THE BLOG
17/12/2013 06:00 GMT | Updated 15/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Eight Things You Can Do Right Now to Benefit From a Self-Regulation Practice

How much would you pay for a prescription that improved academic, athletic, and work performance? What if it also had a positive impact upon interpersonal connection and communication, frequency of positive mood, quality of sleep, ability to be focused and patient, cardiovascular and immune system function, confidence, resilience, creative problem solving, pain tolerance, empathy, compassion, self-awareness, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and cognitive processing speed?

Wait.What if the side effects of this prescription were reductions in stress, anxiety, depression, worry, insecurity, substance abuse, hostility, reactivity, intensity of negative mood, burnout, fatigue, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and disordered eating?

The good news is that such a prescription exists, and it does not require a doctor's visit. A large and growing body of research shows that deliberately and consistently practicing self-regulation - being present, open, and purposeful - makes a dramatic difference in the quality of people's lives. The list of effects that comes from the practice of mindfulness, positivity, and self-discipline seems too good to be true, but perhaps one of the best things about a self-regulation practice is that it can be incorporated into literally everything that you do.

Self-regulation practice has three components:

Being Present:Bring your attention to the events that are occurring around you and to the thoughts and sensations that give meaning to these events.

Being Open:Take a breath, expand your body posture, and smile gently. Access the internal experience of curiosity, kindness, and gratitude.

Being Purposeful:Ask yourself what is important, what is really possible, and what you can do next.

Self-regulation practice is not about being a control freak - it is about working with what shows up in a way that cultivates what you want more of in your life. If you want greater peace, calm, focus, kindness, and connection in your life, then these are precisely the things you must practice. Ancient wisdom such as the Golden Rule and the Law of Karma point to one truth - be careful what you practice, because you are going to get more of it. This principle is supported by the scientific concept of neuroplasticity - "neurons that fire together wire together." In simpler terms, practice leads to skill, and everything you do is practice.

This kind of practice is not something that many of us were trained to do from a young age. When we begin a new practice, it is easy to forget or get discouraged and let it fade. My clients often tell me "it's hard." It is worth looking closely at this statement because there is no heavy lifting or complicated mathematics involved in this practice. Your brain associates what is familiar with your survival, so it will use statements such as "it's hard" to steer your attention and effort back to the way you have done things in the past. When you hear a voice in your head that says "I can't do this," or "this is too hard," it is always worth asking "says who?"

Because your brain is so clever and crafty, it is helpful to build practice reminders into your life. Here are eight types of reminders that people have used successfully. In order to make it onto this list, the reminder needed to include a physical component. In other words, "I try to remember" does not make the cut because your brain can help you forget too easily.

Notes. You can put reminder notes anywhere. Example locations include bathroom mirror, dresser, steering wheel, computer, desk, and dashboard. I know someone who put a note on her ceiling above her bed so that it is the first thing she sees when she wakes up. Notes include "practice," "breathe," "smile," "Be here now," "love or fear?," "What are you practicing right now?," or even "POP" for Power of Practice or Present, Open, Purposeful.

A dot on your hand. In the morning, use a pen to put a small dot on your hand in a place you will see it. Each time you see the dot, you can practice for five seconds.

Doorways. When you approach a doorway, practice before you pass through.

Red lights or traffic. This is such a good example of something outside your control that you can use to cultivate what you want more of in your life. As long as you are there, you may as well practice.

Walking. When you are moving from one place to another it is a great opportunity to practice.

Screen saver. It is easy to create custom reminders that pop up when your computer sleeps.

Mobile Apps. Set up your text or alarm app to send you reminder messages throughout the day. In addition, there are many other apps such as Remindful, Head Space, Mindfulness Bell, GPS for the Soul, and Pomodoro that you can use.

To be list. Include the things you want to practice being next to your to do list for the day. Each time you check your list, you can practice.

Beads. A simple bracelet (or even a rubber band) can be something to hold onto for a few seconds or a few minutes while you practice.

What do you use as remind to practice what is most important to you? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Dave Mochel is the founder of Applied Attention; a company dedicated to teaching and supporting the transformational practice of being present, open, and purposeful. He translates research in neuroscience, behavior, and performance into simple principles and practices than can be incorporated into any activity or organization. The result of his work is reduced stress and anxiety with improved performance, relationships, and quality of life.

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