The Missing Piece of the Personal Growth Puzzle

There are more than a few entry points for personal growth and just as many reasons why we get motivated to make some changes. Often the motivation comes from a painful experience or major adversity. But what if we could take an entirely different approach to personal growth? What if we reframed it as a part of the natural maturing process as we move through life?

Many of us begin our personal growth journey exploring the self-help section of the bookstore or library, discovering a podcast, participating in a support group, or seeking professional counseling. There is a tendency to keep our efforts under wraps even when we learn that many people struggle with the same issues we do.

In many instances, our personal growth work is cobbled together in a haphazard way. We migrate to teachings or tools that resonate with us. We are drawn to those whose stories are relatable and we strive to overcome our adversities just as they did. Our progress is often slow and some days it is hard to tell if we are actually making headway.

We hear that personal growth work is hard. It is.

We hear that personal growth work is worth it. It is.

Perhaps what has been missing in the personal growth field is a piece of the puzzle that would shift both the process and our motivation in a transformational way. The fundamental missing piece is neuroscience — discovering how our brains are working from childhood into adulthood.

Understanding the role our brains are playing as we navigate adulthood can become the catalyst for proactive personal growth work, enriching our wellbeing and improving the quality of our relationships. It would no longer be necessary to hide the fact that we need a little help to support our natural evolution. In fact, if we reframed personal growth as a foundational building block like exercise and nutrition, we would have a brand-new approachable and desirable entry point for investing in ourselves.

Think about this: Our brain is one of the most phenomenal devices we possess. Yet we know very little about all its capabilities and even less about how to care for and support its optimization. We take it for granted – yet it faithfully serves us through every single experience we have every day for our entire lifetime.

What if we changed our perspective about caring for and utilizing our brain’s full potential? What if we recognized the value of “upgrading” our internal operating systems as we go through life, building on what we have learned from our past experiences and proactively engaging in creating new neural pathways to meet our ever-changing goals.

Let’s see how that might be an optimum pathway for personal growth work by taking a closer look at a subject often discussed when we embark on self-help: how our childhood behavioral patterns and attachment styles often do not serve us well in adulthood.

In a February 2022 episode of the Huberman Lab Podcast, neurobiologist Andrew Huberman explained in great detail how our childhood attachment styles influence our adult attachment styles.

“How we attached, or did not attach, to our primary caregivers in our childhood has much to do with how we attach or fail to attach to romantic partners as adults because the same neural circuits (the neurons and their connections in the brain and body) that underlie attachment between infant and caregiver, between toddler and parent or other caregiver entering adolescence and in our teenager years are repurposed for adult romantic attachments. I know that might be a little eery to think about but indeed that is true.” Andrew Huberman, The Huberman Lab Podcast (2/14/2022)

Dr. Huberman’s insights here are astounding. Our brains “repurpose” attachment styles we developed as kids to help us create our attachment styles with our life partners. It doesn’t take a big stretch of one’s imagination to see how our repurposed adult attachment styles would also impact our friendships, relationships with co-workers and parenting.

The fortunate thing is that regardless of our childhood attachment styles and experiences, the neural circuits for desire, love and attachment are quite plastic — they are amenable to change in response to both what we think and what we feel, as well as what we do. However, all three aspects being discussed today desire, love and attachment — are also strongly biologically driven. (hormones, neurochemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) and neural circuits (brain areas and areas of the body that interact with the brain). Andrew Huberman, The Huberman Lab Podcast (2/14/2022)

Dr. Huberman then delivers the “good news” about this phenomenon of “repurposing”. The neuroplasticity of our incredible brains opens up the vast potential to support this “repurposing” in a healthy, proactive, beneficial way. We can engage in this process in a very meaningful – and game-changing way.

We would be able to circumvent some of those awkward, cumbersome forays into adult relationships because we would have greater awareness and access to better tools. Regardless of the stability or chaotic nature of our childhoods, we need to be involved in this repurposing process. It is where we tap into our true nature and free ourselves from old narratives and limiting beliefs.

Imagine entering adulthood without constrictive adaptive childhood behavioral patterns. We all have them, regardless of our childhood experiences (even really good childhoods). Adaptive childhood behavioral patterns are how we made sense of our world as kids. Baked into those behavioral patterns are the armor we used to feel safe, the behaviors we relied on to get attention and feel loved, valued. These childhood behavioral patterns are inextricably linked to our childhood attachment styles.

I’ve written several posts on parenting and on the benefits of breaking generational chains of dysfunctional family patterns. Even when we are well intentioned about wanting to “do better” as parents for our own children, it is only natural that unconscious, residual adaptive patterns will seep into our own parenting. Our default childhood brain and body settings will make our best efforts more challenging than need be.

Dr. Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, is a renowned resource for parents who desire to create and maintain secure attachments with their children. He emphasizes how important it is for parents to identify their own childhood attachment style first and foremost. He encourages parents to do their own healing and personal growth work as a fundamental part of parenting their own children with healthy, secure attachment styles.

Neuroscience has been exploding with game-changing breakthroughs for mental health, for personal growth, for the brain challenges that come with aging such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Brain imaging is helping all of us see more clearly all the changes that our brains are subjected to — and are capable of. We have both an invested interest and a dynamic opportunity to actively participate in helping our brains stay healthy, stay upgraded and function with greater ease.

Maybe personal growth will become the new brain health. The more we know, the more we can participate in our healthy growth and evolution.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Dr. Dan Siegel YouTube Discussion:

The 4 S’s of Attachment-Based Parenting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zV2nLEeh0c&t=2780s

The Science of Love, Desire and Attachment
February 14, 2022
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/huberman-lab/id1545953110

The Mental Health Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep

The past several years have really brought to light the importance of integrating positive mental health practices into our daily lives. Just as we pay attention to our diet and nutrition, to our daily activity levels and exercise, and to annual physical health exams, we need to do the same for our overall mental well being.

The field of personal growth and “self-help” has exploded with resources and tools that we can incorporate into our daily routines to better support our mental health. Breakthroughs in neuroscience, neurobiology, and psychology in recent years are providing research, data and protocols that will have profound impacts on treatment plans for mental health, addiction, chronic health issues and brain related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Just as we can take proactive steps to minimize our risk of heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes, we can also use proactive daily practices to improve our overall mental health and wellbeing.

What has been so fascinating to me is the intersection of neuroscience, psychology and general medicine focused on the body. It was the pandemic that really brought to light how our physical health and our mental health are inextricably linked.

It seems rather obvious that healthy people most likely have stronger immune systems and lower risk factors — but all too often our sole focus was on the physical body. Weight, nutrition and exercise got the majority of our attention. We missed the boat on connecting the dots to how our brains and our mental health were impacting our physical health and overall quality of life.

Midway through the pandemic, I was happily surprised to see that my family doctor’s practice was now including mental health questions on their intake forms. Clearly the awareness that many folks were struggling with higher anxiety and stress was getting some attention. Yet, we often fall too easily into the “quick fix” approach. Did you know that anxiety and depression medications are often doled out to patients with only a 6 minute doctor visit?

We can do better…..and we should. We need to become our own advocates for our mental health and well being just as we are for our physical health. This is precisely where the breakthroughs in neuroscience and neurobiology are intersecting with our physical health. We are learning so much about how our brains operate, how we can take better care of our brains and how we can tap into the little known circuitry to supercharge our brain’s functions. Most of these transformational benefits come from simple changes in our lifestyle — not prescriptions.

First and foremost is consistent, high quality sleep. This is the foundation for a healthy, highly functioning brain.

Think about how religiously you charge your devices and install the upgrades. This is what sleep does for our brains.

Sleep is essential for optimizing brain functions, building strong immune systems, maximizing our daytime functioning, hormone regulation — and it is the starting point for improved mental health. There are zero to low-cost strategies that we can put into practice to dramatically improve the quality and duration of our sleep.

Andrew Huberman, Ph.D, Stamford University, is an excellent resource for a deeper dive into the many benefits of sleep — and daily strategies that will enhance consistent, high quality sleep. Simple things like getting 30-60 minutes of natural sunlight every morning, avoiding caffeine for 8-10 hours before bedtime, waking up at the same time each day and going to bed when you first start feeling sleepy at night, limiting daytime naps to 90 minutes, or best yet, don’t nap at all. Did you know that drinking alcohol messes up your sleep as do most sleep medications. Here’s a surprise – melatonin is not good for us to be taking! (Check out the link below in Recommended Resources to learn more at the Huberman Lab Podcast)

Without good sleep, we are asking our brains to process a lot of information, emotions, experiences and environments without the viable resources needed to do so effectively. No wonder it is so hard to learn new things, break old habits, maintain emotional stability and navigate the complexity of our relationships.

Yet I have never had an annual checkup where the doctor asked me about my sleep. Have you?

If sleep medications can mess up our quality sleep, we should be looking for the root cause of our sleep disturbances. Perhaps something as simple as a better bedtime routine could be the long-term, healthier solution. (Please note that Dr. Huberman advises consulting with your doctor before stopping or changing any sleep medications you are currently taking).

At the same time, it is part of self-advocacy to know what might be contributing to poor sleep quality. Some of it we can control and some of it may be due to grief, anxiety, depression or environment. Taking stock of all the factors that may be inhibiting a good night’s sleep should be part of the conversation with our medical providers.

It is incredibly hard to function at our best when we are exhausted. We know this from personal experience: jet lag from traveling, pulling a few all nighters with a new baby or a work deadline, being in a different time zone. Yet we often fail to realize that during our normal daily — and nightly — routines, we have a lot of room for improvement to take care of our brains, our physical and mental health and our immune system.

Personal growth work supports our mental health as well. The more self-awareness we cultivate, the easier it becomes to acknowledge and addresses the changes we want to make. One of the problems with changing long-standing habits and behavioral patterns is the synapses in our brains that often operate on auto pilot. If we are sleep deprived, it is so much harder to cultivate self-awareness and disrupt an old pattern. We will be much more successful with personal growth work when we are on our A game, and our brains are well rested and restored.

It is the neuroplasticity of our brains that helps us evolve. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to modify, change and adapt both structure and function throughout life and in response to experience. Dr. Rick Hanson shares that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. Sleep reenergizes our body’s cells, clears toxins and waste from the brain and supports learning and memory.

The best advice we might be getting right now from neuroscience research is “to sleep on it.”

Think about it — we have the most incredible processing device on the planet in our head. We really don’t know all there is to know about the brain ….but we are learning more every day. Most importantly, we are discovering how to proactively care for our brains. The first giant step in assuring our integrated good health and well being is to sleep well.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

HUBERMAN LAB RESOURCES NEWSLETTER: Toolkit for Sleep

https://hubermanlab.com/toolkit-for-sleep/

Andrew Huberman YouTube Conversation with Lewis Howes: Do This Everyday to Master Your Sleep & Be More Focused

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iWwhqaAMkfk

An Evolving Story…

Getting started on personal development often begins with identifying behavioral patterns that aren’t serving us very well in adulthood. While this is a giant step in the right direction, there is another major aspect that is truly transformational.

That meaningful component is a deeper dive into the limiting beliefs and false narratives that are baked into those childhood behavioral patterns. These old stories and limited beliefs hold us back; they prevent us from exploring our full potential and building a deep reservoir of inner strengths.

So while we can change our outgrown behavioral patterns and begin to show up more maturely, if we don’t spend some time untangling ourselves from the beliefs and narratives we heard and absorbed in childhood, we might stunt our personal growth.

There’s no doubt that this is hard work and requires challenging ourselves in order to unlearn and relearn. It is one thing to be fully committed to new habits and big goals, but if we don’t release those limiting beliefs that reinforce self-doubt, there’s a strong likelihood we will self-sabotage our best laid plans. Unfortunately, this is often occurring unconsciously.

As we cultivate more self-awareness for our outgrown behavioral patterns, we can also become more attuned to negative self-talk and the excuses we give ourselves for not pursuing our dreams.

Our limiting beliefs and childhood narratives are often very nuanced and will require some careful “teasing out” of the threads that weave our stories. It is not only the behavior patterns and messaging we struggled with in childhood, it is all the complexities of our family dynamics that played a role as well.

As a child, we were the ones adapting all the time — to our parents, to their actions and responses to life, to all the life events that were occurring. We did not have the brain capacity to reason or rationalize. We did not have the authority to make decisions and make plans that accommodated our unique needs. We had a lot of emotions swirling through us but many went unspoken, unprocessed and misunderstood. So we tried to make sense of all those moving parts by telling ourselves a story. It is our childhood story that shapes us as we move into adulthood.

Often that childhood story serves as a nautical chart for us as we navigate the changing seas of life. While we cannot wait to row our own boat with full independence as we enter adulthood, we are unconsciously aware that our minds are full of obstacles — remnants of childhood that clutter our path. These are limiting beliefs and false narratives about who we really are.

Many of us carry these limiting beliefs far in to adulthood. It might be a scarcity mindset around money if we grew up poor or had parents who gambled or drank away money needed for rent and groceries. We might have body image issues believing we are too thin or too fat, uncoordinated or a weakling. We may believe we aren’t good at sports, or math, or that we just aren’t smart or talented enough to pursue our heart’s dreams. We may think that we have limited future career opportunities due to a lack of higher education. Messaging we get in our formative years can stick with us for a long time and limit us in many ways.

This is why it is so important to include self-reflection on our limiting beliefs and stories of who we thought we were, or were supposed to be, when we were kids as a key component of personal growth.

The above quote from Adam Grant is from his book “Think Again”. It really resonates when applied to childhood stories and the beliefs we were raised on. We cling hard to the stories written in childhood about who we are but the truth is that we were often judged, experienced and molded by others, mostly adults. Parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches — they all see different things in us. Many times they are simply reflecting back what they see in themselves. This is precisely why it is so important to really get to know ourselves as we go through adulthood. We now have agency and autonomy to pick and choose what is right for us, to develop those strengths and skills we are drawn to, to keep learning and growing forward.

I love having conversations with friends who share their stories of realizing that they were still clinging to outdated, outgrown limiting beliefs. Even when their current lived experiences and how they were actually conducting their lives was proof positive that those old beliefs were wrong, there was a little nagging voice inside keeping that old narrative running in the background.

Once they owned the fact that the old beliefs and limitations were a drag on their forward progress, they let go. They embraced their newfound freedom and acknowledged that all along they had been “learning their way out” of those old limitations.

This is the simple, marvelous truth. We are always learning — sometimes by accident, sometimes incidentally, and many times by choice and intentionality.

Learning is the catalyst for freeing ourselves from limiting beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves when we are in struggle– especially those stories we co-author with our inner critic. We can step back and get a fresh, updated perspective — then ask ourselves if what we are believing is true. We do not need to stay forever tethered to an old narrative about who we are. We are evolving through our lived experiences every single day.

When you find yourself in a state of confusion — smile! It means that the information stored in your brain from childhood is colliding with the knowledge, information and experiences you’ve accumulated since then! It’s a big opportunity to shift away from an unconscious reaction to a more nuanced, mature, informed response.

“After all, the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs, it’s to evolve our beliefs.” — Adam Grant in his book Think Again

Again Adam Grant offers an invaluable piece of wisdom that can be applied to our personal growth journey. The purpose of cultivating self-awareness and spending time in discovery through self-reflection is to help us clean up the clutter from childhood. We can create a much better nautical map for navigating the vast seas of life by removing impediments like limiting beliefs and old outgrown stories about who we truly are.

When we begin to adopt a regular practice of perspective-taking, we super boost our natural curiosity. This is one child-like quality we should tap into! We also open up and are receptive to take in new information, ideas and stories from others. The natural desire to resist taking in anything that conflicts with our rigid beliefs or scares us loosens its grip. We begin to find ourselves more pliable and flexible with paradox, with opinions different than our own because lived experiences are also different. All of this culminates in a grounded confidence that allows us to be truly authentic with an ability to listen to understand without all those old limiting beliefs and stories getting in the way. That is where personal growth thrives.

I’m sharing this little footnote to this post because it’s become so clear to me that regardless of your age, this inner work of self-reflection around limiting beliefs is incredibly necessary and game-changing. Because we got a lot of things wrong in prior generations about how to deal with emotions, myths about vulnerability being weakness, shoving our family skeletons into closets, and double standards — even younger generations (20’s, 30’s and 40’s) need to do this work. You’ll see what I mean if you listen to the podcast episodes I’m including in recommended resources with this post. Doing this kind of inner growth work is what contributes to breaking dysfunction cycles of poor life skills for future generations.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:


This episode covers a lot of ground when it comes to untangling ourselves from limiting beliefs. Julie Solomon shares how $30,000 in credit card debt became her impetus for honesty and growth.
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/typology/id1254061093?i=1000576481143
Connecting With Your Best Parts. This conversation between Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest is so relatable…and is a springboard for your own work on rediscovering the good in YOU! https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/being-well-with-dr-rick-hanson/id1120885936?i=1000567818618

4 Steps to Release “Limiting Beliefs” Learned from Childhood: Psychology Today:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201311/4-steps-release-limiting-beliefs-learned-childhood

Nuggets of Wisdom – Seeds of Growth

In this edition of my Nuggets of Wisdom, I am sharing some insights from conversations with my friends who are also committed to their personal growth and what they have been witnessing from their positive changes.

When we cultivate self-awareness, we do become more cognizant of the behaviors we have had that really held us back from being our “authentic” selves. We often said “yes” when we really wanted to say “no.”

Awareness and authenticity go hand in hand when stepping back and assessing why we do that. Sometimes it is just because we think it will “keep the peace”. Sometimes we believe that having the same old disagreement will just end up with the same old result. Sometimes we are putting our needs and even our values to the side because we think it will make someone else happy.

The truth of the matter is that we often get a gut feeling or a nudge of intuition that our values and our actions are out of alignment….and that can lead to resentment, stuffing our emotions and our needs and participating half-heartedly in whatever we have agreed to do. We simply do not feel comfortable in our own skin.

My friends and I have noticed that when we take that first uncomfortable step towards real authenticity and actually say no, or set a boundary, that we feel lighter, more empowered and confident. And that initial discomfort fades fast. In fact, often the other person doesn’t even really care that we didn’t go along blindly, or they discover something new about us that supports a better relationship.

This may be my favorite wisdom and insight. My friends have been sharing stories about some of the richer, deeper conversations they have been having with family members during these past few months of family reunions, summer vacations, and backyard barbecues. There is no doubt that people “feel” the energy and openness around someone who has really done a lot of inner work. There is a sense that it is safe to really open up. These heart to heart conversations have answered a lot of questions about family history, revealed hidden strengths, and unburdened others of heavy baggage they’d been carrying around for decades. Pema Chodrun has long taught that when we do our personal growth work, we make it easier for others to do theirs. My friends are now enjoying the benefits of these deeper connections with family members — something they had longed for and worked hard to achieve. The pivotal difference was going inward first, doing their own personal growth work, and then letting their positive changes draw others in.

One of the most effective tools for personal growth work is “reframing”.

Taking a fresh perspective to adversity can shift our unconscious brains from a negativity bias and help us engage in something much more positive to handle challenges and difficulties.

This reframing of being “planted in possibility” encourages us to lean on our inner strengths like courage, resiliency and resourcefulness.

We do possess some rich compost to support our efforts. Think about times in the past when you have successfully overcome an adversity. Draw on that experience. Recognize how much you have grown and discovered since then and tap into the greater resources you have developed. Use regret as a tool to help you recognize what you value most. Check in with yourself to see if you might have a pattern that isn’t serving you well when trouble shows up. Seek help and guidance from those you admire who have overcome similar adversities.

We seem to have this myth that soft skills are not very powerful or effective. That could not be farther from the truth. Perhaps the real truth is that it takes courage, confidence and commitment to actually employ soft skills. It is not easy to admit we were wrong or that we need to apologize. And yet personal accountability builds trust, respect and better connections with others. Owning our mistakes is a powerful soft skill. Personal accountability for how we conduct ourselves and the standards we hold ourselves to reveals our integrity and core values. By the way, did you know that others will often not hold us accountable because of the discomfort that they feel? If we know we have screwed up, it’s such a gift to others to admit and make amends. Now that’s a soft skill that packs a meaningful punch.

Another soft skill that requires awareness and a lot of practice is non-judgment. We can be all too quick to judge someone else, using our own experiences and standards as a filter. All too often, we are sadly mistaken about another’s situation, their choices and their emotional landscape. Catching ourselves being judgmental is the first step. The next is to lean into empathy. What if we were judged inaccurately by another? How would that feel? That little pause and frame of reference can shift us to becoming more compassionate, curious and non-judgmental.

If someone is courageous enough to tell us their story, can we listen to better understand them and their experience? This soft skill requires us to refrain from formulating our response while listening, from rushing in to give advice or fix. We are listening to understand. Seem simple enough, but it does not come naturally to most of us.

These simple (but challenging) soft skills are game changers. Imagine your closest relationship and how things might transform if you took personal accountability seriously, shifted from being judgmental and even critical to being open-minded and curious, and if you became a really good listener?

I hope you have found these nuggets of wisdom to be helpful and motivational. Just one more observation to share: It’s becoming very evident that people are really searching for more face to face interaction and better connections with each other. My friends and I have noticed this in our neighborhoods and communities. When we take a better version of ourselves out into the world, we become part of the “relational scaffolding” that Dr. Bruce Perry believes is transformational for humankind.

Everybody has something they are dealing with each and every day. Strive to help others by being kind, sharing a smile, holding a door, offering a compliment. It really does make a difference.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Check out my last two blog posts on Deliberate Growth to learn how you can “upgrade your brain” to fastback your personal growth work:

Deliberate Growth

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/07/24/deliberate-growth/

How to Achieve Deliberate Growth

https://inspirednewhorizons.com/2022/07/26/how-to-achieve-deliberate-growth/

How to Achieve Deliberate Growth

Our brain’s default setting of a turbo-charged negativity bias may be the very reason that we have so many difficulties — of our own making — as we move through our adult lives. The reality is that we can be receiving a lot of support, encouragement and even love, but be totally blind to it. We can be stuck in the negativity bias and all the good that is pouring over us every single day, simply runs off.

This sounds really hard to believe doesn’t it? Yet we have examples of this truth all around us. Others can take a look at our lives and see the obvious positivities even while we focus solely on dumping out one complaint after another. People hop from one relationship to the other only to discover the same old problems crop up in that new partnership. It’s not the problems we face, it’s the patterns we keep using to deal with them.

And many of our unconscious behavioral patterns are deeply rooted in the brain’s negativity bias. As I shared in my previous post, Deliberate Growth, the negativity bias serves us well in childhood but it does need to be updated as we grow up. Just like outgrown shoes and childlike responses to our emotions, we need to free ourselves from the unconscious default setting of the negativity bias to extract all the goodness from our ongoing lived adult experiences.

During the recent Being Well podcast episode entitled “Making Learning Stick”, Forrest Hanson pointed out that research confirms when most of us are asked about our daily experiences, our tendency is to report on mostly good stuff. And yet, very little lasting microdoses of these good things in our life actually penetrate our brains. The old negativity bias is a stealth collector of the bad stuff — and it blocks the brain from “taking in the good”. Next thing we know, there is a large pile of sticky, murky, opaque negativity getting in the way of activating the positive benefits of all the goodness that unfolds naturally in our lives everyday.

Consider this keen observation that Dr. Hanson shared:

“People are having many experiences in which others are friendly, supportive, appreciative, warm — and still….deep down inside, they feel lonely and uncared for.” — Dr. Rick Hanson

I believe many of us can relate to Dr. Hanson’s insights from both sides of the equation. We may be the ones in our friendships and relationships that are providing support, caring, understanding and encouragement — and yet we sadly watch our loved ones sink deeper into despair. On the flip side, we may be so overcome with our feelings of shame or unworthiness, that we too are unable to actually see and feel the gifts of empathy, love and support being offered to us.

We have to be in “receiving mode” to be aware of these positive experiences happening in our lives. Yet if our brains are unconsciously blocking entry, it’s because the negativity bias and our recorded past experiences have teamed up — and we simply cannot take it in. We are not in “receiving mode”.

This is where the enneagram can be such an effective tool. We can begin to recognize our standard behavioral patterns, and learn “why” we leaned so hard on them in childhood. This awareness of our behavioral patterns becomes the entry point for change. Recognizing adaptive childhood patterns and trading them in for more mature ways of showing up in life begins to disrupt the negativity bias and open the pathway to take in good experiences.

In his therapeutic work on adaptive childhood behavioral patterns, author and psychotherapist Terry Real offers this whimsical yet poignant image:

You don’t want those adaptive childhood patterns driving the bus. Put your arms around them, love them up — and then announce: take your sticky hands off the steering wheel!”

So, let’s circle back. The factory default setting in our brains is a turbo-charged negativity bias. Without upgrades and resets, we take these default settings into our adult world. Over time, the negativity bias of our brains becomes a very strong and powerful muscle. It blocks what we want most — better experiences, more good than bad, progress on our goals, meaningful relationships.

As Forrest Hanson pointed out, it is a long, well established engrained pattern.

And if changing this was easy, we’d all be psychological superstars. But we didn’t even know that, let alone know how to change it. And this is precisely why these new research findings on positive neuroplasticity are so relevant.

Dr. Rick Hanson and his son Forrest made clear that incidental learning is pretty limited. Any brain upgrades and glitch fixes that we want to install and activate are going to require proactive and deliberate practice.

Two things really stood out to me as Rick revealed just how challenging this pivot can be. One is that what we really need to do is change a long-entrenched habit. And that habit has been mostly an unconscious one for most of our lives. Even a seasoned mindfulness practitioner and neuroscientist like Dr. Hanson finds himself often falling back into his age-old pattern in spite of the fact that he is both aware and committed to change. The truth is that habits are hard to break. This is where we can integrate the teachings of James Clear in his book Atomic Habits into our awareness of the negavity bias and strive for small, consistent improvements in pushing it aside to let the good things seep in.

The second thing that really surprised me is that most of the hard work we are doing in the self-help industry and on our personal growth journeys are in fact incidental learning. We may intuitively, and perhaps even accidentally, be able to achieve some elements of lasting change through mindfulness, meditation and learning from podcasts and books — yet it is mostly through increased self-awareness and incidental learning.

This incidental learning often can support us in developing better “states” of being. But the wow factor is that deliberate growth will transform our “states” to “traits”.

This is the dynamic aspect of this new research. We can upgrade our brains through positive neuroplasticity to receive and incorporate more positive experiences and responses and be continually learning from this process as we move through life. And we can develop lifelong traits of inner strengths that will serve us, and our relationships, in meaningful, rewarding ways.

Since there is a world of difference between having a beneficial positive experience AND learning from it, Dr. Rick Hanson developed a method using the acronym HEAL to help us. This HEAL method is a framework for mental learning factors that focus on how we “engage” with our experiences. It is this “engagement” process that makes learning stick.

With incidental learning, we are more passively using tools like growth mindset, openness to new experiences and motivation.

With the HEAL method, we proactively and deliberately engage four steps in two phases:

Phase 1 – Activation Stage:

H – HAVE a beneficial, positive experience. Notice it — being present in the moment and aware that you are having a positive experience. Or, deliberately creating one — like calling up a feel of gratitude or compassion, motivation or commitment

Phase 2 – Installation Stage: (These learning factors MUST underpin any lasting change in neural structure.)

E – ENRICH: Extend the duration, increase the intensity, turn up the volume in your mind, bring all your senses to bear such feeling it in the body, focus on what is novel or fresh about it and recognize its personal relevance to you. For example, feeling included and cared about, valued and accepted)

A – ABSORB: Plausibly sensitize the brain. Fertilize the soil to be receptive to the big enriched seeds that are landing on it. You are deliberately intending to personalize the experience, imagining or sensing what you are about to receiving and making room for it. Focus on what is rewarding, meaningful and enjoyable about it. This increases release of dopamine and epinephrine in your brain which creates lasting neural change.

L – LINK: Link the experience. A common practice in psychotherapy and even every day life, is linking to the positive. We are aware of both positive and negative throughout out day, and we are intentionally making the “positives” bigger. With this practice, you can gradually soothe, ease and even replace the negativity material.

There will no doubt be more studies conducted and more applications for this game-changing new method in the self-help industry, in couples counseling, in parenting practices and in mental health treatments.

This new research takes positivity and optimism to a whole new level. Rather than fighting our turbo-charged negativity bias, and donning armor to protect us from our vulnerabilities, we can learn — and teach — how to grow inner resources of courage, resilience and patience, all while harvesting more of the good experiences and feelings that flow into us every single day.

For those who often push away what they want the most, this just might be the solution they’ve been seeking.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Deliberate Growth

We have positive experiences every day that present us with opportunities to learn something new. Yet all too often, we miss those golden opportunities for a variety of reasons. The brain’s natural negativity bias is one key reason.

Another is the fact that often we are just not paying attention. We do spend a fair amount of our time each day operating on auto pilot, navigating through life with habits and patterns we haven’t proactively updated for years.

Think about this: We update our phones to fix glitches and install upgrades. In fact, we are eager and excited about upgrades for our devices.

We can do the same thing for the most amazing experience processors we possess — our brains! We can actually “upgrade” our personal operating system by cultivating awareness and proactively rewiring our brain to “take in the good”. Maybe we just need to reframe brain health as our personal “upgrade”.

Every time you take in the good, you build a little bit of neural structure. Doing this a few times a day — for months, and even years — will gradually change your brain, and how you feel and act — in far reaching ways. –– Dr. Rick Hanson, Author of Resilient, NeuroDharma and Hardwiring Happiness.

Game-changing breakthroughs are occurring in the fields of neuroscience, neurobiology, psychology and mental health that we can tap into from the comfort of our own homes to give our brains — and our lives — a major operational upgrade!

In his recently published study in the Journal of Positive Physchology, entitled “Learning to Learn from Positive Experiences“, Dr. Rick Hanson reveals the profound revelations of our capacity for “deliberate growth”.

The focus of this study was how to make learning “stick”; how to build those internal resources that we need when facing life’s challenges. Those inner strengths are things like courage, resilience, patience, confidence, compassion, and emotional know how.

There has never been a study done quite like this. Previously, the little research that did exist had been primarily focused on external factors like settings, environments, behavioral patterns; or broad, global attitudes such as having a “growth mindset” or being open to our own experiences. Even cultivating “awareness” about our emotional triggers and childhood behavioral patterns was only the first step in moving towards healing and personal growth. Being aware is key — but how do we make lasting changes in the ways we show up in the world?

As Dr. Rick Hanson points out, “what makes the most difference is where the neurological rubber meets the road in how we directly engage our experiences of what we are trying to grow.”

Positive neuroplasticity!

This is groundbreaking and game-changing research that will become a foundational component of mental health, personal growth, brain health and overall wellbeing.

By being proactively engaged in our positive experiences as they are occurring, we can disrupt the brain’s natural negativity bias and build stronger neural pathways for our inner strengths. We become more skillful at “taking in the good” and we strengthen core resources for handling adversity.

Dr. Hanson explains that if we are trying to grow inner strengths like happiness, patience, or self-worth, it starts by actually experiencing it. So often, when we are having a positive experience, it can wash right through our minds like water through a sieve. A momentary experience of pure joy or feeling patient fades away quickly. It doesn’t stick.

In his earlier teachings, Dr. Hanson would encourage us to become aware of those good feelings associated with a positive experience and hold on to them for 15-30 seconds. While that was helpful for us to begin recognizing how many good experiences we were having during a day, it was one half of the equation — it was “activation”. This new research reveals the second — and most impactful –step in the learning process. It is “installation.”

Activation and installation are the keys steps for our brain upgrades. Makes sense doesn’t it? We can get messages on our phones about a new upgrade, but until we actually “install” it, we don’t get the benefits of that upgrade. Same simple concept applies to our brains — it takes both activation and installation.

By using the methods from Dr. Hanson’s study, we can deliberately and directly increase our positive neuroplasticity which causes the actual experience to lodge inside of us. The experience sticks. It’s like planting a seed of the resource we wish to increase.

The more we deliberately and directly engage with our positive experiences, the more we are attending to the growth of those inner strengths every day.

These are such extraordinary findings because we now have several key factors to add to the field of positive psychology which Dr. Martin Seligman introduced over 20 years ago. It was long held that a person’s character was pretty much set by around the age of 20 but we’ve learned that this is not at all the case. People change all throughout their lives and have the ability to grow and expand their inner resources as they evolve. As Dr. Hanson’s study confirms, we do have the capacity for deliberate growth.

Not only can we acquire resources like resilience, patience, courage, self worth and emotional know how, we can supercharge the acquisition of these inner strengths by moving them from “states to traits”. Dr. Hanson points out that we have to move from “states to traits” for any kind of lasting learning.

In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear encourages us to cast a vote for the person we wish to become. He often suggests we have a strong image in our minds of a real life person who embodies the values and characteristics that we wish to grow. This concept of “casting a vote” is that every small and simple action that reinforces those good habits, done consistently over time, helps us “install” new, improved habits. Eventually, we do actually become a better version of ourselves and it appears to be fluid, organic.

It is this very same principle that Dr. Hanson’s research proves for our capacity to grow core inner strengths. Over time, with consistent, engaged daily practice, we move from someone who can tap into reservoirs of calmness or resiliency, to a person who actually is calm and/or resilient. We move more fluidly and organically through life with those core inner strengths as our compass and ballast.

Very simply put learning is conscious. Dr. Hanson emphasizes that we must help our positive experiences change the brain. No brain change, no learning.

Here is the stunning truth: We have the most amazing computer installed in us from birth — it is our brain. Yet we operate unconsciously about all the features and capabilities of this most incredible, malleable, multi-functional technology. Few of us ever read an operator’s manual for our brain. That’s a core reason why we have trouble parenting — we don’t understand how a child’s brain develops. As our bodies grow and our lived experiences shape us, we keep operating on auto pilot with a brain that would love an upgrade.

Let’s not forget that the factory default for our brains is a turbo-charged negativity bias. Basically when we are young, that factory setting helps us to stay alert for what we need to survive — food, safety, nurturing. And we are completely vulnerable, dependent on others to ensure those basic needs are met. But as we grow, learn and become autonomous, we gain agency for ourselves. However, if we don’t upgrade our brain, that default setting of the negativity bias will not serve us well. Quite candidly, that is where most of us are operating from unconsciously throughout our adult lives.

Dr. Hanson was not shy about pointing this out as he discussed his research findings on the July 11th Being Well podcast. Imagine just how dispiriting it is for counselors and therapists to hear that the turbocharged negativity bias of our brains is one of the toughest roadblocks for our quality of life, for healing from trauma, for personal growth and building core inner strengths.

And yet — it is also the most profound pivot for all of us. Positive Neuroplasticity! We can embrace our capacity to deliberately upgrade and grow a bumper crop of inner strengths.

Dr. Rick Hanson partnered with the Greater Good Science Center in Berkley, CA, along with other esteemed peers to do this research study. His excitement for this new discovery is contagious and encouraging. Dr. Hanson has spent his life dedicated to melding neuroscience and psychology to help us live happier, healthier lives in alignment with our potential and our values. This transformational discovery about how we can deliberately “active and install” a positive upgrade in our most amazing brains is going to have a huge impact on mental health treatments and services.

In a few days, I will share another blog post that details the steps in the HEAL method that Dr. Hanson teaches for us to activate and install our brain upgrades. It is my hope that you will find this new neuroscience breakthrough as dynamic as I do — and that you will take the time to listen to the lively discussion about it in the Being Well episode I’ve linked below.

Who’s ready for a transformational positivity upgrade?

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

JOURNAL OF POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY – RESEARCH WHITE PAPER BY DR. RICK HANSON: LEARNING TO LEARN FROM POSITIVE EXPERIENCES”

https://www.rickhanson.net/learning-to-learn-from-positive-experiences/

When Individual Personal Growth Impacts Community

It has been nothing short of remarkable to witness the transformational changes in my friends as they have been embracing self discovery and personal growth. A few friends proactively embarked on their journey due to a feeling of discontent or because life through them a curveball. Others were drawn in as they witnessed their friends showing up with more confidence, more energy and passion. No matter the on-ramp, these friends made a commitment to positive changes.

Not surprisingly, their circle of close friends also shifted and began to mirror the qualities and values that support mutual growth. Conversations went deeper which resulted in stronger bonds of trust and connection. It is proof positive that the energy we put out into the world comes back to us.

Elevate your energy, your goals, your curiosity and you soon discover you are drawing “like kinds” onto your path. It’s the law of attraction. It’s also the hot tip that James Clear offers in his book Atomic Habits: surround yourself with the kind of people who possess the attributes and traits you wish to cultivate.

This transformation and the resulting positive shift in family relationships and friendships is a natural progression in the personal growth experience. This had been – and continues to be — my own experience. It is also what fuels my daily practices of self-awareness and personal growth.

I remember being very immersed in Pema Chodrun’s teachings years ago, and two things really stuck with me. The first is that when we commit to doing our personal development work, we make it easier for others to pursue their own. The second is that when you begin to show up differently with family and friends, it will take a while for them to accept those changes; if and when they do, they have the potential to evolve as well.

About two years ago, I wrote about how excited I was that so many of my teachers, authors, mentors and resources were intersecting into the developing space of contemplative neuroscience. Awareness, mindfulness, meditation were becoming integrated into neuroscience, mental health, therapy and personal growth.

Today I am excitedly observing the positive impacts of individual personal development spreading out into communities through the stories my friends are sharing with me. Individually these friends have done a lot of personal growth work; collectively they are making a huge contribution to others as a direct result of their own inner work.

It does not surprise me at all that my friends are change agents. All along they were committed to being helpful, supportive, contributing members of their families, workplaces and communities. The personal growth work that they have done in recent years has served to make them much more skillful, empathetic and magnetic to others. And the others that are seeking them out for guidance are those that are equally committed to positive change.

Perhaps that is the most noteworthy difference — People can sense the groundedness in my friends and they hunger for that peace, calm and authenticity.

Collectively we have experienced several years of uncertainty, disruption, confusion and major challenges. There is a growing interest and need for support, tools and resources to help cope with it all. It is no wonder that the negative stigma once associated with mental health and therapy is rapidly shifting — and the demand for mental health services, counseling and therapy is on the rise.

This is precisely where Pema Chodrun’s two part wisdom is really rising to the surface. With so many people in struggle right now, those who are further along on their personal growth journey are beginning to stand out in the crowd.

Pema’s wisdom coincides with the research of Dr. Bruce Perry and Dr. Dan Siegel. We need relational scaffolding in our families and our communities — now more than ever. This respectful, empathic and non-judgmental scaffolding has been in decline for decades. Unfortunately social media has amplified the disconnection and created more roadblocks to embracing our differences and discovering our shared humanity. As BrenĂ© Brown shares with us — it is hard to hate someone close up. Face to face, heart to heart, shared experience conversations are the ones we truly need — these are the ones that build relational scaffolding. Dr. Perry also calls this relational and emotional webbing — and it is an informal and integral part of the mental health support so urgently needed right now.

Several of my friends are business and life coaches. Their businesses are thriving because people are clamoring for better tools and life skills to help them navigate their own intersections of personal life and work life. Because my friends have done so much of their own inner work, they have a sixth sense about behavioral patterns and past traumas that might be unconsciously causing some of the problems. But it is not just their awareness of these potential roadblocks, it is the ease they possess with hearing uncomfortable stories, their tenderness when vulnerabilities are shared, their non-judgment and deep empathy for all that another person is navigating. Major breakthroughs are occurring with their clients because my friends are paving the way, lighting the path and leading by example.

Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead certification program is built on this premise — Do the brave work, have the hard conversations, lead with whole hearts (aka shared humanity). In his compelling new book, The Four Pivots, Dr. Shawn Ginwright draws a very connected line to our own inner work and the relationship it has to transcending and transforming our collective systemic problems.

As Pema Chodrun says, we have to know ourselves well before we can truly begin to know others. It is our own inner work that expands our capacity to be fully present with others and to be able to listen to understand. We shed our old behaviors, beliefs and armor that prevented us from being better listeners — and we have more bandwidth to not let our own experiences distract us from learning from another’s different experience.

This is another noteworthy observation — those who know themselves well often are more comfortable with paradox, they are able to be with tension of opposing ideas and experiences and find the common thread.

It is not only my friends who are professionals in coaching and counseling, it is also those who do compromise the community scaffolding that Dr. Perry and Dr. Seigel espouse. People just like me who are practicing self awareness and personal development in a committed way. My book club friends, my longtime friends and some new acquaintances support each other on our journey. We share our favorite resources including books and podcasts and we have a lot of long, deep conversations. We learn so much from each other’s stories and we expand our capacity and curiosity as a result of the diversity of other’s trials and tribulations.

We support each other with breaking old habits, are growing more comfortable with holding each other accountable to our desired goals and the new habits, patterns and responses that will get us there. We often remind each other of how far we have come on our journey. We encourage, we listen, we hold space and withhold judgment.

As my friend Diane Brandt would say “the blessings go both ways” in these relationships. It is true that even a seasoned personal growth student will learn something new when they are supporting another person in their healing and growth. This is the “mirror” work that Dr. Shawn Ginwright emphasizes in his book, The Four Pivots.

Over the past year or so, I have witnessed that as my friends are showing up quite differently in life through their own personal growth journey, they are also attracting new people into their friendships and community endeavors. They delight in sharing with me the deeper, richer and even more challenging conversations they have with both old friends and new. My friends are sharing their personal experiences of mindfulness and awareness with others. They are offering all kinds of resources and wisdom to those who express an interest in their own personal development.

As I reflect on where we all started on our journey and where we are today, I am filled with a renewed sense of hope and optimism for the future. My friends and I represent a thin slice of what is happening all over the globe as people are realizing that change is most definitely in order. For every single one of us who commits to cultivating more self awareness and doing our own work with a growth mindset, we are planting seeds of positive change in the hearts and minds of others. I am seeing this in action, in a microcosm of my circle of friends and family. Small actions, done consistently over time compound in the most transformational ways. We all can make a meaningful difference.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

This episode entitled “Couples Insights” is such a compelling and relatable example of personal growth using the enneagram to cultivate self-awareness and bring an even deeper connection to a longterm marriage

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/typology/id1254061093?i=1000564980702

“Whatever he has, I want it!”

Hugh Jackman shared a personal experience about meeting up his longtime friend after a few months of being apart — and noticing almost immediately that something about him was strikingly different. “Whatever it is that he has, I want it, ” Hugh thought to himself.

Hugh Jackman was a featured speaker on the last day of a 4 day summit that I participated in this past week. I was drawn to the summit by the extensive list of presenters and the wide array of resources — all under the heading of “The Healing Power of Relationships.” While most of the presenters were experts in their fields of neuroscience, mindfulness and meditation, trauma and childhood development, Hugh was “one of us” — an eager student of personal growth.

If you are a fan of Hugh Jackman through his various acting roles, you are probably drawn to his charisma, talents and easy going personality. Trust me, if you had witnessed him sharing his personal stories and his self-discoveries so vulnerably in this summit, you would be an even bigger fan. A fan of another human being that is evolving into the best version of himself — and inspiring others to do the same. Just as his longtime friend did for him.

You see, that “difference” that Hugh was seeing and feeling emanating from his friend was this grounded sense of calm and authenticity. Hugh’s friend explained to him that he’d been working with a therapist, Terry Real, and that it had been a game-changer for him. Hugh was all in.

Take note — it wasn’t that there was a major crisis that prompted Hugh to meet with Terry. It was seeing a change in his friend that inspired him. This is not at all surprising. It becomes very evident to others when we’ve undergone a significant change, especially when it is related to personal growth. The secret: it’s co-regulation.

When you are in the presence of someone who is calm, has good energy and an innate sense of empathy, you feel it. In fact, those attributes will bring you into alignment with them. Of course, you’d have to be paying attention to consciously recognize it, but there’s no doubt that your heart rate would slow and any tension you were feeling would dissipate somewhat. That’s co-regulation.

This works in reverse too. Frenzied, disregulated energy is super magnetic and stickier than fly paper. A toddler throwing a a temper tantrum and an agitated parent rarely leads to a quick deescalation.

What Hugh Jackman learned as he took a deep dive into self awareness and personal growth with Terry Real is that our relationships and experiences have impacted us all throughout our lifetimes. Unbeknownst to us, some of that emotional baggage and the habits we’ve developed actually weigh us down, distract us and even set us off on a wrong course. Furthermore, we are learning that some of the age-old parenting models and myths we were raised on were wrong. We can thank neurobiology, neuroscience and psychology for these transformational breakthroughs.

Hugh was quite honest about what he discovered and uncovered about himself through his sessions with Terry. Things that surprised him, things that didn’t really surprise him but were hard to reconcile, ways he was responding to life that created the anxieties he was trying to avoid. The truth is that to get to that place of authenticity and grounded calmness, it is necessary to discard what isn’t working. We literally can “lighten up”.

When we drop the armor we use to protect ourselves, unpack the habits and behaviors that aren’t matching the adult we want to be, and realize that old myths were so wrong — that’s when our true authentic selves get to come out and flourish.

Hugh Jackman was most enthusiastic about how his life has changed for the better since working with Terry. He’s more present in his daily life, more relaxed and fluid with his time and creativity, deepening his relationships with his wife, his kids and his friends (especially his male friends). He wants to spread the word about the game-changing, transformational benefits of personal growth work and the healing power of our heathy relationships. His participation as a guest in this 4 day summit was testament to his commitment to inspire others.

I’ve shared in prior posts a few of the things we got wrong that may have pre-disposed us to developing habits that have not served us well: Believing that showing vulnerability was weakness, that we should live a life without reflecting on regrets, or that “sucking it up”, “pushing through” our emotions was the best way to move on after heartbreak or adversity.

A big myth for men was that they should not show “feminine” emotions. While “anger” was perceived as acceptable and manly, “sensitive or crying” was not. This melted over into parenting and we believed that soothing our little boys when they were scared or hurt would turn them into sissies.

Dr. Dan Siegel was instrumental in blowing the lid off both of these harmful misconceptions. Children, regardless of gender, need to be soothed and supported when they are scared or hurt. In fact, we actually help to build their grit and resilience by being proactive in acknowledging what they are feeling and assuring them. This proactive approach also helps a child develop empathy and compassion for others. Bullying, entitlement and power struggles are rooted in a lack of empathy.

As for our wide array of human emotions, both Dr. Siegel and Dr. Bruce Perry reinforce the importance of learning how to be with our emotions, to process and learn from them and respond in an appropriate way. Naming emotions helps our children create emotional agility and self-regulation. Stuffing or dismissing emotions only puts them in a dark closet that will eventually spring open and cause major havoc.

Generations of men were incorrectly taught that vulnerability is weakness and showing emotions is unmanly. Is it any wonder that men may have a hard time showing empathy, struggle with emotional regulation, and deal with confusion when they are hurting or fearful. Not to mention all the challenges they face when trying to navigate the emotional landscape of their partners and children.

Gender simply does not matter when it comes to emotions, vulnerability, empathy and connection. What does matter is teaching ourselves and our children the skills and tools to better understand how our emotions, vulnerability, empathy and innate need for connection are instrumental for our healthy relationships.

This brings me back to co-regulation. Many of us grew up in homes that did not have a lot of positive co-regulation. Because prior generations of parents did not have the knowledge and resources we have today, there were many disregulated emotions and unhealthy parenting practices. We grew up vowing not to behave like our parents, but without an awareness of the root causes of so much confusion and dysfunction.

During the 4 day summit there was a fair amount of time given to both big T and little t trauma in childhood. We all developed some form of adaptive child behavioral patterns when we were little. With young developing brains and limited language, we developed habits to help us make sense of what was happening in our lives. Terry Real shares that we just did not have the capabilities of a fully developed prefrontal cortex to help us.

Yet all too often, we are still constrained by those adaptive childhood patterns. We are simply unaware that we are confined by these childhood patterns; things like people-pleasing, conflict avoiding, perfectionism, hyper vigilance and anxiety. This is where a counselor, therapist or even a trusted friend can really be of value. Once we become aware of these adaptive child patterns, we can begin to break old habits and move into the freedom of truly being ourselves. I have a feeling that this is also what Hugh was witnessing when he saw the transformation in his friend.

When we shed those old patterns and step into our fuller selves, it is so amazing. No longer encumbered, we can readily identify our needs, set boundaries, stop excessive worrying and time travel. We can truly feel comfortable in our own skin. We can be more fully present.

Grounded confidence comes from knowing ourselves well. This creates an inner calmness. Eliminating patterns that were distracting brings a lot more clarity and sharpens self-awareness. Learning to have compassion for ourselves fosters empathy for others.

When we know ourselves well, we have a much clearer lens with which to see others. It makes it so much easier for others to be vulnerable, and show up as their true selves. Our connection with others can deepen because we are open now — to listening to understand (rather than defend or respond), to be curious rather than judgmental and to be empathetic to what they are feeling (even if it quite different from our own experiences). This is co-regulation. We meet others where they are.

Hugh Jackman shared that he is part of a men’s group that is committed to personal growth work and supporting each other through all aspects of their lives. His friend that introduced him to Terry Real is very quick to “see through” an “I’m OK” response from a buddy and is fearless about going deeper to support his friend. Together, they have forged the relational scaffolding that Dr. Bruce Perry advocates for — the empathetic emotional support we all need to survive and thrive.

What I am so inspired by is the number of men who are embracing personal growth work, cultivating more self awareness and recognizing that old paradigms are relics of the past. These are the men that are proactively involved in raising their sons and daughters with equanimity.

Definition of equanimity: mental calmness, composure and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.

Recommended Resources:

You can watch Hugh Jackman’s interview — it begins at hour 6 on this YouTube presentation (Day 4)

Increase Your Self-Awareness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbs5MLgjZKs

Don’t Hit Snooze on a Wake Up Call

It is often a sudden realization that we are not having “fun” anymore that sparks an awareness that something needs to change. We reach a point where we just stop in our tracks and acknowledge that for all the effort we are putting in, we aren’t really getting back what we thought we would.

This is a recurring theme in the books I am reading, the documentaries and TV series I watch, the pivotal stories of the people who inspire me. Brene Brown called hers a “mid-life unraveling”; Dax Sheppard talks about hitting “rock bottom” multiple times; my new friend, Joe Stone, had a revelation after failing to accomplish a physically taxing triathlon challenge he’d set for himself.

These moments are “wake up calls” for our life. Truth be told, we most likely have many of them throughout our lifetime. Sometimes we just need to make an adjustment. Other times it is a full stop, transformational shift in how we are actually engaging with our one precious life.

In a recent interview with Ed Mylett, successful country musician, Brett Eldredge, shared that his pivotal moment came when anxiety and panic attacks were more prevalent than the joy he thought he would be having, even as he was living his big dream life. At age 36, he was feeling the heavy demands that came with success. He shared with Ed in his interview that he struggled with imposter syndrome and being a longtime perfectionist.

He hid it well – at least to the outside world. His social media posts were upbeat, frequent and playful. He kept the hectic pace — giving engaging interviews and dynamic live concert performances fueled by his perfectionist ways and others’ expectations.

Brett’s wake up call came when he finally said to himself — “This is not a way to live. I’m supposed to love this thing.” He confided that he was playing a lot of “what if” games in his mind, and was totally self-doubting. He was destroying himself mentally.

It’s moments like this, when we really ask the question– “what is going on?” When we are doing what we love but it is not loving us back. When we are not feeling the joy, the good energy, the deeper fulfillment. Moments like this are the wake-up calls.

Ed Mylett asked Brett what he did after this realization. His response – “I had to get out of my head and into my life!”

Brett’s first instinct was to get outdoors. He started to create a new routine for himself. One that would help him get grounded, more in touch with the present moment. He started taking morning hikes.

The Greater Good Science Center has long promoted getting out in nature as one of the best resources to restore peace of mind and boost our creativity. Brett was heeding his natural instincts when he implemented morning hikes as a part of his new daily routine.

Brett was born and raised in Paris, Illinois – “a great place to be from,” he says. He had a great childhood for which he is very grateful. He also acknowledges that he may have taken on some of his parent’s patterns. His mom was a “worrier” and his dad had a tenacious work ethic with high standards for practice to ensure success.

Ed Mylett interjected that he too had a great childhood and a dad who not only loved him but really wanted to keep him safe. Ed is pretty sure he heard “be careful” at least 5,000 times over his father’s lifetime. One day at age 45, Ed asked himself if that message held him back a bit.

Ed firmly believes that “patterns, beliefs and even limiting beliefs were installed in us as children, by loving, well-intentioned people.” He points out that our emotions are neither negative or positive, but too much emotion can paralyze us. He coined a catchy phrase about this childhood installation of patterns and beliefs. Ed says they are “caught not taught”.

Brett could relate — he recognized that his perfectionism, his high anxiety that led to imposter syndrome and panic attacks might have been rooted in what he picked up as a kid. With therapy, and a lot of digging in, he cultivated greater self-awareness.

Personal development work gets a big jumpstart by identifying behavioral patterns and recognizing how emotions can derail us, especially if they get a full head of steam. We can’t fix what we are unaware of — which is why becoming more self-aware is so important.

Brett supported his personal growth efforts by listening to people who inspired and educated him. He wanted to learn and grow. He started listening to motivational podcasts, including Ed Mylett’s. He discovered books that supported his journey. I confess I smiled when I heard that he had recently read “Breath” by James Nestor (and yes, it is in my personal library).

One of the most powerful change agents for personal growth is finding good role models and surrounding ourselves with people who are on a similar path. As Ed Mylett pointed out in his conversation with Brett, “The more you learn about people who are successful, the more you will begin to believe you can be successful too — because they are not much different from you.”

Brett shared that he seeks out the people who have a message he can believe in and who have a willingness to keep growing, readily admitting that they don’t have it all figured out either.

Finding resources that are relatable and authentic helps us build our personalized toolkit to support our healing, learning and growing. There is an abundance of motivational and educational podcasts. Often those podcasts will be the springboard for discovering other motivators, authors, specialists – and tools. The more you know, the more you grow.

As Brett was becoming more aware of how he could be distracted by thoughts, the “what if” game, and mind travel, he also realized just how much time he spent on his phone. What started out as checking email or texts turned into a boatload of wasted time needlessly scrolling. He realized that the scrolling was driving his anxiety through the roof; the continual dopamine rush was unhealthy.

Ed Mylett chimed in and said our phones and social media are “presence stealers“.

Since Brett was committed to being more present, he took a drastic measure and got a flip phone. He just wanted to disrupt the cycle, the old habitual pattern of reaching for the phone, and getting lost in it. Eventually he did return to an iPhone, but he has a timer for his social media use — and has someone else set the passcode so that he can’t override it. Now that’s commitment to a new habit.

All we have to do is a take a look at our daily screen time to realize that our devices are getting far more attention than we’d like if we were being honest with ourselves.

If you think you don’t have time to invest in a walk, mindfulness practice, exercise, read a book or have a face to face conversation, take a look at that screen time usage –and then reclaim control of your time and attention.

Discovering just how much of our attention we waste every day is such an important topic. Not only are we not fully present for about 50% of our daily life, we are often mentally foggy and overwhelmed. It’s not just our devices, though they are a big component of the larger problem.

We need to gain a better understanding of how our amazing brain works and we need to train our attention so we can operate at an optimum level. The book, Peak Mind, by Dr. Amishi Jha is a premier resource for anyone who wants to master their skill of focus and mindfulness.

Our attention has become a valuable commodity. Advertisers and news media are voraciously vying for it. Think of your attention like your money — where are you spending it?

Brett Eldredge has made a committed shift for his mental health. To help him get out of his head and into his life, he established a structured routine to “armor” himself up for the day. Like all of us, he starts with ordinary things like making his bed and brushing his teeth. Then he amps up his mindfulness — He gets natural light for his eyes, does a 10 minute meditation, journals (the good, the bad, whatever he is feeling) and he sets an intention for the day.

Brett’s morning routine sets him up for navigating his day, centered and calm. He is more aware, more attuned and intentional. Having a daily mindfulness practice is like charting your course for the day. Brett calls this his “armor”. It is his compass that keeps him on the right trajectory no matter what life throws at him throughout the day.

Mindfulness practices provide us with a strong foundation– and scaffolding — to keep us grounded, in alignment with our values, and emotionally regulated as we go through our daily life. Setting an intention reminds us of how we want to be showing up in life, for ourselves and others. Paying attention to our attention unhooks us from wasting this valuable resource, and reduces mind travel, anxiety and distractions.

We feed our bodies so we have the energy to get through the day. We exercise so we are strong and fit physically. Imagine how much more we would gain with each day if we tapped into our amazing brains and supported it as diligently.

Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind

Brett shared with Ed that as he was struggling to gain some traction with these changes he needed in his life, he’d have these moments where he remembered how complete strangers pulled him through tough things in his life. He’d think about some of the most random conversations he’d had at tough points in life. Those little moments that just turn things around a bit – – kindness, a word of encouragement, a nugget of hope, a fresh perspective. He knew that these folks probably had no idea that they offered him a foothold — just by showing up.

He is learning to both “reach out for help and to reach out to help”. Brett offers this insightful wisdom: “Be open to that connection. That’s everything.

Their conversation turned to how Brett’s music is a form of storytelling — and how his songs help others get through some of their tough times. Brett humbly acknowledges that he is aware of this. “There is always somebody that needs to hear the message you are about to say. I look for that person in the crowd – the one that is broken or in a tough spot.”

When we lean into our vulnerability, we do open to connection. We get to know ourselves better and what we need the most when we are facing hard times. This gets to the heart of common humanity and deepens our empathy for each other. Pema Chodrun teaches that when we do our own personal growth work, we become a source of inspiration to others and we become helpmates to them. We connect with each other through our stories, where we see our own experiences and emotions reflected back to us.

This interview with Brett Eldredge and Ed Mylett was intended to help others. Both Brett and Ed were fearless about going “deep” with honesty and vulnerability. They also laughed a lot, acknowledged and celebrated each other’s contributions to making the world a better place. We need to have and hear more of these kinds of stories, especially from men. These stories about our “wake up calls” in life urge us to stop hitting the snooze button. Instead, hit the pause button — do some reflection and dig a little deeper to discover what you stand for and who you really are.

“We are all put on this earth to connect with one another.” — Brett Eldredge

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Brett Eldredge Has Imposter Syndrome? How does a COUNTRY SUPER STAR work on his Mental Health? Ed Mylett Youtube Podcast with Brett Eldredge, May 17, 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFFhkhJwfOI

A Mindfulness Community

Sitting comfortably in my cozy chair in front of the warm glow of my crackling fireplace, I was curled up with a cup of tea and my newest favorite book, Peak Mind. Each page revealed such fascinating stories to support the research on mindfulness that neuroscientist Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about.

I knew from personal experience that mindfulness and meditation were game-changers for my own life over the past 5 years. Yet reading these compelling stories about the dynamic impact mindfulness practices had on military leaders, as well as medical and business professionals had fully captivated my attention.

My mind drifted (with my permission) to another book, The Four Pivots; Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves by Dr. Shawn Ginwright. The four transformative pivots are: Awareness, Connection, Vision and Presence. His book is grounded in cutting-edge research and Dr. Ginwright’s insight and lived experiences. He addresses the power of doing our own mirror work to help us uncover hidden biases and discover new perspectives. He stresses the importance of our need for connection with each other.

These same attributes are found in mindfulness – they are the very premise of Peak Mind. It was becoming more evident with each page of Peak Mind that “owning our attention” through mindfulness practices could bring about dramatic results not only in our personal lives, but also in our communities. Dr. Ginwright’s book and Dr. Jha’s book fit together like puzzle pieces for what is possible — and what is so urgently needed.

I allowed myself to “mind wander” imagining communities where skillful practitioners of mindfulness were woven into the fabric of our neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, businesses, law enforcement, etc.

I returned my full attention back to my book to make a most surprising discovery.

At the bottom of page 251 of Peak Mind, Dr. Jha begins to unfold the story of Sara Flitner, a strategy and communication consultant who decided to run for mayor in 2012 — in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For those of you reading this who are not aware, I live on the other side of Jackson Hole, across the Grand Teton Pass, in Victor Idaho.

My curiosity went on high alert — what is Sara Flitner’s story? If she is featured in Dr. Jha’s book, mindfulness must be a key component of her story. Is it possible that someone running for mayor in a neighboring community had a transformational mindfulness experience embedded in her story? My full attention was captured. I read on.

Here’s the excerpt from Peak Mind that begins Sara’s story:

Sara Flitner enjoyed running her own company, and she loved applying her skills, like critical thinking and empathy, to solving complex problems. She saw a lot of issues in her community –Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is adjacent to the tourist meccas of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Jackson had one of the highest socioeconomic divides in the nation, and with that came issues of high rates of depression and substance abuse, homelessness, high stress and more. Sara thought she might be able to make a difference through her leadership and by influencing policy. She felt passionate about trying to move the needle from inside the system. Her goal, she says now, was to “infiltrate positions of power with compassion, civility, and basic decency and regard for fellow humans.” (Excerpted from Peak Mind)

I stopped reading to let all that wash over me. I allowed myself a little “mind wandering”…..

In my creative imagination, I conjured Sara Flitner calling Brene Brown at some point in the past and over coffee and a few hearty laughs, they brainstormed a new kind of leadership. While Brene Brown didn’t publish Dare to Lead; Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts until 2018, it certainly seems as though both Sara and Brene were on a similar wavelength about a growing need for a daring new approach to leadership.

Sara Flitner decided to test the waters with her mindfulness-based approach to leadership — and she won the Jackson Hole mayoral election in 2012.

When Dr. Jha was researching Sara’s story, she asked the pointed question — “how did it go?” Sarah laughed, “I walked right into the eye of the storm.” She discovered the reality of just how divisive politics are, even on a local level.

It seems evident that the community (the voters) wanted the same things that Sara offered in her platform. Perhaps they were using their own imaginations to envision something better for their community, their neighbors, their children. Maybe they did have a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of everyone that contributes to making Jackson Hole and Yellowstone a “bucket list” destination for the millions of tourists who visit every year. There may have been a growing awareness that socioeconomic disparities could no longer be ignored.

I’ll interject that when you live here, you come to personally know the young people who comprise a large percentage of those that make our successful tourism sector run so smoothly. These enthusiastic hard workers operate ski lifts, provide childcare, give ski and snowboard lessons, are the clerks, wait staff, maintenance and cleaning staff of stores, restaurants, hotels and more. In the summer months, they are outdoor activities guides and national park employees. We know from conversations that these young adults struggle with limited affordable housing, rising gas and food prices. Our interactions expand the awareness of the disparities right in front of our eyes within our communities.

In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown urges us to move closer to each other and says that “people are hard to hate close up”. I’d add that people are hard to “ignore” close up. I’d like to think that this was happening organically here in Jackson Hole when Sara Flitner ran for mayor. That there was a growing awareness of how interdependent the entirety of the population was and how it was possible, even necessary, to do better.

Yet a big roadblock to implementing change was the impediment of politics. Does a loyalty to party and resistance to change create blindspots to common ground and civility? Or could it be that not using our incredible brains to their fullest potential is the real roadblock?

“It’s heartbreaking to see the kind of suffering we’ll lay on each other when we act like there’s some kind of budget for compassion or empathy. We have this attitude of “I’ll save my compassion for the people I like, not for you. It’s primitive brain reasoning, when we have — right here in our own heads — much more advanced technology available to us.” — Sara Flitner

Throughout her two year term as mayor, Sara relied heavily on her mindfulness practice to help her navigate through painful, difficult and disillusioning times. She shared with Dr. Jha that “her mindfulness practice threw her a “lifeline” because of the way that it helped her connect with others and get things done – especially when those interactions were adversarial and fraught with conflict.”

Sara Flitner was on to something big when she recognized that “primitive brain reasoning” was a major roadblock. This is profoundly true not only for the community challenges we face, it is emphatically true for us as individuals. We are often unconsciously “stuck” on the default mode of our most incredible brains.

To fully unpack the default mode of our brain and how our implicit biases get embedded in long term memory — and how quickly they get retrieved when we are in high stress situations — I urge you to read Peak Mind. Here are some key takeaways:

The brain is in “simulation mode” at all times. Simulation mode gives us the mental models that guide our thinking, decision making and actions. The key ingredients of simulation mode are memories of events of our past, fragments of those memories, plus everything else we have learned and remembered. Then we add our capacity to think, reason and forecast! All of this happens fast — in the moment as events are unfolding.

Dr. Jha explains that part of the reason our simulations (i.e stories) are so powerful is that they become a kind of shorthand for framing a current situation or problem. This shorthand efficiency frees up cognitive resources to do other things. BUT these simulations/stories constrain information processing. They capture and keep our attention locked onto a subset of data. The result? Our perceptions, our thinking and even our decisions are constrained.

Why does this matter? When our simulations/stories are wrong, then our resulting actions and decisions can be skewed wrong too — because of the way our simulations/stories interacts with our attention.

One final caveat — our simulations are so effective that we get fused and persuaded by them. If a key ingredient of our simulation is a stressful memory, our brains and bodies react as if it is a real and current event — and we will experience the release of stress hormones. We will actually begin to “feel” we are currently experiencing the simulated event.

If you let all of this sink in, you can comprehend how crucial it is for first responders, law enforcement, surgeons, military personnel, firefighters and others in high stress jobs to not get caught in “simulations.” The life-saving and life altering real life stories of these very types of professionals will have you on the edge of your seat when you read Peak Mind. One bad decision made because it is based on a wrong simulation can have devastating results.

It should be easy to comprehend how using our brains to their fullest potential — as the highly advanced technological operating system it actually is — would be a game-changer for our individual lives and for our collective problem solving.

The two biggest roadblocks to tapping into all the functions and features of our brains is (1) Being unconsciously stuck in default mode and (2) being unaware of how we are wasting our attention. It would be like having dynamic safety and navigational components in your new car and never using them.

The reality is that many of us are going through life on an outdated auto-pilot. Lots of tiny dysregulated emotional responses can erode our most valued relationship. They also spill out into our workplaces and communities.

As humans, we are hard-wired to co-regulate each other — and we are wired for connection. The key to getting us to operate at a higher and more rewarding efficiency level is to “upgrade” our most amazing brain. Neuroscience is providing us with the knowledge and the tools to install the upgrade. Mindfulness practices are the foundational core.

Over a year ago I blogged about how so many invaluable diversified resources were intersecting in the personal growth arena. It is becoming evident that those same resources are melding together to forge an evolving infrastructure for socioeconomic change as well.

I see this unfolding organically with my friends who are committed to personal growth, self-awareness and mindfulness. I’ve seen the positive impacts their inner work has had within their families, their careers, circles of friends and their community involvement.

It is also evident in the books and podcasts that feel like pieces of a bigger puzzle — each subject offering insights and knowledge that fit together with an improved framework for coming together to address complex, nuanced issues with clarity, compassion and creativity.

Right here, in my own community, there is yet another meaningful example of this positive change. Sara Flitner, former mayor of Jackson Hole, continues her mindfulness influence and outreach:

Sara founded Becoming Jackson Whole, an organization dedicated to training leaders across all arenas — community service, health, education, business, law enforcement and more – in the kinds of evidence-based mindfulness skills that help build resilience and enable people to thrive personally and accomplish more professionally. (excerpted from the book, Peak Mind)

The Becoming Jackson Whole website has a blue banner across the top that reads “We’re on a mission to make mindfulness second nature in Jackson Hole.”

A coordinating banner on the About Page shares this: “Helping our community respond to the challenges of our times with focus, compassion and resilience. Empowering leaders to create change.”

Guess who provided the training for these local community leaders? Dr. Amishi Jha, author of Peak Mind. I’ve come full circle with my story of how I discovered that a subject near and dear to me — mindfulness — was actually making a difference in my own community. It might explain why I’ve discovered so many people at the local book store and coffee shops who are reading similar books and who readily engage in the deeper conversations I thrive on. What I know for sure is that the more people become discerning about where they are placing their attention, and the more skilled they become at tapping into the full potential of their brains, the better for all of us.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES:

Peak Mind will open your eyes to how you utilize your ATTENTION and how to take control of it.

The best primer I have found for revealing the incredible benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness practices.

The Four Pivots connects the dots between the personal growth work we do for ourselves and how it shifts our awareness and perspectives when thinking about — and engaging in — meaningful social changes

For anyone transitioning into a new chapter of their live, this insightful book will help you discover how purpose can be both a source of groundedness and fulfillment.

THIS IS PART OF MY LOCAL COMMUNITY — THE GRAND TETONS

Visit this Website – Becoming Jackson Whole https://becomingjacksonwhole.org/about-nav