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Food for Thought: Curating a Sound Musical Diet

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“The eye takes a person into the world. The ear brings the world into a human being.”

Lorenze Oken

Music is like a mega-vitamin for the brain. It can increase receptivity and retention of information, aid in cognitive processing, improve the social and emotional development of our children, shift our perceptions and psychological states, and inspire creativity and innovative thinking.

Through much of our waking life, we hear a plethora of sounds but are not necessarily listening. Quite often, music is among, if not featured in, the sound collage. If we are not fully present, however, we may not even be aware that our ears are receiving stimuli. Most of us are too busy listening to the imaginary sound of thoughts and voices inside our head.According to John Medina, molecular biologist and author of Brain Rules, listening to music affects important neurotransmitters in the brain. Listening to music we love triggers the release of dopamine, supporting a range of feelings and activities from pleasure to memory formation. Music can stimulate the release of oxytocin, which affects social bonding and plays an important role in, for instance, building feelings of trust between people, lactation for a nursing mother, having orgasms and giving birth.

Listening to meditative or relaxing music can reduce stress levels along with the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

If music is such an omnipotent resource, how do we tap into this wealth of neural activation? And if it has such a profound influence on our thoughts and well-being, wouldn’t we naturally want to be conscious about what we choose to ingest through our ears? 

How Music Can Shape Our Perception of the World

To see how much music shapes our beliefs and perceptions even when we aren’t paying attention, simply turn to the world of film soundtracks. Film scoring — the creation of original music to support the narrative and emotional contour of a story — is a craft that has developed over the course of more than 100 years. The aim of the film composer is to shape the subconscious narrative inside the hearts and minds of millions of unknowing viewers. To recognize the critical role music plays in a film, one only need to watch a copy of their favorite film, if available, without music.

In some of my talks and workshops, I help people experience the perception-shaping effect of music by playing a 45-second clip from a scene in a little-known film three times in a row. The scene has no dialogue, so the narrative is told entirely through visuals and an instrumental score. Each time I play the scene — the exact same scene — I change the score. At the end of the exercise, I ask the participants to write a brief synopsis of what they saw in each of the clips. Without fail, they will write a different synopsis for each clip, describing the same character as having different qualities and motives, and summarizing different plots. The music is so powerful in shaping their perceptions that some people will insist I must have changed the visuals. (Watch a clip from my TEDx Talk “The Technologies of Emotion” to witness this exercise in action.)

If music has this much influence over what we think we see on the screen, imagine the way it can shift our experiences or alter the way we perceive the world around us.

Building Your Personal Music Menu

By paying a little more attention to what plays on your radio speakers or through your own headphones, you can be more aware of the unconscious musical programming shaping your inner and outer world. Even when you can’t control the musical selections, like in a movie theater or restaurant, you can still be mindful of the effect music is having on you. Building this awareness will help you recognize what inspires you, what disturbs you, and how much music can affect you and your perceptions and experiences, And when you do have the option to select your musical menu, you then have the ability to tap into a deep source of energy and inspiration by designing the music input for your brain. 

Why not choose the musical dishes that support your optimal energy and well-being with the same level of consciousness you apply to your food choices? When you do have control of the airwaves, you can program musical selections that better serve your needs and help you achieve a desired state, whether it be increased focus, relaxation or inspiration to get up and move. 

Once you have identified a good musical main course, you can tap deeper into the rich source of nutrients for your brain through a process called active listening. The key to active listening, in this context, is to give your full attention to the musical experience. The more closely you listen, the more you engage the different areas of your brain.3 The more you engage, and the more senses you activate, the more strength a piece of music will have in positively affecting your physical, emotional and mental states, especially when you return to that same piece of music later. 

Active listening is a great practice for people who find silent meditation challenging and need another way to steady and relax the mind. It is important, of course, that you choose an appropriate piece of music from the endless choices available — one that helps you achieve the desired outcome. For meditation, it is important that you choose music that personally relaxes you. On the other hand, to help incite action you will want to tune in to music that inspires and motivates you. 

Once you find that piece of music that helps you achieve your desired state, repeating the exercise daily for two to three weeks will significantly increase the beneficial effects and help you shift to that state more quickly every time you revisit the same musical selection. Your personal playlist can become your toolkit for optimizing your mental and emotional state whenever you need it. One thing to keep in mind is that music preferences are largely subjective. What works for someone else might not create the same outcome for you.

Listening to music in this way — or listening to the interplay of other musicians if you perform or sing in a group — can help you become a more mindful and better listener, not to mention help you become more aware of the seemingly uninterrupted stream of sound data entering your brain. Training your listening skills with the help of music can assist you in multiple areas of your life, from learning languages to deepening the connection in your relationships. 

Just like a healthy diet does a body good, being more mindful and intentional about the menu of sounds and music that enters through your ears — the primary gateways to the inner world of your mind — can significantly influence your mental and emotional well-being. 

This excerpt is adapted from my bestselling book Amplified, available online or at a bookstore near you. 

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Food Is Medicine And What We Eat Is Important

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Your mental state is a critical component of your physical health. And when you’re under a lot of stress, you might not be eating the healthy food that provides nutrients for fighting anxiety and depression. So when we examine what we’ve been eating, most of us discover that the decisions we’ve been making in the name of simplicity, convenience, or saving time have been damaging to our total health – body, mind, and spirit.

A person’s diet is a direct reflection of their health. When a person does not eat the right foods, their body breaks down. This can lead to an overall decrease in quality of life and many other diseases linked to improper nutrition. In North America, our current diet mainly consists of an excess of grain, sugar, fried and fatty foods. As a result, disorders including hypertension, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s, and certain malignancies are becoming increasingly widespread.

The science of food has always been discussed; however, with recent technological innovations in food processing and agriculture, people have enjoyed more convenient foods that are less expensive than ever before. Unfortunately, with every convenience comes a trade-off. Smart foods are often packed with sugar, salt, and calories, leading to poor health in some individuals. 

To understand what a person is putting into their body, it’s essential to realize that the small molecules in food are responsible for allowing our bodies to function. These small molecules are called nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes. A nutrient is not a value unless absorbed by the body through a specific pathway. For example, if you absorb calcium without vitamin D, your body will not use that calcium. 

Eating a balanced diet keeps you healthy, but it helps reduce your stress. For example, eat foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants because they help augment your immune response and prevent toxins from damaging your cells. Vitamins A, C, and E serve as antioxidants that fight off free radicals in the body. Free radicals are toxic products of metabolism that cause damage to your cells. Experts claim that they are responsible for the aging process. Good sources of these vitamins are deeply-colored vegetables- green leafy, yellow, and orange vegetables, such as squash, broccoli, kale, spinach, and carrots.

Iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, and it mainly functions to deliver oxygen to your cells. Hence, an iron deficiency, medically termed Iron-deficiency anemia, is associated with weakness, easy fatigability, and pale skin. Tea, coffee, red wine, grapes, and berries are rich in antioxidants that function the same as your vitamins A, C, and E. 
You need a diet that’s healthy and balanced – and one that can fit comfortably into your busy lifestyle.

Here are some of the recommended dietary guidelines.

Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, vitamins, and minerals. 

Exercise every other day to release endorphins, feel good, get the blood flowing, and reduce stress levels. 

Eat salt only when you need it, but not too much as your body does not need it. Many people with anxiety are hypothyroid or have low magnesium. When your body needs more sodium, it can indicate that you are not producing enough cortisol or are dehydrated. If you experience chronic anxiety, I recommend working with a physician to run tests on cortisol levels and then take salt supplements as needed. Use spices like turmeric, ginger, curry, and aromatic herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage, and basil.
Eat low-fat meals because they will cause a minor spike in blood sugar levels: think lean meats, eggs, vegetables, and nuts; avoid dairy if it makes you feel anxious. 

Drink lots of water — keep hydrated all day — ideally at least half a gallon if possible — your brain needs water to function optimally! 

Avoid foods that you know will make you feel bad, such as dairy, even with low-fat content. You can cut out dairy and not worry about it! 

Avoid sugar, caffeine, processed foods, alcohol, and any other substance that makes you feel bad or increases anxiety levels. Also, avoid coffee — drinking more than one cup a day can cause anxiety in some people. Coffee is also dehydrating and inhibits the absorption of minerals from food/water/supplements — try caffeinated water as a substitute for coffee if you like the caffeine kick. 

Find a natural health professional that you can talk to or work with to quickly get the results you want. 

Healthy foods and nutrition can help you stay fit, but they can also assist you in treating disease. When you nurture your body physically with these nutrient-dense foods, your mental capacities improve, as does your spiritual welfare. Moreover, because your spiritual health is at its best, it will radiate to the exterior world, causing others to notice you’re happier and more relaxed, and your stress levels have decreased dramatically.

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The Points of Light Civic Circle Offers Real Ways You Can Change the World 

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Sixty-six percent of Americans don’t believe they can make a big impact in the world. 

That figure is according to Points of Light’s research on civic engagement. But what if I told you there are actually many ways to drive change? 

Today’s political climate can feel divided or even stagnant, but the truth is, you really can make things better, starting with your own community, one act of kindness at a time. And those aren’t just words. I’m here to share real, practical ways for you to make a difference. 

The Points of Light Civic Circle helps people connect to opportunities and understand that doing good comes in many forms. It is a framework that represents your power to lead, lend support and take action for causes you care about and live your best civic life. 

The Civic Circle provides actionable examples of all the ways you can change your community to reflect the world you want to see around you. In fact, you’re probably doing some of these things already. Are you helping a neighbor by picking up groceries or chaperoning on your child’s class field trip? You’re volunteering. Did you vote in the last election or help others get to the polls so they could vote? Those acts of civic duty illustrate the “vote” element. When you buy a product, do you choose to support companies that reflect your values or advance a social cause? That’s called “purchase power.” There are nine elements of the Civic Circle, and countless ways to bring each one to life. 

This blog is the first in a five-part series that will help you find real and manageable ways to activate the Civic Circle through apps, documentaries, podcasts and books. 

We also offer other resources to help you connect with all the ways you can become empowered to be the change you want to see in the world. Check out our videos that provide an in-depth look at each element of the Civic Circle. And don’t miss Civic Life Today, our digital magazine series. Each issue takes a deep dive and provides materials, ideas and inspiration so that you can become civically engaged.  Get started today, and launch your own civic engagement journey with these tools. 

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Are you an Amateur or a Pro? 30 Differences to Help You Decide…

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My client, Sebastian, thinks he’s behind on “life”.

He thinks he missed the memo the rest of us received on how to live a happy life.

I know better.

Sebastian hasn’t fallen behind and there is no such memo.

We’re all just trying to figure it out.

Unless we’re not. And there are a lot of people who simply are not trying to figure it out.

My friend and Professional Coach, Elaine Taylor-Klaus, calls them Status quo-ers — as opposed to Growers.

Anyone who makes a serious commitment to working with a Professional Coach is by definition a “Grower” and Sebastian is no exception.

Growers want to know, feel and live more. They push every boundary and sometimes fall off cliffs. They say “yes” to way too many things and often feel overwhelmed and over committed. They have a congenital distaste of the status quo and will sabotage any situation if it feels like “settling” to them. They’re insatiable and often don’t know what exactly will assuage their hunger.

Growers often appear to the world as troubled, frustrated and critical.

Inside they feel unfulfilled and misunderstood.

The truth is that they can’t help but be driven by Oscar Wilde’s belief that,

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”

Growers will break every piece in the china shop when they find themselves just existing and not living as they see fit. And they suffer for it.

That is… until they turn pro and transform their life!

Steven Pressfield famously states in his book, Turning Pro

“Becoming a pro, in the end, is nothing grander than growing up.”

Sebastian thinks he’s falling behind because he’s still living life as an amateur at 34.

To put the above into context, I didn’t turn pro till well into my 40’s!

Best move I ever made! 

So what’s the difference between living life as an amateur vs. a pro?

Although there is no one size fits all manifesto on “how to turn pro”, here are thirty distinctions I’ve learned which apply to ANY Grower who is truly committed to living a life of purpose, fulfillment and ease.

  1. Amateurs look for hacks and shortcuts — Pros do the work.
  2. Amateurs speed up — Pros slow down.
  3. Amateurs are busy — Pros are focused.
  4. Amateurs sell first — Pros serve first.
  5. Amateurs think it’s about them — Pros know it’s never personal.
  6. Amateurs think life is short — Pros know life is actually really freakin’ long.
  7. Amateurs are reactive — Pros are responsive.
  8. Amateurs live with constant misunderstandings — Pros take the time to get clear.
  9. Amateurs don’t know what success looks like (to them) — Pros  know their definition of success and aren’t afraid to change it.
  10. Amateurs don’t know their core life values — Pros do.
  11. Amateurs want to feel happy — Pros want to feel alive!
  12. Amateurs play to “not lose” — Pros play to win.
  13. Amateurs are harsh — Pros are fierce.
  14. Amateurs secretly enjoy being in the “Victim Mindset” — Pros are a “Hell No” to that!
  15. Amateurs wonder what people say about them when they leave the room — Pros know.
  16. Amateurs have false and limiting beliefs around money — Pros don’t.
  17. Amateurs are constantly searching for life balance — Pros are living an integrated life.
  18. Amateurs think everything matters — Pros know what few things actually do matter (for them).
  19. Amateurs set boundaries defensively — Pros simply honor their “operating system”.
  20. Amateurs think help is a four letter word — Pros actively seek opportunities to help and be helped.
  21. Amateurs don’t have a relationship with their “Future Self” — Pros are best friends with their “Future Self”.
  22. Amateurs confuse knowing with doing — Pros receive knowledge and apply it (EVERY moment of EVERY day).
  23. Amateurs love information — Pros love insights.
  24. Amateurs have intentions — Pros have commitments.
  25. Amateurs have expectations — Pros have agreements.
  26. Amateurs compare — Pros create.
  27. Amateurs live from probability — Pros live from possibility.
  28. Amateurs are focused only on the “Goal Line” — Pros are focused on both the “Goal Line” and the “Soul Line”.
  29. Amateurs set goals with contingencies — Pros know contingencies are just excuses and NOW is the time!
  30. Amateurs create from the past — Pros create from the future.

Now that you are aware of the 30 differences between an amateur and a pro, where do you see yourself?

And I’d love to know why. Get in touch with your answer.

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