CAN A WALK IN THE PARK INCREASE WELL-BEING?

“In happiness, as in so many other things, location is key.” According to research, a location that maximizes proximity to the natural world is one of the best ways to maximize well-being. Study after study shows a link between nature and wellness. Just 20 minutes outside can boost your mood, broaden thinking and improve memory. Even exercise performed in outdoor natural environments versus indoors has been shown to be associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, anger and depression and increased energy. Moreover, participants reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and declared greater intent to repeat the activity at a later date. There is a consistent positive relationship between being outdoors and subjective experiences of vitality—feeling engaged and alive. This effect appears to be independent of physical activity. In other words, just sitting on a park bench and taking in the beauty of one’s natural surroundings is revitalizing and conducive to well-being. Even people who have had surgery recover more quickly if they can see trees from their window, require fewer painkillers and call the nurse less often. “The view of nature was enough to make them feel better and to hasten their recovery.” Cognitive functioning in children has been shown to improve with proximity to nature and other studies show that contact with nature may improve symptoms of ADHD. The “greener” a child’s play area, the less severe his or her attention deficit symptoms. Some studies suggest there is less ADHD in countries like the Netherlands where children walk or bike to school. Green spaces also help buffer against stress, especially for urban dwellers. Studies show that metropolitan populations are far more likely than rural ones to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia and that the pressure of city life can charge brain physiology thereby increasing the risk of emotional disorders. Green spaces and parks can help combat this stress and promote well-being. Simply put, being outdoors makes people happier and healthier. Pulitzer prize winning evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson calls this biophilia—our inherent love and attraction to natural environments. Catie Marron captures our inborn affinity for nature in her beautiful book, City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts. It is a compilation of beautifully written essays by Zadie Smith, Jonathan Alter, Bill Clinton and other fellow biophiles about their favorite parks. Oberto Gili’s beautiful photographs capture the mood and essence of dozens of park during various seasons the world over. As Catie Marron writes in her introduction: “Parks are of the earth, they are of the people, and they give the best possible glimpse of the sky and stars amid the high-rises and rooftops of crowded urban life.” Parks reconnect us with our fundamental need for nature. They take the edge off. They are where you get lost and where you can also find yourself. They are natural Prozac. If you cannot take a walk in the park today, City Parks is the next best thing. I wholeheartedly recommend it. In the words of Frederick Law Olmsted: “The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”

Amanda Benchley

In Amanda Benchley's new co-authored book "Our Shoes, Our Selves," she asks 40 accomplished women to recount the memories behind their most meaningful pair of shoes.
Mental Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal of the Mind: How to Overcome Anxiety & Build Confidence

I have always been a little skeptical of visualization techniques. The idea of telling someone to visualize winning the lottery, marrying George Clooney or getting that job at Google sounded more like “The Secret” than actionable advice. That said, I have learned that some visualization techniques are worth a second look (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun). Instead of visualizing your greatest dream coming true – like thanking all the little people when you win the Oscar—experts suggest engaging in mental rehearsing. Mental rehearsing is very different from mental winning—it focuses on process not outcome. Sports psychologists recommend detailed mental rehearsals to help athletes build confidence and overcome anxiety. Death defying and record-breaking rock climber Alex Honnold (the guy who climbs without ropes) highlights the value of intense mental preparation:
When I’m planning on doing something challenging, I spend the time sort of visualizing what the experience will feel like and what the individual sections of it will [feel like]. Particularly if it’s a free solo, I’m climbing ropeless, then I’ll think through what it’ll feel like to be in certain positions, because some kinds of movements are insecure and so they’re kind of scarier than other types of moves, and so it’s important to me think through how that’ll feel when I’m up there, so that when I’m doing it I don’t suddenly be like ‘Oh my God, this is really scary!’ I know that it’s supposed to be scary, I know that’s going to be the move, I know what it’ll feel like, and I just do it.
Honnold does a dress rehearsal in his head, imagining all the possible scenarios and emotions he might experience for when he does the real thing. He has a realistic game plan that considers the physical and mental challenges he might face. There are no surprises or unanticipated events to shake his unshakable focus. While the stakes are a little lower, mental rehearsals have application in every day life. Next time you have to give a presentation at work or go on a job interview, consider doing a rehearsal in your head. Odds are your performance will be better.

Is It Too Late For Change?

“People don’t change.” I remember hearing this from one of my professors in medical school. His comment went hand in hand with everything I thought I knew about human nature: personalities are set in stone and character doesn’t change. Numerous studies suggest otherwise. Of note, when psychologists talk about personality traits, they are referring to the Big Five which include the following:

1. Openness to Experience

2. Conscientiousness

3. Extroversion

4. Agreeableness

5. Neuroticism

The combination of these five are believed to be the core characteristics that capture an individual’s personality. While research suggests that these traits are largely inherited and tend to be stable over time, it certainly doesn’t mean they are unchangeable. Life experiences and situations have been shown to significantly impact specific traits:

Strong relationships increase conscientiousness, agreeableness and extroversion and decrease neuroticism.

Divorce increases extroversion and openness in women.

Greater job satisfaction decreases neuroticism and increases extroversion.

Remarriage decreases neuroticism in men.

Personality can be re-shaped in other ways too:

Scientists have successfully designed programs to increase openness, which tends to predict better health and a longer life….One experiment found that a training program increased openness among older adults. A different study found that openness grew with the enhanced bodily awareness that comes from dancing and possibly other forms of physical activity.

Above all, regardless of our basic personality traits, we can freely choose how we express them and how we behave. As described in the Science of Us:

You can indeed train yourself to become more conscientious, more agreeable, more (or less) of whatever it is that you currently are not…

It turns out that you can teach old dogs new tricks.

Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Genuine curiosity and an unwillingness to accept the status quo is a distinguishing characteristic of truly successful people. For them, information and simply knowing facts is not enough. They constantly ask questions to help them better understand the information they have and how they can act on it. They always want to know more—from their boss, from their spouse, from their teachers and they don’t stop learning when school ends. Asking the right questions is a key strategy that enables people to keep an open mind and to enhance their lives in meaningful ways at work and at home. Most importantly, questions enable us see connections and explore possibilities that may not be obvious. All too often, people avoid asking questions because they fear the unknown, they don’t want to be seen as troublemakers or they are afraid of disrupting their routines. Research shows the benefits of formulating the right questions:

When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. However, this skill is rarely, if ever, deliberately taught to students from kindergarten through high school. Typically, questions are seen as the province of teachers, who spend years figuring out how to craft questions and fine-tune them to stimulate students’ curiosity or engage them more effectively. We have found that teaching students to ask their own questions can accomplish these same goals while teaching a critical lifelong skill.

Asking good questions is important in school and beyond. As Forbes contributor, Jason Selk writes, there are three questions CEOs should ask themselves every day:

1. What three things did I do well today?

2. What is my number one most needed improvement for tomorrow?

3. What is one thing I can do differently to help make the needed improvement?

The above questions apply to work, relationships, parenting, and beyond. Questions are a key component of self-evaluation and help keep a focus on the future—not on what has been or could have been. As Jim Collins, author of the best seller Good to Great, described Peter Drucker (aka “the man who invented management”) as someone “who had a remarkable ability to not just to give the right answers but more important, to ask the right questions—questions that would shift our entire frame of reference.” That’s what the best questions do.  They make us re-think what we think we know.

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Amanda Benchley


In Amanda Benchley's new co-authored book "Our Shoes, Our Selves," she asks 40 accomplished women to recount the memories behind their most meaningful pair of shoes.

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TWEETS

Teaching a sold out course on Positive Psychiatry focusing on creating positive mental health not just reducing symptoms of illness at the APA today with Dilip Jeste, Helen Lavretsky, David Rettew, & Rao Gogineni.

At the American Psychatric Association’s annual meeting. Themes are disruption, inclusion, engagement, and innovation.

Just 2 weeks of eating ultra processed food led to “dramatic” weight gain in healthy subjects. A diet of Cheerios, muffins, deli meats, canned ravioli & soups, chips, etc increased hunger hormones. https://t.co/3EokroMzs9

Save our girls. CDC study reveals that the suicide rate among girls aged 10 to 14 years tripled from 1999 through 2014. https://t.co/9n8sQNjYvs

We all admire the wisdom of those who come to us for advice but are furious when it’s not taken. Be careful of what you ask for says a new @hbs paper ignored advice can ruin a relationship. https://t.co/Sb9PR2jqad

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