Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

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Overview

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s the little things that count.” Research has shown that little daily practices can change the way your brain works, too. This book offers simple brain-training practices you can do every day to protect against stress, lift your mood, and find greater emotional resilience. Just One Thing is a treasure chest of over fifty practices created ...

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Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time

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Overview

You’ve heard the expression, “It’s the little things that count.” Research has shown that little daily practices can change the way your brain works, too. This book offers simple brain-training practices you can do every day to protect against stress, lift your mood, and find greater emotional resilience. Just One Thing is a treasure chest of over fifty practices created specifically to deepen your sense of well-being and unconditional happiness.

Just one practice each day can help you:
~ be good to yourself
~ enjoy life as it is
~ build on your strengths
~ be more effective at home and work
~ make peace with your emotions

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“These are great practices—wise and straightforward, scientific and nourishing. They can transform your life.”
—Jack Kornfield, PhD, author of The Wise Heart and A Path with Heart

Just One Thing is full of simple, down-to-earth steps you can take to experience greater happiness and love in your life. Based in brain science, but written beautifully from the heart, this book is a gem.”
—Marci Shimoff, author of Happy for No Reason

“Most people want to be happier, healthier, less stressed, and more self-accepting, but it’s often hard to find time to work toward these goals. The brilliance of this book is that it offers powerful, targeted practices that can be done easily throughout the day to help people reach their highest potential.”
—Kristin Neff, PhD, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Self-Compassion

“Delightfully clear and practical, this book distills profound insights from ancient wisdom traditions, modern psychology, and cutting-edge neurobiology into simple techniques anyone can use to live a happier, saner, more rewarding life. I felt more awake and alive after reading just a few pages.”
—Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindfulness Solution

“If you are looking for bite-sized daily practices that can open your heart and clear your mind, Just One Thing deserves to be at the top of your reading list. Grounded in fascinating science, psychological understanding, and timeless wisdom, this book offers a rich assortment of entirely simple, doable ways you can find more happiness and ease.”
—Tara Brach, PhD, author of Radical Happiness

“Rick Hanson has done the work for us, distilling decades of self-inquiry and key psychological research into fifty-two essential skills for healthy, happy living. This deceptively simple book is a trustworthy guide to living our lives more deeply and fully. Read, practice, and your brain will surely return the favor.”
—Christopher K. Germer, PhD, clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and author of The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion

“This gem of a book is the perfect follow-up to Rick Hanson’s brilliant Buddha’s Brain. Just One Thing offers dozens of easy-to-learn practices that slowly work their magic on our brains, making it possible for all of us to dwell in the peaceful contentment of a Buddha. Just One Thing is one of those rare books that becomes a lifelong companion—never far out of reach.”
—Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

“Is it improper to be begged by someone you don’t know to buy a book? Then call me improper because I am begging you to give yourself the miracle of Rick Hanson’s grounded science and earthy spirituality. Keep this book close by while giving copies to everyone you love.”
—Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman's Comfort Book and The Life Organizer

“What a way to go through life! These simple yet profound practices train the brain, open the heart, and enhance well-being. Rick Hanson provides the map. If you follow it, you’ll surely increase your happiness and awaken your joy!”
—James Baraz, author of Awakening Joy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455863808
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 4/8/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 7.12 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Hanson, PhD, is a neuropsychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain, which has been published in twenty languages. He is founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and an Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been invited to lecture at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and teaches in meditation centers worldwide. He lives with his family in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. For many resources freely offered, visit www.rickhanson.net.

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Read an Excerpt

introduction

This is a book of practices—simple things you can do routinely, mainly inside your mind, that will support and increase your sense of security and worth, resilience, effectiveness, well-being, insight, and inner peace. For example, they include taking in the good, protecting your brain, feeling safer, relaxing anxiety about imperfection, not knowing, enjoying your hands, taking refuge, and filling the hole in your heart.

At first glance, you may be tempted to underestimate the power of these seemingly simple practices. But they will gradually change your brain through what’s called experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Moment to moment, whatever you’re aware of—sounds, sensations, thoughts, or your most heartfelt longings—is based on underlying neural activities; the same goes for unconscious mental processes such as the consolidation of memory or the control of breathing. Exactly how the physical brain produces nonphysical consciousness remains a great mystery. But apart from the possible influence of transcendental factors—call them God, Spirit, the Ground, or by no name at all—there is a one-to-one mapping between mental and neural activities.

It’s a two-way street: as your brain changes, your mind changes; and as your mind changes, your brain changes. This means—remarkably—that what you pay attention to, what you think and feel and want, and how you work with your reactions to things all sculpt your brain in multiple ways:

  • The details are complex, but the key point is simple: how you use your mind changes your brain—for better or worse.

There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes the shape it rests upon; the modern update is that the brain takes the shape the mind rests upon. For instance, you regularly rest your mind upon worries, self-criticism, and anger, then your brain will gradually take the shape—will develop neural structures and dynamics—of anxiety, low sense of worth, and prickly reactivity to others. On the other hand, if you regularly rest your mind upon, for example, noticing you’re all right right now, seeing the good in yourself, and letting go—three of the practices in this book—then your brain will gradually take the shape of calm strength, self-confidence, and inner peace.

You can’t stop your brain from changing. The only question is: Are you getting the changes you want?

All It Takes Is Practice

That’s where practice comes in, which simply means taking regular action—in thought, word, or deed—to increase positive qualities in yourself and decrease negative ones. For example, studies have shown that being mindful (chapter 22) increases activation of the left prefrontal cortex and thus lifts mood (since that part of the brain puts the brakes on negative emotions) (Davidson 2004), and it decreases activation of the amygdala, the alarm bell of the brain (Stein, Ives-Deliperi, and Thomas 2008). Similarly, having compassion for yourself (chapter 3) builds up resilience and lowers negative rumination (Leary et al. 2007).

Basically, practice pulls weeds and plants flowers in the garden of your mind—and thus in your brain. That improves your garden, plus it makes you a better gardener: you get more skillful at directing your attention, thinking clearly, managing your feelings, motivating yourself, getting more resilient, and riding life’s roller-coaster.

Practice also has built-in benefits that go beyond the value of the particular practice you’re doing. For example, doing any practice is an act of kindness toward yourself; you’re treating yourself like you matter—which is especially important and healing if you have felt as a child or an adult that others haven’t respected or cared about you. Further, you’re being active rather than passive—which increases optimism, resilience, and happiness, and reduces the risk of depression. At a time when people often feel pushed by external forces—such as financial pressures, the actions of others, or world events—and by their reactions to these, it’s great to have at least some part of your life where you feel like a hammer instead of a nail.

Ultimately, practice is a process of personal transformation, gradually pulling the roots of greed, hatred, heartache, and delusion—broadly defined—and replacing them with contentment, peace, love, and clarity. Sometimes this feels like you’re making changes inside yourself, and at other times it feels like you’re simply uncovering wonderful, beautiful things that were always already there, like your natural wakefulness, goodness, and loving heart.

Either way, you’re in the process of developing what one could call a "buddha brain," a brain that understands, profoundly, the causes of suffering and its end—for the root meaning of the word "buddha," is "to know, to awake." (I’m not capitalizing that word here in order to distinguish my general focus from the specific individual, the great teacher called the Buddha.) In this broad sense, anyone engaged in psychological growth or spiritual practice—whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, or none of these—is developing a buddha brain and its related qualities of compassion, virtue, mindfulness, and wisdom.

The Law of Little Things

Now, if a practice is a hassle, most people (including me) are not going to do it. So the practices in this book involve either brief actions a few times a day—like finding beauty (chapter 17)—or simply a general attitude or perspective, such as relaxing anxiety about imperfection (chapter 46) or not taking life so personally (chapter 48).

Each moment of practice is usually small in itself, but those moments really add up. It’s the law of little things: because of slowly accumulating changes in neural structure due to mental activity, lots of little things can wear down your well-being—and lots of little things can get you to a better place. It’s like exercise: any single time you run, do Pilates, or lift weights won’t make much difference—but over time, you’ll build up your muscles. In the same way, small efforts made routinely will gradually build up the "muscle" of your brain. You really can have confidence, grounded in the latest brain science, that practice will pay off.

How to Use This Book

But you have to stick with it—so it really helps to focus on one main practice at a time. Life these days is so busy and complicated that it’s great to have just one thing to keep in mind.

Of course, it’s got to be the right "one thing." For forty years, I’ve been doing practices—first as a young person looking for happiness, then as a husband and father dealing with work and family life, and now as a neuropsychologist and meditation teacher—and teaching them to others. For this book, I’ve picked the best practices I know to build up the neural substrates—the foundations—of resilience, resourcefulness, well-being, and inner peace. I didn’t invent a single one: they’re the fundamentals that people make New Year’s resolutions about but rarely do—and it’s the doing that makes all the difference in the world.

You can do these practices in several ways. First, you could find one particular practice that by itself makes a big difference for you. Second, you can focus on the practices within a section of the book that addresses specific needs, such as part 1 on being good to yourself if you’re self-critical, or part 5 on being at peace if you’re anxious or irritable. Third, you could move around from practice to practice depending on what strikes your fancy or feels like it would help you the most right now. Fourth, you could take a week for each one of the fifty-two practices here, giving yourself a transformational "year of practice."

Whatever your approach is, I suggest you keep it simple and focus on one practice at a time—whether that time is an event or situation (e.g., a ticklish conversation with your mate, a crunch project at work, a meditation), a day, or longer. And in the back of your mind, other practices and their benefits can certainly be operating; for example, not taking things personally (chapter 48) could be in the foreground of awareness while taking refuge (chapter 28) is in the background.

Know what your practice is each day; the more you keep it in awareness, the more it will benefit you. Besides simply thinking about this practice from time to time, you could rest your mind even more upon it by putting up little reminders about it—such as a key word on a sticky note—or journaling about it or telling a friend what you’re doing. You could also weave your practice into psychological or spiritual activities, such as psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, or prayer.

Working with just fifty-two practices, I’ve had to make some choices:

  • As you engage these practices, have some fun with them. Don’t take them (or yourself) too seriously. Feel free to be creative and adapt them to your own needs. For example, the How sections usually contain multiple suggestions, and you don’t have to do all of them; just find the ones that do the most for you.

Throughout, take good care of yourself. Sometimes a practice will be too hard to sustain, or it will stir up painful issues. Then just drop it—for a while, or indefinitely. Draw on resources for practices; for example, deepening your sense of being cared about by others will help you forgive yourself (chapter 7). Remember that practice does not replace appropriate professional mental or physical health care.

Keep Going

People recognize that they’ve got to make an effort over time to become more skillful at driving a truck, running a department, or playing tennis. Yet it’s common to think that becoming more skillful with one’s own mind should somehow come naturally, without effort or learning.

But because the mind is grounded in biology, in the physical realm, the same laws apply: the more you put in, the more you get back. To reap the rewards of practice, you need to do it, and keep doing it.

Again, it’s like exercise: if you do it only occasionally, you’ll get only a little improvement; on the other hand, if you do it routinely, you’ll get a large improvement. I’ve heard people talk like making efforts inside the mind is some kind of lightweight activity, but in fact it’s always a matter of resolve and diligence—and sometimes it’s very challenging and uncomfortable. Practice is not for wusses. You will earn its benefits.

So honor yourself for your practice. While it’s down-to-earth and ordinary, it’s also aspirational and profound. When you practice, you are nourishing, joining with, and uncovering the very best things about you. You are taking the high road, not the low one. You’re drawing on sincerity, determination, and grit. You’re taming and purifying the unruly mind—and the jungle that is the brain, with its reptilian, mammalian, and primate layers. You’re offering beautiful gifts to your future self—the one being in the world you have the most power over and therefore the greatest duty to. And the fruits of your practice will ripple outward in widening circles, benefiting others, both known and unknown. Never doubt the power of practice, or how far your own chosen path of practice can take you.

I wish you the best on your path!

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Table of Contents

introduction

Part 1: Be Good to Yourself

1. Be for Yourself

2. Take in the Good

3. Have Compassion for Yourself

4. Relax

5. See the Good in Yourself

6. Slow Down

7. Forgive Yourself

8. Get More Sleep

9. Befriend Your Body

10. Nourish Your Brain

11. Protect Your Brain

Part 2: Enjoy Life

12. Take Pleasure

13. Say Yes

14. Take More Breaks

15. Be Glad

16. Have Faith

17. Find Beauty

18. Be Grateful

19. Smile

20. Get Excited

Part 3: Build Strengths

21. Find Strength

22. Be Mindful

23. Be Patient

24. Enjoy Humility

25. Pause

26. Have Insight

27. Use Your Will

28. Take Refuge

29. Risk the Dreaded Experience

30. Aspire without Attachment

31. Keep Going

Part 4: Engage the World

32. Be Curious

33. Enjoy Your Hands

34. Don’t Know

35. Do What You Can

36. Accept the Limits of Your Influence

37. Tend to the Causes

38. Don’t Be Alarmed

39. Put Out Fires

40. Dream Big Dreams

41. Be Generous

Part 5: Be at Peace

42. Notice You’re All Right Right Now

43. Honor Your Temperament

44. Love Your Inner Child

45. Don’t Throw Darts

46. Relax Anxiety about Imperfection

47. Respond, Don’t React

48. Don’t Take It Personally

49. Feel Safer

50. Fill the Hole in Your Heart

51. Let Go

52. Love

References

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    Great book!! Things anyone can do that make sense to help.

    You choose the areas you feel you need help in. No mystical mumbo jumbo. The idea that we can change our brain to a healthier pattern AND change our lives to a better pattern by these "practices" is wonderful and transforming. Exercise and repetition for the brain - it makes so much sense. When I was a child my mother always was saying "Stand up straight." As if good posture was simply a decision. If she had given me physical exercises called flies to train the muscles involved, it would have been more helpful. Of course the real problem was that I was the tallest child in the school and felt like a beanpole freak.
    I have been very aware of the brain links to the body and engaged in a lot of " patterning" exercises (you move right arm left leg and vice versa in many ways in unison) to recover from a stroke and dump the walker. The idea of a brain link to the mind and spirit side that can be affected so easily is a wecome revelation. Before, I had seen some research about brain wave differences in transcendental meditation and many sources had recommended meditation. I never did succeed in reaching that state at will or consistently. The practices in this book are things that anyone can do. And it is not "One size fits all" advice like "let go of the past and live in the present moment" that I find very annoying. [I don't want to let go of the past; the maxim about those who do not recall the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them works inversely for triumphs] You pretty much tailor your own program, and set your own priorities among the many options he gives you. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    Nice & Lightweight

    This book was a quick read, even for me. It would really help someone who is very deep in the thicket of life, trying to cope with living.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    Very inspiring and helpful

    Great tools for working everyday to change your brain for the better

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2013

    I highly recommend this book!  Very clearly presented practical

    I highly recommend this book!  Very clearly presented practical ways to work with stress and increase your
    sense of well-being. I found the "just one thing" format works very well.  


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 4, 2012

    Excellent companion to Buddha's Brain

    Read that first. It is an essential text for those who, like me, want evidence for their spiritual practice. . If you want or need practical suggestions to put themconceptsnto use, this is the book.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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