Train your brain to combat stress

by Gina Roberts-Grey

You know that feeling when you’re too mentally exhausted to think straight? Not only can it be problematic because it leaves you feeling frazzled and unable to remember what you need at the grocery store or where you left the car keys, mental exhaustion is toxic, too.

A tired, overwrought brain can lead to stress. That contributes to the formation of bad habits like watching the television instead of watching what you eat and not watching how physically active you are, says Jason Selk EdD, former director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals and the bestselling author of a new book, Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

Selk says you can revitalize your mind to eliminate a lot of stress and boost mental energy with a strong brain. And just like your biceps or abs, your mind can be strengthened.

“A 100-second mental workout is an incredibly powerful tool that will put you in a position to consistently execute at a higher level,” says Selk, who has created an exercise routine that helps your brain relax and recharge. “It that will put you in a position to mentally detox and the great news is that it only takes 100 seconds of your day.”

By making mental workouts a habit, Selk says you will set yourself on a trajectory toward developing mental toughness, focus, and clarity as you have never experienced. “Just as your body responds to consistent strength training, your mind responds to regular mental workouts.”

In 100 seconds, you can think up a crafty Facebook status update, have your favorite barista whip up a latte or boost your brain. “I suggest carving out some time now to try out the 100-second mental workout,” says Selk.


The workout:

Step 1: The centering breath

Take a deep centering breath to get calm and focused. This is a controlled breath where you breathe in for 6 seconds, hold the breath for 2 seconds, and then slowly exhale for 7 seconds. Selk says the centering breath will control your heart rate and allow your mind to get into a natural and effective work pattern.

Step 2: Identity statement

Think of a personal, financial, professional, etc., goal. “Then state out loud who you are as if you’d already achieved your goal. This statement is essentially a personal mantra that reflects who you are and what you hope to achieve,” says Selk.

An example of an identity statement is ‘I am confident and I thrive on pressure; I am the most focused and successful CEO in the country.’

Step 3: Run your personal highlight reel

“The personal highlight reel is 60 seconds’ worth of visualization in which you spend 30 seconds remembering 3 things done well in the previous 24 hours and then imagining 3 things you are going to do well in the upcoming day,” says Selk.

Doing this will boost your confidence and set your brain off on a path that processes things in a positive manner, rather than getting bogged down with stress.

Step 4: Repeat Step 2

Selk says repeating your statement will further drive home your self-image of success.

Step 5: Repeat Step 1

“Do this to remind yourself of the feeling of being calm and in control,” says Selk. You’ll give the calmness time to ‘take root’ in your brain in order for your mind to fully recharge.

If you should miss a day here or there, don’t panic. “Just like one missed appointment with your trainer won’t sink your overall physical fitness, the occasional missed mental workout won’t kill your progression to clarity and reduced stress,” says Selk. If you do miss a day, simply make the commitment to get back on track the following day.

Jason Selk EdD was director of mental training for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, when they won their first World Series in 20 years, and when they won it again in 2011. He’s the bestselling author of 10-Minute Toughness (McGraw-Hill, 2008) and a new book, Executive Toughness: The Mental-Training Program to Increase Your Leadership Performance (McGraw-Hill, 2011). Trainer of the world’s finest athletes, coaches, and business leaders in Mental Toughness. He’s a regular television and radio contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC, and has appeared widely in print. Learn more at

Misconceptions About Aging: 4 Important Issues

Don’t let incorrect assumptions hinder the help you offer to aging relatives in their emotional and financial affairs.

As family members age – whether they are spouses, partners, parents or other relatives — those who help manage their affairs want to act with their best interests in mind. But even with the greatest of intentions, common stereotypes about older people can creep into thinking and affect judgment calls — from when it’s time to take away the car keys to conversations about moving into a senior living center or assisted care facility.

Keith Klovee-Smith, Senior Vice President, National Director, and his team of specialists in Wells Fargo Elder Services have seen firsthand how stereotypes concerning aging can lead to tension and even mistakes in care, which family members may later deeply regret. Here are four of the most common misconceptions to be aware of as your family plans for the future.

Misconception No. 1: As we age, the slide to dementia is inevitable. One of the most prevalent stereotypes in America is that aging is a process of inevitable and steady decline in our physical and mental abilities. “Most people believe we have full capacity between ages 20 to 35, and that it’s all downhill from there,” says Klovee-Smith. “It’s such a strongly held stereotype that people start providing care and interactions for older people based on the stereotype instead of the unique human being that’s in front of them.”

For instance, he says sometimes it is assumed an older person is suffering from dementia when really an infection may be causing him or her to act or appear confused. Other common ailments that can masquerade as diminished mental capability include low blood pressure, thyroid problems, clinical depression, and medication side effects or interactions.

“We train our team members to pay attention to what’s really going on with the person,” says Klovee-Smith, who oversees the Wells Fargo Elder Services specialists who work with older clients and their families.

Countering this misconception: Be vigilant about obtaining accurate diagnoses of dementia and other illnesses. Make sure you, your spouse and older generations have adequate health coverage to cover needed tests and visits to specialists.

Misconception No. 2: You need to “age in place.” The notion of “aging in place,” or living at home for as long as possible, has become part of the lexicon of retirement planning; many adults manage their finances to make it a reality .

“Aging in place has become a norm as a way to talk about the goals for retirement,” Klovee-Smith says. “The problem with it? It sounds nice, but it’s not the best thing for some adults. Every situation is unique.”

Klovee-Smith tried to make aging in place work for his mother. “I built more and more services around her,” he says. “I had somebody cooking for her, cleaning for her. But what I actually did was socially isolate my mother. She had all the services, but she didn’t have one of the things aging adults need most — other people’s company.”

After he helped her move to an assisted living facility, he says color came back to her cheeks. She enjoyed the activities provided by the facility and needed fewer medications. “She was actually a much happier individual,” he says.

Countering this misconception: Set aside the concept of “aging in place” and instead talk about the goal of independence for your loved ones and (when the time comes) for yourself. “If you can build services in an environment that offers many of the benefits perceived as part of aging in place, that’s the goal, wherever they may be living,” Klovee-Smith says. As you help older loved ones plan for the future, consider involving the whole family in the planning as appropriate. “We work with whoever the family wants to be part of planning,” Klovee-Smith says.

Misconception No. 3: Older people just focus on the past. Often, people talk to older family members about decades-old events — their childhood, World War II — as if they’ve lost interest in the present and don’t think about the future because they’ve aged. That’s simply not the case. We all think about the past, present and future, no matter what age we are.

Klovee-Smith says one of his Wells Fargo team members once asked a 90-year-old client to imagine what her life would be like in 10 years. She laughed and joked about whether she’d be around for the next two years. But then, she turned serious and began to describe her hopes and dreams.

Countering this misconception: Realize your loved ones have a future and need to plan for it just as much as you do — not just financially but emotionally, as well.

Misconception No. 4: After “big birthdays,” assistance is mandatory. The aging process isn’t set in stone. It’s readily accepted that some 20-year-olds are more mature than other 20-year-olds, but many times, society can forget that such differences occur in the 65+ crowd, too. Some 90-year-olds still cook gourmet meals for special events; others had to give up responsibilities in the kitchen decades earlier.

Chronological age differs from internal age, and the two rarely synch up. Might a 45-year-old think of herself as perpetually 33? Could a 70-year-old forget she’s a septuagenarian, having fixed her internal clock to 55? Try not to project your idea of what it means to be 80 onto your loved one.

Countering this misconception: Klovee-Smith notes that there’s a spectrum of moving from capacity to incapacity, and people move along it at vastly different rates throughout their lives — not just at retirement age. Use insights from your or your loved ones’ vibrant years to map out the right options for now and the future.