We are reminded often to take care of that important organ that keeps us alive on a physical level. We endeavor to eat heart-healthy foods, move our bodies, and appreciate the blood flowing throughout our arteries and veins.
But what about the role of the heart on other levels including self-love, compassion, and fun?
I will suggest in this article that taking care of our hearts at this non-physical level is as important or even more important than the things we do at the physical level.
I provide information on three simple practices for a healthy (whole) heart:
1. Practice Self-Love
3. Laugh More
Are you ready? Let’s go….
We’ll start by reviewing the work of psychotherapist Dr. Kelly Turner, who identified the nine characteristics of people who experienced spontaneous healing:
1. They make radical changes in their diet
2. They take control of their health
3. They follow their own intuition
4. They use herbs and supplements
5. They release suppressed emotions
6. They embrace social support
7. They increase positive emotions
8. They deepen their spiritual connection
9. They have a strong reason for living (Turner, 2015)
As we see, the physical aspects are important as noted in characteristics 1 (diet), 2 (health), and 4 (herbs and supplements). But these aspects total to just under one-third of the total picture of spontaneous healing and potentially optimal health. The broad spectrum of issues involved suggests a holistic (or whole-person) approach to optimal health, as opposed to the reductionistic model that we often experience in traditional approaches in both medicine and coaching.
Now, let’s go into detail about three tips for whole-person heart health:
Tip #1. Practice self-love.
Sometimes good health starts from within. One of the biggest ways that we “hit our own inner glass ceiling” is by not letting go of limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are deep-rooted, often unconscious, statements that occur from when we experienced something in childhood that we didn’t understand and couldn’t process. An example might be as follows: A young child wants his mother to pay attention to him, but she is too exhausted, busy, and consumed with a difficult marriage. Feeling desperate for attention, the child acts out with a temper tantrum. Not being able to handle the boy’s temper tantrum, the mother sends the boy to his room for hours, giving the boy the opposite of what he really wanted (he wanted attention but got rejection). This young boy might adopt a limiting belief along the lines of, “it’s not right for me to be angry.”
In his excellent book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Mate, M.D., lays out the following eight limiting beliefs in the chapter “Biology of Belief” (based on the groundbreaking work of Dr. Bruce Lipton).
-I have to be strong
-It’s not right for me to be angry
-If I’m angry, I will not be lovable
-I am responsible for the whole world
-I can handle anything
-I’m not wanted/I’m not lovable
-don’t exist unless I do something
-I must justify my existence I have to be very ill to deserve being taken care of
Limiting beliefs create blocks and fear within us, and they limit our ability to fully love ourselves. Breaking down these blocks is a critical part of self-love. For more information about how to overcome limiting beliefs, I suggest listening to these podcast interviews I did with Brainspotting practitioners Beth Medina and Nancy Tung. A really simple way to practice self-love and self-acceptance simple repeat to yourself (especially when those limiting beliefs come up) a Hawaiian prayer called Ho’oponopono. It goes like this:
please forgive me
I love you.
Try Ho’oponopono this month for yourself as you work on self-love.
Tip #2: Journal
The process of writing in a journal provides support for healing in a number of ways, including allowing for the processing of thoughts and emotions, expressing gratitude, tracking progress towards goals, and seeing things from a different perspective. Journaling can also reduce stress, strengthen relationships, facilitate communication, and even improve sleep (Cain, 2010).
Keeping a thought journal is a way to release suppressed emotions. You can take time at lunch and at bedtime (try it for at least two weeks) and write down thoughts as well as emotional reactions to events of the day. Dr. Michael DeMaria (2016) recommended in his book, Peace Within: Clear Your Mind, Open Your Heart, Embrace Your Soul and Heal Your Life, a “peace within” journal that provides a log of one’s progress across the areas of body, mind, heart, soul, relationships, and life. The process of journaling can allow you to uncover the automatic and intermediate thoughts and beliefs (see more about CBT therapy here). Journaling over time may also allow us to uncover schema at a deeper, subconscious, level. Thus, journaling allows for greater freedom and joy in life as we release the past in order to be more present.
Tip #3: Laugh More
The effectiveness of fun and laughter and improving the function of the immune system was made famous by Dr. Norman Cousins (2005) and his book, Anatomy of An Illness: As Perceived by the Patient. Positive emotions such as love, hope, faith, and laughter not only make us feel good in the moment but assist our bodies in achieving optimal health. Expression of positive emotions has been shown to promote positive changes in breast cancer participants such as an improved quality of life, well‐being, hope, and optimism (Casellas-Grau, Font, & Vives, 2013). For optimal health in life, we can choose positivity over negativity.
Note, this choice for positivity does not necessarily come naturally and requires some work. According to Marci Shimoff (2009), we have 60,000 thoughts every day, and 80% of those thoughts are negative. Negative thoughts release toxic chemicals into our bodies, while happiness-generating neurochemicals, such as endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin are created by happy thoughts that we choose. The University of Pennsylvania has an entire department in its school of Psychology just for coursework on positive psychology. Fun and laughter incorporate both the benefits of a boost to the immune system as well as all of the supportive principles proven in the field of positive psychology. Fun and laughter support your success in life (and your heart health!) by leveraging positivity to focus on what is going well in your life journey as opposed to what is not going as well.
Need some content that is likely to make you laugh? Here are some links to some videos- hopefully at least ONE will make you giggle!
British Animal Voice Overs: https://youtu.be/cV6I1_o6vrY
Bob Newhart, “Stop It”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw
Jimmy Fallon: Jack Black playing the Sax-a-Boom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLmCJKT5ssw&t=2
John Maloney: Horse in a Hospital: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhkZMxgPxXU
Saturday Night Live: Down by the River: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xv2VIEY9-A8
Amazon Echo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvT_gqs5ETk
Monty Python and the Holy Grail Bunny Attack Scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnOdAT6H94s
Dana Carvey SNL Choppin’ Broccoli: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mXIL_LKvv
Carol Burnett Blunders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIqofVwYi4I
Young Frankenstein: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tD6A2WTW0wM
Ellen’s Never-Ending Scares: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr7bRw0NxQ4
Squatty potty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbYWhdLO43Q
Slay Your Poo-Stink with the Golden Fart of the Mystic Unicorn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUfS_2UGftg
Jim Carey Ace Ventura: “Do not go in there”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUfS_2UGft
Mick Jagger Told John Maloney “He’s Not Funny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWrKf5ik1i4
Wheel of Music Impressions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ss9ygQqqL2Q
The Break-Up, the dinner table singing scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bwWUCfuP0w
Steve Martin (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eF8QAeQm3ZM
I hope you have a February that is full of self-love, journaling, and laughter!
Parts of this article were originally published on my blog within the posts How to Be Good to Your Heart and Tips for a Healthier Heart and Brain.
Cain, M. J. (2010). Therapeutic journaling promotes healing. Soldiers Magazine, 65(5),12-14.
Carter, A., Blackman, A., Hicks, B., Williams, M., & Hay, R. (2017). Perspectives on effective coaching by those who have been coached: Coachee perspectives on effective coaching. International Journal of Training and Development, 21(2), 73-91. doi:10.1111/ijtd.12098
Casellas‐Grau, A., Font, A., & Vives, J. (2014). Positive psychology interventions in breast cancer. A systematic review: Positive interventions in breast cancer. Psycho‐Oncology, 23(1), 9-19. doi:10.1002/pon.3353
Cousins, N. (2005). Anatomy of an illness: As perceived by the patient. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
DeMaria, M. B. (2016). Peace within: Clear your mind, open your heart, embrace your soul and heal your life. Pensacola, FL: Ontos World Press.
Shimoff, M. (2009). Happy for no reason: 7 steps to being happy from the inside out. New York, NY: Free Press.
Turner, K. A. (2015) Radical remission: Surviving cancer against all odds. New York, NY: Harper One.
Note: In 2020 I took part in a nine-month coach training program to reach my PCC level of coaching with the Human Potential Institute (affiliated with Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof model). Research from 296 industry professionals in 34 countries, who either had received or were currently receiving coaching, shows that coaching works in allowing individuals to achieve greater success towards goals (Carter, 2017).