The First Ever Issue of Happier – Positive Psychology for All

I thought you might like a sneak preview of the new magazine I’ve been working on in which I’m sharing the latest secrets from positive psychology!

Positive Psychology Magazine – Happier: Being Happier with Less Via Positive Psychology by John Schinnerer Ph.D.

Go ahead! Check it out! I’m quite proud!

To a happier life,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Guide to Self, Inc.

Danville CA 94526 

Naps Make You Smarter, Increases Learning Ability & Helps Clear Space for New Info

A new study from my alma mater, University of California at Berkeley, shows that a one-hour nap can significantly restore your mental capacity, make you more intelligent and clears out old information to make way for new learning.

On the other side of the coin, the longer you go without sleep, the more we lose mental clarity and become increasingly foggy.  As any new parent knows, interrupted sleep makes one grouchy, irritable, and what’s more, poor sleep makes one less able to concentrate effectively.

When I was in college, I had classmates that would pull all-nighters to cram for finals. I never pulled an all-nighter,  partly because I just couldn’t operate the next day without sleep. The study from UC Berkeley showed a marked difference in the learning ability of students who pulled an all-nighter versus those who got their z’s in. Remarkably, those students who studied all night without sleep showed a 40% decline in their ability to learn new facts due to a shutdown in their hippocampus, a brain area associated with fact-based learning.

The hypothesis which is gaining support from research is that the hippocampus eventually becomes overloaded and sleep gives it a chance to empty itself out, similar to deleting your junk mail  folder in Outlook. Space is freed up so it can be used in new, more constructive ways.

For more information and the full article, please click here.

Have an incredible week!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Bay Area, California

How a Psychologist Breaks Out of a Funk – Top Ways to Leave Sadness Behind in 2009

A reprint of a useful and classic column written in 2006…

Guide To Self – Latest Methods for Dealing with Sadness
Dr. John Schinnerer
Guide To Self Life Coaching

A great day to you and welcome to Guide To Self where you learn the latest ways to deal with sadness!

As many of you know, my wife and I recently had our fourth child, a girl named Molly Marie. She is now six weeks old which means we’ve gone six weeks without much sleep. My wife and I are exhausted. The other three children are jealous to one degree or another. And my mood recently took a nosedive.

So today, I’m going to share with you steps you can take to defeat depression, sadness, a funk or whatever you want to call it.

Sadness is Different for Men than for Women

Be aware that sadness takes different shapes. Typically, sadness appears as anger and irritability in men and comes out as sorrow and melancholy in women. So it looks different when I get down from when my wife gets down. I tend to get more irritable and less patient. I feel overwhelmed more easily. I have a harder time staying in the present moment. My thoughts take me to the past or the future more quickly. My energy level is low. My body aches more. And I get less joy out of my daily routines.

So I want to share with you what exactly is going on in my life. I want to make you aware of what it takes to cause a road bump in my emotional path. I told you about not sleeping well for six weeks due to the baby. That’s a big one. Sleep disturbance is enough to mess up anyone’s mood. In my case, lack of sleep led to a cold and sore throat.

On top of that, I’m not a wealthy man. In fact, nearly the opposite, I’m in debt. I have not made money doing this radio show. So I pay for the privilege of sharing my knowledge with listeners. Roughly 2 hours per day are spent preparing for the show. I book my own guests. I write my own scripts. I respond to emails and letters.

Also, I’m currently in charge of two companies. I’m working on corporate taxes which I don’t particularly enjoy.

I see several clients daily for coaching where I deal with other people’s problems most of the day.

I’m trying to find the time to finish two books.

At night, once the children are in bed, I add radio shows to the website and do the programming.

My wife is now back to work 3 days per week as a hairdresser. This means that two mornings a week, with the help of a nanny, I juggle a newborn and a 5-year-old.

My house is partially torn up due to a contractor who left the job half-finished. So we’re now in the process of drawing up new plans and finding a new contractor.

Right now, it feels as if every relationship in my life is consuming my energy. And I’m running on empty. So I’ve been exhausted and bummed out the last couple of days.

So what do I do?

How does a psychologist break out of a funk?

I’ll tell you how. Dealing with sadness that stays with you for a few days or weeks may require a lifestyle change for you – it’s about dealing with your whole person – diet, exercise, faith, mind and relationships.

Top Ways to Deal with Sadness

First, I never stop exercising. Even when my mind is trying to find a way out of it, I will at least walk for 20 minutes. It’s critical that you exercise twenty minutes a day for mood and longer than that if you want to lose weight. This can be as simple as climbing the stairs at work twice a day, or walking for 20 minutes. When I’m working out, I will think about getting rid of all my fear and anger. Exercise is one of the best ways to work negative emotions out of your body.

Second, I remind myself of what is truly important by determining what is really important and what is not. How do I do this? I ask myself the question, “Will this matter a year from now?” Most of the time, the answer is “No, it won’t matter.” It’s one of the ways we can learn to be less emotionally reactive and more thoughtfully proactive. If you’re like me, you have to train yourself to behave in healthy ways because most people did not learn these tricks growing up. So you need to retrain your brain. As you learn to respond more effectively to minor inconveniences, it leaves you more positive energy to respond to actual crises. This is known to many as wisdom – the ability to deal well with your own suffering as well as help others with theirs.

Third, I focus on everything for which I am grateful – my wife, my children, my dog, my friends, my coworkers, my God, my health and so on. It is critical that you learn how to appreciate life. Life is a gift that has been granted to us. The more we appreciate and cherish the gift, the more we understand what a magical journey life is. Your thoughts matter tremendously in this equation of emotion.

A study done at NIMH focused on the power of thought and emotion. The brain activity of ten normal women was monitored under 3 different conditions.

The researcher recorded each person’s brain activity when they were thinking neutral thoughts, happy thoughts, and sad thoughts.

During the neutral thoughts, nothing changed in the brain.

During the happy thoughts, the limbic system, or the emotional brain, cooled down, and became less active resulting in a more relaxed and energized state.

During the sad thoughts, the limbic system, the emotional brain, became aroused and active which has negative effects on your body – tense muscles, quickened heart rate, perspiration and so on.

Think about the last time you felt happy. How did your body feel? Your muscles relax, your hands become dry, your heart rate slows, and you breathe more deeply. Your body reacts to EVERY FEELING YOU HAVE! This is proof that your emotions matter!

Fourth, welcome the feeling of sadness. It is there for a reason. There is a message or lesson involved in the emotion. Your job is to figure the message out. Once you’ve accepted the feeling, let it go, breathe it out. Emotions are meant to be temporary.

One of my main difficulties growing up was that I could sense or pick up the emotions of other people. I was intuitive even as a little child. The problem is that no one teaches you what to do with that emotional energy. And it’s very draining.

I used to think of myself as a container for negative emotions such as anger, sadness and fear. What I found is that thinking of yourself as a container for emotions is not a healthy way to picture it. It’s much more helpful to think of yourself as a net which catches positive emotions and allows negative emotions to pass through. Keep in mind that these are just emotions. Emotions are not permanent. They are not intended to remain with us. They are just passing through.

Fifth, as the human brain is easily altered, I change the music I listen to. Once I have made up my mind to change my mood, I purposefully listen to upbeat lively music. I watch only comedies. Realize that your brain is incredibly open to suggestion. Not only can music and television alter your brain, as I mentioned, your very thoughts and feelings have the ability to change the physical make-up of your brain.

You have to be cautious what you expose yourself too. Your senses take in over 4 billion bits of information per second. You are only consciously aware of 2,000 of those bits per second. This means that your mind is constantly taking in seeds and you are not even aware of it – overhearing conversations, televisions playing in the background, commercials you try to ignore, music lyrics and so on. So your emotional state, your thoughts, your judgments all have a tremendous effect on what information you are consciously aware of.

When you are touched, you have a physical sensation. When you feel an emotion, you also have a physical sensation in your body. Every physical sensation, every thought, every feeling is written into your brain. The more times you have it, the more deeply it is written into your brain. So the longer you spend immersed in sad feelings and morose thoughts, the more your body becomes accustomed to that state of being. The more your body becomes accustomed to it, the more it wants to remain there. The harder it is to break out. While you want to welcome the feeling and embrace it, you also want to breathe it out as soon as possible. Don’t spend too long wallowing in self-pity.

Sixth, work in sprints – go two hours and then break for ten minutes. Give yourself a break every two hours at least. Our brain works best that way. It’s difficult and less effective to work eight hours straight.

Seventh, stay in the present moment. Train your thoughts to stay focused on the present moment. When you find Gremlin thoughts coming to take you to the past or the future, redirect yourself to the right now and right here.

Eighth, stop using toxic elements. This includes alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, nicotine and sugars. Caffeine and nicotine have been shown in brain studies to decrease overall blood flow to the brain, making most symptoms worsen over time. They also decrease the effectiveness of many medications and increase the number and severity of side effects. Most of the substances we reach for when sad act as central nervous system depressants anyway. When you’re already depressed, you don’t want to add fuel to the fire with alcohol or marijuana.

Ninth, add Omega-3 to your daily diet. Omega-3 stabilizes mood & improves overall brain functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids crucial for growth and development. My favorite, and one of the most studied nutrients, is the Omega-3 fatty acids. About 60% of the brain is made up of fats (lipids) that make up the lining of every brain cell. Omega-3s are required by the brain to an extraordinary degree. They cannot be produced by our bodies but must be ingested via diet or pills. They are found in large, fatty, cold water fish, olive oil, and canola oil. Omega-3s help turn down the ‘volume’ of communications between brain cells (similar to the action of a mood stabilizer). Documented benefits of Omega-3 oils include improved mood, clearer thinking, more serenity, better concentration and focus, and better vision.

Tenth, add B Vitamins and folate in particular to your supplement regimen. Published studies have shown a relationship between B vitamins and depression. Increasing levels of B vitamins are highly likely to improve your mood.

Eleventh, add ginseng. Ginseng is popularly touted as a way to beat stress, improve vigor and simply feel better. The main idea with ginseng is that it helps when your body is stressed. Stress occurs anytime you are challenged above and beyond what your body is used to. An Olympic skier won’t ski faster by taking ginseng. He’s used to that stress of exercise. A working mother of two kids won’t notice a difference. She’s accustomed to her daily routine. However, throw in a new baby, or an ill parent, and you’ve just spilled over into exhaustion. That’s when ginseng does make a difference – when you have to push beyond your limits to the point of exhaustion. Ginseng helps increase your resistance and prevent exhaustion.

Twelfth, breathe – I have covered deep breathing in previous shows. This is the deep diaphragmatic breathing where you breathe into your abdomen, not your chest. Focus on pushing out all of the air in your lungs. The goal is to fill your lungs 100% with fresh air on each breath.

Just as with your thoughts and feelings, you want to be constantly aware of your breathing every second of every day. Remember, we’ve already shown it is possible to split your conscious mind in two parts. One part you can use to tend to the daily demands of your life. The other part must be used to monitor your breathing, your thoughts and your feelings. With practice, it can be done.

Thirteenth, don’t isolate yourself. As much as you can, surround yourself with family and friends.

Fourteenth, go easier on yourself. Learn self-compassion. Speak to yourself as you would a young child.

Forgive yourself for your mistakes and shortcomings. Picture yourself as a small child. Now picture yourself parenting yourself. Forgive yourself as you would like to have been forgiven as a child. Mistakes are merely learning opportunities. And learn to forgive others.

Let go of anger and disappointment by writing a letter forgiving the individual who has hurt you. Holding on to the anger only harms you. Forgiving enables you to move on and get past the hurt.

Fifteenth, return to nature. This is a great way to reconnect with your soul. Just take a few minutes, go outside, breathe in deeply, and look at the birds, the trees and the grass.

Sixteenth, get your sleep. Research has shown that adults need between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. Adolescents need 9 to 9 1/2 hours per night. No more, no less. If you are too far on either side, you are playing with fire. Sleep too little you risk exhaustion. Sleep too much, you risk lethargy and depression.

Seventeenth, do something for someone else. Altruism is perhaps the most powerful way to snap your mind out of a funk. Focus on someone besides yourself.

To sum up, there are at least fifteen things you can do immediately to pull yourself up and out of a funk. These include taking supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and ginseng, getting your 8 hours of sleep, daily exercise, staying in the present moment, and more. Remember to welcome the feelings that you have. Don’t repress them. That leads to physical troubles such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Rather, be aware of them, listen to them, and let them go. Think of yourself as a net through which emotions pass and not as a container for feelings.

More information on sadness and depression and ways to overcome them may be found at the Guide To Self website at

Guide To Self(C) 2005-10.

Simple Tool to Measure Degree of Engagement in Life in Older Adults – How Do You Get Out of Bed in AM?

‘ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2009) — Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have identified a tool — the “Getting-Out-of-Bed (GoB) measure” — to assess motivation and life outlook in older adults. The study, which appears in the October issue of the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology, shows that the tool has the potential to be an easy-to-use measure to bolster motivation and thus improve health behaviors and outcomes in the growing population of older adults. 

The demographics of aging in the United States continues to change dramatically. In 2006, 37 million Americans, 12 percent of the population were 65 years or older. By 2030, those 65 years and older are projected to number 71.5 million representing nearly 20 percent of the US population. Furthermore, between 1992 and 2004 average inflation-adjusted health care costs for older Americans increased from $8,644 to $13,052 and are expected to continue to rise considerably. According to the researchers, such numbers underscore the importance of understanding common diseases and health behaviors of older adults, because many conditions can be prevented and/or modified with behavioral interventions.


“Motivation and life outlook play an important part in an older adult’s ability to recover from illness or disabling events and to maintain and/or adopt health-promoting behaviors,” said lead author Kerri Clough-Gorr, DSc, MPH, from the Section of Geriatrics at BUSM.’

For full article, click here.


So how well do you get out of bed?


Do you spring out of bed, put both feet firmly on the ground and express gratitude for your health and well-being?


Or do you hit the snooze button ten times and grumble about having to get out from your warm covers?


This seems to be a powerful indicator of your motivation, engagement in life, and overall outlook on life. And the best part is, you can change how you get out of bed! As you learn to get out of bed with a more optimistic outlook, and more energy, odds are you will be more positively and passionately engaged in life. This simple change alone can reap tremendous benefits in every area of your life.


Wake up smiling!


John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach, Author, National Speaker

Danville, CA


Lines Between Waking & Sleeping States Blurring – Are You Really Awake?

A fascinating, recent article from New Scientist and Laura Spinney on the recent findings around the blurred lines between being awake, being in REM state, and being in a non-REM sleeping state.

‘EARLIER this year, a puzzling report appeared in the journal Sleep Medicine. It described two Italian people who never truly slept. They might lie down and close their eyes, but read-outs of brain activity showed none of the normal patterns associated with sleep. Their behaviour was pretty odd, too. Though largely unaware of their surroundings during these rest periods, they would walk around, yell, tremble violently and their hearts would race. The remainder of the time they were conscious and aware but prone to powerful, dream-like hallucinations.

Both had been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy. According to the report’s authors, Roberto Vetrugno and colleagues from the University of Bologna, Italy, the disease had damaged the pair’s brains to such an extent that they had entered status dissociatus, a kind of twilight zone in which the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness completely break down (Sleep Medicine, vol 10, p 247).

That this can happen contradicts the way we usually think about sleep, but it came as no surprise to Mark Mahowald, medical director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center in Minneapolis, who has long contested the dogma that sleep and wakefulness are discrete and distinct states. “There is now overwhelming evidence that the primary states of being are not mutually exclusive,” he says. The blurring of sleep and wakefulness is very clear in status dissociatus, but he believes it can happen to us all. If he is right, we will have to rethink our understanding of what sleep is and what it is for. Maybe wakefulness is not the all-or-nothing phenomenon we thought it was either.

Received wisdom has it that at any given time, healthy people are in one of three states of vigilance: awake, in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep or in non-REM (NREM) sleep. Each state is distinct and can be recognised by a characteristic pattern of brain activity, as measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG) (see chart, right). Wakefulness is easy to detect. Apart from the fact that a person’s eyes are open and they are responsive, their EEG shows a pattern of high-frequency, low-amplitude waves. NREM sleep is divided into four stages, each of which has its own distinctive EEG pattern. REM is trickier to spot because in EEG terms it closely resembles stage 1 NREM sleep. So to be sure it really is REM, researchers also look for the telltale rapid eye movements and a slackening in the muscles of the chin and jaw.

Mahowald is not the only person to have questioned these neat distinctions. David Dinges, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, has probably deprived more people of sleep in the name of science than anyone else. In one such study in the late 1980s, Dinges and his team revealed how easily the different states of vigilance can become intermingled. When volunteers were subjected to tests of working memory in which they had to subtract numbers, they could do an average of 90 sums in 3 minutes with few errors. After 52 hours deprived of sleep, their performance fell to around 70 subtractions, with not many more errors. However, after they had slept for 2 hours the change was dramatic. “When we woke them up abruptly, and they rated themselves as alert and ready to go, they couldn’t do even one subtraction,” says Dinges. People even seemed to be dreaming as they attempted the task. One subject mused: “What if people ran faster than normal people run home,” in the middle of a string of incorrect responses.

Known as sleep inertia, a less extreme version of such disorientation is now generally recognised as the cause of the grogginess some people get after their alarm clock goes off. It is as if they are socially awake but functionally asleep; as if the brain circuits underlying responsiveness are up and running, but those mediating working memory are still offline. Mahowald is convinced that it is just one of many disorders that can be explained as a breakdown in the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness. He lists a whole raft of such conditions in the same issue of Sleep Medicine as Vetrugno’s description of people with status dissociatus (vol 10, p 159).

One is REM behavioural disorder (RBD), in which people in REM sleep act out their dreams because the temporary paralysis, or cataplexy, that normally accompanies this state is replaced by the full mobility of wakefulness. In sleep paralysis the opposite is true. Here, cataplexy intrudes into wakefulness, and a person wakes to find him or herself unable to move. It is estimated that up to 40 per cent of people have experienced this disturbing phenomenon. Also surprisingly common are hypnagogic hallucinations – sensory illusions that occur on the cusp of sleep when the dreaming component of REM intrudes into wakefulness. Mahowald’s list also includes sleepwalking, night terrors and narcolepsy, which is an inherent instability in vigilance state boundaries characterised by rapid cycling between states and the tendency to fall asleep mid-sentence. Controversially, the list also includes near-death experiences and alien abductions. It is no coincidence, he says, that alien abductions almost always occur in the recumbent position, in the transition from wakefulness to sleep.

It is no coincidence that alien abductions tend to occur in the transition from wakefulness to sleep

Sleep is a highly complex phenomenon in which changes in sensory, muscular, hormonal and neural systems must be coordinated to create a particular state of vigilance. “When you think about it, there are billions of people in the world who are shifting between wakefulness, REM and non-REM multiple times every 24 hours,” says Mahowald. “It’s amazing that the switching is as accurate as it is.” This accuracy suggests that there is a strong adaptive drive to be fully in one state or another. But he also thinks that state dissociation – the presence of more than one vigilance state concurrently – is more common than anyone previously suspected.

The boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are particularly blurred when we are sleep-deprived. Around a decade ago, Dinges realised that although his sleep-deprived volunteers seemed to be awake, they were in fact experiencing momentary lapses, or microsleeps. Since then, he has discovered that these fleeting naps last between half a second and 2 seconds, and become increasingly frequent the longer we are deprived of sleep, until finally we cannot recover and nod off. Dinges sees them as the outward sign of a tug-of-war between neural systems that are trying to initiate sleep, and others that are trying to maintain wakefulness.

This chimes with the ideas of James Krueger of Washington State University in Pullman, who has argued that the individual processing units in the brain – known as cortical columns – fall asleep independently when they become tired. In his view, shifts between wakefulness and sleep occur when enough columns are in one state or the other (Nature Reviews Neuroscience, vol 9, p 910). Krueger believes this mosaic pattern of sleep explains sleep inertia and sleepwalking.

Some people are more prone to microsleeps than others. In a 2007 study, Dinges and his colleagues showed that there are enormous differences in people’s ability to resist the lure of sleep when tired. Among a group of healthy, non-sleep-deprived adults, the differences in alertness are small. “But as soon as we provoke the system with some sleep deprivation, those differences get larger and larger,” he says (Journal of Sleep Research, vol 16, p 170).

This has implications for all of us, especially those in professions where staying awake is a life-or-death matter. “If you’re doing 100 kilometres per hour on a highway and you have a lapse, your fingers go lax on the steering wheel and you drift off the road at a 4-degree angle,” says Dinges. “Two seconds is all it takes to be completely out of your lane.” Up to 20 per cent of traffic accidents are fatigue-related.

Brain imaging has recently revealed a mental back-up system in people who remain alert when sleep-deprived (Journal of Neuroscience, vol 29, p 7948). While other people have reduced brain activity when tired, sleep-resistant individuals manage to maintain their brain activity levels. More interestingly, they also recruit new areas to help compensate for having been awake for so long. These people were selected for the study because they had a gene variant found in around 40 per cent of people that is thought to be associated with resistance to sleep deprivation. It seems likely that such people are also less prone to state dissociation, although this has not yet been tested.

Another group who appear to be more vigilant than most are people who suffer from primary insomnia – insomnia not associated with any other condition. There is evidence to suggest they are in a constant state of hyperarousal, with relatively high metabolic rates and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “It’s as though somebody just cranked up their alertness over 24 hours, so they are more alert at night, but they are also more alert in the day,” says Mahowald.

As the blur between sleep and wakefulness becomes more widely accepted, researchers are devising techniques for capturing the brain’s fleeting lapses and vacillations. For example, neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is eavesdropping on sleeping brains using EEGs with 256 electrodes rather than the more usual 32, to improve spatial resolution and help him catch the brain in the act of mosaic napping. Microsleeps are just the tip of the iceberg, Tononi says. He is particularly concerned by the possibility that parts of our brain might be going offline without us even realising it. “In many respects, it would be like having a temporary mental disorder without anybody, including yourself, being aware of it,” he says. Forgetfulness and daydreaming could be examples of this, but so could more bizarre and even criminal behaviours (see “When a crime is not a crime”).

It is like having a temporary mental disorder without anyone, including yourself, being aware of it.’


For full article, click here.


So, first we have microexpressions, where humans leak emotional expressions at a rapid speed (less than 1/3 of a second).


Now we have microsleeps, where we catch a 1-2 second snooze to rest the brain.


What’s next…micro-sex? Oh, wait, I’ve done that already (pre-premature arousal)! :>)


Say, I could use some 1 second micro-eating!


How about some grueling 3 second micro-exercise routines?


What new micro-routines can you come up with – real or imagined?


Have a great day!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Guide To Self, Inc.