Category Archives: Healthy Mind

It doesn’t matter how healthy your body is, if your mind is struggling. Life is full of ups and downs but having a healthy mind helps you weather the storm with grace and joy. Your mind is so fantastically wonderful – you have the capacity to be joyful and fulfilled in your life.

If This Sounds Like You, You Might be Undermethylated

MTHFR mutation discussions can quickly turn into Greek and the topic of overmethylated vs undermethylated MTHFR is one of the Greekest. It seems like no two resources on the internet are talking about the same thing when they talk about it and so overmethylation and undermethylation are strange, kind of meaningless words because at the end of the day it feels like nailing jello to a wall. So let’s see if we can sort some of this out.

Whose Idea Is This? I’m Following The Walsh Research Institute

The terms overmethylation and undermethylation make the most sense to me as the Walsh Research Institute uses them.  These are general physical tendencies based on the sum of your genetics, nutritional status and body burden. There isn’t one gene or genetic defect alone that can account for them – so just because you have an MTHFR C677T mutation doesn’t actually mean you’re over or under methylated (although it would be one factor that might push the balance to undermethylation).  Dr. Walsh describes one’s methylation status as being like a tug of war between opposing factors. Many of those are genetic and some are nutritional or environmental.

Undermethylation MTHFR

This is the most common state. According to Dr. Walsh’s research, 70% of the population are normal methylators, 22% are undermethylators and 8% are overmethylators. Undermethylation indicates that the methylation cycle as a whole is slowed down enough that the end product, SAMe, is typically inadequate and thus causes symptoms.

  • Clinically undermethylators are more commonly autism spectrum (98% of autism spectrum clients at the Walsh Research Institute), antisocial disorder (95% of antisocial clients at WRI were undermethylators), schizoaffective disorder (90%), oppositional defiant disorder (85%), anorexia (82%), and depression (which can occur in under, normal or over methylators but 38% of depressed clients for Dr. Walsh are undermethylators).
  • Mutations most likely to contribute to undermethylation are MTHFR (C677T especially, but also A1298C), MS, BHMT, MAT and SAHH. Remember that the presence of one or more of these mutations isn’t enough to say if you’re an over or under methylator. The combination of all of your genetic factors as well as your nutritional state must be taken into account. The best way to determine is through symptoms and traits.
  • Other contributing factors are histamine overload and protein deficiency, as well as frank deficiency of folate.
Highly competitive? You might be undermethylated

Highly competitive? You might be undermethylated

  • Symptoms and traits of undermethylation include:
    • Strong willed
    • Highly competitive at sports or whatever matters to them
    • Obsessive/compulsive tendencies
    • Addictive tendencies (more likely to be addicted with less exposure than a normal methylator)
    • High sex drive
    • Tend towards high accomplishment and usually a high achieving family
    • Appear calm and well controlled (possibly over-controlled) but inner tension is high
    • Greater likelihood of seasonal allergies
    • Higher fluidity of tears, saliva, etc…
    • Perfectionist
    • Less likely to be compliant with therapies
Addictive behaviour? You could be undermethylated. © Francesco Bisignani | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Addictive behaviour? You could be undermethylated. © Francesco Bisignani | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is Undermethylated the Same as Under-supplemented?

No! Although it seems that in a lot of popular literature on the subject people use the term interchangeably. So often you’ll see someone say that you might still be “undermethylated” if you aren’t taking enough 5-MTHF.  I feel that these are different things entirely.  If you have a tendency to be undermethylated then certainly you will probably need to take 5-MTHF, but even once you’re taking enough you are still an undermethylator (in my opinion), you’re just taking the right protocol.  Likewise taking too much 5-MTHF, doesn’t make you suddenly “overmethylated” it just means you’re taking too much.

Okay! I’m Undermethylated. Now What?

Absolutely the best way to enhance the methylation cycle is by taking 5-MTHF, or 5-L methyltetrahydrofolate.  This is the active form of folic acid, and you can also get it from foods, especially if you have some trouble taking the supplement.  Trouble taking the supplement is surprisingly common, typically it is an adjustment reaction to actually enhancing the methylation cycle because this changes neurotransmitter levels, encourages detoxification and encourages more than 80 reactions in the body that are methylation dependent. So some adjustment reaction when you’re first taking 5-MTHF is normal and actually a good sign that things are changing in your body.   There is one BIG EXCEPTION TO THIS, and that is if you are undermethylated and have depression.

I Want to Start Taking 5-MTHF. How Do I Make This Easy?

Any time you start taking 5-MTHF, or increase your dose, there will be an adjustment period.  Here’s a whole post on it.  Just remember, start with a low dose and increase really slowly. This is changing the way your neurotransmitters work and doing some heavy detox work, so it’s vital not to overdo it because that is crazy-making. Start low and go slow.

HELP! I’m An Undermethylator and I Have Depression.

My next post is going to be all about this because UNDERMETHYLATORS WITH DEPRESSION DUE TO LOW SEROTONIN CAN’T TOLERATE 5-MTHF, FOOD SOURCES OF FOLATE OR FOLIC ACID AT ALL. That’s a really big deal! Depression is typically characterized by low serotonin states and unfortunately 5-MTHF (or any folate or folic acid). The short explanation for this is that folate, 5-MTHF and folic acid all increase the activity of the transport protein that re-uptakes serotonin into the cell. Essentially this is the opposite of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (like prozac), it’s a serotonin reuptake promotor – meaning it makes the serotonin you have far less effective because it clears it out more quickly. There will be a whole post on this – I promise!

Lifehack for Weight Loss: Imaginary Food

The easiest life hack for weight loss ever! Imaginary food. Image: Plate, Saucer, And Bowl © Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The easiest life hack for weight loss ever! Imaginary food. Image: Plate, Saucer, And Bowl
© Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This study is truly a case for mind over matter. The study shows that if you’re having a food craving, imagining yourself eating that food gives you the same level of satisfaction as does actually eating that food.  So if you’re at a party staring down a chocolate cake, and you imagine yourself eating and enjoying it, you are less likely to actually eat it.  Also if you do have a piece, you will be more satisfied by a smaller piece than you would be if you hadn’t imagined eating it. Talk about a life hack for weight loss!

Basically this means that imagining eating something is almost as satisfying to your body as actually eating something and the more you imagine eating it the less of it you are likely to eat.  Imagining eating something else doesn’t help.  So if you go to a party and have the choice of chocolate cake and chips, imagining eating the chocolate cake will give you some protection from the temptation of eating chocolate cake, but won’t protect you from eating the chips. Also the more you imagine eating it the less likely you are to actually eat it, so involving yourself in a nice long fudge fantasy can be your anti-fudge vaccine.

Please enjoy this food fantasy and lose weight.

Please enjoy this food fantasy and lose weight.

I think for a long time dieters have tried to never think of the foods they crave for fear that the cravings will get worse, but this study actually shows us that the opposite is true.  Daydreaming about the food you crave actually gives you some satisfaction, brings you some joy and makes that craving less. For once this is great news for weight loss!

For every dieter who is dreading this holiday season, just imagine those yummy Christmas cookies. Have a Christmas cookie fantasy date.   Go ahead and roll around in the cheese dip at the office party (um… in your imagination only.  In real life it doesn’t look good on your resume).  Imagine eating and loving whatever is in front of you right now and then either have a small piece, or move on to the next food daydream because hey – your imagination is your best life hack for weight loss and you’re helping yourself to weight loss success. Because science says so.

MTHFR and depression – what is the link here?

MTHFR mutation is becoming kind of the “in” thing to have at the moment and it seems like everyone talks about MTHFR and anxiety, MTHFR and heart disease, MTHFR and depression. The question is, why does a gene for the enzyme that activates folic acid have anything at all to do with those things?  First off, if this sounds like gibberish, then here’s some background reading on MTHFR and on MTHFR and folate. Now – lets see if we can decode the link between MTHFR and depression, because understanding this can hopefully help a lot of people who are struggling start to regain some normal and some happy in their lives.

What is the Link Between MTHFR and Depression?

At the simplest most basic level, your body needs methylated folate (which is what you don’t make very well if you have the MTHFR mutation) in order to manufacture the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine and also the neurohormone melatonin (which helps with sleep among other things). The methylated folate isn’t used directly for these neurotransmitters, but it helps to make something called BH4, or tetrahydrobiopterin if you want to be technical about it. BH4 is then used to help the neurotransmitters building blocks (which are amino acids) to be converted to the active neurotransmitters that your body uses for brain cell signaling.

This is the link between MTHFR and depression, in not so plain english. Great diagram from Dr. Rostenberg, in this post which goes into the subject in more detail. Dr. R was kind enough to give me permission to use this!

This is the link between MTHFR and depression, in not so plain english. Great diagram from Dr. Rostenberg, in this post which goes into the subject in more detail. Dr. R was kind enough to give me permission to use this!

Um… Still Not Following.

Right – so I honestly don’t think it is hugely beneficial when you’re trying to fix MTHFR  issues in yourself to actually dive too deep into the biochemistry of what is happening because it gets overwhelming really quickly.  Suffice to say that your body has trouble making neurotransmitters if it can’t make BH4 because there just isn’t enough methylfolate. When your body has trouble making neurotransmitters, then you can start to see symptoms including these.

Symptoms of Low Serotonin (Think Negativity and Anxiety):

  • Negative thinking – Pessimistic, cynical or distrusting thoughts.
  • Craving for sweets and starches – Bring on the bread. With a side of fries. These foods temporarily boost serotonin levels in the brain, so you might reach for these more frequently
  • Sleep trouble – You need to make serotonin before you make melatonin (your primary sleep hormone) so this can be a big issue.
  • Low self esteem – Serotonin is one of the chemicals that helps you to feel good about you. Without it, you might feel socially anxious, inferior, or incapable.
  • Anxiety – worry, apprehension, obsessive thoughts and panic attacks are all more likely when your serotonin is low.
  • Aggression – Violence, aggression and suicidal thoughts or actions (violence against yourself) are all symptoms of low serotonin.
  • Impulsive behaviour – Low serotonin can reduce your ability to control impulses.

Symptoms of Low Dopamine (Think No Motivation and No Reward):

  • Lack of Motivation – No real “reason” to do things that matters to you. This also shows up in difficulty getting going in the morning and outright fatigue.
  • Joylessness – Dopamine helps you to actually feel the positive effects of enjoyable things. Without it, everything is a little blah. You have a hard time experiencing pleasure.
  • Memory Loss – Forgetfulness, lack of focus and outright memory loss.

Symptoms of Low Epinephrine and Norepinephrine In the Brain (Think Get Up and Go Got Up and Went)

  • Mentally Worn Out – Mental energy is lacking. All mental effort feels like far too much.
  • Inattention – Can’t really focus on anything.
  • Lack of Excitement – Yeah. Another day in paradise.

The short version of all of this is that without MTHFR you have trouble methylating folate. Without methylated folate, your body lacks Bh4. Without enough BH4, you have low levels of these neurotransmitters and with low levels of these neurotransmitters, everything feels pretty yucky. Like sad, apathetic, anxious, joyless yucky. Is there hope? Hell yes! This isn’t the post for it, but here’s some info about finding the right dose of methylfolate for you, and here’s one about foods that are high in natural sources of folate. It’s a great place to start. Even if you have depression but haven’t confirmed that you have a MTHFR mutation this can be a really great place to start.

MTHFR Basics Podcast

This week I had the lovely opportunity to be on Blog Talk Radio with Erin Chamerlik, The Real Food Revivalist- see Her listeners wanted to know a little bit more about MTHFR mutation.  You can listen to the recording here:

MTHFR Basics Podcast with Dr. Amy Neuzil, ND on The Real Food Revivalist Show

Tune in now to listen to this MTHFR basics podcast.

Tune in now to listen to this MTHFR basics podcast.

Listen for answers to questions like:

  • What is the MTHFR mutation?
  • Is it Common?
  • What are the implications for fertility and mood?
  • What sort of testing is available for MTHFR?
  • How do you start supplementing with 5-LMTHF?
  • Doesn’t this have to do with detoxification too?


I hope you enjoy this free podcast and if you have any questions for me please feel free to post them as comments. 🙂

I Have MTHFR A1298C Mutation – What Does That Really Mean?

MTHFR mutations are just starting to be recognized as an issue and so more and more doctors are testing, but what happens if your doctor tells you that you’re homozygous for MTHFR A1298C? They might as well be speaking Greek! So here’s the skinny on what that really means. Also here’s a post about MTHFR mutation basic in general.

MTHFR A1298C Terminology Basics (or as basic as we’re going to get with genetics).

The simplest level of information here is just the plain genetics.  Here are some quick factoids to get us started:

  • MTHFR is the short name for the genes that code for the enzyme that changes folic acid to the active form that your body uses (the long name is methylfolate reductace).
  • 1298 is the marker for one particular MTHFR gene.
  • The official genetics labeling of this gene is Rs1801131. Sigh.
  • You get one copy of this gene from your mother and one from your father, so there are two possible copies that can be either “normal” or “mutant”
  • If you inherited one good copy and one bad copy that’s called “heterozygous A1298C”
  • If you inherited two bad copies (one from each parent) that’s called “homozygous A1298C”
  • A…C stand for the bases that you actually have.  A = adenine C = cytosine.  Bases are essentially the letters that spell out your genetic code.  There are four of them commonly (C, T, A and G).
  • When this gene is “normal”or “wild type” (I love that name) it looks like MTHFR A1298A.
  • Heterozygous mutations (one good copy and one bad) are MTHFR A1298C because there is one normal A and one abnormal C Also occasionally written 1298AC.
  • Homozygous A1298C (two bad copies) can also be written as C1298C (because there are two abnormal copies with C instead of A). Occasionally you’ll also see it written 1298CC

Phew! So the take-away there is MTHFR A1298C means you have at least one bad copy of this gene, and if it’s called homozygous, or C1298C then you have two bad copies.

How Much of a Problem Is This?

The MTHFR A1298C mutation is considered less serious than the C677T mutation because it seems to cause less impairment to actual methylation function than C677T.  That doesn’t in any way mean that it isn’t an issue. This mutation can still be a significant problem If you don’t have a good diet, don’t take supplements or burden your body with a lot of stressors like smoking, alcohol, drugs, sedentary lifestyle or high stress. If you get lots of dark green leafy veggies, legumes and other food sources of natural folate – see this post – then you’re probably already getting good methylfolate. If your diet isn’t up to scratch, then supplementation can be useful and here’s a whole post about that.

Heterozygous MTHFR A1298C is thought to have mostly normal MTHFR activity  and homozygous MTHFR A1298C (C1298C) have about 65% normal activity (so 35% compromise). Normal activity refers to the way your body converts folic acid to 5-L-methyltetrahydrafolate (the active form) so that it can be used. Compromise in this case looks like a folate deficiency.

What Are The Health Risks of MTHFR A1298C Mutation?

According to SNPedia, which compiles research on genetics, A1298C mutants have been shown in at least one research study to have an increased risk for:

  • Midline defects such as:
    • Cleft lip
    • Cleft palate
    • Neural tube defects
    • Facial asymmetries
  • Cancers including:
    • Breast
    • Lung
    • Brain
    • Stomach
    • Head and neck
    • Kidney
  • Cardiac-related issues including:
    • Thrombosis (increased tendency to clot inappropriately)
    • High homocysteine levels (a heart risk)
    • Pre-eclampsia (dangerous high blood pressure in pregnancy)
    • Vascular dementia
  • Fertility issues including:
    • Multiple pregnancy loss
    • Low sperm count
    • Birth defects such as down syndrome
  • Neurological issues including:
    • Migraines
    • Autism
    • Alzheimer’s dementia
  • Mood and psychological issues including:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Schizophrenia

You’ll notice that this is quite a list, and it can be a little daunting to think about when you’re just learning about this. Most research doesn’t differentiate between the A1298C genetic variance and the C677T genetic variance so the list is the same for both mutations.  We assume the risk is lower with A1298C because the folate metabolism is less strongly impaired, but that might not be correct.

What Do You Do About This?

Compromise with the MTHFR A1298C gene can have severe consequences so it’s important to work on getting good sources of natural folate from foods, which is generally useable by mutants, or 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) which is already methylated so the genetic compromise doesn’t matter.  As discussed in this article, I feel supplementation should be started slowly because for many mutants who haven’t had active folate very much in their lives it feels really strange when those active forms start showing up.  There can be quite an adjustment reaction  by your body.

Activated folate is used by your body to run enzyme pathways, to aid in some parts of normal metabolism, to help your body detoxify and even to methylate your DNA. The methylation cycle is also a big part of neurotransmitter manufacture, which explains the strong link to depression, anxiety, and mental disorders including addictions and even schizophrenia. If 5-Methylfolate  isn’t there then your body does maintains those functions as best it can, but the things your body can’t do start to pile up. Starting supplementation means your body can start digging in that pile to clear up high priority items.  This is exactly what we want, but if you start with high doses of a supplement then it’s a little like drinking from the firehose.  Kind of out of control and not very pleasant.

A great way to start if you’re unsure, is with a folate-rich diet.  I love this image because it kind of covers what we’re looking for.  Hint – think dark greens and beans. 🙂

Is folate in foods safe in MTHFR mutants? In these foods YES! For MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C mutants. Thanks to for the great image.

Is folate in foods safe in MTHFR mutants? In these foods YES! For MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C mutants. Thanks to for the great image.

Can Mutants Become “Normal”?

If you’re a mutant (like me) then you’ll always be a mutant, but it doesn’t have to matter. Essentially as long as you’re getting enough of the active form of folate and taking care of yourself for the other consequences of the MTHFR mutation then the mutation doesn’t have to matter.  If you aren’t taking care of yourself, then it matters a lot.

The bottom line is MTHFR A1298C mutations don’t have to mean anything at all as long as you supplement and have a good diet and lifestyle (here’s an article about a folate-rich diet for MTHFR mutants) I always suggest taking a little more care with yourself too.  There are known health risks for things like clotting, fertility and cancers so it makes sense to take some precautions.  Eat your fiber, do your exercises, get your sleep and generally treat yourself with high regard – shouldn’t we all anyway?

Change Your Life – Sign Your Contract of Personal Responsibility Now

Personal responsibility – it sounds so grown up. So adult.  So dry, in a way.  But the thing is, without it life feels pretty crappy. You get into this slippery state where things just slide by you without really engaging.  The to-do list piles up, the difference between the way you actually are and the way you want to be grows increasingly wider.  Some part of you knows you aren’t living the right life and in the beginning that part is easy to ignore, but that little voice gets louder and louder and shows up in all kinds of mysterious ways.  Why?  Because while you’re letting things slide, you’re also giving away your power.

Your power is the most precious thing you have and you’re letting it slip through your fingers because personal responsibility is hard. It is so easy to give away your own power, and often it slips by you unnoticed.  It happens every time you allow something else to have power over you. What does that mean? Simple. If you aren’t acknowledging ownership, then you’re stating your powerlessness.

Here’s an example.  I had my daughter (lovely girl) 11 months ago today.  She is amazing and wonderful and brings me so much joy and happiness.  She also gives me a great excuse not to do some of the things that are actually necessary for me to live the life I want – like exercise (but I’m running around after a toddler – surely that’s exercise enough) and meditate (who has the time?!?)  That excuse is actually a reason for a while, because really when there’s no sleep and you’re desperately trying to keep your head above water something really does have to give.  But now?  When she has two good naps per day and doesn’t always sleep through the night, but does sometimes.  Now is it a reason? Nope. It’s just the story I’ve been telling myself as I let my personal responsibility, my power, drain away.  Now it’s easy to say that it’s a minor thing, but the person who pays for this is me.  I don’t feel strong in my body (my fault). I notice more of the scattered monkey-mind coming in.  I don’t have my normal energy level.  Why?  Because I’m just not stepping up to the plate.  It could be habit, it could just be that the little voice that recognizes I’m not being the me I want to be hasn’t been loud enough until today.

Red Flags that You Have Given Away Your Power

The red flags are flying out there for everyone to see, but when you’re on the inside they sound perfectly reasonable.  Let’s do the three biggest:

  1. You’re getting further from your goals or standing still. The difference between how you’re living and how you want to be living is getting bigger, not smaller.  You’re moving away from your goals.
  2. You start using powerless words. These could be the words you say out loud and also the words you use in your head. Here are some of the easiest to recognize (but there are plenty more)
    1. I really wanted to, but
    2. I just can’t because you know how bad [the economy, my joints, my marriage, the 2000s …] is…
    3. I’ll get started when [I have the money, I have extra time, aliens land…]
    4. I just have to [do this thing I’ve been saying I”d do for a year but haven’t done yet] first and then I’ll…
  3. Some part of your life feels out of control.  Like you aren’t driving the ship, you’re being driven (or swimming desperately behind). You can’t seem to get around the mess, the clutter, your weight, your health, all the things you haven’t said to your partner, your kids… whatever.

Okay – So That Might Be Me. Now What?

Step 1 is to take back your power. And here’s the quickest way.  This is a take back your power lifehack. I want you to sign a contract with yourself – a contract of personal responsibility. Here’s a .pdf copy to download ContractofResponsibility

Step 1 to taking back your power is to sign a contract of personal responsibility. Nobody can help you but you.

Step 1 to taking back your power is to sign a contract of personal responsibility. Nobody can help you but you.

Step 2 is up to you.  Here’s the thing – it’s easy to keep giving away your power.  To say I can’t because of this or that.  So here are some exercises to do around this:

  1. Try reading the contract out loud to yourself in the mirror.  You may notice that some parts are actually hard to say, or your brain comes up with an instant “but.” Pay attention to what is triggering you.  This may bring up all kinds of anger, indignation, and furious backlash about how someone really is stopping you from doing something. Are they? Are they really? To what degree are you willing to allow that person to continue to have power over you? These are questions only you can answer.
  2. Start to look at your sense of yourself in the world.  Are you adopting a victim place?  Where someone has done something to you and because of that things aren’t right? No doubt there are people who may have done you wrong, people who you have felt haven’t treated you well, or who have outright abused or violated you.  These events can be incredibly hard to get over, but until you do get over it, until you choose to take your power back and stop giving it to that person, you will continue to be powerless.
  3. Forgive, forgive, forgive.  Mostly forgive yourself and move on.

I hope this is helpful, and I’ll have you know I have both exercised and meditated today because the truth is that I just wasn’t taking personal responsibility, and now I am.  I was giving my power away to my daughter, and while I would give her anything in the world if it would actually benefit her, it will benefit her more to see her mom being powerful. Use this lifehack today to take your power back and start taking personal responsibility and if you feel like sharing a story I’d love to hear it in the comments.

The Hard Stats About Stress, Made Beautiful.

Stress is a killer.  We all know it, but it can be shocking to see it – really see it. That’s why I love this infogram that I stumbled across from Katie Hess, the flower guru at LOTUSWEI flower essences. Such an eye opener!  Thanks to Katie and lotuswei for permission to use. 🙂 I’m seriously considering joining the Flowerevolution movement.

Learn the stats about stress with this beautiful LotusWei-Infographic

Learn the stats about stress with this beautiful LotusWei-Infographic

We’ll talk more about alternative ways to reduce your stress level in subsequent posts, but also check here for information about Nine Practices to Create Happiness and here for information about dropping the addiction to overthinking. Now that you know the stats about stress it’s time to do something about it!

Feeling Good about Feeling Good: Part 3 – Learning to Say NO Now.

Saying no is really difficult. Many of us feel guilty, get defensive, or just can’t do it, cave in and say “yes.” We then spend the entire time that we’re doing whatever it was that we didn’t want to do kicking ourselves and regretting all the things we could have been doing with that time. It’s not easy to feel good about feeling good if you’re doing something that you don’t like, didn’t want to do, or just couldn’t get out of. But still, “no” is so final, so absolute, that we shy away from it. Learning to say “no” will liberate you and free you up to say “yes” when you really want to too.

It’s far easier to create a “soft no” like “I would but we’ve got a lot on our plate right now with Billy being sick…” But there is a power and a freedom to just politely saying no without an excuse, and to meaning it.  So when someone nominates you for that committee that sounds awful, for baking cupcakes for the entire grade, for doing the backlog of bookkeeping for the church/charity/neighbor, just say “No thank you.”  And then stop talking. At least that’s the goal.

The Most Dangerous Word in the World

Psychology Today did a wonderful article about saying “no” entitled, you guessed it, The Most Dangerous Word in the World. This article explains that even seeing the word “no” causes your body to release dozens of stress hormones and neurotransmitters. This produces an altered state (really!!) that immediately influences and impairs logic, reason, communication and language processing.  In fact, the word “no” is considered to be under the blanket descriptor of “negative thinking” along with thoughts of disease, calamity, death, social problems, etc… It really is this big.  (Just as an aside, we don’t get this much of a neurological bang with “yes.” In fact the article estimates that we need to have five positive thoughts to counteract the weight of the one negative one. Sigh.)

When you look at the evidence it isn’t any wonder that it’s difficult to say “no.” We are social animals after all. We aim to please.

The Power of “NO” – an Exercise in Boundaries

A couple of years ago TIME magazine did a fantastic article on learning to say “no” without the story, the excuse, the drama (remember the drama? If not refresh your memory about your drama/story here) Letting go of the excuses, the reasons (usually a little bit untrue) why you can’t do something, is absolutely liberating. It’s also really great in terms of creating a solid boundary that then allows you the space to do the things you actually enjoy and value. This article has some great suggestions. One is practice some polite ways, without excuses, to just say no.  They suggest:

  • “I’m sorry – not today”
  • “I can’t this time”
  • “That won’t work for me but I’ll let you know if anything changes”
  • “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I can’t right now”

It’s still polite, you can smile and say it, but it’s also clearly “no.”  Is it easy? Well… no.

Learning to Say “No:” 7 Steps to Help You Get to No Now

This is a learned skill. It’s a life-enhancing, productivity-boosting, boundary-establishing wonder-tool, but it takes a lot of practice and some serious baby steps.  Here’s how to get to “no” effectively.

Learning to say no can be scary, but so very rewarding.

Learning to say no can be scary, but so very rewarding.

  1. Consider your priorities. This doesn’t happen when you’re in front of a person asking you do do/be/buy/sell/produce something that you’re not interested in. This happens now, in a quiet space, where you have time to think about what really matters to you. This might be time with your kids, it might be the concentrated productive effort you need to get a big project done, it might be your health. It could be anything, but you need to know what you really, truly value right now because every time you say “yes” and don’t want to, you’re taking away from this thing.  This is what saying “no” allows you to protect. This is what you’re building the boundaries around.  If you don’t know what matters then you’re not going to work very hard to protect it.
  2. Make the Commitment to Yourself.  You know clearly what is important to you, now it’s all on you to protect it. You have to decide that you’re willing to do some kind of scary personal growth work.
  3. Practice. Just like everything else, saying “no” takes practice and it’s probably best not to start when your overbearing boss drops another project on your overburdened plate. Or when your pastor nominates you for some great thing that you really don’t want to do. Start by saying “no” to the overly pushy sales person at the department store. Say “no” to dessert, even though the waitress was really nice. Say “no” to your best friend (who already knows you’re practicing and supports you fully). For sure say “no” to the creepy European gentleman who wants to put lotion on your hands in the mall (what is that about?!?)
  4. Prepare some scripts. So that when you panic, you have something to say. This isn’t anything complicated, it’s the short, sweet, polite “no” that we talked about above.  “I’m sorry, I can’t right now” or “Not today, but thank you” are my personal favorites.
  5. More Practice. Practice using your scripts. Make sure they roll off your tongue easily and with a smile. No excuses, no junk, just “no.” Keep practicing in low-importance situations where the stakes aren’t high either way.
  6. Be Prepared to Disappoint some Folks, and to Impress Others. There will be times when you will genuinely disappoint someone, and that is hard as a human. The reward, is that you protect the thing that matters most to you. If disappointing that other person matters more than your most valued thing, then go back and say “yes” but 99.9% of the time it won’t.  Also be prepared to receive a surprising amount of respect.  When you can say a polite, sincere “no” it’s an act of power. It’s also a sign of authority, leadership and personal strength. People notice.
  7. Find Strategies for the Boundary Pushers.  Some people will always push, always.  I have a beloved friend who is one of those people who can get me to buy something I’m lukewarm on just because she’s there and shopping with me. Or have another drink I don’t want, or get dessert when I’m already full, or whatever. It’s not because she’s mean, or has bad intentions, it’s because she’s a bucket of fun and I just enjoy her company so much I end up saying “yes” to random crap. The best strategy with her was to confess – I told her I was practicing saying “no” and that I love her dearly, but was going to be saying “no” a lot more and really wanted her support. She stepped up like a champ. Obviously that won’t work with the pushy call from the charity or the neighbor who sells real estate who really wants to list your house, but there will be different strategies for those people. Just single out the pushy people in your life and give it some thought.

Learning to say no can be daunting, but in terms of the payoff it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. It helps to build personal strength, self-respect and positive feelings in your life. Most importantly it gives you space around the things that really matter to you – whether that’s time to do the things you like, money for things that really matter to you, or any other valuable commodity that you are preserving

Feeling Good about Feeling Good: Part 2 – Ignoring Cultural Negativity

Feeling good about feeling good isn’t easy – in fact most of us feel just a little bit guilty or self-conscious when we’re really truly happy.  Our culture doesn’t look favorably on true joyfulness – maybe it’s the puritanical roots?  I talked a lot about it in the first post in this series, which focuses on the personal drama we create.  In this post let’s focus more on the drama and negativity that is culturally conditioned, because as it turns out, there’s a ton of it.

Step 2 to Feeling Good: Ignoring Cultural Negativity

The great myth of Western culture is that we are more financially blessed and privileged as a society and so it logically follows that we must also be happier than other societies, and that those two things are related. Like the happiness maybe comes from something we’ve earned, or bought or treated ourselves to. This isn’t the case. In fact, a remarkable body of research called the “World Happiness Report” found that financial factors play a small part, but social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity and the perception of corruption also have big roles to play. The World Happiness project essentially does a mountain of research to determine which countries are the happiest and how that happiness changes with large world events. The results are highly surprising. Here’s a look at the top 10 countries (U.S. came in #13 if you’re curious) and the key showing what each color represents:

Feeling good about feeling good - the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

Feeling good about feeling good – the top 10 happiest countries according to the World Happiness Report. (see link in text).

THese are the factors that matter in happiness - financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in "dystopia."

These are the factors that matter in happiness – financial wellbeing, social support, health (as life expectancy) generosity, honesty or corruption of the society you live in and the general angst of your country, summed up in “dystopia.”

All well and good, but what does this mean for our own happiness?  Here are a few key points, in the form of actions you can take to boost your happy:

  •  Stop Watching the News.  Especially North American News. Why? Because sadly journalism is a huge industry now and the thing that makes news sell is fear or moral outrage.  More people watch more news if it’s scarier, more shocking or more directly threatening to you and generally that means spinning information to have the maximum impact. News is made scarier, bigger, more fearful,  more threatening, more anger-provoking or inciting. This is not because the world is more fearful, only because news is a business and fear sells. But really, do you need more anxiety hormones coursing through your bloodstream? Really?
  • Let go of Crisis Planning. We are kind of a nation of catastrophizers – everything is going to be something awful. The media has some impact on this because if you listen to the news it sounds like there’s going to be a terrorist showing up on your street at any moment. It’s also just human nature to fear the worst and for god’s sake we have a whole industry of Worst Case Scenario Survival Guides and Zombie Apocalypse Kits. I mean really. Ironically in the World Happiness Report (I’ll call it WHR for short) countries that were impacted by some crisis actually became happier if the social structure was strong (and unhappier if it wasn’t, which leads us to our next point).
The report provided evidence of an interaction between social capital and economic or other crises, with the crisis providing a test of the quality of the underlying social fabric.
If the fabric is sufficiently strong, then the crisis may even lead to higher subjective well-being, in part by giving people a chance to work together towards good purpose, and to realize and appreciate the strength of their mutual social support; and in part because the crisis will be better handled and the underlying
social capital improved in use.
  • Help Your Neighbors.  That whole “social fabric” thing that they’re talking about it something that you and I can actually impact.  Social fabric is strong if you’re in a community that would get out there and make sure everyone has food and water if the sh*t really did hit the fan. It’s weak if you feel like everyone in your neighborhood would get their gun to safeguard their food and water from looters.  So how do we live in a society with good social fabric? Start simple by being a good neighbor and society will follow.
  • Don’t Judge. Sure sure, haters going to hate, but you don’t have to be one of them.  The WHR shows that freedom to make life choices is a really big deal for happiness and that includes the freedom legally but also socially. This means if you don’t feel like you can do what you want to do (even if it’s legal but socially unacceptable) then your happiness is impacted. Likewise if you’re adding to someone else’s feeling of not-being-able-to-do then you’re making them less happy (and yourself as well).  At the end of the day every human on this planet is doing the best they can with what they have so being a little easier on them would help all around.
  • Fix What You Can, Drop Everything Else. Someone else said this better than I will ever be able to, so whether you’re a religious person or not, I’m guessing you can grok this:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and  wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

  • Give Away. Generosity is a simple step to happiness that you have complete and utter control over. You can choose at any moment to give something to someone, to be generous with kindness, with your smile, with laughter, with love.  And it makes YOU happy. You feel good when you help others feel good plain and simple.
  • Practice Pronoia.  I *love* the whole concept of pronoia as visioned by Rob Brezsny. Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia and involves the deep seated belief that the Universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings.  Sure, you could expect the worst, but this is far happier. It is just as likely that the Universe is sneaking up on you to make all your dreams come true as it is that it’s out to get you so might as well engage in some constructive fantasy of the former, rather than the latter (I wrote a  whole post on this too).
  • Learn Optimism. There’s a whole body of research that suggests joy is a talent that you can practice, cultivate and increase just like any other talent.  Let’s do that and start feeling good about feeling good. In fact, there’s a whole book on it.

Feeling Good About Feeling Good: Part 1 – Dropping the Drama

I’ve been seeing an alarming trend a lot in clients, friends and myself. It seems like everyone feels just a little bit guilty when they are feeling good.  Somehow as humans we are a little bit unsure that we deserve to be happy, or healthy, or whole or generally unburdened.  There’s kind of a resting level of guilt, anxiety and martyrdom that everyone acknowledges, recognizes, and accepts as their due.

It’s not quite social acceptable to actually feel good, be optimistic or have a positive world view.  Although it is socially acceptable to put on a brave face, to soldier through, and to rally under pressure. But why? And more importantly, how do we stop buying into that ridiculously destructive collective insanity? We’ll make this a series, because I’m guessing we can talk a bit about it. 🙂

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Feeling good about feeling good. Un-learn your story today to get a little breathing room in the feeling good department. Lovely photo from Renesis on wikimedia commons.

Step 1 to Feeling Good: Allowing Yourself The Benefits of Drama, Without the Drama.

Here’s the thing. You love drama. You will deny this, but at a fundamental level all humans do. You LOVE drama. You crave it (I do too). Here’s why:

  • Having drama means you’re important enough to have drama – this meets our craving for status, influence, recognition.
  • It means your lire is exciting in some way (even if it’s a bad way). Internally this has a lot of value for all of us humans – we like to have interesting things to talk about. This is also about status and recognition, but also just good socializing.
  • It means you have an excuse to be “too busy” to do the things you didn’t want to do anyway or to take on the extra projects/duties/responsibilities/crap that you didn’t want to take on anyway.This allows us a graceful way to say no, because saying no is really hard.
  • Drama gets sympathy points from everyone else, and on some level we all love both sympathizing with someone else, and also getting sympathy. This is sort of what makes us human, and a community. This meets a big need for care and community from the people around us.

So – the goal here is recognizing when we really have something going on and honor that – make time and space, take what we need and be human. Also to recognize when we’re just creating drama, exaggerating a situation, or making excuses. Sometimes there really is drama and that’s life, but lots of times there really isn’t and in those moments we can just drop it.  Differentiating can be incredibly difficult, but it’s so liberating to stop making excuses, gossiping about yourself and your problems, and just be.

Recognizing when you’re Creating Drama

If you can learn to let go of the story and find what you need in another way, then things do actually get a whole lot simpler. It becomes easy to answer the question “How are you?” with a “great” rather than a dramatic story about how bad/busy/stressed/tired/overworked/crazy/etc… you are. Or to answer the “how are you” question with a “crappy” if that’s the real answer.  There doesn’t have to be a story, sometimes it’s just crappy. But all in all, letting go of your story makes it easier to just feel good. To feel good about feeling good even. Here are some ways to recognize when you’re making something more difficult than it needs to be:

What is Your Story?

Sometimes there is a story that they (or I ) tell over and over in some version that becomes sort of routine.  It’s the story you don’t have to think about, you just tell, and it usually gets an emotional reaction – sympathy, moral outrage on your behalf, something.  Often it starts with a phrase like “You wouldn’t believe…” or “Guess what’s happening now…” or “Listen to this…” and the other person responds by emoting. In many ways we are mutually entertained by this, but we also kind of get stuck in the cycle of that being the way things are because we’re getting positive reinforcement. The relevant question to ask when you notice your story, is:

Is this the way I actually want to be in the world? Or am I perpetuating a story that doesn’t need to exist?

I’ll give you the example that I am working on letting go of – this is my “story”.

You wouldn’t believe how busy I am! I’ve really bitten off more than I can chew between [insert random obligation here] and [another random obligation] I feel like I hardly have any time at all. And now my boss is asking me to [yet another obligation].

My typical story is all about being busy. SO busy. SO VERY busy. And it’s usually told as a bid for sympathy and also a bit of a brag, all rolled into one. Which is recognizably absurd – I know. Ironically it has taken me years to notice that this is my story, and as much time to sort out why.  As it turns out it’s because I perceive my value in the world to be about the things I do – the activities and the accomplishments and the ways I’m productive in the world. So by being so busy, I”m also being “so valuable” (sort of sad, right?)

The most absurd part is that while I’m telling that story I continue to perpetuate it – I take on more projects, I say yes to the next random obligation, I sleep less and try to do more.  CLEARLY this is me creating my own drama and recognizing my story can help me to stop telling it.

Letting Go Of Your Story

To start letting go of your story you have to start to recognize what you personally get out of it. This is different for every person and requires some painful soul searching. Here’s the list of things I think I get from my story:

  • Value – by telling this story some part of me feels valuable – I’m doing things.
  • Emotional connection– other people express sympathy for my workload – it’s a way to know that people care about me and to feel connected.
  • Kudos – doing it all with a smile makes me “brave” or “good” or some other undefinable something.
  • Excuses – I get to say no with good reason to the things I really don’t want to do.  I Don’t even have to say “no” I can say “I would love to, but…”

For me letting go of this story means finding other ways to get or do those things, better ways. As absurd as it sounds this is actually deeply emotional work. For most people, the story that they tell is reflective of some deeply held beliefs about the world and their place in it, and it’s usually a kind of dysfunctional way of going about it.

  1. Recognize Your Story – this has to be the first step. You can’t change it unless you see what it is.  It’s harder than it looks and the best way to figure it out is to ask your friends. Not acquaintances, but the people who have known you for years. They will know your story right away and if you give them permission, they will usually be able to tell you.  Make sure you ask when you’re in an emotional place to actually hear them and not get defensive about what they say because it can be hard to hear.
  2. Pay Attention When You’re Telling It – start to notice what you feel when you’re telling your story.  Notice how the other person reacts and how that makes you feel. Check in to see if there are benefits that you get out of this.
  3. Build Your List of Things You Get From Your Story – you have to know what you’re getting out of it to be able to change it.
  4. One At A Time Find Other Ways to Get Those Things – this is the really hard part, and it will be different for every person. I”ve used a number of tools to separate my emotional feeling that my value is in what I do (not who I am) with the logical recognition that this doesn’t make sense. This has included Byron Katie’s “The Work,” hypnotherapy, meditation and a lot of personal contemplation (not to mention years of homeopathy and the occasional counselor thrown in there). It’s also included growing enough of a spine to learn to say no (we’ll do a whole post on that).
  5. Un-Learn Your Story – practice not telling your story. Recognize the situations when you would normally launch in, and don’t.  It feels awkward to not say it, it feels like there’s a weird conversational faux-pas happening, but just don’t give in. Practice first with friends and ask them to give you gentle reminders when you’re launching into your story.  Ask them to help you notice.
  6. Be Gentle With Yourself – this is far more difficult than you think it’s going to be.  It involves looking at your own most vulnerable pieces. The parts of you that learned something in childhood that your adult brain now has to sort through.
  7. Start Feeling Good about Feeling Good – this is what it’s all about.  You’re dropping your story so that you can let go of dysfunctional ways of getting what you need. This is about learning to feel good without using drama as a crutch. It’s about learning to feel good about feeling good and not letting guilt (about being happy) get in the way of actually being happy. We humans are crazy hairless monkeys, so we might as well enjoy it and not get all neurotic.

It can be tremendously liberating to let go of your story, but it also takes time. Just be gentle with yourself and ease your way into feeling good about feeling good.