When Brene Brown launched her newest book, Atlas of the Heart, she offered this beautiful, profound insight:
For me, this quote captures exactly what my personal growth and self discovery journey feels like. I had no idea where I was going when I started. Seven years ago, I was leaning pretty hard on the quote “all who wander are not lost” which makes me laugh out loud…because I was indeed “lost”. I used a lot of maps to find my way – and I still do. Some of those maps are weathered and worn, some are pristine and folded neatly into a well scored rectangle, some are digital and some have ink so fresh it washes over the paper like a watercolor.
Initially I wanted the “how to” maps. I scoured the self help sections of libraries, bookstores and the internet. Over time I came to realize the most transformational way to go about self discovery and personal growth is to approach it more like looking for clues on a hidden treasure map and being open to discovery.
If I were to break out a gigantic three-feet long piece of butcher block paper, I could whimsically draw with chunky crayons what that treasure map looked and felt like for me. There would be volcanos, broken bridges, tornados and swampland…and a few fairies, leprechauns, trampolines and bungee cords, rays of warm yellow sunshine and a deep reflecting pool. I’d add in some glittery neon-bright fireworks to spotlight my “aha” moments.
It is only with the clarity of my “hindsight googles” that I can now truly appreciate all the trash and treasures I discovered on my ongoing personal growth adventure. My experiences are much like the one my grandkids have with one of those “shine a light” flashlight books where the hidden pictures are revealed when a focused beam of illumination hits them.
It occurs to me that so often when we talk about personal growth and self-discovery, the emphasis is on how hard it is. The images of peeling off the layers of our emotional onion, dumpster diving into the baggage we’ve accumulated and breaking old habits seem more like punishment than an appealing invitation to become a better version of ourselves.
Rarely do we hear the upside of embarking on the personal growth journey, at least not in tangible, realistic ways. We hear all those fluffy, gauzy accolades about finding our “authentic” self but it all seems as fleeting and surreal as dressing up in a costume and pretending to be Cinderella or Spiderman. Looks good…but what does it really “feel” like?
The greatest gift of personal growth work is how freeing and empowering it feels — once you get to one of the pinnacles in the process. That becomes the motivation to reach the next pinnacle. Each one creates more space for what we really want in our lives. We often are completely unaware of just how much we get in our way, until we start looking at our patterns and blind spots. As we lighten the load, the journey becomes a lot more engaging in a very positive way.
One of the most insightful moments in any self-discovery journey is when we realize just how far we’ve come. This is a big boost to our motivation to keep going — when we look back and recognize that we have actually made a lot of forward progress; that we are showing up in improved ways in old familiar circumstances.
Recently I was re-taking a self-assessment test with a friend of mine and expressed to her that I would have answered the questions much differently a few years ago than I do today. The same was true for my friend and she expressed her gratitude that over the past several years, I have often reminded her of all her forward progress. Both of us were well aware that we now move through our daily lives with greater ease, having discarded old patterns for better skills.
From my personal perspective, personal growth doesn’t have to be the “hard work” of a paleontologist digging through stratifications and fossilizations we’ve amassed for decades. We can turn this concept on its head and treat it as the fascinating adventure it truly is. What if we had a whole new, enlightened approach to how we enter and maintain personal growth and self-discovery?
Picture this: — we often use the image of an iceberg to help us understand all the baggage, beliefs, narratives and personal history we are dragging under the surface.
If we flip this image, we now have an impactful — and inviting — new way to look at personal growth, self-discovery and self-improvement.
This is a powerful transformational image….
We will get stronger physically, mentally and emotionally as we scale and explore; we will need a backpack full of supplies, resources, tools (and maps), it’s a great idea to have a buddy system for a host of awesome reasons (safety, shared experiences, a boost or tether, meaning and memory making). We will get fresh air, fresh perspectives and see the bigger picture.
We can re-write the guidebook for living our best lives. What if personal growth became a “call to adventure”. What if we “preloaded” all the resources and practices we really need to meet life in a skillful way?
The truth is that we are now spending an incredible amount of our time and energy undoing all the damage caused by old paradigms, old parenting models, old stereotypes, outdated methodologies and therapies – not to mention a complete lack of understanding about the value of emotions, empathy, and meaningful connection with others.
We have a growing mental health crisis, too many distractions for our attention, and a deficit of awareness (our own as well as “other” awareness). We keep throwing ideas and challenges at the problems. The big PIVOT is to look at the root causes.
All throughout my exploration of a wide variety of resources and modalities for my own personal growth, there was one common thread.
Regardless of the resource, the compass always pointed back to childhood: childhood narratives about who we are, behavioral patterns and protective armor we developed in childhood, our childhood attachment styles, our beliefs and how we make meaning from our emotions and experiences. There is a lot to unpack from our childhood BEFORE we can even begin a successful and meaningful adult life journey.
Once I discovered this overarching theme, it dawned on me that we can do better. Our children are sponges for learning — and we can equip them for life in transformational ways by “resourcing” them in powerful new, healthier ways.
Neuroscience, psychology, neurobiology and epigenetics are all converging in astonishing ways to shine a light on so much of what we did not understand, or got wrong, and can do better.
In upcoming blog posts, I will be unpacking what we are learning about the old childhood framework that did not provide healthy scaffolding for life. Together we can learn about the importance of secure attachment styles, how a child’s brain develops and how adult brains can be rewired, teaching emotional literacy and healthy coping skills, how we can keep our brains “updated and upgraded” thanks to neuroplasticity, and the importance of integrating our nervous system with our executive functions.
In just one generation, we can break cycles of dysfunction, addiction, insecurity and inauthenticity. At this very moment in time, we have more substantive research, more accurate knowledge, and unbelievable access to meaningful resources than ever before. Significant changes in what were ground-breaking, Nobel prize-winning discoveries 15 or 30 years ago are happening at a very rapid pace. Children are learning faster and differently than they did when we were kids. Even us adults are learning faster and differently in some arenas than we ever have before.
When I began my personal growth journey in my early 60’s, I did not realize that it would lead me to children – and I am ecstatic that it did. So many of us enter parenthood with hopes and dreams of giving our kids a good life, possibly a better one that we had. With all the new research, enriched skill sets and tools we now have, we can equip our children for life as smartly as we equip them for their favorite hobbies and sports; have you noticed that we now put helmets on those little developing brains for good reason?
BEING WELL PODCAST: Listen to this relatable AND mind-expanding conversation with Dr. Rick Hanson and his son, Forrest, on the Keys to a Great Relationship. Rick has a brand new book out as well that offers fresh perspectives on his many decades of counseling and his own personal growth work.
We hear this myth all the time — “people don’t change” or “you can’t make someone change” but quite honestly, this could not be further from the truth. None of us are the same person we were last week, last month or last year. All this phenomenal change is happening with very little awareness on our part. Our brain and its remarkable process of neuroplasticity are literally changing us every single day.
Neuro means brain; Plasticity refers to the fact that the brain is always transforming itself. When you meet someone new, or learn a new fact, your brain changes its structure and function. The environment can change our brains even if we are not aware of it. Some events change the way brain cells communicate with one another, by strengthening or weakening this communication. Other events will change how the brain interprets things. All these changes end up modifying our behaviors. — excerpted from Frontiers’ article, “Neuroplasticity: The Brain Changes Over Time” 1/12/2020
Now we can see that in reality we are actually changing at all times. It is hard-wired into us and proof positive that we not only CAN change, we have been doing it all along.
What is most intriguing is that we can become an integral and proactive part of this process. Rather than resisting change, we can embrace and even empower this human superpower.
Let me reframe this in a way that will shift your perspective about “growth mindset”.
What if we thought about our ever-evolving life changes as our CV: Curriculum Vitae (which ironically is Latin for “course of life”).
What would we put on our personal life resume that is directly correlated to the changes we’ve experienced – both unconsciously through neuroplasticity and very consciously through the effort we put in to effect change?
As you are reflecting on this, ponder why we always ask older people “What would you tell your 20 year old self?”
How often do we mutter to ourselves “if I knew then what I know now?” as we reflect back on our life history and realize that we could have made much better decisions and seized opportunities we let slip through our fingers?
Let’s put that on our life resume — the things we learned later in life that often came from repeated trial and error. A little hindsight with a healthy dash of knowledge is how we acquire wisdom.
So many of our life experiences have helped us develop a whole host of skills sets we often take for granted. From parenting to career changes, to marriages and health issues, the loss of loved ones — each and every one probably revealed something we did not previously know about ourselves.
For some time now, I have been thinking that one of the best entry points for self discovery and personal growth is through understanding how our brains operate. If we learned this, we could become proactive in setting ourselves up for better life skills and fewer problems.
It is incredibly hard to “do the work” of meaningful change when we have 40, 50, or 60+ years in which we have fossilized bad habits, dysfunctional behavioral patterns, and unhealed emotional wounds.
We could be doing all the “work” in real time, when it has the biggest impact and the greatest opportunity to transform us in healthy ways. By being proactive in the “change” process, we could actually be preventing getting “stuck” in outgrown or dysfunctional responses to life. We would simply be more prepared and skillful at navigating life. We would be in a continual state of building inner resources to support ourselves in evolving positive ways.
Neuroscience is revealing to us that we can do much better at “resourcing” ourselves with good coping skills, healthy emotional responses and emotional regulation as well as the resilience, resourcefulness and capacity we get from lessons we glean from our learned experiences. Without these inner resources, we can struggle to integrate our thoughts, emotions and body when faced with challenging circumstances or trauma.
Integration is the core foundational block for us to be able to deal with our experiences in healthy ways — and for us to learn from those experiences and build a strong neural network to tap into for future reference. We need to integrate our thoughts, our emotions and our bodies if we want to be better “resourced” for handling life’s difficulties.
If we think of our behavioral patterns as “memorizations”, we can get a clear picture of how we learned as kids to respond to anger, blame, hurt or fear. Often it was not only our own emotions we grappled with, but those of our caregivers. So we “memorized” what would bring us safety, relief, a return to connection. Our little developing brains did not yet have all the executive function to reason. In fact, our brains and bodies were flooded with cortisol and adrenaline — urging us to take quick action and seeking safety ASAP. We “memorized” what the fastest track would be to return us and our caregivers back to baseline.
We really don’t learn much from memorization. It’s just a steady “rinse, repeat” pattern of responding to similar situations. A better pathway to healthy co-regulation and growing core inner resources is to really engage with our own emotions, be informed about what they are telling us, calming ourselves so we can reconnect with our executive functions and then make rational, healthy choices about how to respond. Sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it can be — but not without an understanding of what is happening simultaneously in our bodies, with our thoughts and emotions. When we are young, it would be the equivalent of trying to recite the alphabet backwards while the grade school band was all warming up! Too much distraction, too much noise — just too much.
If we have a clearer understanding of how a child’s brain develops, then we can reset our expectations about what they are actually able to process when emotions and experiences get big and bumpy. We can “meet them where they are” and save us all a lot of angst. We shouldn’t want our kids to “memorize” how to navigate life; we want to teach them how to be captains of their ship, with a breadth of knowledge, skills and resources so they can face opportunities and obstacles in healthy, dynamic ways.
As neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry all intersected to address our growing mental health crises, many phenomenal discoveries have been made. Dr. Dan Siegel recently remarked that he would have never thought 15 years ago that we would have such concrete evidence of how our brains and bodies are functioning (or not functioning). It is revelational and game-changing for every one of us.
Breakththroughs lead us right back to the root problem — and that is where real change occurs. We can proactively and meaningfully begin to implement bold new ways to teach ourselves – and especially our children – how to process emotions as they are occurring; how to get back to baseline when our emotions hijack our ability to reason and think clearly; how we co-regulate each other (the hot tip here is that we can de-escalate a situation as fast as we can escalate an already emotionally charged situation); and how to learn from our experiences in ways that “resource” us for the future.
Imagine if we re-framed our attitudes about personal growth and the need to change in a whole new way. If we truly understood how our brains, bodies, thoughts and emotions all were working to support us in such astounding positive ways, we would be approaching how we parent, how we engage in life and how we support each other in transformational and empowering new ways.
Food for thought: Can you imagine learning to drive a car without understanding how all those moving parts actually synch up and work together? Did you learn how to take care of a car when you learned to drive (about oil and gas and windshield washer fluid, about engine warning lights?). Can you imagine teaching your child to drive if you didn’t know how to drive or maintain a car? Could it be that we actually understand more about the complexities of how our cars operate and even more about awareness and skills needed to navigate traffic than we do how our very own brains, bodies, thoughts and emotions are all working to support us?
I recently listened to a thought-provoking podcast with Adam Grant and Carla Harris about becoming great mentors and sponsors. During the conversation, Carla pointed out that so many folks returned to the workplace after coming through the challenges of a global pandemic with many new skills, strengths and inner resources. She was so insightful when she noted that we should always be on the lookout for ways that we are growing through our challenging experiences. She also noted that we all have changed as a direct result of that collective experience. There are opportunities we never saw before that are now being revealed to us.
Change is a good thing….and it is the only thing that is constant. We actually can change!
Dr. Dan Siegel is one of all-time favorite resources for learning how a child’s brain develops, how our parent/child attachment styles impact our adult relationships and how we can transform all the chaos is our bodies and brains to an integrated, more healthy approach to life’s challenges. Any YouTube video featuring Dr. Siegel is sure to enlighten and inform.
Dr. Andrew Huberman is my “go to” resource for all things neuroscience. He offers deep dives into so many diverse topics in this ever evolving field of research on his Huberman Lab podcasts. For smaller doses of his worthy insights, check him out on YouTube where he offers bite-sized segments from his in-depth podcasts.
This episode is definitely worthwhile for parents especially — but as always, we have to put our oxygen mask on first…so learning this information for ourselves and then applying it to our parenting skills is invaluable.
Check it out: The Science of Emotions and Relationships:
When I suggest a groundbreaking parenting book, I love the added benefit that comes with it — the opportunity for us adults to revisit our childhoods through the lens of more knowledge that comes from both the book and our own lived experiences. This is hindsight infused with real life experiences and new, improved skills and learnings. My deep dive into personal growth brought me to parenting time and again.
I recall standing in the kitchen listening to my partner once again ask me to give him the benefit of the doubt. At the time I was impossibly confused by this. It seemed to me that we’d been having the same issue repeating itself over and over but never breaking out of the pattern. As I reflect back on these moments, I’ve come to realize that all along he was really wishing to “show up” a little differently than he actually did. He was asking me to believe that. The problem was that wishful thinking alone was not going to get the job done.
Neither of us possessed the tools we needed to move past this relationship obstacle and into something healthier and more productive. We were in a relationship stalemate. I grew tired and resentful of the same old behavior showing up over and over. My capacity to “believe” that he was trying his best was fading fast. I’m guessing that he interpreted my inability to “believe” as a lack of trust in him.
The definition of “benefit of the doubt” is “the state of accepting something or someone as honest or deserving of trust even though there are doubts.”
It’s pretty obvious now why this became such a conundrum. Relationships are built on trust. Trust gets forged through trial and error. Dr. Dan Siegel teaches us that “rupture and repair” is the gorilla glue for our most trusting relationships. We can only get to repair, when we accept accountability for our behaviors and make amends. That important step was missing. Instead, I’d get a sheepish grin and a plea to give him the benefit of the doubt. What I wish I knew then that I know now is that what we both needed were better relationship and life skills. We needed tools not wishful thinking and false hope.
It is not surprising that so many of us go through life with more obstacles than necessary. If we weren’t taught healthy relationship skills and given tools to help us navigate difficulties, then all we really have are armor, behavior patterns and conditioning. Is it any wonder that we can see our three year old selves reflected in some of the ways we show up when we are 30, 40 or even older?
In a recent two part Unlocking Us podcast, Brene Brown and her sister, Ashley, took a deep dive into what it means to live BIG. That conversation became an impactful pivot point for understanding the importance of giving people tools rather than the benefit of the doubt. When we are able to live BIG, we are able to be generous in our beliefs that others are really doing the best they can. The transformational distinction is that we hold boundaries and stay within our integrity.
Let that sink in.
From personal experience, I can assure you without boundaries we can fall way out of our integrity in a heartbeat. When that happens, it is almost like an out of body experience, and suddenly we are behaving in ways that are not at all who we wish to be and who we really are. Without self awareness and quality life tools, we will find ourselves on a familiar but uncomfortable emotional roller coaster. We can be awash in shame and guilt, feel threatened, defensive and embarrassed. We simply cannot make our best decisions — or amends — while we are riding this out.
Yet this is exactly how many of us are unconsciously operating in our most treasured relationships. We get upset with each other and we each go into different roles than we are hoping each other will actually show up with — an emotional vortex that only complicates a solvable issue.
Brene Brown offers living BIG as a tool we can use to help us stay true to ourselves and operate from a genuine belief that others are doing the best they can. BIG stands for Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity. Her extensive research has shown that the most compassionate people are also the most boundaried people.
If that seems a little counterintuitive, consider this. Boundaries are very clear directional signs for ourselves and our relationships. When we really know ourselves well, recognize our innate self-worth and practice self compassion, we are very clear about what is good for us and what is not. Boundaries set us up for success. We can use boundaries instead of armor. Both protect us — but boundaries are empowering and proactive. Armor is defensive and does not foster learning and growth.
Few of us learned about healthy boundaries when we were younger. Setting and holding boundaries are invaluable assets for our life skills toolkit.
Compassionate, boundaried people stay grounded in their integrity, their most authentic self. They have a natural insulation from reacting unconsciously and out of character. Boundaries act as the guardrails to keep them in alignment with their core values. It becomes so much easier to navigate hard conversations and big emotions from this more balanced and stable foundation.
In turn, this enables compassionate, boundaried people to be much more generous with their belief that others truly are doing the best they can. Boundaried people who are in alignment with their personal integrity have a greater capacity to stay out of judgment, to see others through the lens of common humanity and to tap into their reservoir of genuine empathy.
It is hard work to unlearn the patterns and behaviors that no longer serve us well, but the reward is hindsight that becomes infused with new information and provides us with wisdom we would otherwise miss.
Compassionate people have often come through some of life’s hardest adversities with an enriched regard for resilience, hope and empathy.
Those who can be generous in believing that people are doing the best they have the capacity to see both positive intent and poor skill sets: “I want to assume the most generous things I can about your thoughts, your actions and your behaviors.”
This is where generosity really shifts us in a new and more constructive way in our relationships with others. Brene offers that the prerequisite for this positive intent is boundaries.
“Without boundaries, we are always waiting for something different to happen. We get tired of waiting, get resentful, angry and feel taken for granted. ”
Those people who can set boundaries for themselves are very clear about what behaviors are acceptable and what is not acceptable. Boundaries keep us out of judgment, resentment, disappointment and exhaustion. It transforms our lives, not someone else’s. This is the transformational pivot.
So often, the reality is that others are in fact doing the best they can. We rarely know another person’s story and life experiences. They may have inherited a lot of bad coping skills or dysfunctional behavioral patters. Perhaps their toolkit for life is completely empty or full of painkillers and bandaids rather than healing aids.
For the record, even those with good intentions can have poor life skills and faulty relationship tools. People pleasers, rescuers and enablers may be certain of a better pathway for others and want to rush in with blueprints and implementation strategies, but this only keeps dysfunctional patterns in play. Neither the rescuer or the rescued will truly benefit from this approach.
The reality is that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have. All the more reason for us to be invested in developing better relationship skills and a wide array of tools for our life kit.
I often reflect on this quote about teaching a man to fish when I think about all that we are learning about personal growth, emotional literacy, neuroscience, parenting and relationship skills. Too often, we spend a boatload of time fixing problems that keep popping up over and over again, creating misunderstandings, confusion and unnecessary obstacles. We are discovering so many new and improved portals for our personal growth, mental health, personal empowerment and meaningful relationships. Each and every one of us who is working on self improvement is making an impactful difference.
Check out both Parts 1 and 2 of the Living BIG episodes on Unlocking Us Podcast:
I grew up with the old adage of “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” as my long standing definition of empathy. I was less than 10 years old, when my dad first shared that insight with me. He crafted a story of a beleaguered old man in well worn shoes shuffling down a long dirt road to make his point both meaningful and memorable to me. I remember gazing down at my own shiny black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, feeling both fortunate and humbled.
In my early teens, I began to understand that there was a big distinction between sympathy and empathy. Because of my father’s story, I could literally feel the difference between the two. Sympathy was listening to that story of the beleaguered old man and pitying him for his plight. Empathy was hearing that story and recalling how it felt to me when I was wearing hand me down shoes on a long walk to my first day in a brand new school.
Once I could really feel that distinction in my bones, it became the compass I would use when listening to someone sharing their stories with me. One thing I knew for sure from my own life experiences, was how it felt to be pitied vs. how it felt to be understood. Pity felt awful; it only made my situation feel even worse. Being understood felt comforting and reassured me that I was not alone. Big Big distinction.
Even though I knew how the distinction between empathy and sympathy felt, I had not yet cultivated enough awareness and knowledge to fully comprehend how my “empathetic” responses to others still had a long way to go. I was operating on these simple definitions of the two:
empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another
sympathy – feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune
Furthermore, I was limited in my ability to be genuinely empathic with other people because of my lack of awareness. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
The above image and quote was posted by Brene Brown on her Facebook page on October 31st, 2017. It symbolizes the lesson my dad instilled in me about empathy: Tap into our own experiences, recall the emotions and use both the somatic and intellectual memories to “plug in” to someone else’s current situation. Walk a mile in their shoes. Recollect how it felt when you were in a similar emotional state.
The compassion component almost always triggered me to want to offer exactly what I had hoped to get in that past painful experience. I’ve come to understand that offering what I wanted back then was NOT at all helpful to another. This is where we can fall into the pitfall of “fixing, rescuing and disempowering” others. We have to ask what support looks and feels like for another person.
So here’s the plot twist – too often when we “tap in” to our own experiences, we unconsciously get hijacked by our brain, which pulls our attention back onto ourselves and can even recreate bodily sensations from that old memory that feel very real in the present moment. Our own brains and bodies could automatically go on high alert. Understandably, it is really hard to turn our full attention to another person when we are doing our best not to get sidetracked by our own false alarms.
Last year when Brene Brown released her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, she confided that she’d gained new insights that caused her to update some of her prior findings, especially around empathy and being good stewards of others’ stories. This is exactly what ongoing research is supposed to do for us. It is also why it is of critical importance for us personally to be updating our former base of knowledge and beliefs.
It is now December 2022 and Brene Brown has unearthed more discoveries about empathy that breaks wide open our understanding of its profound potential –AND what gets in the way of cultivating it. This deeper dive into empathy reveals that it is not a singular skill; it is a collection of skill sets:
Let’s start with the first skill set of “perspective taking”.
As Brene details so clearly in Atlas of the Heart, many emotions show up in very similar fashion. This may lead us to”misdiagnose” what another person might be feeling. What we might take as anger could really be fear. What looks like confusion or flustered could be overwhelm. If we assume that a person is having the same emotion we would have in those circumstances, and what we witness seems to confirm our assumption, we are off to the races — and on the wrong track!
The biggest challenge of perspective taking is being aware of the lens we are using:
“The first step in real empathy is understanding that the lens I use, the lens through which I see the world, is soldered to my head. I can’t take it off and pick up your lens, ” Brene Brown, in her Dare to Lead Podcast (Building Brave Spaces — November 17, 2022)
For the record, this understanding about the lens we each possess (soldered to our heads and hearts) should make it very apparent that there is no way we could really “walk a mile in another’s shoes” and have a similar experience. All of our history, prior experiences, emotions and consequences are baked into our personal lens. We cannot transfer all that supporting data through a simple viewfinder.
As an example, my brother and I are only 4 years apart, yet our experiences and memories of our childhood are dramatically different. We’ve often laughed about our vastly different perspectives wondering aloud if we actually lived in the same family. If we zoomed out and began to look at our other family members, we become acutely aware of just how differently everyone was experiencing the world — even though from the outside looking in, we all seemed to be living the same kind of life.
The second skill set in the empathy collection is: “staying out of judgment”
This one builds on perspective taking. Having an awareness that someone else’s lens is different than our own should act as a signal to move from judgment to curiosity.
We judge based on our own experiences, circumstances, emotions and expectations. It is unfair and unhelpful to judge others through the lens of our life, our options, our support systems, our challenges. Unfortunately we unconsciously judge from the get go — and that gets in the way of us being able to listen with the intention of understanding someone else’s perspective and experience.
Brene offers that when we are staying out of judgment, we have to be able to hear someone’s story and believe them — even when their story does not reflect our experiences of the world, or our lived experiences. AND….We have to believe them even when believing them is painful and holds us accountable in some way for hurt.
That “painful and accountable” piece triggers our innate human nature to want to avoid hearing that we’ve hurt someone — and our struggle to deal with pain without causing more pain and hurt. Too often, we show up with a lot of emotional reactivity unaware that we are self-protecting, distancing or dismissing other’s emotional pain. It becomes a dizzying merry-go-round of hurting each other.
Some of the biggest chasms in relationships stem from the fact that judgment destroys trust and our ability to feel safe. If there is a long standing personal history of not being believed when we share our stories, we will not feel safe and valued. We stop sharing; the pain and the stories get buried alive. Nothing gets resolved. This is a major cause of estrangements in families and it is a prevailing factor in multi-generational patterns of dysfunctional behavior.
Just imagine the seismic shift that could occur if we could master the skill of staying out of judgment. Rather than eroding trust and safety, we would shift to opening up to learning; learning to understand and to believe another’s true story.
Staying out of judgment avoids the chasm; it builds a bridge.
Skill set number 3 in the empathy collection is: Emotional Granularity
The definition of emotional granularity is the ability to put feelings into words with a high degree of specificity and precision. This boils down to being able to accurately express a core emotion and add more context to it by describing other accompanying emotions. Instead of simply stating we are mad, we can add more context by acknowledging that we are also disappointed, frustrated and tired.
Emotional Granularity really drives home the point that “the difference is in the details.” Having all this extra information is so helpful when we are trying to really understand how someone else is feeling in the moment. Better yet, it more clearly illuminates the real problem. Mad is an umbrella emotion…. We need the context to get at what is causing anger. Anger is a warning signal, a cue to pay attention to something important to us.
A key discovery that Brene and her team made when doing research for Atlas of the Heart was that the majority of us identify just three main emotions: happy, sad or angry. Imagine how hard it is for us to cultivate emotional granularity if we have such a limited emotional vocabulary and are not even aware that we are experiencing several emotions at once.
The problem gets compounded when we learn that so many emotions present in the same way, but are quite different from each other. There is yet another caveat that can cause a lot of stumbling blocks — the messaging we received in childhood about emotions. Were we told to get over them, that some emotions were acceptable to show and others were not, or that some emotions would make us appear weak, or maybe too aggressive? Few of us were taught healthy and productive emotional skills in childhood. There are gender stereotypes baked into our perception of emotions, resulting in labels that shut down the opportunity to process and learn from our emotions. Let’s face it, most of us have a lot of emotional baggage that needs to be purged.
Is it any wonder that we get gridlocked when we are trying to understand our own emotional landscape let alone anyone else’s.
Here is why emotional granularity is so relevant:
Language is the portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning and self-awareness. If we lack the language to share what we are experiencing, our ability to make sense of what’s happening and share it with others becomes severely limited. Without accurate language, we struggle to get the help we need, we don’t always regulate or manage our emotions and experiences that allows us to move them them productively, and our self awareness is diminished. Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it give us the power of understanding and meaning. –Atlas of the Heart, Introduction
In Atlas of the Heart, Brene offers us an incredible reference book that identifies and details 87 emotions and experiences. It is a phenomenal resource for cultivating emotional granularity.
I have read Atlas of the Heart twice. The first time I read it, I could barely put it down. I scribbled in the margins, had brightly color coded post it notes on nearly every page and lengthy conversations with my book club about each chapter. The second time, I journaled my way through it. It was cathartic to be able to go back and revisit past experiences with an expanded emotional vocabulary — and yes, emotional granularity. I gained a lot of clarity and revelations about situations that I’d struggled to fully process previously. It became crystal clear to me that accurate emotional language is healing; it helps us get to know ourselves better than ever; and in turn, we become better attuned to other’s complex, nuanced emotions.
It is teasing apart all the accompanying emotions that help us get “granular. The details are chock full of valuable information about needs, values, vulnerabilities. It helps us make discoveries we would have never unearthed without the nuance. We can articulate more clearly what we need – and we can listen more attentively to others’ needs.
Cultivating emotional granularity for our own experiences becomes the gateway to a deeper understanding of what other’s might be feeling – even if they themselves do not yet possess this skill. We can help each other by role modeling this skill set — adding context to our own emotions when we are sharing with our feelings.
Skill set number 4 – Emotional Literacy
Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize our own feelings, understand how they are informing us, and to be able to manage our responses to them.
This skill is cultivated through self-awareness; paying attention to how our emotions feel in our body, what our normal reactions are to those emotions and how we then respond.
So often we go through this process quickly, unconsciously and very reactively when big emotions hit us.
Becoming more self-aware helps us recognize our unconscious patterns of behavior. Armed with this information, we can develop more skillful responses to our own emotions. We can also become more attuned to and supportive of others’ emotional reactions.
Meditation is a great tool for developing more self-awareness and to recognize how easily we get attached to thoughts and emotions in predictable ways.
The better we know ourselves and the more expanded our emotional vocabulary is, the greater success we will have in untangling ourselves from emotional triggers and old reactive patterns of behavior. This in turn will lead us naturally to be able to handle our emotions more maturely, with less drama and cloud cover.
As we get more skillful at responding in clear and healthy ways, we also gain the ability to not get so attached to strong emotions that others emit. This is a game-changer because we co-regulate each other. And emotions are very contagious and sticky. Just recall how your body reacts when you hear an angry conversation. Even if you aren’t actively engaged in that conversation, chemicals are released in your brain and can set off a chain reaction in both body and brain. This is how we get “hooked”, “triggered” and “on board”. We can go from calm to frenzied in a split second.
I like the term that Brene uses here; emotional literacy invites us to be graceful and self compassionate as we hone this skill of recognizing, understanding and responding to our own emotions. It is not some innate “intelligence” that gets us to this place of being able to process our emotions in a meaningful way and respond more skillfully, it is a practice.
The springboard for this practice is self-awareness. The more self aware we are, the better we are able to discover the unconscious ways we operate on auto-pilot. Imagine a self driving car with an operating system that was programmed by a child. Now you have a good image of what all our unconscious patterning is doing for us as adults.
Begin a committed practice to emotional literacy. I can personally attest that it will dramatically improve your life and your relationships.
Skill set number 5 – Mindfulness
Mindfulness magazine launched its first issue in the spring of 2013. Here we are ten years later and now mindfulness has become “mainstream”. We see it everywhere — on magazines at the grocery store, popular books, podcast, social media, mental health resources and counseling. What was once perceived as sitting on a cushion with legs crossed and “zenning out” without a thought in our heads has been completely dispelled.
Mindfulness is being aware that we have both internal and external distractions bombarding us at all times. The skill we develop through mindfulness is proactively choosing where to focus our attention.
Sounds simple, right? We all know it is not.
The reality is that our attention has become a marketable commodity. Click bait. Every time you realize that you have been mindlessly scrolling through social media for 20 minutes, that is a moment of awareness. A chance to practice being mindful.
Just use the term “click bait” to label all the times you become “aware” that your mind is racing, or you’ve driven your child to school and don’t remember stopping for traffic lights, or you’ve burnt the bacon, had to rewind the podcast because you missed something, were staring at your phone while out to lunch with friends. Catch yourself when you are listening to a friend, but have time-traveled to a similar experience you had and are watching that replay in your mind instead of hearing her story.
Brene Brown has included mindfulness in the empathy collection for valid reason. Mindfulness is paying attention to where we are paying attention. In every single one of the prior 4 skill sets you will need “mindfulness” as the underpinning.
Being mindful that perspective taking requires us to not view another’s situation through our own lens that is soldered to our heads.
Being mindful, and fully present, in order to stay in non-judgment. Be open to accepting another’s truth, even when it is so different from our own.
Being mindful and in touch with emotional granularity. Recognizing that there will be more than one umbrella emotion in play when we are listening to understand.
Being mindful and keenly self aware of our own emotional landscape so that we stay grounded and respond from our values.
Mindfulness requires training and practice. While it seems too hard and we prefer to dismiss it as unnecessary, it really is irrefutable. Do you want a distracted surgeon performing your life-saving operation? Do you want a distracted bus driver at the wheel of your children’s school bus? Do you see distracted parents at the playground who miss their child’s joy or scary fall? Do you witness people on the street staring at their phones and nearly getting hit by a car? We have a growing epidemic of attention deficit. Mindfulness is the anecdote.
Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to where we are paying attention. It is a simple concept that requires a disciplined practice. It is more than worth the effort. And here’s a word of encouragement: the more we hone this skill through committed daily practice, the more it easily shows up in our day to day life.
For several years, empathy has been top of mind for me. I was deeply moved by both the impact and the consequences of empathy after reading Born for Love by Dr. Bruce Perry, published in 2010. At the time, Dr. Perry was sounding the alarm about our collective empathy poverty. His research and his advocacy is deeply rooted in what happens in our bodies and brains in infancy and early childhood. He was witnessing firsthand in his patients and research how a lack of empathy was the root cause of dysfunctional emotional development issues in the early stages of life, and how lack of empathy was predisposing us to only compound emotional and mental health issues. It became very evident to me that we needed a comprehensive overhaul of the way we meet our children’s emotional needs with compassionate consistency — and that we need to learn and teach healthy emotional skill sets. Our collective mental health is at stake.
Brene Brown recently described empathy as being in the zeitgeist right now — in the moment, year end 2022. Twelve years after Dr. Bruce Perry sounded the alarm and we all hit the snooze button. Everything he predicted in his book has become our reality on steroids.
What is a zeitgeist? The defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.
Brene says that the need for empathy is showing up everywhere in our collective landscape from family to community to workplace and politics. I too have witnessed the subject of empathy showing up in all of the resources that I steep myself in — from personal growth to mental health, neuroscience and education, coaching and counseling, internal family systems, activism, self compassion and meditation. All modalities for improving our overall quality of life have been incorporating empathy into their teachings.
Empathy is now in the zeitgeist of this moment in our collective history. How exciting is that? Empathy can become the pivot point for a fresh start in the right direction and will have a dramatic positive impact for future generations.
It is my fervent hope that the insights I’m sharing in these blog posts will be helpful for those who want to participate in meaningful change for themselves, their families and for the greater good.
Who had a set of encyclopedias in their home as a kid? Who remembers getting the annual update each year and excitedly paged through it looking for all the new things we’d learn that made an old section obsolete?
Welcome to a reference book for emotions and experiences — 87 of them! Atlas of the Heart is a beautiful coffee table style book that will be used for conversations with spouses, with kids, with friends and family.
And I am confident, Brene will continue to update us as her research evolves.
Check out this recent episode on Dare to Lead: Building Brave Spaces
This episode of the Being Well Podcast has very relatable stories that are prime examples of real life situations where we can learn to be more empathetic — with ourselves and others. Such a great conversation.
Years ago, I was told by a family counselor that I was “too patient”. Admittedly, that really threw me for a loop. “Too patient” — was that even a thing?
You see, my generation grew up being told that patience was a virtue and the definition of a virtue is: behavior showing high moral standards. Back in the day, being patient as a child mean being quiet and well behaved. I can chuckle now in hindsight with greater awareness that our youthful “patience” was really a test of will power — and a fear of the consequences if we failed. It had very little to do with high moral standards.
That counselor’s insight led me to reflect on my relationship with patience. I’d always been proud of being such a patient person, but I began to unpack all the ways that having too much patience might be causing some problems.
The tap root of my relationship with patience was silence. I’d developed a very common strategy of hiding and stuffing my emotions as a child. Better to be quiet than to give voice to what I was feeling. There were severe consequences for emotional outbursts and there were words of praise for keeping it together. So this strategy was reinforced time and again as the working model for success. I constructed a framework for my understanding of patience with a foundation of silence.
This is how the stratification of our childhood patterns begins. My motivation was to avoid negative consequences and keep the peace. This is not how to teach children about values and high moral standards. But my parents’ generation did not know better and was simply perpetuating the old Freudian practices of child-rearing.
As the oldest sister with two feisty younger brothers, I often felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect them. I wanted to protect them from not having patience and I wanted to ensure overall family harmony. A nearly impossible challenge for an 8 year old old. Not only that, my brothers were developing strategies of their own quite different from mine. In fact, I’m pretty confident that my youngest brother employed the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” strategy which he fueled with unchecked, tsunami sized emotions and outlandish behaviors. Attempting to achieve any sustainable peace was like herding cats.
It’s only been with a lot of reflection that I can see now how yet another strategy became part of my framework for patience. I began to put other’s needs ahead of my own. The sacrifice seemed noble when I was young. But it created a big disconnect for me over the years as I lost touch with what was most important for me. As a steadfast harmonizer, my motivation turned to keeping the peace and avoiding conflict. I barely spent any time giving consideration to what I truly needed to foster my talents, to feel safe and to explore my potential.
There was yet another discovery as I deconstructed what patience actually looked and felt like to me — I became a control freak.
Yikes…I did not like facing this truth.
While it was wrapped up in good intentions, my need to “control” the situation was masked as helpful, supportive and even kind. I’d swoop in without being asked to fix, resolve and correct anything for anybody. The sooner a crisis was resolved, the safer I felt. I rarely took the time to consider that what I was doing was overriding what someone else really needed or wanted.
When I was younger, this part of me felt like I was some sort of incredible fairy, possessing a magic wand and skipping merrily into chaos and shifting dark energy to glittery light and sugary joy. As an adult, I altered the image to be more realistic — a competent problem solver or organizer. True confession, I still held tight to the image of a magic wand. I just didn’t show it to anyone.
What I have learned about the unhealthy part of being an avid helper is that inadvertently we are robbing others of their agency, their growth spurts and their consequences. We aren’t helping at all – just overstepping our bounds – and dismissing the needs and desires of others.
Let’s take a step back and look at what I have unpacked about my concept of patience which I developed in childhood and carried into my adult life, mostly unconsciously. These were my blind spots:
I learned to be silent. I did not express my emotions externally and I did not process my emotions internally. I hoarded them. This lead to a many layers of unprocessed emotions and a lot of confusion in my heart and mind.
I became a harmonizing people pleaser and disconnected from an important aspect of myself — my own true needs. Brene Brown writes about how we hustle for validation of our worthiness. I was trying to find that sense of love and belonging by “doing” rather than “being”. I’d wear myself out to the point of exhaustion helping others and forget to take care of myself. The biggest discovery was that this became the root cause of my tug of war with resentment. So much internal conflict between wanting to help others and feeling resentful for not being appreciated or reciprocated.
My gift of being a helper got clouded and I became a controller. I rarely asked for help I truly needed. Pride got the best of me — I had to prove I could handle anything on my own but deep inside I was crushed that no one was reciprocating all the help I’d given. I hid my own vulnerabilities. Brene Brown has emphasized that vulnerability is the birthplace of connection, trust, love and belonging. By hiding my vulnerability, I disconnected myself from my own self-worth and from the stronger, lasting connections that were possible with others when we let our guard down and lead with empathy. We are not here to fix or rescue. We are here to support, encourage and witness each other’s journey.
Deconstructing patience was a meaningful exercise for me and it totally transformed my framework for this quality that I still find worthwhile. In fact, I value my patience today more than ever because the framework and the components of it have shifted. This pivot came from close examination of “motivation”.
I found the enneagram to be an incredibly useful tool for this work. Beatrice Chestnut, author of the Complete Enneagram, describes it as a personal owner’s manual for how we make sense of life. So many of our concepts, beliefs and narratives about who we are were formed in childhood. Our “motivations” in childhood are to make sense of the families and the world we live in. We develop coping strategies and use stories to get our needs met. Our core motivations in childhood pre-dispose us to construct frameworks we carry with us into our adult lives. But the big caveat is that our motivations change as we mature, as does our environment, our autonomy and agency. We often enter adulthood eager to change a lot of things but we use the old framework to build the new…..and we end up re-creating the past.
If I was operating on an old framework of patience that included being silent, not processing emotions as they occurred, not honoring my own needs, over-helping and controlling others, then I could be assured that my being “too patient” was the root cause of so much of my own internal unhappiness.
The starting point was redefining my motivation for cultivating patience.
I wanted to feel calm and grounded regardless of what was going on around me. As an adult, I knew that I cannot control how others react or respond in any given moment. What I can control is me and my responses.
I wanted to feel a strong unwavering self-worth. How I feel about me, my gifts, my contribution to others has to come from within. This required unabashed acceptance, self-compassion and a recommitment to my own self-confidence in my core values and a big nod to the fact that I too have needs.
I wanted to be a compassionate, empathic teacher/inspirer/role model for others. No more fixing or rescuing. Much more listening, holding space and asking questions only others could answer for themselves.
Revisiting my core motivations and upgrading them to be in alignment with the vision of the adult I’d always hoped to be was just the catalyst I need to tear down the old framework and rebuild with my new and improved definition of patience.
The “too patient” framework was unhealthy, full of insecurities and flawed coping strategies. The healthy and empowering framework for my patience has a strong foundation of grounded confidence. The scaffolding of my patience framework is a steady work in progress, flexible and resilient, and always evolving. I am no longer silent; I have found my voice and more discernment about when and how to use it. I know myself better and honor my own emotions, set boundaries and am clear about my needs and my values. I heed resentment if I start to feel it — it’s my warning light that I might be overstepping my boundaries in the helping department. I have replaced “let me do that for you” with “what does support or help look like for you?”
I’d like to think that deconstruction of the old “too patient” framework has been a Goldilocks process for me — and that I have moved to the “just right” place to be with my core value of healthy patience.
The biggest and most rewarding benefit to this entire process of deconstructing our old frameworks of motivation and values has been to witness how parenting is evolving. Children are being taught patience in a whole new way. Mindful parents are proactively teaching their children emotional agility and self control in empowering, healthy new ways. No more dismissing or stuffing a child’s emotions. It takes only a few minutes to help a child name and honor what they are feeling. Parents are helping children make better choices once they are somewhat disengaged from big, strong emotional tugs. Children are learning that they are not defined by their big emotions or their ever-changing behavioral patterns, they are actually learning from them.
The big pivot in changing how we parent and grandparent with emotional agility, healthy patience and greater self-awareness is that our children will get a consistent, supportive framework for who they are, what their natural talents and gifts are, and toolkit of healthy tools for navigating friendships, family and life.
This conversation with Andrew Chapman, psychotherapist and meditation teacher is so worthwhile if you want to learn how the enneagram can support your self awareness and self observation skills.
Some of the most effective tools for developing better ways to navigate life are visual images. If we can link a strong mental image to the pause we take before we respond to a situation, it can become a meaningful springboard to our desired new habit. Using visual image cues can foster the improved life skills we want to incorporate into our relationships and daily lives.
When I find myself in the midst of a hard conversation, a tough decision, or simply a lot of stimulation overwhelm, I recall an image given by a beloved yoga instructor twenty years ago. “Plant your feet firmly on the ground and imagine roots growing right into the ground, anchoring you,” she offered.
There is something very powerful about this visual image, of being firmly planted on solid ground, with small roots stretching out, stabilizing us and our emotions, just long enough to slow our heart rate and feel anchored to our core values.
As we pause to feel our feet on the ground and focus briefly on the feeling of little roots anchoring us, we are giving ourselves a needed break, a boost of self confidence and a mini-reset to respond to a situation with more skill, clarity and kindness.
Brene Brown teaches us that “Clear is Kind”. This often means stating clearly what we wish to convey without a lot of strong emotion taking center stage. Too often it is our strong emotions that speak the loudest. This feet firmly planted image can serve as our cue card to strive to be calm and collected in the midst of hard things.
“If even one person on the boat stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone.” This quote from Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn provides a powerful visual image for how we co-regulate each other — and the tremendous positive impact it can have when we are in the midst of a shared experience that might be scary, full of uncertainty, and chock full of a wide range of big emotions.
In emotionally turbulent times, if we pause and link this visual image of being the calm one in a boat full of people in rough seas, it supports our ability to switch from our default sympathetic nervous system to our mammalian care system. Rather than adding to the distress of the situation by automatically — and all too quickly – tapping into that part of our nervous system that houses our “threat-defense response”, we can override that option. It does take some will power, but if we care about the people in the same boat with us, we are more easily able to lean into the “tend and befriend” mammalian mode. The shortest path to calming down a tense situation, is to lead with caring calmness. Rather than “rocking the boat”, we can pivot to “being the ballast.”
Watch a parent soothe a child who has been frightened, and you will get a master class in how to switch from auto pilot to captain calm. Remember the key here is that we human beings co-regulate each other. Remaining calm in high stress situations is a super power.
Eckhart Tolle, renowned self discovery author, teaches us that what we fight, we strengthen and what we resist, persists.
When we find ourselves in resistance mode, the visual image of a gentle open hand, palm up and holding something lightly, can serve as a powerful reminder to do a check in.
What are we resisting and can we relax into it? Can we hold our strong opinions or perspectives lightly? Being willing to accept new ideas, change our minds, and let go of our need to control the outcome is all part of a healthy growth mindset.
The mental visual image of holding something lightly in the palm of our hands tends to relax us and opens us up to a fresh perspective. We pivot from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We “open up” to the truth that we can be learning rather than resisting.
The iceberg visual is a powerful awareness cultivator; especially if we are working on developing a greater “other” awareness.
When we are interacting with another person, our natural tendency is to put their emotions and reactions through the same filter we have. We can find ourselves judging, criticizing and comparing. Yet the reality is that we have no idea what is really going on under the surface for anyone. Yes, even for our own partners, children, and friends.
Brene Brown has spent decades teaching us about how our 87+ emotions and experiences get threaded into all of our personal history. Each and every one of us will process and react to a similar experience using our filters that are as unique as our fingerprints. The result may vary.
If we find ourselves thinking someone is too sensitive, too difficult, too much — it is wise to imagine the iceberg and take a moment to be curious about what lies under the surface. Learning how to be more self-compassionate as Kristin Neff teaches enhances our “other” awareness in meaningful ways.
Linking the image of the iceberg can shift us from judgment to curiosity. Perhaps if we met that person with more compassion, a smile or a random act of kindness, we might discover our first assumption was all wrong. Trade judgment for curiosity — it helps all of us navigate more easily with our submerged parts.
The old adage – “a picture is worth a thousand words” is really true for personal growth work. Strong visual images are remarkable tools for shifting us from unconsciously reacting to life the same old way everyday. We disrupt old habitual patterns embedded in our brains when we disrupt our normal routines. Imagine the transformational impacts that just 3 – 5 visual image moments can make over the course of a week in our daily lives.
Check out this recent episode of Sharon McMahon’s dynamic podcast series: Persuaders are Meaning Makers with author Anand Giridharadas. Rest assured, you will be enlightened in a whole new way by the end of it.
Listen to this 20 minute YouTube episode with the remarkable Malcolm Gladwell. If you have read his book, Talking to Strangers, then you already are aware of how often we let the stuff in our submerged iceberg override updated information we have actually gained.
Krisin Neff’s body of work in the area of Self Compassion has become a cornerstone of psychology, neuroscience, mental health and personal growth modalities. This book will become an invaluable resource for improving your quality of life, your parenting skills, and your relationship skills. It’s the sort of book you will refer to time and again over the course of a lifetime.
So much of our personal growth work encourages us to get to know ourselves better, to take a long hard introspective view of our internal world. Yet there is another component to our personal development that is equally important:
The external roadblocks that can derail even our best intentions.
We can become fairly unaware of external obstacles that prevent us from gaining traction in our personal growth work. Our attention gets pulled in a lot of directions throughout the day and we lose track of our time and our good intentions. James Clear teaches us that consistent small investments of time and effort is the best pathway to developing new habits and skills. The one thing we really need to cultivate to help us gain traction with short and long term goals, with developing better habits and with improving our relationships is — self awareness.
A major external obstacle to cultivating greater self awareness is often in the palm of our hand…..our phone.
Let’s be candid about this. We do have a growing crisis with regard to our phones. We observe how so many people are walking down the street, their eyes fixated on their screens and not their surroundings. Parents at playgrounds are watching their phones and not their children. Families and friends in restaurants all sit with heads down, fingers flying across flat keyboards not engaging with each other or even the waitstaff. Standing in line at the grocery store or sitting at a red light in our cars seems to be an open invitation to check our phone. No one is immune from this. It is a habit that slowly seeped into our daily lives over time.
I’m old enough to remember a time when we did not have mobile phones on our bodies at all times. It makes me wonder what it might be like to measure the quality of our memories that were created more with our five senses than a camera roll of countless photos. I’m not being judgmental here, for I love the ease with which I can capture the moment on my thin phone too. I just wonder if we saw a chart or graph that could visibly show us the distinction of “being fully present in a moment” vs. “freezing a moment in time” would it help us want to moderate our phone usage?
While we may not have such a graph, we are learning through neuroscience about how we can enrich our present experiences and “store” them in our brains with all the sensory details to help override the brain’s default negativity bias. But in order to do this, we have to be aware of how we are letting our attention and our focus slip away.
BEING FULLY PRESENT: (even briefly…but a few times a day)
Dr. Rick Hanson has a brief and effective tip to help us capture more present moments. He calls it “taking the in the good”. Rather than reaching for your phone to take a photo, simply steep yourself in the full experience in real time. All it takes is 15-30 seconds to take it in — and imprint in your brain an incredible memory. Add sounds to your experience — listen to a child’s laugher as you watch her run through a pile of crunchy autumn leaves. Be aware of the sounds the crunchy leaves make and use your eyes to take in the rich autumn color palette. Gaze at the floating fluffy white clouds against a cerulean blue sky. For 15-30 seconds you are the creator and director of an internal movie memory; set it to music, imbue it with scents, enrich it with details.
Just doing this a few times each day will help in training our brains that we are in charge of our attention. We can resist the temptation to look at our phones and choose to fully be in the present moment. For fun, keep a little journal about your “fully present” moments each day for a week or two. It is a game-changer for cultivating greater self awareness and harvesting all the good that is showing up in our lives each day. Things we often miss…..because we are staring at our phones.
POSTURE AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS:
Are you aware that our posture has been impacted by our phones? Dr. Andrew Huberman, neurobiologist at Stamford, recently referred to this as our “C” posture. Just look around today at the posture of others who are on their phones — do you see the “C” — forward neck position, slouched and rounded shoulders?
Many people are dealing with chronic pain in their necks, shoulders and spine as a direct result of spending a good portion of their day in this awkward “C” posture position. The tension we are adding to our bodies from our phone posture gets added to the stressors of our daily busy lives.
Do your own research as you go about your daily routine today: How many people do you observe with this “C” posture? How many missed opportunities to say “hello” or ask someone how their day is going? How many people do you see in the coffee shop or restaurant who are engaging with their phones and not their friends and families? Are people walking to their cars unaware of the traffic around them, heads down staring at their screens?
RESTORATIVE, RECHARGING BENEFITS OF SLEEP:
An essential way to care for our dynamic, powerful, personal processors — yes, I am describing our brains that way.….is to get consistently good sleep. There are simple things we can do to help us achieve the beneficial brain attributes of sleep. The easiest and most impactful is to not look at our phones first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Instead, first thing in the morning take in 10-20 minutes of natural sunlight if you can. That will set your circadian rhythm. While it might seem silly, doing this in the morning actually helps you fall asleep at night. If you can’t get sunlight first thing, turn on the lights in your home and let your eyes take in that light. It is the blue light emission from our phones that inhibits the production of melatonin. The hot tip here is go “old school” and get an alarm clock if you need one to wake up, avoid looking at your phone for the first 30 minutes of your morning, and get some natural sunlight if possible. Just a few days of this new routine will make a noticeable positive difference in sleep patterns.
Of course, that blue light emission from our phones at night is also not helpful if we want to get a deep, recharging night of sleep. Best to put your phone on a charger and then do the same for yourself. Establish a simple nightly bedtime routine with reduced exposure to light, trying meditation or light reading to relax your busy brain and implementing some cues that work for you to signal that it is bedtime.
Neuroscience is proving that we need consistent quality sleep in order to operate a maximum efficiency for our cognitive and emotional well being. A key factor in our mental health wellness is deep, restorative, brain rewiring and rejuvenating sleep.
SOLVING THE CASE OF DISAPPEARING TIME AND ATTENTION:
Want to discover where so much of your time and attention has gone at the end of a day? Take a look at your average weekly screen time. That will be the biggest clue to solve your case of “disappearing time and attention”. All of can easily fall into the trance of mindless scrolling, or hopscotching from looking up a recipe to reading the latest scoop on a celebrity.
Even the most skilled practitioners of mindfulness, the best educated neuroscientists and the gurus of meditation will confess to using the password lock feature, turning their phone off completely for a set amount of time, locking their phone in a safe, giving it to a colleague or partner while they are working, or keeping the phone in a different room. So don’t feel too bad — you are not alone with regard to our attachment to our phones.
WHAT WE CAN’T GET BACK: (our time and out attention)
Dr. Amishi Jha wrote about how we are unconsciously giving away one of our most precious commodities — our attention — in her book Peak Mind. This won’t surprise you, but our attention is now a marketable commodity and there is even trading in futures for our attention. Now that is mind-blowing, isn’t it?
It is precisely because we are giving away our attention to our devices that we are also giving away time that could be better spent on things that really matter to us. f we could put our phones away for even 30 minutes a day, we could read 10 pages in a book, we could try a new recipe, we could chat with another person, we could take a walk and be awed by nature. Just for fun, challenge yourself to come up with a wish list of 3 thirty minute fun things to do in the coming week; then put your phone away for 30 minutes for 3 of the 7 days in that week….and do those fun things!
Maybe you can make your own chart or graph about how you are feeling about your time management, your attention and your happiness at the end of that one week challenge.
BUILDING BETTER CONNECTIONS:
It’s very evident that while social media was once touted as a great way for us to be connected to each other….it actually has had the opposite effect. We are heads down, eyes diverted and fully engaged with a device and all its mesmerizing content….and all the while our most incredible life is unfolding without us being aware.
When we shift our eyes from the screen to those people we are hanging out with all day long, something magical happens. Our amazing brains help us take in so much more than just the words they might be saying. We see facial expressions, body language, we make eye contact and we co-regulate each other with our emotions and energy. As Brene Brown would say — we feel seen, heard and valued. And all that happens by averting our eyes from the phone to the face.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Dr. Amishi Jha tells us to “pay attention to where we are turning our attention”. All we need to do to cultivate greater awareness is to check in with ourselves in an honest way about where we might be leaking out our time and attention. Just commandeering a few short chunks of time each day for some dedicated “present moment” experiences will no doubt produce some pretty remarkable results for your overall quality of life. Are you willing to give it a try?
Follow Dr. Andrew Huberman on YouTube and Instagram for short clips on his insights and teachings about neuroscience, our bodies and brains. Check out the full length Huberman Lab podcasts and his website if you want to do the deep dive into his teachings.
Read this amazing book by Dr. Amishi Jha to learn from her own experiences, real life stories from her research about the incredible importance of our focus and attention for our quality of life and some of our most demanding decisions we make under tough circumstances. This book also offers a guide to a simple 12 minute daily meditation practice that will help you train your brain for better attention and focusing skills.
Read this article from the Wall Street Journal to gain some fresh insight on how our phones are impacting our kids, their educations and their interactions with teachers, friends, coaches and mentors.
I am discovering that young children are sponges for learning about their emotions. But what has really intrigued me is their innate fascination and curiosity about what they are learning for themselves about their own emotions. How fortunate am I to be able to witness the positive impacts that a whole new approach to emotions can have on young people?
There is so much research readily available today regarding the role our emotions play in informing us about what is important, how they help inform our decision making and how unprocessed emotions can linger within us for decades. Those unprocessed emotions become the roadblocks in our natural human maturation.
As we move from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, we drag along the unprocessed emotions. What we are learning from neuroscience is that these old unresolved emotions become the cork board in our brains where we pin similar emotional experiences unfolding in our current life — adding to our collection of misunderstood, misused invaluable information.
In my generation, we were taught that many of our emotions were not acceptable. It was common practice for emotions to get labeled in ways that actually shaped a child’s perception of who they were: too sensitive, too bossy, too much, uncontrollable, unreasonable, a sissy, a bully. Those labels got internalized by children and they learned to navigate life so as to avoid them. We learned to be people pleasers, conflict avoiders, tough guys, submissive or aggressive. We learned to read a room, become hyper vigilant and protect ourselves by armoring up.
Oh my goodness we got emotions all wrong!
Emotions are simply our own personal navigational system, rich with invaluable information about how we can be our best and most genuine selves. Denying those emotions is what causes roadblocks to navigating life with good relational skills.
By flipping the old school approach to emotions on its head, we have the opportunity to teach young children their own brain/body connection. There is just one key component to this — we, the adults, have to unlearn what we were taught and relearn this new approach ourselves.
I get inspired by the magic transformation of turning our old emotional roadblocks to strong, guiding foundational life skills as I watch this great experiment get traction in real time with my young grandchildren.
Kids are sponges for learning. They have “beginner’s mind”, a term often associated with personal growth and meditation. Their natural curiosity is the gateway for teaching emotional intelligence.
Emotions are invited to have a seat at the table in our family. Emotions inform us about what the motivation is for the behavior that bubbles out. Sometimes it is crocodile tears streaming down soft cheeks, sometimes it is a toy being flung across the room; or it can be a heated exchange between siblings who were just two minutes ago playing happily with each other; it might be an utter refusal to get dressed and out the door for something fun. All those reactions are just responses to an emotion that was felt in the body and registered in a developing brain.
We can visibly see the release of tension when we help a child name their emotions. Labeling emotions is a powerful tool in adult personal growth and to teach this to kids while they are malleable, is a big game changer. Notice we have shifted from labeling an emotion as a character flaw such as bad, unacceptable, or overly sensitive to simply labeling THE emotion. Full stop. Label the emotion, not the child.
The mutual focus shifts from the reaction/behavior to core motivation for both adult and child. This is a great starting point for better understanding and problem solving. A child who can name their emotions is often keenly aware of what’s driving that emotion.
Helping children to understand that emotions are a helpful internal indicator for their needs, that emotions ebb and flow, and that they actually have some agency around their choices informed by those emotions are some of the best life skills we can ever impart to our kids.
The truth is that as adults we have the harder task of having to learn this emotional agility and awareness after a boatload of years of doing it all wrong. Our own behavioral patterns in response to our emotions are deeply engrained. Part of the personal growth practice is to “catch ourselves” BEFORE we hit repeat on an old pattern and choose differently how to respond vs. react.
The more conscious we become of our own patterns and relationship with our emotional landscape, the more opportunities we have to practice what we preach!
We want our kids to see that emotions are just a normal, natural part of being a human being. The more comfortable we all are with naming emotions, being able to recognize how they show up in us (regardless of our age….either 2 or 42), the more empathy we actually feel for each other. Small children can totally relate to mom or dad when they honestly announce they are frustrated, angry, disappointed. These tiny humans intuitively know what those emotions feel like for themselves. There is a much higher probability that the conversation will shift to “how can I help?”
A family that is skilled at emotional intelligence and navigation is cultivating a healthy relationship with emotions, empathy and connection. Children who have confidence in their own personality and nature will flourish. Children who possess a strong working knowledge of their own emotions will better understand other’s emotions. Disagreements and conflicts will be rooted in what the emotions are telling them is important to them. This will enable kids to identify their needs and articulate them clearly. These invaluable life skills become the guard rails that kids need to make good choices about friendships, interactions with others, habits and their own goals in life.
As I reflect on things I am learning through my own personal growth work over these past 7+ years, I am so grateful and so motivated to empower younger generations with the knowledge and insights I wish I had been aware of at their tender ages. How my generation was taught to deal with emotions created huge roadblocks to reaching our full potential, for knowing who we really are and what matters most to us, and left us ill-equipped to effectively navigate life and relationships in a healthy, evolving way.
Now we know better — Now we know that emotions are building blocks for the solid foundation of a rich, high quality life of authenticity, belonging and connection. Some of my most rewarding conversations these days are with a 5 and 7 year old. Never in a million years did I anticipate having such delightful, exploratory conversations about emotions of all things with young children.
This is how we learn and grow together…..
Adults discovering the flaws in how we were raised and what we observed, doing their inner work and then in turn, reaching back and lending a helping hand to those who come behind us. Witnessing the transformation that comes from better relationship skills is the greatest reward.
These are three of my favorite books and favorite resources — Dr. Dan Siegel who teaches us so much about what the developing brains of our young children really need from us in order to feel safe and flourish; Dr. John Gottman and his wife, Dr. Julie Gottman, who are renowned for their couples therapy and relationship teachings as well as childhood development and teaching emotional intelligence and fluidity; and yung puelbo who has recently published his third book about his own personal growth journey (he’s a favorite because he is in his mid-30’s and a remarkable example of a young person taking a deep dive into his own self discovery, limiting beliefs and roadblocks and then openly sharing all that he’s learning with others in a relatable, realistic way.
The Being Well Podcast series has an extensive list of episodes to support personal growth and positive mental health. You can find Being Well on YouTube and on Apple & Spotify. I encourage you to check out their library of topics and choose those that appeal to you and whatever you might be exploring for your own personal growth, self-discovery and parenting needs.
I’m excited to share these nuggets of wisdom gleaned from Kristin Neff’s insightful book, Fierce Self Compassion. With all the breakthroughs that have been occurring in neuroscience and psychology in recent years, it is equally important to embrace what we are learning about the dynamic benefits of healthy self-care. Kristin Neff is an associate professor educational psychology at the University of Texas, Austin. She is a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research with more than 20 years of research, including empirical studies and training programs that are taught worldwide. Kristin explains what is happening in our bodies and our brains when we are navigating life without taking care of ourselves. She weaves this knowledge into relatable stories that are familiar to most of us. When we learn how to cultivate more self compassion into our daily lives, we reduce stress and anxiety. We free ourselves from cycles of exhaustion, pent up anger and frustration, and unhealthy releases that often cause us to merely hit “rinse and repeat.”
We got a lot of things wrong in prior generations about emotions, gender stereotypes, parenting, relationships and vulnerability. As a result, we are now living with consequences that are having negative impacts on our daily lives.
These nuggets of wisdom about fierce self compassion will transform how we treat ourselves — and others — by shattering some of those old concepts and reframing self-care as a path to being our whole, genuine selves in a much healthier way. Let’s start with this big myth — meeting our own needs is selfish……
Many of us go through life putting our needs last while we attend to others. We may even believe that this proof positive of the sacrifices we are willing to make for those we love.
Yet we cannot keep pouring water from a dry well. Eventually we are going to be depleted. The warning signs show up as resentment, lack of patience, physical and mental exhaustion and envy. Kristin Neff says these are key indicators that we are “out of balance”.
Sure, we can push through and “do” for others while those warning signs are flashing, but it won’t be rewarding or pleasant for anyone. Kristin Neff reminds us that we when attend to our own needs, we are able to be more engaged isn positive, energetic ways with others. The reason is that we co-regulate each other. We feel each other’s energy.
Many of us believe we are selfish if we take time to attend to our own needs or ask for help when we needed, but that’s not true. It’s an important step toward healthy life balance. When we meet our own needs, we feel more energy, more grace and more resiliency for life and those we love. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
For the record, we need to role model these new behaviors and attitudes for our children. When our children see that we too have needs, they develop better awareness of their own needs. This balance we attend to in our personal lives becomes their benchmark for their own needs and balance.
For anyone who has ever tried to motivate themselves to do better or achieve a stretch goal by letting their inner critic be the coach, this will be an eye-opening revelation. Our inner critic is well intentioned….BUT misguided. Our inner critic uses shame, bullying and harsh tones to effect change. Not only does it not work, it activates our sympathetic nervous system which infuses us with increased cortisol and inflammation. We will feel this in our bodies. We grow sluggish, suffer increased aches and pains, have a hard time recovering from injury or illness. The continual activation of our sympathetic nervous system will also shut down our minds. It’s harder to think clearly, remember things accurately and perform routine tasks with ease. Brene Brown calls this a state of “overwhelm”. John and Julie Gottman warn that this heightened state can lead to stonewalling in our relationships,
The antidote for this automated, mostly unconscious, response is to silence our inner critic and turn toward nurturing self compassion — the kind of comfort we would offer our best friend or our child. When we stop berating ourselves and adopt a “tend and befriend” approach, we organically activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our heart rate variability, and reduces tension. The parasympathetic nervous system is our internal care system. We connect with this “tend and befriend” hardwiring automatically for others — especially our children, spouses and best friends. We fail to access it for ourselves.
As Maya Angelou has taught, “When we know better, we do better.” Now we know. We know that banishing the inner critic and leaning into “tend and befriend” will actually get us back on a healthy track faster, and with better results. The parasympathetic nervous system is our “care system”. It releases oxytocin (the love hormone) and endorphins (the natural “feel good” opiates). Both increase our sense of safety, security and well-being. We can naturally ground ourselves in our core values and how we would really like to be responding to current situations when we are infused with the love hormone and feel good endorphins. It prevents us from being reactive and acting way out of character.
Let’s be honest, when we lash out because we listened to our inner critic, we then feel even worse, and our inner critic gets louder. We even believe all that negative nonsense because we lost control. It is an endless loop that spirals us down and makes us feel defeated. Toss out your lifetime pass for that roller coaster. Fire the inner critic and hire your cheerleader and life coach– the one that is wearing a t-shirt that says “tend and befriend YOU.”
Being caught in a ruminating cycle is so painful — and exhausting. The harder we try to jump off that merry go round, the more dizzying it becomes. To make matters worse, we chide ourselves for wasting time, not being able to stay present in our current moment, and obsessing about something we cannot change. What’s done is done. And yet…..it is so unsettling…..we just can’t let it go.
In her book, Fierce Self Compassion, Kristin Neff helps us better understand the root cause of rumination — the inability to express our anger.
For generations, many of us were raised to believe that anger was a bad emotion and needed to be suppressed. We really got this wrong. Emotions are not good or bad, right or wrong. They are guideposts and guardrails for what matters most to us. Anger is simply a warning signal. It’s telling us with a sense of urgency that something is wrong. In prior generations, children were told to bottle up that anger, even punished for expressing it. A small child’s anger is simply an indicator that they are not feeling safe, secure, protected.
For the record, we also need to understand that it takes twenty years or so for our brains to develop and mature. We do not have access to the executive functions of our prefrontal cortex (especially when we are kids). It would be equivalent of asking a 5 year old to drive a car — they are not yet capable of processing all that is needed to accomplish this safely and productively. As Dr. Gabor Mate says, “we should not expect our little people to have to manage themselves when it is the adults that are out of control.”
Is it any wonder that we are not very skilled at handling anger? We got so many mixed messages about anger in childhood and we carry that confusion into adulthood. We are challenged to handle our own anger –AND to be on the receiving end of another’s anger. We can get much better at both.
Suppressed anger and dismissed anger has to go somewhere — and all too often we stuff it internally hoping to hide it from both ourselves and others. Anger that is not processed is going to grow, marinate and percolate. Eventually it may surface like a volcano spewing hot lava — often over some small incident totally irrelevant to the initial warning we felt.
Other times, suppressed anger causes us to ruminate. While we know what it feels like, we may not know why we are so prone to it. Kristin Neff offers this revealing explanation: “Rumination is a basic safety behavior – a form of resistance to what’s happening rooted in the desire to make our pain go away. Rumination represents a freeze response to danger.’
Unfortunately rumination as a basic safety behavior does not produce the desired results. It simply keeps us trapped in our pain instead. We just keep reviewing the past over and over, deepening our hurt and confusion. The increased cortisol and inflammation caused by constant sympathetic nervous system activation wreaks havoc on our ability to regulate stress and anxieties. In fact, rumination can contribute to depression.
Breaking a rumination cycle requires self-awareness. We have to “catch” ourselves when we realize we are caught in a negative thought process that loops endlessly without conclusion. Taking a pause and shifting our mind’s focus to the present moment, or to something pleasant is a deliberate and meaningful first step in rewiring our brain.
All the work that we do to cultivate more self compassion is really helping us “upgrade” our brains from the unconscious, child-like, default settings to the more self-aware, mature, responsive functions. We move from the “reptilian” brain to the “mammalian” care system. This is an exciting part of our human evolution that we are just coming to know more about thanks to neuroscience.
We’ve all heard about our reptilian brains — the quickest and most easily triggered reflective reaction to danger — the place where our automated choices are fight, flight, freeze or fawn. The reptilian reflective responses activated our sympathetic nerve system and feeds our bodies more of the chemicals that negatively impact our ability to stay cool, calm and collected. Our hearts race, our muscles tighten, we lose control. We know this reptilian state all too well.
We’ve heard less about proactively shifting from our reptilian brains to our mammalian care system. As Kristin Neff explains “this is the evolutionary advantage of mammals over reptiles. Mammalian young are born very immature and have a longer developmental period to adapt to their environment. Human beings take the longest to mature – 25 to 30 years for the prefrontal cortex to develop due to our remarkable neuronal plasticity. To keep vulnerable youngsters safe during this long developmental period, the “tend and befriend” response evolved which prompts parents and offspring to stay close and find safety through social bonding. When the care system is activated, oxytocin and endorphins are released, which increases feelings of security.
I am a firm believer that knowledge is our best portal for meaningful change. Now that we are learning about our human evolution process, especially with our brains and bodies, we are gaining a deeper understanding of how we can shift from an outdated autopilot operating system to a more advanced, meaningful and rewarding dynamic operating system. Cultivating self-compassion is the gateway for this transformational change.
I’m so delighted to share some very timely resources with you that can deepen your self compassion practices. Kristin Neff’s latest book, Fierce Self Compassion is a resource and reference guide that you will want to keep in your home. You’ll refer to it often for yourself, for your spouse and kids, for friends and family members.
Brene Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart, is another great reference book for our homes. She expands our emotional granularity with her education around 87 emotions and experiences that we all share.
And last, but not least….these 3 episodes of the Being Well podcast…are great, relatable conversations around rumination and meeting our own needs.
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.