It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us. 

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute...

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.In 2016 he gave a keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. His free offerings include the Just One Thing newsletter (over 120,000 subscribers), Buddha’s Brain Facebook (over 650,000 likes), and Being Well podcast. His online Foundations of Well-Being program helps people use positive neuroplasticity to grow key inner strengths like resilience, self-worth, and compassion, and anyone with financial need can do it for free.

Dr. Hanson has spent decades helping people turn everyday experiences into lasting happiness, love, and inner peace, hardwired into the brain. He enjoys wilderness, taking a break from emails, and time with his wife and two adult children. 


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Bless

burning-heart-picture-id172200193

Wishing well?

The Practice:
Bless.

Why?

Lately, I’ve been wondering what would be on my personal list of top five practices (all tied for first place). You might ask yourself the same question, knowing that you can cluster related practices under a single umbrella, your list may differ from mine, and your practices may change over time.

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Lean Into Good On First Waking

profile-view-of-beautiful-woman-drinking-coffee-by-the-window-picture-id1221311726

What do you think about when you first wake up?

The Practice:
Lean into good on first waking.

Why?

Waking up is like the sun rising. At first it’s mostly dark, as glimmers of consciousness begin to light the shadows. Emerging into full wakefulness, the fogs and veils dissolve and the whole plain of your mind comes into view. It’s quiet: a restedness in the body, sleepy still, not yet much internal verbal chatter. There’s an intimacy with yourself, abiding as the core of your be-ing.

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Give Them What They Want

red-rose-in-the-palm-of-your-hand-picture-id162433466

What’s up with these people?

The Practice:
Give them what they want.

Why?

Research shows that relationships are built from interactions, and interactions are built from moments. A critical moment in an interaction is when one person wants something from the other one. (“Wants” include wishes, needs, desires, hopes, and longings.) The want could be simple and concrete, like “Please pass the salt.” Or it could be complex and intangible, such as “Please love me as a romantic partner.”

Wants can be communicated in many ways. Gaze, touch, tone, facial expression, posture, and action speak volumes. Whether verbally or nonverbally, some people express their wants clearly, but many do not. The more important a want is, the more likely it will leak out slowly, or be expressed with a lot of distracting add-ons and emotional topspin.

Now what?!

Think of a significant relationship. How clearly have you expressed your own wants in it? How do you feel when the other person makes a sincere effort to give you what you want?

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Take Heart

takeheart It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

The Practice:
Take heart.

Why?

It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

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 kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-hearted – going forward wisely, even when anxious, knowing your own truth and, as you can, speaking it

When you take heart, you’re more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You’re also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

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When You Speak: Drop Tart Tone

ripe-and-fresh-lemon-on-branch-picture-id615896990 Drop Tart Tone - it matters

The Practice:
Drop tart tone.

Why?

Tone matters.

I remember times I felt frazzled or aggravated and then said something with an edge to it that just wasn’t necessary or useful. Sometimes it was the words themselves: such as absolutes like “never” or always,” or over-the-top phrases like “you’re such a flake” or “that was stupid.” More often it was the intonation in my voice, a harsh vibe or look, interrupting, or a certain intensity in my body. However I did it, the people on the receiving end usually looked like they’d just sucked a lemon. This is what I mean by tart tone.

People are more sensitive to tone than to the explicit content of spoken or written language. To paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. And we are particularly reactive to negative tone, due to the negativity bias in the brain (written about in previous JOTs).

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Drop The Case

lawyer-or-judge-gavel-with-balance-handshake-picture-id1170018697 Who are you prosecuting?

The Practice:

Drop the case.

Why?

Lately I’ve been thinking about a kind of “case” that’s been running in my mind about someone in my extended family. The case is a combination of feeling hurt and mistreated, critique of the other person, irritation with others who haven’t supported me, views about what should happen that hasn’t, and implicit taking-things-personally.

In other words, the usual mess.

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Transform Ill Will

touch-someones-life-with-kindness-picture-id599898694 Good will cultivates wholesome qualities in you

Do you bear a grudge?

The Practice:
Transform Ill Will.

Why?

Goodwill and ill will are about intention: the will is for good or ill. These intentions are expressed through action and inaction, word and deed, and-especially-thoughts. How do you feel when you sense another person taking potshots at you in her mind? What does it feel like to take potshots of your own? Ill will plays a lot of mini-movies in the simulator, those little grumbling stories about other people. Remember: while the movie is running, your neurons are wiring together.

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Stand up to Bullies

violence-in-today-schools-picture-id1125699891 “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” - Maya Angelou

Do you see a bully?

The Practice:
Stand up to bullies.

Why?

Humans are profoundly social. Woven through the tapestry of our relationships are several major threads. One of these is power. The only question is, do we use it for good or ill?

The abuse of power can be called many things, including intimidation, fraud, discrimination, and tyranny. I’ll use a term that’s down-to-earth: bullying.

Bullies are unfortunately common. Throughout history and right now today, from homes and schoolyards to the halls of power, they create a vast amount of human suffering. What can we do?

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Change The Channel

woman-at-home-watching-the-tv-during-the-lockdown-picture-id1216804019 It’s OK to change the channel

What can you do when nothing is working?

The Practice:
Change the channel.

Why?

In response to a previous JOT – Find Stillness – a wise therapist, Betsy Sansby, reminded me that sometimes a person just can’t find any stillness anywhere. Maybe you have epilepsy or chronic pain, or are wildly worried about a child or other loved one, or have been rejected in love or had the bottom fall out financially. In other words, as Betsy put it, like there’s a nest of bees in your chest.

She’s right.

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See Deep Wants

self-portrait-in-the-mirror-picture-id1169556945 Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what are the deepest wants of all?

The Practice:
See deep wants.

Why?

I did my Ph.D. dissertation by videotaping 20 mother-toddler pairs and analyzing what happened when the mom offered an alternative to a problematic want (“not the chainsaw, sweetie, how about this red truck?!”). Hundreds of bleary-eyed hours later, I found that offering alternatives reduced child negative emotion and increased cooperation with the parent.

Pretty interesting (at least to me, both as a new parent and as someone desperate to finish grad school). And there’s an even deeper lesson. Kids – and adults, too – obviously want to get what they want from others. But more fundamentally, we want to know that others understand our wants – and even more fundamentally, that they want to.

Consider any significant relationship: someone at work, or a friend, or a family member. How does it feel when they misinterpret what you want? Or worse, when they couldn’t care less about understanding what you want?

Ouch.

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Accept It

meditating-youn-woman-picture-id1203764522 Acceptance means you give up to the truth – the facts, reality – no matter what it is

What are you resisting?

The Practice:
Accept it.

Why?

As general clusters that each include a number of specific methods, my Top 5 types of practices (all tied for first place) are:

  • Be mindful
  • Love
  • Take in the good
  • Go green
  • Open out

The practices of “go green” helps you get out of the brain’s fight-or-flight, Reactive, “red zone” setting and instead, engage life from its recover-and-refuel, Responsive, “green zone” setting.

In this JOT, we’ll enter into the fifth cluster – open out – by which I mean relaxing into a growing sense of connection, even oneness, with all things. For some, “opening out” could go all the way out to something transcendental (it does for me). But I’m going to write about this practice in very down-to-earth, practical, and psychological terms.

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One Breath at a Time

serene-sunset-on-a-beach-picture-id1163593127 One Breath at a Time

Are you breathing?

The Practice:
One breath at a time.

Why?

[If for you the breath is associated with trauma and discomfort, you probably shouldn’t try this practice in its form below. But you might adapt it to something that is more nurturing for you, such as a saying or image.]

Breathing brings you home. Body and mind twine together in the breath. As soon as you become aware of breathing, you’re in your body. Speed up the breath and there’s new energy. Slow it down and you calm. Inhale and oxygen surges into your brain while the arousing sympathetic nervous system activates and accelerates the heartbeat. Exhale and activate the soothing peaceful parasympathetic nervous system, so the heart beats more slowly. In the breath you are home in this moment, this Now.

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Let It Go

Let It Go Let It Go

When is it “time to fold ‘em?”

The Practice:
Let it go.

Why?

Most people, me included, are holding onto at least one thing way past its expiration date.

It could be a belief, perhaps that your hair is falling out and you are ugly and unlovable as a result, that you can’t say what you really feel in an intimate relationship, or that you must lose ten pounds to be attractive. It could be a desire, such as wishing someone would treat you better, pushing to make a project be successful, yearning for a certain kind of partner, or wanting to cure an illness. It could be a feeling, like a fear, grudge, resentment, longtime grief, or sense of low worth. It could be a behavior, like such as jogging with aging knees, playing video games, or buying clothes. It could be something you insist others do, such as make their beds, drive a certain way when you’re in the car, or meet particular goals at work.

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Make Good Bargains

determination-gets-anything-done-picture-id1081960210 Make Good Bargains

Is it worth it?

The Practice:
Make good bargains.

Why?

Life is full of tradeoffs between benefits and costs.

Sometimes, the benefits are worth the costs. For example, the rewards of going for a run – getting out in fresh air, improving health, etc. – are, for me at least, worth the costs of losing half an hour of work time while gaining a pair of achy legs. Similarly, it could well be that: getting a raise is worth the awkwardness of asking for one; teaching a child good lessons is worth the stress of correcting her; and deepening intimacy is worth the vulnerability of saying “I love you.”

But other times, the benefits are not worth the costs. For example, it might feel good to yell at someone who makes you mad – but at a big price, including making you look bad and triggering others to act even worse. There are indeed rewards in that third beer or third cookie – but also significant costs, including how you’ll feel about yourself the next day.

We make a thousand choices a day, each one a bargain in which the brain weighs expected benefits against expected costs. Therefore, it’s important to make good bargains, good choices, in which the real benefits are greater than the real costs.

Unfortunately, your brain lies to you all day long. (And to me and to everyone else.)

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See Good Intentions

See Good Intentions See Good Intentions

What do others want?

The Practice:
See good intentions.

Why?

Hustling through an airport, I stopped to buy some water. At the shop’s refrigerator, a man was bent over, loading bottles into it. I reached past him and pulled out one he’d put in. He looked up, stopped working, got a bottle from another shelf, and held it out to me, saying “This one is cold.” I said thanks and took the one he offered.

He didn’t know me and would never see me again. His job was stocking, not customer service. He was busy and looked tired. But he took the time to register that I’d gotten a warm bottle, and he cared enough to shift gears and get me a cold one. He wished me well.

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Find What’s Sacred

candle-picture-id639302904 Find What’s Sacred

What’s precious to you?

The Practice:
Find what’s sacred.

Why?

The word, sacred, has two kinds of meanings. First, it can refer to something related to religion or spirituality. Second, more broadly, it can refer to something that one cherishes, that is precious, to which one is respectfully, even reverently, dedicated, such as honesty with one’s life partner, old growth redwoods, human rights, the light in a child’s eyes, or longings for truth and justice and peace.

Both senses of the word touch me deeply. But many people relate to just one meaning, which is fine. You can apply what I’m saying here to either or both meanings.

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Empty the Cup

cup-of-black-tea-served-with-biscuits-picture-id1070717858 Empty the Cup

Are you full to the rim?

The Practice:
Empty the cup.

Why?

Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a saint. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the saint proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar’s cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: “Stop! You can’t add anything to something that’s already full!” The saint set down the teapot and replied, “Exactly.”

Whether it’s the blankness of a canvas to an artist, the silence between the notes in music, bare dirt for a new garden, the not-knowing openness of a scientist exploring new hypotheses, an unused shelf in a closet or cupboard, or some open time in your schedule, you need space to act effectively, dance with your partners, and have room around your emotional reactions.

Yet most of us, me included, tend to stuff as much as possible into whatever room is available – room in closets, schedules, budgets, relationships, and even the mind itself.

Personally, my own mind is often filled with themes of work: details of tasks to do, problems to avert, opportunities to capture keep swelling up again into awareness to capture my attention. For a friend of mine, the wallpaper of her own mind, as she puts it, is rumination about her health problems.

Remember the cup: its value is in the space, the emptiness, it holds.

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Enjoy Now

young-woman-running-against-morning-sun-picture-id1182436440 Enjoy Now

When are you?

The Practice:
Enjoy now.

Why?

There’s a profound and miraculous mystery right under our noses: this instant of now has no duration at all, yet somehow it contains all the causes from the past that are creating the future. Everything arising to become this moment vanishes beneath our feet as the next moment wells up. Since it’s always now, now is eternal.

The nature of now is not New Age or esoteric. It is plain to see. It is apparent both in the material universe and in our own experiencing. Simply recognizing the nature of now can fill you with wonder, gratitude, and perhaps a sense of something sacred.

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Know You’re a Good Person

couple-having-fun-in-a-flower-shop-picture-id479545378 Know You’re a Good Person

Who are you, deep down?

The Practice:
Know you’re a good person.

Why?

For many of us, perhaps the hardest thing of all is to believe that “I am a good person.” We can climb mountains, work hard, acquire many skills, act ethically – but truly feel that one is good deep down? Nah!

We end up not feeling like a good person in a number of ways. For example, I once knew a little girl who’d been displaced by her baby brother and fended off and scolded by her mother who was worn down and busy caring for an infant. This girl was angry at her brother and parents, plus lost and disheartened and feeling cast out and unloved. She’d been watching cartoons in which the soldiers of an evil queen attacked innocent villagers, and one day she said sadly, “Mommy, I feel like a bad soldier.”

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Feel the Support

young-adult-man-hiking-in-beautiful-mountains-picture-id1059683946 Feel the Support

What helps you carry your load?

The Practice:
Feel the support.

Why?

We’re all carrying a load, including tasks, challenges, worries, inner criticism, mistreatment from others, physical and emotional pain, loss and illness now or later, and everyday stresses and frustrations.

Take a moment to get a sense of your own load. It’s very real, isn’t it? Recognizing it is just honesty and self-compassion, not exaggeration or self-pity.

There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon – such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma – and the resources you have. As a law of nature, if your load or vulnerabilities increase – over a day, a year, or a lifetime – so must your resources. Otherwise, inevitably, you will get strained, depleted, and ground down. I’ve had times like this myself, and I’ve seen it in loved ones.

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30 Simple Ways to Create Balance and Connection

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