Rx 21 The How of Lasting Change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

Rx 20 discussed what are some of the things that must be done to correct structural inequalities. Yet, how can we come together to create change when people are polarized? This video offers a way for how people can come together and create lasting change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge.

Although I created this video in 2018 on the 90th birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers, the message is still relevant today. Mr. Rogers was an American television personality who achieved iconic status. He was the producer and host of the much-loved, long-running children’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which was widely viewed by children of all backgrounds in the United States.

Note: This video has been reviewed by Mr. Joe Negri, who played played Handy Man Negri on the show and by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford, who is also featured in the video in connection with his landmark work on how children learn aggression and violence through observation of others. Mr. Rogers was motivated to create a show for children because of the educational potential of television, and because he was unhappy about the extent of violence on television already present in the 1950’s.

Mindfulness Webinar Open to the Public, May 20, 2020

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is helpful in stress reduction and coping with difficult circumstances. It is also backed up by research in the psychology of health and wellbeing and will improve your quality of life, even if you are unable to change a lot of things at this time.

If you would like to participate in an interactive learning experience that is practical and immediately applicable to your daily life, please consider registering for my forthcoming webinar on May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. You can register here: Access Your Inner Calm – Mindfulness Made Accessible to All.

In this webinar you will experience my unique way of teaching mindfulness, such that you can immediately apply it in your life and benefit from it.

If you have never attempted mindfulness practice, or if your previous attempts at mindfulness have been unsuccessful, I encourage you to give this a try.

My teaching method enables people to immediately apply the learnings even if they lead busy lives and don’t have much time to dedicate to a traditional mindfulness practice.

Since 1996, I have taught mindfulness in universities, hospitals, professional settings, religious organizations, adult education and businesses in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Hong Kong and Thailand.

My focus is on practical steps you can take to integrate mindfulness into your daily life, such that it supports clarity when making decisions under stress. In this webinar you will learn how to maintain calm and a feeling of peace, even in difficult situations.

The proceeds from this workshop will support this website and blog. As the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected our financial situation, I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work, and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.

Rx 17 Notice the Small Things in Your Life That are Sources of Joy and Meaning

By Dr. S.D. Shanti ©2020, Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

Difficult situations can overshadow what is going well in your life, and the COVID-19 pandemic is like a giant shadow over all of our lives. There are many difficulties and challenges we are forced to accept. So many things are beyond our control and simple activities like visiting a friend or relative have become impossible.

As you work thorough the challenges, it is important to recognize and cultivate the good that is present in your life.

What are some of the good things, right in front of you, that you might be overlooking? 

You may have to stretch your mind to notice the positive elements in your life. Try noticing the good, however small it might seem in the moment. Such things can be a source of joy and offer an uplift.

You don’t have to jump up and down clapping your hands. Noticing what is good in your life can be as simple as appreciating subtle things, such as the color of the sky, or listening to comedy or your favourite music on YouTube.

Mindfulness, practiced in its simplest form, for instance only sixty-seconds of focused attention, can nevertheless enable you to become aware of things that you may otherwise miss. If you like, you can just watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe and appreciate the intricacy of the human body.

What small things give you joy? Is it the smile of your child or grandchild? Might it be a joke that a friend shared with you in the course of a phone call? I’d love to hear about the simple joys in your life and invite you to share them below.

For Your Information: On May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, I will be doing a webinar through Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. It is is open to the public and all proceeds will support the bookstore and our work during this difficult time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our financial situation negatively. Thus I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.

Rx 11 Self Efficacy: the Antidote to Hopelessness

Please scroll below for translation of this prescription and for more information about self-efficacy and the children’s story.

Even if you’re not familiar with the classic American children’s story The Little Engine That Could, which illustrates the concept of self-efficacy, the message of the book is universally relevant. Research from around the world proves the importance of self-efficacy in helping people effectively manage their lives and overcome obstacles.
If you’re interested in seeing the book and hearing the original story, here is a link on YouTube.

Translation of Prescription
Rx When you feel hopeless, say to yourself what the little engine in the children’s story said to itself over and over again, as it worked hard to reach its goal: “I think I can…I think I can…”

This illustrates a concept called self-efficacy. It is the belief that you have in your ability to do something, even when it is difficult. Repeat this to yourself and defeat hopelessness. Research shows this is the most important predictor of success. It is your antidote to hopelessness. If you think you can, it is very like that you will!

Rx 10 Each Time You Feel Frustrated, Irritated or Upset – Brush Your Mind

Thank you for sharing this widely, especially during this stressful time.
Please scroll down for translation.

For more details about how to brush your mind please see Rx 9

Rx Each Time You Feel Frustrated, Irritated, or Upset – Brush Your Mind

  • Breathe from your belly slowly
  • Move – dance, walk, clean your house or any other constructive activity
  • Sing or chant
  • Connect with a friend or loved one
  • Remind yourself of what is going well, even when life is not perfect

Rx 9 To Be At Your Best Emotionally – Brush Your Mind

Please share this so we can get everyone engaging in mental hygiene regularly, in the same way many millions of people practice oral hygiene. Thank you!
Please scroll below for translation of text in the image.

Rx Do for your mind as you do for your teeth everyday: Brush Your Mind Everyday

  • Breathe with your belly and exhale slowly
  • Move your body – dance, walk or anything positive
  • Sing or chant – even if you think you can’t
  • Connect with a friend or loved one – via phone call, text, email or video, even if you cannot meet in person
  • Remind yourself of what is going well, even if your life is not as you would like it to be.

Rx 8 Guided Meditation Video: Access Your Inner Peace Quickly and Easily 6 minutes

Peace is always within you and this guided meditation shows you how you can be in touch with it as often as needed. You can use this as part of your daily routine or you can also use as needed when feeling tense or overwhelmed. In other words, you can use this video to brush your mind as needed.

You can follow the video with your eyes closed, or if you prefer to relax with your eyes open, you can enjoy the progression of the lotus flowers. I chose this flower because of what it symbolizes. The lotus flower grows in the mud and muck yet rises above that and offers beauty.

You can think of this as a symbol for your life, in that one part of your life is grounded in various daily realities (including the daily grind…) but you always have another part of you and another aspect of your life that transcends the daily reality, and offers you access to uplifts, beauty, meaning, and if you are so inclined, the sacred. It is a reminder that our lives can be lived on two planes and there is more to life than just the difficulties, hassles, and yes even the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rx 7 Emotional Coping with COVID-19 Video 2:40 minutes in length

This short video explains how you can brush your mind to help you more effectively manage negative emotions. Make this a part of your daily mental hygiene routine and brush your mind more often when you find yourself in difficult circumstances. (Please note, I have close captioned this in English and just added subtitles in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hindi, Korean, Chinese and Portuguese. You can access them via clicking the setting on the video. The Chinese and Portuguese did not come out perfectly…and I am working to have those re-done, but there should still be enough to get you started. Thanks for your patience.)

Please share so we can get everyone brushing their minds.

Let’s Get Everyone Brushing…Their Minds!

By SD Shanti, March, 2014. Invited blog post for the Public Interest Directorate of the American Psychological Association. Presented here in full text to facilitate translation.

What do you get when you mix a pediatric dentist with a clinical psychologist, and toss in a master’s degree in public health?

Someone who wants to get the whole world brushing – brushing their teeth, and their minds!

Let’s face it. Preventing depression and violence is a hard sell, even harder than preventing dental caries.

Sure, we have lots of data from experts informing us about the extent of these problems, and we even have research-based information on how to prevent them. We know we can often prevent depression and violence, but why haven’t our efforts taken hold?

What I discovered in the course of my public health journey is that most people are not interested in these issues – even though they affect millions of people around the world. Among those who are interested, many are discouraged or unclear about what to do.

I believe, however, that the “Brush Your Mind” concept just might be a useful way forward.

Where we are Today

I admire and respect the late George Albee, Howard Markman, and Ricardo Muñoz for their work in prevention science. Although they’re world-renowned experts in their fields, their work has yet to be integrated into the mainstream, the way it deserves to be.

Howard Markman has had best-selling books and he’s even been on Oprah. But some years ago when I asked him about the extent to which his work had diffused within society, he responded “a drop in the bucket.”

Unfortunately, he’s right!

What will be Psychology’s Space Program?

Various fields have broken barriers and reached milestones, resulting in a collective shift of imagination. For aviation, it was defying gravity, reaching the moon and going beyond. What might it be for psychology?

I propose that for psychology, the public first needs to know and believe that it is possible to prevent or reduce psychological distress – because people cannot desire something that they don’t even know exists.  Then we will be poised to vaccinate (metaphorically) our world against violence and depression – two of the most widespread public health issues of our time.

The behavioral sciences offer us the psychological equivalent of vaccines. These include programs that can prevent violence and depression.  Just as vaccines don’t prevent all illnesses, these “psychological vaccines” cannot prevent all problems. Nevertheless, when used in a systematic and ongoing way, they will yield the following benefits to millions of people:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Reduce health care costs
  • Reduce the incidence of depression and violence.

Challenges in Translating and Communicating Psychological Research

One of the challenges in improving health through the translation of psychology is that we have a plethora of theories.  If we dig around enough in the literature, we find that they all, in some way or another, account for some degree of change.

While this may be a researcher’s dream, it’s also a translator’s nightmare.

Additionally, we’re flooded by masses of data informing us about complex problems with multi-factorial etiologies. This makes it difficult to create tidy sound bites – which are frequently the most that an oversaturated and time-starved public can realistically take in.

What we need is a means of addressing problems in a way that is simple, without being simplistic; and we need to do so in a way that promotes hope and self-efficacy on the part of the public.

Lessons from Preventive Dentistry

During my search for doctoral programs in psychology, I came across George Albee’s question “What is the mental health equivalent of fluoride?” It was a critical question that strongly influenced my approach to psychology.

In 2002, I immersed myself into the world of depression prevention and violence prevention. The various approaches to understanding behavior were intellectually interesting – but equally frustrating. It was difficult to find clarity and consensus.

In 2005, while leading an international nonprofit organization focused on violence and depression prevention, I attended a program for nonprofit leaders at Stanford. I heard Robert Sutton talk about innovation – and how one way to innovate is to look at advances in one field, and transfer those processes to another.

Sutton’s words empowered me to go to the next level – to go beyond fluoride and look for additional lessons within preventive dentistry that could advance the field of mental health.

Metaphors for Self-Regulation

I began with the widely-known phrase “mental floss,” to symbolize self-regulation – a construct common to the prevention of depression and violence. But in 2007, I discovered that term was copyrighted by a magazine. After having incubated “mental floss” in my head for some years, I was disappointed and frustrated.

During that time, I was a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University, where Albert Bandura and Philip Zimbardo were my sponsors. My time with them amounted to “marinating my brain” as I deepened my search for cost-effective public health methods to address the global problems of depression and violence.

Now I must confess that I don’t always floss my teeth everyday. I floss often and see its value. But each time I floss, it’s effortful, not automatic like brushing my teeth. My patients brushed daily, even when they didn’t floss regularly. And brushing one’s teeth is much more of a universal activity, as more people in the world brush their teeth than ever floss.

From these insights, I realized that it was no great loss to let go of “mental floss.” Even more important than flossing is brushing – and out of that I arrived at “Brush Your Mind.” And the act of brushing one’s mind meshed harmoniously with Albert Bandura’s writings on agency and self-regulation.

A Weird Idea that Works

Sometimes talking about “Brush Your Mind” was like a flash back to my high school nerd moments, when I spoke out about propellants in underarm sprays that harmed the environment. People were amused – but no one cared enough to let their under-arms stink or even switch to a roll-on.  Now, here I was a grown-up talking about a goofy sounding concept to promote mental health and sometimes I got the same looks I got in high school.

So, I took solace in three things:

  • Pediatric dentistry gave me poetic license to use humor and silliness – because they are as essential to our profession as drills and needles.
  • Robert Sutton’s book, Weird Ideas that Work, gave me hope that “Brush Your Mind” just might be one of those weird ideas that work.
  • And most importantly, although other people ridiculed me, Albert Bandura and Philip Zimbardo never did. They took my ideas and idealism seriously.

After my time at Stanford, I continued R & D on my own, working out details of the mental toothbrush. In 2013, I produced an animation video of Brush Your Mind and showed it to Samuel Dworkin (also a dentist-psychologist at the University of Washington), and Donald Meichenbaum.

My peer-reviewed video received two thumbs up.

Post publication author’s note: In addition to these two colleagues above, this video has been reviewed by other psychologists and mental health professionals.

Emboldened, I submitted an editorial on this topic to the Arizona Republic.  The responses I received from the Editor, mental health professionals, and lay readers (from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia) were gratifying.

Now I know.

As strange as “Brush Your Mind” might sound, it’s a sound idea after all!

Going Global to Reach the Tipping Point

The next step is to launch a public health campaign to promote the world-wide adoption of “Brush Your Mind.” For that, I continue to draw upon lessons from Robert Sutton, Philip Zimbardo, and Albert Bandura:

  • From Sutton: The lateral transfer of successTranslation: Roll out “Brush Your Mind,” modeled after “Brush Day and Night” – a global public-private partnership that extended to over 25 countries, and which I co-lead in 2010 when I was Head of Public Health at the World Dental Federation in Geneva.
  • From Zimbardo: Keep your messages clear, focused and easily understandable.Translation: Stay true to science, and make the content practical and accessible – even to children and adults of varying literacy levels.
  • From Bandura: Promote self-efficacy, model the desired behavior, and lots more…Translation: Join me and find out!

If we, as humans, can be so creative and ingenious as to explore the farthest reaches of outer space, surely we can make life here on Earth better for everyone. It doesn’t call for rocket science – we can do it with behavioral science.