All posts by Darlene Mininni

About Darlene Mininni

Dr. Darlene Mininni is the author of “The Emotional Toolkit” and creator of UCLA’s undergraduate happiness class LifeSkills. Her work has been featured on CNN, PBS, NPR, WebMD, Marie Claire, SELF and Prevention. Darlene maintains a private mentoring practice dedicated to showing women how to create happy lives by developing their inner wisdom. Follow Darlene on Facebook at Facebook.com/DrDarleneMininni

3 Steps To Live Regret-Free

Regret-FreeWhy did I eat that cake? I wish I’d taken that job. I never should’ve kissed that guy.

Have you ever had thoughts like that? Probably. It’s your brain’s way of telling you to rethink your choices. But sometimes, your brain gets stuck.

What Do People Regret?

I just discovered Bonnie Ware, an Australian writer who spent several years caring for dying people. She asked those nearing death if they had any regrets, and these are the top 3 they shared:

  • I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself
  • I wish I didn’t work so hard
  • I wish I was brave enough to express my feelings

That got me to thinking about the idea of regrets. Is there anything good about them?

The Good News

It’s true, regrets can bring sadness or anger, but if you know how to get unstuck from those feelings, regret can actually inspire you to change and grow in positive ways.

That’s what happened for actress and singer Pearl Bailey, a high school dropout, who became a college freshman at the age of 60.

Pearl recalls, “I got up at the dinner table in Los Angeles and said, ‘Let me go to college. There’s one up the street.’” She began at Pierce College and later graduated from Georgetown University with a BA in Theology at the age of 67. From there, Pearl went on to write six books.

I’ll Have The Chicken

You see, if you’re lucky enough to have lots of choices in your life, then there are also lots of opportunities to regret things. Imagine if a waiter said to you, “The only food on the menu tonight is chicken, and I’ve already ordered it for you.” You wouldn’t regret your dinner selection because you had no choices.

But most of us have the freedom to decide on things. Lots of things. Will you go to this college or that? Will you take this job or that? Will you stay with this lover or not? And at some point, you might wish you’d made a different decision.

The question is: How can you turn your regret into motivation? Even inspiration?

3 Steps To Live Regret-Free

  1. Reframe Your Story. Instead of criticizing yourself for “that stupid thing I did,” remember that you did the best you could with the information and perspective you had at the time. It’s easy to judge yourself now that you have the benefit of hindsight or experience, but you didn’t have either of those when you decided to live on donuts and coffee, date the wrong person or pick your college major. As author Maya Angelou famously said, “When you know better, you do better.”
  2. Retell Your Story. To transform your regret into wisdom, here’s the biggest question to ask yourself: “What did I learn from this?” Allow every experience to become your teacher. Did you pursue a career you never wanted? Were you loyal to a boss that laid you off? What did you learn from that? Maybe you’ve discovered a growth-spot. Have you been too afraid to speak up, too willing to settle? Or maybe you learned that your most wonderful qualities, such as creativity or dedication, are best shared with those who value them. Then again, maybe you learned that no matter who you are, sometimes stuff just happens.
  3. Rewrite Your Story. You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can change the way you live today. Take your big lesson and make it more than insight. Make it a catalyst for transformation. What can you start doing today to redesign your present and your future, even if it’s only a shift of attitude? Maybe you’ll start trusting yourself more or stop trying to be perfect. Maybe you’ll get more sleep or look for a new job. The story is yours to write.

Turns out regret has its good side. Although you can’t change the past, you can use it to motivate and inspire you toward a better future, just like Pearl Bailey did. For me, when I feel stuck, I follow the three steps above. Give it a try and see how you feel. You won’t regret it.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to know.

 

Photo used under Creative Commons from Pink Sherbet Photography

3 Ways To Tap Into The Magic of Relationships

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I’ve always been a big believer in what I learned in school: Work hard. Try your best. You’ll succeed.

But that equation left out something really important: Other people.

The simple fact is: we need each other to succeed or at least succeed in an easier way: whether that’s raising a child or creating a business.

No Need To Sing

I don’t mean this in a schmaltzy “High School Musical-We’re All in This Together” sort of way. I mean, in a real way.

No matter how charismatic Oprah is, she wouldn’t be Oprah without a community to inspire. No matter how brilliant Steve Jobs was, he needed a great team to create Apple. And no matter how powerful you are, it’s likely that at some point, you’ll need an exercise buddy, a reliable babysitter or a great hairdresser.

This Isn’t Just Commonsense

It’s written into your DNA. It’s not just your psyche that feels better in relationships, so does your body. That’s why, when you share your feelings with a friend, your immune system gets stronger.

And you don’t even need to know the other person to reap the benefits of relationships.

One man said he combats his speaker’s nerves by imagining everyone in the audience loves him. Even though he knows it isn’t true, he feels it in his heart, and that’s enough to give him the confidence he needs. And science confirms he’s right. If you nervously step up to the podium to give a speech, and there’s one stranger in the audience smiling at you, your blood pressure immediately drops.

Chagall & Me

I think it’s even possible to harness the power of relationships when you’re all alone. I’ve felt it myself while doing something super-solo: browsing through an art museum.

Chagall
Chagall – The Birthday

I used to think that looking at paintings was a solitary-thing, but I’ve realized that it’s not. The truth is, when I look at a painting, I’m meeting an artist who’s showing me his ideas. And because of him, I’m inspired to see the world in a new way.

Your Brain Says Hello

For your survival, your brain is wired to connect: with the people you know, a stranger who smiles at you from the audience or someone who speaks to you through a painting.

As you plan your dreams, whether it’s to write your book, stick to your diet or chart a new course in your life, include other people to help move you along your path—those you know and those you’ve never even met.

3 Ways To Tap Into The Magic of Relationships:

  1. Read biographies of people you admire and be inspired by their stories.
  2. Connect with people who want the things you want, like happy kids, a new business or fitness, and support each other in making that happen.
  3. Look for role models who’ve accomplished what you want and learn from them.

How can you bring the magic of relationships into your life? I’d love to know.

 

Chagall image via WikiPaintings

Do You Have the Grit It Takes to Follow Your Dreams?

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 1.50.34 PMHave you ever wanted to give up on something that you really, really wanted because it was just too darn hard to keep trying? 

You can’t run one more step, write one more word, endure one more dead end? Join the club.

Can I Sit Down Now?

But, before you throw in the towel, there’s something you should know.

People who succeed at getting what they want in life aren’t smarter, more talented, or luckier than you.

They just might have something psychologists call grit: the ability to keep going no matter what. Grit, it turns out, may be one of the most powerful ingredients in your success recipe.

Smart Grit

I’m not talking about trying endlessly to reach a goal where the chance of victory is close to zilch, like opening an ice cream shop in Antarctica. Although never say never.

I’m talking about the grit you need to stay on your healthy diet, save money, or start that business. Grit is different from willpower, the ability to focus for snippets of time, say, just long enough to resist that cookie. Grit is willpower’s big brother. It’s endurance for the long haul; the stamina to keep going even when you stumble.

I Want Some Grit, Please

When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, an intense research project that was my final step before getting my PhD, I needed a giant dose of grit.

That’s because the dissertation experience can be pretty grueling. I’d met students who were in dissertation-anxiety support groups, and I’d watched exhausted graduates–sporting newly spawned gray hair–lumber down the aisle to finally accept their diplomas, some after ten years. It was clear; I was going to need some serious stick-to-itiveness if I wanted to make it to graduation before my social security benefits kicked in.

Santa To The Rescue

My own grit arrived in an unexpected flash of inspiration. In the midst of a late night writing session, I suddenly remembered a television show my brothers and I watched every year at Christmastime called “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town.” In the show, there was a song I never forgot called Put One Foot In Front Of The Other.

I suddenly realized that to complete my dissertation, that’s exactly what I needed to do: put one foot in front of the other. Rather than looking at the enormity of the task ahead of me, I needed only to write one word, one paragraph, one page at a time. If I could do that–over and over again–I could find my grit and finish my dissertation.

To remind myself, on the wall over my computer, in big blue letters, I taped the words “Darlene, Put One Foot In Front Of The Other.” When I felt my spirits sag or there was a unexpected detour, I looked up at those words on the wall. I pushed ahead–one step at a time–and made it all the way to graduation day.

You Can Do It!

Are you chasing a dream that feels distant? Or do you want to improve your life in some way, but it’s hard to stay on track? I know it’s tough to keep going when you’re alone on your path or the road ahead is unclear.

That’s why I want to share with you the 3-minute video clip that inspired me. Watch it, and remember its simple message: put one foot in front of the other. Those words were so encouraging to me, they’ve since become my personal mantra. No matter where you’re headed–one step at a time–that’s how you’ll get there.

How to Be Your Own Inspiration (And Stop Comparing Yourself to Others)

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 10.17.42 PMWhy Is She So Smart?

Have you ever compared yourself to someone with thoughts like: “Why can’t I be successful like she is?” or “I wish I was popular like him.” We all have.

Gotta Love That Brain

Usually, those sorts of thoughts just make us feel insecure, sad, or jealous, right? So why do we have them? It’s because our brains are hardwired to figure where we stand in the social pecking order. It’s a primitive survival strategy that says, “If I’m more powerful, then I’ll live to pass on my genes.”

I Want Jennifer Aniston’s Hair

Trouble is, having a fabulous haircut or a nice car doesn’t do much for ensuring the survival of the species anymore. But since comparing ourselves to others is programmed into our thinking, it’s hard to shut it off. Instead, we need some strategies to gently redirect our thoughts. One of the best strategies I’ve found comes from a story I heard about a now-famous Broadway dancer.

Lessons From A Dancer

As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, this novice dancer was frustrated by her stumbles and missteps in class, so she asked her dance teacher when she’d be able to move like the other students at the studio.

The teacher told her, “Don’t look at the other girls. You’re not in competition with them. You’re in competition with yourself. Your goal is to be better than you were yesterday, not better than the other girls.”

When I heard that story, I immediately saw an image in my mind. Blinders.

Thinking About Horses

Growing up near New York City, the closest I got to horses was the Macy’s Day Parade on television, but I recalled that the horses wore blinders–small shields near their eyes that kept them focused on the path ahead without getting distracted by what was around them. Turns out, these blinders keep the horses calmer and when they run, they do it faster and better.

So what if we could wear blinders too–sort of metaphorically–to keep us focused on our own path without comparing ourselves to others? Could we be calmer and live better, just like the horses? I think so. Here are a few ways to do that:

 How To Put On Your Blinders: 

  • Compare yourself to yourself. Instead of measuring yourself against others, rate your progress with yourself, just like the Broadway dancer. What’s better about you now than say, a year or two ago? Are you better at taking photos or a better listener? Ask, “In what ways have I improved from before?”
  • Notice what you judge. It’s human nature to measure your progress on things you can see like jobs, money, or relationships. But success is just as much about internal qualities like wisdom or strength. Ask, “How have I grown inside?”
  • Rethink the meaning of “losing.” There will always be things in life that someone else gets instead of you; the gold medal, the big promotion, the cute guy. But the mere pursuit of what you want has its own rewards. Maybe now you’re more persistent or more sure of your values than you were before. Ask yourself, “Who have I become in the process of striving for what I want?”

For me, I’ve found that putting on the blinders helps me remember that the race is only with myself. And that’s made all the difference.

How can you put on blinders in your own life? I’d love to know.

How to Talk With Your Kids About The Boston Bombings

The round-the-clock media coverage of the events in Boston is understandable. Our anxious minds find something soothing about information — even if the news is scary — because we want desperately to understand what’s happening. We want to know that everything will be okay. We want to know the bad guys have been caught.

At the same time, the media’s relentless analysis can give the impression, particularly to children, that the world is a terrible and frightening place, and we are all just one-step away from harm when we walk out our front door.

For that reason, it’s important for us to highlight the positive aspects of this story as well. Not in a Pollyannaish-way that suggests everything is fine, but in a real way. It’s necessary to talk about the people who have opened their homes to others, sent food to first responders and provided an outpouring of support and kindness to those in need.

A popular post on Facebook this week is a quote from the beloved children’s television host Mr. Rogers: 

When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

My daughter was 3-1/2 when two planes deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. It was a devastating experience that traumatized our country. As a former New Yorker, I was deeply affected by the horrible images I saw of my hometown.

I thought long and hard about how to explain this event to my preschool-age daughter in a way that her young mind could grasp. I worried that the way I described the events would influence her view of the world.

I finally told her, “A few people did a bad thing and hit the buildings with their planes. And now thousands of people are helping to make it better.”

I hoped that explanation would ease her into the realities of life. Yes, sometimes bad things happen. Really bad. But there’s also good in the world. A lot of good.

What to tell your children about these events will differ depending on their age:

  • Young children should be shielded from violent or graphic imagery on television and the Internet. They need to know that they are safe, secure and protected by the adults around them.
  • Older children might have questions about the event and why it happened. Answer their questions and explain the details without getting overly sensational or frightening.

And keep in mind that we adults can be easily overwhelmed by the constant barrage of news, too. For me, as I follow the media’s coverage, I am reminded that terrible things happen in life. I grieve for the families and the community affected. And then I think about the courage, bravery and kindness of the people who helped. I think about the good in this story because it’s always there.

Are You A Thinker?

urlI Think, Therefore I Am.

When I have a problem, I think about it.

I imagine it from every angle. The pros and the cons. The yes and the no. Sometimes that’s really helpful. It guides me to make good decisions.

But sometimes, I think too much about the same thing, over and over. Have you ever done that? That sort of over-thinking is called rumination.

Women are particuarly good at this. We don’t know why. Maybe it’s biology or the way we’re raised. Who knows? The only reason it matters is that rumination can lead to more than misplaced keys or sleepless nights. It can lead to depression.

And now a new study shows that dwelling on your problems can effect your body too.*

The Mind-Body Link

Turns out women who were asked to dwell on a stressful experience, showed higher levels of C-reactive protein in their blood—a sign of inflammation—than women who were asked to think about sailing ships. And higher amounts of this protein have been linked to heart disease and other illnesses.

Now, Don’t Over-think This.

I tell you this not to freak you out, but to tell you there’s good news. You don’t need to stop ruminating on your problems. That’s right. As a matter of fact, trying to put the brakes on your over-thinking can make it worse.

Instead, the trick is to distract yourself from your over-thinking, just like you’d redirect a curious toddler away from a light socket. Put your focus elsewhere.

Here are a few simple ways I curb my rumination:

  • Do something pleasant: Go see a funny movie or listen to upbeat music or read a great book. Distracting yourself with your sense of sight or sound or your imagination lets your mind become immersed in something else.
  • Do something nice for others: Studies show when you do good for another person, you take the focus off of yourself and that shift can make a difference in your thinking.
  • Focus on your breathing: For an instant mental break, focus on the in-and-out of your own breathing, 3-4 times in a row. Notice how it feels. This mindfulness practice can redirect your thoughts and calm you.

If you’re a thinker, like me, having a few go-to strategies can make a big difference. What strategies have you tried? I’d love to know.
_______________________________________________________

*Ohio University (2013, March 13). Dwelling on stressful events can increase inflammation in the body, study finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2013, from http://tinyurl.com/aomom5s

Surprising News About Your Food

Green Juice !I’ve done lots of things to defizzle my stress. Sometimes, I play music or go for a run or meditate. Now I’ve got a new strategy to throw into the mix.
Eating.

I know. You’re probably thinking that’s a bad idea. Everyone knows about stress-eating. We crave cupcakes and potato chips and food with good “mouth feel” (yes, that’s really a word) when we’ve had a hard day.

But this is a different kind of stress-eating.

Eat Your Way To Happiness

I just discovered a new study that shows on the days people ate more fruits and veggies, they felt calmer, happier and more energetic than they normally did.**

And here’s the really fascinating part.

Scientists could even predict peoples’ moods for the next day based on what they ate today.

That’s stunning. It means that adding more fruits and veggies to your diet will not only make you healthier, it could also make you happier. That’s right, there’s a new stress-buster in town.

Of course, this all makes sense. Your mind and body aren’t separate. There’s no dotted-line on your neck. It’s all connected.

My Happiness Recipe

Because taking care of my well-being is a big priority for me, I’ve been trying to put more veggies in my diet. But I don’t always have the time or opportunity to eat vegetables throughout my day, so I decided to start juicing them.

Now, I start my day with a vegetable & fruit drink instead of a bagel. And I feel the difference. I’m more energetic and more focused. It’s great.

If you’d like to be calmer, happier and more energetic, try adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and see what happens.

And if you’d like to give juicing a try, here’s my vegetable & fruit drink recipe. Given the results of this new study, maybe I should call it my Happiness Drink.

Darlene’s Happiness Drink 

1 bunch of kale
1 cucumber (If it’s not organic, peel it first)
2 apples or pears
1 bunch of parsley

Here’s a peek at how I make my Happiness Drink. Bon appetit!*

How To Make A Vegetable & Fruit Drink
How To Make Darlene’s
Vegetable & Fruit Drink

 

*PS: I’m not the best filmmaker in town, but I’m working on it!

** White, B., et al. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, via PsychSource

 

Are You a Biophiliac?

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Millions of Americans will tell you they’re biophiliacs, and they’re proud of it. I’m a biophiliac. Chances are pretty good that you are, too!

What’s a biophiliac?

Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist Edward Wilson coined the term to describe, “the connection human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.”

That means we have a deep need to interact with nature. We do it because it feels good. And lots of studies show it makes us happier and healthier when we connect with our natural world. Did you know that hospital patients with rooms that face trees heal faster than those who don’t?

For me, biophilia means spending time at the ocean. Anyone who knows me, knows I’m an ocean-junkie! Just being next to the sea—smelling the salt air and listening to the waves crashing on the shore—always leaves me instantly relaxed, centered and at peace.

How can YOU connect with nature this week? Here are a few ideas:

  • Sit in your garden
  • Put a plant on your desk
  • Play with your dog
  • Walk in the woods
  • Go to a park for lunch

If you can’t get away just yet, check out this video of my favorite beach in Malibu. I recorded it on my iPhone so I can watch it whenever I want a dose of the soothing sights and sounds of the sea.

At just a little over a minute, it’s the perfect biophiliac-break (and next time, I’ll even hold my camera the other way!).

Darlene's Favorite Beach Break
Darlene’s Favorite Beach Break

 

The Real Purpose of Your Life

Actress Amy Poehler recently shared a video called The Real Purpose of Your Life. Now, you gotta watch that one, right?

I did, and to my delight, this short little ditty–narrated by philosopher Alan Watts and produced by Book of Mormon and South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone–has a fun but sneakily profound message about the real meaning of happiness.

Watts says that many of us, without even realizing it, buy into this idea:

“Something great is coming! Success is coming!” Just work a little harder and push yourself a little more. You’ll be happy tomorrow when that big thing arrives.

I’ll admit it. I’ve sort of bought into that. There have been times when I believed I needed to keep my eye on the prize and just keep going until tomorrow. I felt I needed to sacrifice my today for a future gain. In limited doses, that’s not totally a bad thing. BUT, and this is the big part for me:

  • Can you focus on your goals for the future without missing today’s joy?
  • Can you chase what’s next and be present to this moment?

I say, yes.

I believe it’s possible to be happy today and pursue tomorrow’s desires. What do you think? I’d love to know.

Thanks for sharing, Amy Poehler.

 

The Moments of Your Life

How do you describe your life?

If you’re like most people, you list your milestones, big accomplishments, or the goals you’ve achieved like: a college degree, a significant relationship, or a job.

All those events are important and meaningful, for sure. But let’s not forget the little moments that are truly the fabric of your day-to-day life.

That idea really hit me when I saw this beautiful new ad campaign by Volkswagen called, “It’s not the miles, it’s how you live them.” Spanning birth to old age, we watch as people experience their small moments of joy.

As I watched the video, I remembered a thought by one of my favorite inspirations, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the renowned Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He writes:

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

Take a look at this 30-second snippet of life, and ask yourself: How can I be more appreciative of my small moments?

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photo by: VinothChandar