain and activates and accelerates the heartbeat. Exhale, you activate the soothing peaceful nervous system. In the breath you are home in this moment, this Now.

Meditate

Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body.

Be the Body

The fabric of your mind is woven by your body. Focus on what others communicate, and try to receive that as a valuable offering. Open your mind to the good that is implicit or down deep in the other person.

Stay Well

To stay well, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating correctly, doing exercise regularly, avoiding health hazards, and having regular checkups.

Eat Right

Eating healthy is one way to be a good role model for your children. Good nutrition is a key part of maintaining your energy as a parent. Eating healthy helps parents stay good-humored and patient with children, even when the oatmeal starts flying.

Back to Basics

By taking care of the basics, everything else usually takes care of itself.

Drop The “Shoulds”

When healthy inclinations become “shoulds” “musts” then there is a big problem. Consider a situation that bothers you, and find a deeper “should” that’s related to an experience you “must” have or avoid. Face the should, ask this question: “Is it really true?”

Give Over to Good

Give over to good and let this good be your guiding principle. Just One Thing Newsletter.

Find Your Own Way

In the body or the mind, there is no life without goals. Trying to “transcend” goals is itself a goal. The only question is: Are your goals good ones?

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The most important things often get pushed to the sidelines. But if you don’t make a sanctuary for what is important, it will get overrun B and C priorities.

Water Your Fruit Tree

Nourish the things that nourish you. Try to do one thing each day to. “Pass forward” a gift to the person you will be tomorrow . . . and a year from now.

Let Things Change

We have a choice: we can let things change and do what we can, or we can fight it and likely end up feeling even worse.

Find Stillness

Wherever you find stillness enjoy it and let it feed you. Stillness is a source of clarity and peace. In stillness, you can find a refuge and some quiet amidst the noise. Give yourself the space, the permission, to be still in your mind.

Accept Dependence

We are hungry for love and need others. Let this truth in. Accepting your inherent dependence brings you into harmony with the way life is.

Step into the Cloud

Stressed by all the things you have to do? Seen as brick-like entities, tasks can feel heavy, oppressive, burdensome. If instead we view our tasks as clouds, tasks feel more fluid, like streams or eddies you step into, influencing or contributing as best you can, before they swirl on and become something else.

Accept It

Acceptance is the foundation of wisdom and inner peace. It is easy to accept life’s beautiful things. It is the hard things in life that are hard to accept. The sweet spot is both by accepting the fact that they are what they are.

Empty the Cup

What’s the “wallpaper” in your own mind? Enjoy emptiness in the forms, the space between thoughts as your mind calms and becomes still, when you have no plans at all.

Be Mind Full of Good

With a mind full of good, you’ll have more to offer others, which will grow the good in them, too, perhaps—reaching eventually around the whole world.

Learn As You Go

Are you missing opportunities to grow stronger, happier, and more resilient? Each day is an opportunity to learn, grow, and take in the good. Use this two-step process to heal from the past, grow strengths for the future.

Say Thanks

Say Thanks – it’s a small moment with big ripples. What do you feel when someone thanks you for something? For a comment in a meeting, a task done at home, an extra step taken, an encouraging word.

Feel the Support

The more you feel supported by the people that care about you, by the natural world, and by your own capabilities, the better you’ll feel. Plus your load won’t seem so heavy, and you’ll be more able to carry it. By focusing on the support that truly does exist for you, you can have a sense of ease, relief, calming, or happiness.

Feel Already Full

Craving is pointless; the truth is there’s always an underlying fullness already. While the truth of futility is that it is hopeless to crave, the truth of fullness is that craving is unnecessary.  

Enjoy Now

Since it’s always now, now is eternal. The present moment is continually passing away, so relax and be open to this moment. Not planning, not worrying, not lost in thought.

Receive Generosity

Life shows us generosity in a magnitude of ways including our senses and the natural world. The best thing we can do is to receive generosity.

Enjoy The Good That Lasts

Good lifts the heart and can turn passing experiences into lasting resources. Recognize the relative stability of good things. Enjoy it all. The more we recognize impermanence, the more we can take refuge in the good that lasts.

Be Amazed

Look for opportunities to amaze yourself as you will find them all around you.

Find What’s Sacred

Sacred, has two meanings. One means spirituality, the other something precious. Try to identify what is sacred to you. Maybe you already know.

Welcome Joy

What’s the spark and what’s the fuel? Welcome joy. Positive emotions – such as feelings of gratitude, love, and confidence – strengthen the immune system, protect the heart against loss and trauma, build relationships, increase resilience

Find the Good News

We need to recognize genuinely bad news so we can protect ourselves and others. The root cause of suffering and harm is ignorance, illusion, not seeing things as they actually are. See the facts and live in the light, we feel freer, at ease, unthreatened, confident, overflowing, loved, and loving.

Tell the Truth and Play Fair

People compete with each other and have conflicts of all kinds, but we expect a level playing field. Do what you can to tell the truth and play fair.

Love What’s Real

What do a healthy relationship, family, organization, or country have in common? They are grounded in what is real. They seek the truth, tell the truth, and learn from the truth.

“Us” All “Thems”

Finding common ground with every person – especially those you fear or are angry with or who are simply very different from you – builds bridges among us, widens circles, and allows us to live together in peace.

Love the World

Humanity has great power for good and ill. As the earth heats up, as species go extinct and resources decline, it is critically important that a fourth major motivation guide our thoughts, words, and above all, deeds: Love the world.

Take Heart

What do you do when the bottom falls out? Take heart. By “taking heart,” I mean several related things: Sensing your heart and chest, finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you, resting in your own warmth, compassion, and

Stand up to Bullies

Bullying at all scales causes much suffering. What can we do? Recognize bullying and its enablers. Protect yourself, strengthen alliances with others, and stand up and speak up as best you can. 

Love Your Neighbor

Kindness to others is enlightened self-interest. Compassion and kindness expresses an inner freedom. 

Vote

Sometimes it’s natural to feel stunned, shocked, powerless. And natural to be flooded with rage or fear or an overwhelming sorrow. Still, even in the midst of all this, you can be mindful: aware and present, and not entirely swept away. Then at some point, you take a breath and look around and try to figure out what to do. One thing to do is to vote.

Know Where You Stand

We need to know the facts: is the stove turned off, do I have health insurance, does my partner love me, are the people who work for me getting the job done? We also need to know our values: what is fair, decent, good, and proper.

Forgive

Forgiveness frees you from the tangles of anger and retribution. Appreciate the value of forgiveness. Ask yourself: what does my grievance, my resentment, cost me? Cost others I care about? What would it be like to lay those burdens down?

Don’t Rain On The Parade

Are you too quick with doubt, limitations, cost analyses, reasons why not? If you pour cold water over your hopes and dreams, you’ll never know the warmth and light that might spread if you’d let them catch fire.

Give Them What They Want

It’s easy to give someone what they want. It is a matter of what you want to give. It can be stressful when others want things from you. There’s a sweet spot from which you can respond with both compassion and ease.

Drop The Case

Enjoy the good feelings and other rewards of dropping your case. Set down the case, like plopping down a heavy suitcase. Enjoy the feelings, the spaciousness of mind, openness of heart, inner freedom, and other rewards of dropping your case.

Try a Softer Tone

There are three elements of tone: 1) Explicit content 2) Emotional subtext 3) Implicit statement about the nature of the relationship.

Turn Anger into a Peaceful Heart

3 things to help guide you to find peace: Stop Things from Building Up, Understand What’s Making You Angry, Find Key Ways to Turn Anger into a Peaceful Heart

Parent From the Same Page

Find compromises and work with your partner for the benefit of your child. Minor differences in parenting style are okay. But children get confused when there are major differences. Here are five ways to work effectively and get the best possible results.

Be Helpful

Do not underestimate the impact of a small deed. We all know that the needs in this world are great. And so are the opportunities to make a big difference to the ones we touch.

Stay Right When You’re Wronged

Blasting another person with anger is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned. Speak calmly and from your heart, even when wronged.

Speak Truly

Perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health – and certainly for the health of your relationships – is to speak truly.

Don’t Quarrel

It’s one thing to stick up for yourself & others. It’s a different matter to get caught up in wrangles, contentiousness – in a word: quarrels.

Tune Into Others

Imagine being aware of the surface behavior of the people around you but oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved by your own.

Speak From The Heart

Speaking from an open heart can seem so vulnerable yet be the strongest move of all. Naming the truth has great moral force.

Relax, You’re Going to be Criticized

Criticism is unavoidable. Sometimes we take being criticized with good grace, other times it stings, and sometimes both are true. Here are some tips for accepting criticism, learning what you can from it, and moving on.

Don’t Be Intimidated

Humans are vulnerable to being alarmed, manipulated, and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.” Understanding how your brain became so vigilant and wary, and so easily hijacked by alarm, is the first step toward gaining more control over that ancient circuitry and is less rattled or distracted by exaggerated, manageable, or false alarms.

Love Someone

What can you do when there’s nothing you can do? Love Someone. Sometimes something happens. Perhaps your cat takes a turn for the worse, there’s a money problem, or it’s on a larger scale: maybe there’s been an election and you’re grappling with its

Drop Tart Tone

People are more sensitive to tone. To paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

Transform Ill Will

Goodwill and ill will are about intention: the will is for good or ill. Ill will creates negative, vicious cycles. But that means that good will can create positive cycles. Plus good will cultivates wholesome qualities in you.

See Your Part

Acknowledging one’s own part in a difficult situation is one of the hardest – and I think most honorable – things a person can do.

Lower Your Stress

It is important to feel good as often as possible, at least several times a day. Stop the urgency of the day and let quiet fill the air, let thoughts slow down. There is presence in this moment, and no worries about the future.

Enjoy The Freedom Not To

If you can’t say “no” – to others, and yourself – then your “yesses” will lose their meaning and power. The “freedom not to” gives you a feeling of ease.

Drop the Load

Are the rewards of new commitments really worth the costs? Sometimes you have to give up the lesser rewards of a new thing for the greater rewards of allowing some new space to clear in your life.

Beware of Anger

Anger can alert you to threats, but also harm your health and relationships. In small and passing quantities, anger can be like medicine, but in large and lasting quantities it poisons the mind and relationships.

Minimize Painful Experiences

Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish – and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart.

Lighten Up

You can open to a sense of freedom and autonomy where you get to decide what you could stop doing and lighten up.

Rest Your Weary Head

Our minds are hauled along in a culture without a speed limit – exceeding the limit, and there is always a price. Pulling out of the mental traffic, it’s an act of freedom and wisdom.

Let It R.A.I.N.

R.A.I.N. is an acronym developed by Michelle McDonald but adapted a bit by me, to summarize a powerful way to expand self-awareness.

Leave the Red Zone

In a busy life, each day gives you dozens of opportunities to leave the Red zone and move toward Green. Each time you do this, you gradually strengthen the neural substrates of Green, one synapse at a time.

Avoid The Rush

Be mindful of rushing. See how other people assume deadlines that aren’t actually real, or feel pressured about things that aren’t that important.

Change the Channel

Sometimes when inner practices fail you, it helps to change the channel. A respite or some sort of pleasure will help to refuel you for challenges.

Lower the Pressure

The pressure activates motivational circuits but has inherent collateral damage. Pressure activates ancient motivational circuits that were very effective in keeping our ancestors alive but even at best, there is an inherent collateral damage.

Rest

Encourage your mind to come to rest at least occasionally. Tell the truth to yourself about how much time you actually – other than sleep.

Trust In Love

Love is like air. It may be hard to see – but it’s in you and all around you.

Accept Them as They Are

In what ways do you wish that people were different? See what it feels like to stop resisting what another person is like while also taking care of your own needs in the relationship. Acceptance is a gift that gives back.

Choose To Love

Choose to love. Love is more about us being loving than about other people being lovable. In fact, choosing to love is twice loving: it’s a loving act to call up the intention to love, plus there is the love that follows.

Bless

To blissful is to see what is tender and beautiful, and wish well. Look for good things in others. Know what the act and attitude of blessing feel like, and take in the experience to call upon it in the future.

Be Helpful

Do not underestimate the impact of a small deed. We all know that the needs in this world are great. And so are the opportunities to make a big difference to the ones we touch.

Lived By Love

Encourage love in all its forms to flow through you. Implicitly, and more fundamentally, this practice means a relaxed opening into the love – in a very very broad sense – that is the actual nature of everything.

See What’s Likable

Liking feels good, and it encourages us to approach and engage the world. We’re wired to like some things, but our liking or disliking depends greatly on what we pay attention to and our own perspective.

Be Benevolent

Liking feels good, it encourages us to approach and engage the world. Know what benevolence feels like in your body, heart, and mind, and realize that it is natural and normal. Appreciate some of the benevolence that buoys you along. Most people are fair-minded, empathic, cooperative, compassionate, and kind: in a word, benevolent.

See the Good in Others

See the good in others—it’s a simple but very powerful way to feel happier and more confident and become more loving.

See the Person Behind the Eyes

Everyone longs to be seen, known, to have our hopes and fears acknowledged. Can you see behind the mask a person wears?

Recognize Suffering in Others

Where does it hurt? The practice: Recognize suffering in others. We’re usually aware of our own suffering, but seeing the suffering in others: that’s not so common. All the news and pictures of disaster, murder, and grief that bombard us each day

See Beings, Not Bodies

When we encounter someone, the mind summarizes and simplifies tons of details. Though fast and efficient this process has lots of problems. As our ancestors evolved, rapid sorting of friend or foe was very useful but is it still.

Receive Faces

Understanding facial expression gives us a chance to feel connected to others. Try to open to and receive the faces of others.

Have Compassion

To have compassion is to have the wish that beings not suffer combined with feelings of sympathetic concern.

Give No One Cause to Fear You

Much of the time the fear we trigger in others is mild but people can feel threatened by stimuli they’re not actually aware of.

Feed the Wolf of Love

There are two wolves in ones heart, a wolf of hate and a wolf of love. The wolf of hate breeds alienation and conflict with others. The wolf of love is fed with our hearts, hope and by our sense of what’s good.

Relax Needless Fear Around Others

People don’t care what you’re doing – you are just a bit player in their own personal drama. Or if they do care, it’s a passing feeling.

Love Freely

Love is in our nature, woven into our DNA. Love is a natural wellspring inside us all. It doesn’t need to be pushed or pumped. It needs to be released.

Cultivate Goodwill

Ill will creates negative qualities, whereas goodwill creates positive qualities. As a social and loving species on the planet, we have the wonderful ability and inclination to connect with others, be empathic. But we are also aggressive.