Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Dr. Kelley Munger and Megan Marcus from FuelEd Schools “Developing Emotionally Intelligent Educators Who Create Relationship-Driven Schools”

Dr. Kelley Munger and Megan Marcus from FuelEd Schools “Developing Emotionally Intelligent Educators Who Create Relationship-Driven Schools”

January 29, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #105 with Dr. Keeley Munger (researcher) and Megan Marcus, (founder) of FuelEd, a non-profit organization that builds educator emotional intelligence and relationship-driven schools.

Watch the interview on YouTube here. 

Here’s some background on our guests today, before we get into the questions:

Megan Marcus holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and masters’ degrees in psychology from Pepperdine University and in education, policy, & management from Harvard University. She served as lead researcher for the book, The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom,[i] which explores how teacher-student relationships trigger neural plasticity and optimal academic, social and emotional learning. Her experiences working on this book while training to be a counselor served as both inspiration and the research foundations for FuelEd.

 

Dr. Kelley Munger crafts and executes research projects that enhance our understanding of social and emotional development in educational environments while also bridging the gap between science and practice. What a perfect match for the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast. Welcome Megan and Kelley.  

 

When I saw that you were focused on educator SEL at FuelEd and that my career began as a classroom teacher over 20 years ago with a classroom of behavioral students that I couldn’t manage, I knew I had to speak with you and learn more about what you have built with FuelEd that is having such a significant impact on our schools. Thanks so much for being here today.

  1. I know how important educator SEL is from not only all of the SEL experts that I have been interviewing on this podcast, but personally since I found my first year of teaching behavioral students to be extremely difficult without any emotional intelligence skills to draw from, since these skills were left out of my teacher training. Can you tell me more about why you decided to focus on working directly with educators instead of students at FuelEd?  
  2. I did an episode when I first launched this podcast on the Why Behind Implementing an SEL program in your school or District, or an emotional intelligence program in the workplace, but with all of your research, What do you think is the best starting place when it comes to helping educators grow socially and emotionally?
  3. We all know that it was an incredibly difficult year (last year) with many schools thrown into distance learning last spring with the start of the Pandemic. How do you see this year impacting the emotional lives of educators specifically?  
  4. What do you think educators will need in order to address the large-scale trauma and stress they have experienced this year?    
  5. It’s been a few years now, but in 2018 I entered an educational policy contest to see if I could help put more of a focus on educator well-being with this awareness.

The premise of the paper that I wrote that didn’t win the contest, but was a great learning experience, was that “Teaching has become a high-stress occupation, leading to educator burnout, demoralization1 in the profession, and eventual instructor dropout, creating a negative impact on society and costing $7.3B in the United States with all of the training that needs to occur. Recent studies have shown that “students’ cortisol levels were much higher if the educator was overwhelmed or experiencing burn-out.”3  “People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what that does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement. I spent hours researching this topic and met some incredible people who were doing research in this area. When I first began presenting on the topic of stress and the brain in 2016, I saw that schools in Canada seemed to be ahead of us here in the US, putting a huge focus on this topic back then. Why do you think this is such an important topic, and what do you think teachers wish that their leaders understood about educator mental health?  

  1. You mentioned a story about A veteran teacher who has always loved teaching told you recently that, after the stress of this year, he hates his job now. What are your most innovative ideas for restoring teachers and preventing them from leaving the field?
  2. For Megan: What inspired you to launch FuelEd and how did you meet Kelley?

For those who want to learn more about your programs, they can go to https://www.fueledschools.org/ click on programs and schedule a call with you to learn more.  Can you give an overview of the programs that you offer at FuelEd?

FuelEd Programs:

Core Educator Collective, Empathy School and Trauma and Transitions https://www.fueledschools.org/our-programs

For webinars from FuelEd https://www.fueledschools.org/events

Kelley Munger on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelley-munger-phd-lpc-ncc-836190107/

Megan Marcus on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/megan-marcus-99517921/

@FuelEd on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/fueledschools

RESOURCES:

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #7 “Building Relationships in Today’s Schools” with Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott https://www.achieveit360.com/assistant-superintendent-greg-wolcott-on-building-relationships-in-todays-classrooms/

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #64 Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott on “Making Connections with Neuroscience and SEL” https://www.achieveit360.com/assistant-superintendent-greg-wolcott-on-making-connections-with-neuroscience-and-sel/

Unleashing the Power of Relationships in Today’s Schools https://www.significant72.com/

Attachment Theory with Dr. Daniel Siegel Published on YouTube March 3, 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zovtRq4e2E

Dr. Daniel J Siegel “Name it to Tame it” Published on YouTube December 8, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcDLzppD4Jc&ab_channel=DalaiLamaCenterforPeaceandEducation

“Social and Emotional Learning, Teacher Well-Being, and Student Success: What Do We Know? And Where do We Go From Here?” Webinar June 5th 2018 with Dr. Mark Greenber, Penn State and Dr. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl https://vimeo.com/275147739

Stress Contagion Possible Amongst Students and Teachers: UBC Study https://news.ubc.ca/2016/06/27/ubc-study-finds-stress-contagion-amongst-students-and-teachers/

Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl (UBC Faculty of Education) and Advisory Board Member for FuelEd https://sel.ecps.educ.ubc.ca/dr-kimberly-schonert-reichl/

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #2 “Self-Awareness: Know Thyself” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/self-awareness-know-thyself/

(#5 most listened to podcast of all time).

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #9 “Using Your Brain to Build and Sustain Effective Relationships”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/how-to-build-and-sustain-effective-relationships/

REFERENCES:

[i]  The Social Neuroscience of Education: Optimizing Attachment & Learning in the Classroom by Louis Cozolino (Norton & Company, January 7, 2013). Why https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393706093

Sleep Scientist Antonio Zadra on “When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep.”

Sleep Scientist Antonio Zadra on “When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep.”

January 24, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #104.

Watch this interview on YouTube here. 

Our guest today came to me when I was referred to his book on one of my neuro-coaching training calls with Mark Robert Waldman[i], from episode #30 when I asked a question that was sent to me from a close friend from the UK, on dreams.  Mark Waldman told me that he was anxiously awaiting the NEW book, When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep[ii] and I immediately looked up the book, and contacted the author, Antonio Zadra, to appear on our podcast. He agreed, and the rest is history!

Before I get to the interview, I want to give you a bit more background information on this book, and the authors, and what you can expect before picking it up. I’ve got to say that what I expected from this book, continually changed as I began to read it, and it took me deeper and deeper into the mysterious world of our dreams.

Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold bring together state-of-the-art neuroscientific ideas and findings to propose a new and innovative model of dream function called NEXTUP—Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities. By detailing this model’s workings, they help readers understand key features of several types of dreams, from prophetic dreams to nightmares and lucid dreams. When Brains Dream reveals recent discoveries about the sleeping brain and the many ways in which dreams are psychologically, and neurologically, meaningful experiences; The book explores a host of dream-related disorders; and explains how dreams can facilitate creativity and be a source of personal insight.

Antonio Zadra[iii] is a professor at the Université de Montréal and a researcher at the Center for Advanced Research in Sleep Medicine. He has appeared on PBS's Nova and BBC's Horizon.

Welcome Tony, thank you so much for agreeing to share more about your new book, When Brains Dream today.

Q1: Tony, when we first spoke, I mentioned to you that I had been writing down my dreams since the late 1990s (off and on) it started when the speaker, Bob Proctor from episode #66[iv], who I worked for, suggested that I could learn a lot of insight from journaling about dreams, but nothing was more powerful than my first conversation with you.  You taught me a valuable lesson, that “we cannot interpret other people’s dreams, only our own.” Can you share why this is important for all of us to understand, as we all probably have the same urge to ask “what does this dream mean?” and what should we be thinking of asking instead when searching for meaning with our dreams? (Ch 12 Working with Dreams).

Q2: How can readers use your model NEXTUP (Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities) to understand prophetic dreams, nightmares or lucid dreams?

Q3:  Before we look at working with dreams, can you explain that while Freud’s influence on dreams was great,  (you cover his influence in Chapter 3) what powerful scientific and clinical work was being done on dreams way before Freud?

Q4: What made you become interested in studying about dreams, and becoming a dream scientist?

Q5: I have to ask, the biggest question about dreaming that you cover in chapter 7. Why do we dream?  I always thought our dreams were our wishes or fears, something from the past, unresolved issues, and something triggered by a current event. What would you say? Why do we dream?

Q6: What are the contents of most dreams and how can they facilitate creativity and have our dreams be a source of personal insight?

6 PART B Also, you mention in chapter 12 that “20 percent of dream material can be confidently traced to waking-life sources.”  Where is the rest of 80% coming from? Our non-conscious?  The collective consciousness that I know you mentioned.

Q7: When we were talking about 2 of my dreams before this call, you noticed that water was a theme in both dreams, and one included flowing water that you mentioned can be metaphor for our emotions. You were able to ask me some questions that pinpointed very quickly and easily the meaning of those dreams. Can you expand on any other metaphors like water that might be common themes for people? Also, what can you tell me about dream characters and why are they of such interest to you?

Q8: You had mentioned to me that taking art appreciation classes can help to get a better appreciation for our dreams, and not being one to go to the museum or art gallery, I wondered what I could learn from this. Then you mention Santiago Ramón y Cajal, (Cahal) a Spanish histologist and anatomist who won the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of nerve cells and I watched a video about his book The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal[v] on YouTube and it was fascinating. For the first time I began to make connections between art and dreams and see this strategy in a new light. Can you expand on this idea and explain why art appreciation is an important strategy for dream exploration?

Q9: In the epilogue you talk about the future of dreaming and that maybe one day sleep trackers could store/log our dreams and how scary this could be. What do you think the future holds for us and our dreams? Do you think there will ever be solid answers that neuroscience can answer to help us to better understand some of the questions that come up with our dreams?

Thank you very much for your time today Tony and for sharing your insights on the power of understanding how our brains dream. If anyone wants to purchase your book, is the best place Amazon? If people want to contact you directly, or learn more about your work, what is the best way?

@DrZDreams on Twitter

https://antoniozadra.com/en

https://antoniozadra.com/en/media

Thank you!

RESOURCES:

Ready Player One https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1677720/

The Dream Keepers https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L21GQBD/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Episode #30 Neuroscience Researcher Mark Robert Waldman on “12 Brain-Based Experiential Living Principles” https://www.achieveit360.com/neuroscience-researcher-mark-robert-waldman-on-12-brain-based-experiential-learning-and-living-principles/

[ii] When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep by Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold (Jan. 12, 2021) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D1SF658/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[iii] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Antonio_Zadra

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast episode #66 The Legendary Bob Proctor on “Social and Emotional Learning: Where it All Started” https://www.achieveit360.com/the-legendary-bob-proctor-on-social-and-emotional-learning-where-it-all-started/

[v] The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal Published August 10, 2017 on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72IPPIt5iMw&feature=youtu.be

The Neuroscience of Leadership: 3 Ways to Reset, Recharge and Refuel Your Brain for Your Best Year Ever

The Neuroscience of Leadership: 3 Ways to Reset, Recharge and Refuel Your Brain for Your Best Year Ever

January 17, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #103, where we will cover “The Neuroscience of Leadership: How to Reset, Recharge and Refuel Your Brain for Your Best Year Ever.” As we are now well into the New Year of 2021, with 2020 behind us as a distant but not forgotten memory, have you taken the time to close out the old year and welcome in the new? Whatever planning activity you do, I’ve added some ideas to this episode that I’ve collected over the years of working directly with the top leaders in motivation and success that really do add new energy to fuel this new year, with practical neuroscience tied to each strategy.  The idea is to look at your year with your brain in mind and see if this new lens can create the best year ever for you.

We all intuitively know that there’s a mental energy boost that comes along with “being ahead” of the game, and for those who work in our classrooms, you know that this year, getting ahead with our students looks much different than prior years, with perhaps a phone call before the start of the year to welcome your new students, break the ice, or tie something personal into your lessons that helps you to quickly connect on a deeper level, setting the tone for your year.

Getting ahead also translates into the workplace, with significant advantages in sales, for instance, knowing and planning where your sales will come from and having a solid pipeline, sets the tone for the rest of the year, much like the sports team who gets that first point early in the game, there’s a competitive advantage to this that builds momentum. Many people will be starting new jobs or careers with the mergers and resets that occurred from 2020, and the strategies that I am going to share with you, will be relevant to those of us who are starting something new, looking to refuel for a new year, recharge our batteries in 2021, shift, pivot and building momentum early, to set the rhythm for your best year ever. 

For those who work as entrepreneurs, this is the way we launch every year. For me, it’s been since I left the corporate space in 2012, so this will be my ninth New Year implementing these strategies.  The first year, on Day One of working on my own, I remember calling my good friend Patti Knoles, who had been in business for herself for many years, and saying “Patti, I’m so scared! What if what I am planning to do doesn’t work out?” I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I do remember where I was at the time, and that whatever she said made me feel better.  I think she said something like “how will you know if you don’t try?” and she was right—that’s the same words of wisdom that I give to those people, including one of my former sales managers, who called me after they have made this leap recently, for any thoughts, ideas or suggestions on how to be successful working from home, for yourself.

Whether in business for ourselves, or working for someone else, it takes a certain mental mindset to be 100% in charge of our results—our day, income, and life, and I know that it can also be quite scary, so for those of you facing 2021 with this new lens, here are some strategies that you can implement that will put you ahead of the game mentally, which I’m confident will change your results and set you up, for your best year ever.

 

Idea #1: Create Early Wins to Increase Motivation, Creativity and Overcome Challenges.

Michael D. Watkins, the cofounder of Genesis Advisers, a leadership development company, and the author of The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels[i]  shares that “the single most important principle to making a successful transition in times of change, is to get early wins to build momentum fast.”[ii]

We talked about this in the introduction, how achieving early wins creates a new rhythm and momentum that changes your mindset to help you to focus on the success you are destined for, with greater outcomes, but how exactly do we win early? Winning doesn’t usually just happen. It’s never by chance or luck. Here are some strategies you can use to develop a winner’s brain within yourself, or your organization, or team, so that you can have those predictable results that come with winning early.

How To Put This Tip into Action With the Brain in Mind?

Uncover What Motivates You, Get into Flow State and Create Your Winning Brain. There is a fine line between setting and achieving goals, and research shows that motivation is what is behind those who are successful at achieving the goals they have set.  How do we uncover what motivates us? By now, most of us have heard of Simon Sinek’s[iii] work and the importance of starting with our “why” to inspire others to take action. If you haven’t watched this TED Talk[iv] in a while, it’s a good one to revisit.  I read a more recent example of uncovering your own motivation with the newly appointed head coach of the New York Jets, (NFL) Robert Saleh, who is taking over the team “coming off one of the worst seasons in franchise history.”[v] Saleh explains his powerful story that launched his coaching career when he traded his “cubicle for his coaching dream after his brother’s 9/11 close call.”[vi] In an article I have included in the show notes, Saleh shares that he might not have been a football coach at all—if it weren’t for what his brother experienced on Sept. 11th, 2001. This is a true story that explains the motivation that skyrocketed Saleh’s coaching career, and I am certain will be the foundation for the success he will experience as a head coach, in addition to the emotional intelligence that he has developed that former Jaguars star Paul Posluszny (Poslozny) describes when he explains that Saleh’s “presence commands attention because of his knowledge, the way he communicates, and the trust players have in him.”[vii]

Connect Your Brain to this Strategy

So, how does this translate into developing your winning brain? Although focusing on the tasks you must complete to achieve your goals may seem boring, “neuroscience research suggests that commitment to mastering a craft can feel rewarding…that kind of immersion can help a person to achieve a state of heightened concentration described as flow.”[viii]

A study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, involved professional jazz musicians. Using (fMRI) scans the researchers found that when the musicians practiced their craft, they displayed interesting patterns of brain activity.

“During creative improvisations, (or practice) the medial prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in the integration of information to support complex goals and aspirations, became more active.”  At the same time, “the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is often involved in inhibiting behavior and monitoring thinking, became less active. (This is also the part of the brain where we feel overwhelmed). Limbic areas associated with anxiety also quieted. This study may provide a glimpse of the brain "in flow," as the musicians used skills they'd already mastered — playing notes — in new and creative ways.”[ix]

The key to achieving these heightened levels of creativity, is to keep working, practicing, and learning, and your brain will further assist you to achieve your goals in flow state, in new and creative ways.

Problems and challenges will come up, they always do, for example, just imagine that you had this momentum built, started 2021 with your best foot forward, started winning early, and BAM—there’s a Covid-19 outbreak and you need to self-quarantine for the next 10 days, halting everything you’ve built for this year to a fast and sudden stop. This is the reality of the times we live in today, and more than ever it’s crucial to remember that goal achieving is a mental activity, starting at the brain level, and it’s important to take the time to remember your motivation. Instead of getting side-tracked by these problems, think of the bigger picture and “why” are you doing what you do. Take this time to think and reflect and you will be able to overcome any challenge, increase the thinking center of the brain, decrease where overwhelm and anxiety occur, and you will be well on your way to developing your winning brain.

Idea #2: Using Brain Network Theory to Increase Self-Awareness, Empathy, Creativity and Energy

Self-awareness was put on the map by Daniel Goleman[x] in 1995 with his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ[xi] We all know of the importance of being aware of our emotions and human behavior, we covered it in episode #22 with Marc Brackett[xii] and his book, Permission to Feel[xiii], but do you have strategies in place for this? We did cover this topic in depth on Season 1 of the podcast “Self-Awareness: Know Thyself.”[xiv] Go back and listen to this episode—it was actually in our Top 5 most listened to episodes.

Next, take a look at the Start, Stop and Continue Graphic I’ve included in the show notes (if you are reading or listening to this episode on iTunes, go over to the Podbean app, where you can see the images) and start to think about the habits will you start, to bring you more energy, (like how will you become more self-aware and mindful by being in the present moment this year) what will your stop, (like living in the past or becoming reactive to the negativity that surrounds us on a daily basis) and what’s working for you, that you will continue (where will you be more focused and intentional)?

IMG_3261.jpg

 

How to Put This Tip into Action with the Brain in Mind?

Start with the graphic and honing your self-awareness skills. Do more of what gives you energy, and less of what is draining.  You’ll notice some things that are becoming obsolete in your life. What new strategies and knowledge can you gain? This is a powerful activity to think about, even its just long enough to think about one area you’ll focus on in each column this year.

When you begin to improve self-awareness, you can tune into others on a deeper level. Empathy stems from awareness. You can “either be aware and have empathy, or you can act out habitual behaviors, but you can’t do both at the same time.”[xv] Awareness involves the insula and the anterior cingulate in the brain, that work together.

Brain_Network_Visual_3_9l1qs.jpg

Look at the graphic in the show notes created by my mentor, Mark Waldman, he explains how the key brain networks operate. Just as a reminder, when we look at any new research on the brain these days, we will notice that we no longer see studies that talk about the individual parts of the brain—like the thalamus, or the hippocampus, or even just the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) (the part of the brain that lights up when we meditate) we will now see images that describe brain networks, nodes and connectivity. This means that at any given time, we might be daydreaming about something, and an entire network in our brain will light up. I’ve included an explanation of the TOP 3 brain networks in the show notes, because I think it’s fascinating. There are hundreds of these networks in our brain, and most of them are non-conscious, meaning that we are not aware of them, and how they can work for us, or against us.  This is what motivates me personally—to keep learning more, and sharing this understanding with you for improved results.

We have the Default Mode Network, (imagination processes like daydreaming, creative problem solving, and mind wandering. This area is significantly larger than the other networks possibly because it develops so early in life and plays such an important role in child and brain development).

Next we have the Central Executive Network (which holds our conscious decision-making processes like thinking, planning, concentration, taking action in an organized way and focused attention). This area is in our prefrontal cortex and is also known as our Executive Functions—all of our task-oriented thoughts. If we are NOT performing a task, and do NOT have focused attention, this area turns off, and we can go into the Imagination Network into daydreaming, worrying or creating, depending on what we are allowing into our thoughts. When this network is turned on, when we are working and using our focused attention, and the Imagination Network is turned off. We can only be in one network at a time. That’s why it is so important to take breaks to prevent burnout, and to allow for creative thoughts to flow into your mind when working on difficult tasks. 

Finally, there’s the Salience Network that doesn’t fully develop until we are around 28-30 years old, (which holds our awareness, intuition and compassion processes that integrate and stabilize the other two networks helping us to develop social awareness, empathy and our values).  This network puts the importance of what we are thinking, weighs what is important, and helps to balance the other networks. 

You can review this further with episode 48 on Brain Network Theory[xvi] for a more detailed overview, but for this episode, I just want you to look at the image and notice that these networks are all connected by our Awareness (the black star in the middle (underneath the I or the imagination/default mode network)—and know that if this area that includes the anterior cingulate and insula in the brain, is not stimulated, we cannot be empathetic or kind).

“The insula and the anterior cingulate are the parts of the brain that together allow you to switch between habitual behaviors (that won’t help you to attain new results) and self-awareness that will. (It’s self-awareness that increases our empathy). Those who spend more time noticing and being aware have a larger insula and anterior cingulate when their brains are viewed through fMRI scans.”[xvii]

The key to improving your own emotional intelligence here, is to continually work on being more self-aware and in turn, you will become more empathetic, kindness will increase and your results will soar. Just like what I mentioned with Robert Saleh, his presence commands attention, and I know that this is something he has developed over the years, by increasing his own self-awareness.

Idea #3: Your 9 Environments[xviii]: How to Create Energy Naturally from Your World Around You

This idea takes some self-reflection and thought, but I do highly recommend taking a 360 look at your life every year to evaluate where energy might be leaking that could be directed somewhere else. Your environments (that surround you) either inspire you or expire you. They either add energy and move you ahead or drain your energy and hold you back. The key here it to design your environments from the inside out, to support a happier and healthier version of you. You can stop relying on force and willpower, when your environments are lined up as everything is so much easier. We can change our inner environment and mindset with the Start, Stop Continue Chart that helps to improve our self-awareness and empathy, but also as equally important is to change our outer environment.

As we go into a new year, we might have some ideas with of that we want to improve our physical health, since health goals are usually the ones we see people starting the new year with, but it all begins with our mental mindset. After the year we had last year, we know of the importance of mental health and well-being, and that we must take control of our mental and emotional state, before we can even consider doing anything else. If we focus even for a moment on what’s fearful, or uncertain, we just won’t feel right, won’t be working at our best, and this takes training, because our brain has evolved to focus on what’s wrong, to keep us safe.  So how do we focus intentionally on what we want in all areas of our life, without letting our automatic negative thoughts kill our goals before we have even started, or the negativity of the world bring us down?

For the past 5 years, I’ve attend a training call with Jim Bunch to run through my 9 environments, then I pick a few of them that I’ll focus on for the upcoming year. Since doing this activity, I’ve noticed that each year, planning becomes easier as environments have been “cleaned up” let’s say, with the work from prior years. Each year builds a stronger, more confident version of you and it helps my brain to put a focus on the environments that I want to focus on for that year. I don’t choose all 9, just 4 areas that receive most of my attention, and the others are in maintenance mode, as I look at them, and clean them up every year.

Look at the graphic and I will outline some tips for you to think about.

Picture1.png

Body: how was your health this year? Did you try anything new? Some people want to lose weight, others gain weight. What things have you done for your nutrition? Have you done anything new for exercise? Have you tried adding supplements? Green shakes? What about your health team? Do you have a new chiropractor, physical therapist, doctor, dentist, trainer at the gym? Have you looked into any online health courses? Have you done any health challenges?

Memetic: your beliefs, your inner game, your ideas, how you perceive yourself in the world, your paradigms. A positive structure here sets us up for a successful life vs negative (or not good enough) belief structure that will prevent us from reaching our greatest heights. Have you let go of any negative information? Have you added anything to help you be more positive, productive and focused? 

Self: We’ve talked about this area a lot, and it’s very important. It’s your identity, or what you do to improve yourself. Think about your wins, strengths, skills, and talents? Spend more time doing the things you love and outsource the things you don’t love to gain more energy in this area.

Nature: This environment includes the outdoors, four seasons, everything that’s living.  Did you spend more time in nature this year? (Mountains, the beach, the park)? Did you take any trips that took you into nature? 

Spiritual: (not the same as religion) connection to something greater than you, connection to a greater purpose. Do you practice yoga, meditation, prayer? Did you expand your spiritual community? Have you visited any locations that connected you more in this area? 

Relationships: family, friends, close colleagues are you communicating better? Are you building more authentic relationships? Even with social distancing, what effort have you put in here to focus on others?

Network: your extended relationships (clubs, groups, social networks, wherever you connect w people) have you met any new people? When the pandemic hit, I wondered how I was going to build this area, last year, but was surprised to see just how many people were more available to speak virtually, than in any other year. I was able to interview people that I know would usually be traveling, and difficult to reach, giving me an incredible opportunity that helped this area as well as the relationship area.

Financial: wins in cash flow creation new job for active income? Develop any passive or residual income? Any new strategies for managing cash? You you tried using tools like Mint. com and have you looked at cutting your expenses? Do you have a clear picture of what comes in each month vs what you spend? What about wins at work, or your own business? 

Physical: (home, office, cars) Have you organized your desk, workspace, closets, drawers, have you decluttered? Upgraded computer, cleaned up your memory? 

With time, you can make your environments work for you, where they give you energy, rather than drain you. Think about the 4 you will focus on and make these 4 your priority. 

How to Put This Tip into Action with the Brain in Mind?

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Learn to understand and use your Reticular Activating System[xix] which is a filter in your brain that helps you to focus on the things that are important to you. If you have heard the idea that “energy flows where your attention goes” this explains why putting some focus on what you want to create in your 9 environments is so important, especially as you launch a new year. Be very careful of where you are putting your focus, because your RAS will help you to achieve whatever you are focused on, good or bad. There really is a power of making your environments work for you, not against you.

There’s so much more I could say about tips to reset and refuel your brain to create your best year ever, but these would be my top 3 tips of where to begin.

To Review:

Idea #1: How to Win Early and Overcome Challenges

Don’t forget to identify what motivates you, like how the near death of Robert Saleh’s brother during 9-11 inspired him to quit his cubicle job, leading him to being the newly appointed head coach of the NY Jets. What’s new and different will stimulate your motivation and reward networks, helping to drive you towards your goals at the brain level, while at the same time, will help you to bypass challenges that will inevitably come your way.  With continued practice, you will reach those heightened levels of creativity that was seen with the jazz musicians who reached levels of flow that inspired them to play in new and creative ways.

Idea #2: How to Win by Increasing Self-Awareness, Empathy and Creativity

Improve your own self-awareness and this in turn will help you to be more empathetic and demonstrate kindness toward others. Our awareness expands with our experiences but develops later in life since it’s connected to the Salience Network, that fully develops around age 28-30.  Put as much focus as you can on developing and improving your own self-awareness and your results will soar, as you hone this important emotional intelligence skill.

Idea #3: Designing Your Winning Environments: How to Create Energy and Stay Focused on Your Goals

With an understanding of the RAS, we can direct our laser and focused attention to what is important to us. Use the 9 environments activity as a guide to focus on 4 areas that you will focus on in 2021, and watch your life improve with this directed attention.

Reminder: The reticular activating system (RAS) is the area of the brain responsible for regulating arousal and sleep-wake transitions and is considered as one of the most important systems which facilitates the functioning of sensation and attention. 

It functions as a filter of unnecessary noise so the important stuff can get through. 

Your RAS takes what you focus on and then creates a filter for it. It then sifts through the data and presents only the pieces that are important to you. All of this happens without you noticing. The RAS programs itself to work in your favor without you actively doing anything at all. So if we set our intent and refocus, our RAS will help us out by filtering through billions of pieces of data that surround us every day, so we can see, hear and become exactly what we want to be, purely by what we put our attention towards.

I would love to know what insights you learned from these 3 brain-aligned strategies  that I designed to reset, recharge and refuel your brain to create your best year yet.  Send me a message on social media and share anything you’ve learned with me.

Stay tuned for EPISODE #104 being recorded this week, on “Brains that Dream: Exploring The Science and Mystery of Sleep.”

REFERENCES:

[i] Michael D. Watkins The First 90 Days: Proven for Getting Up to Speed Smarter and Faster (April 2013)  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B6U63ZE/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[ii] New Leader? Get Early Wins by Michael D. Watkins (Jan. 2009) https://hbr.org/2009/01/new-leader-get-early-wins

[iii] Simon Sinek Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action https://simonsinek.com/product/start-with-why/

[iv] Simon Sinek TED Talk  Published Sept. 2009 “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en

[v] Robert Saleh becomes Jets new head coach January 14, 2021 by Brian Costello https://nypost.com/2021/01/14/robert-saleh-becomes-jets-new-head-coach/

[vi] Robert Saleh traded cubicle for coaching dream after brother’s 9/11 close call by Ryan Dunleavy Jan. 12, 2021 https://nypost.com/2021/01/15/robert-saleh-wouldnt-be-jets-coach-without-brothers-9-11-close-call/?utm_campaign=iphone_nyp&utm_source=mail_app

[vii] ibid

[viii] Cultivating a Winner’s Brain (May 2010)  https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/cultivating-a-winners-brain

[ix] ibid

[x] https://www.danielgoleman.info/

[xi] Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ (January 2012) https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/thankYouPage?_encoding=UTF8&a=DT%3AKCL&action=&asin=B000JMKVCG&noDevicePurchaseAllowed=&subtype=FREE_CHAPTER&targetFiona=DT%3AKCL

[xii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE#22 with Marc Brackett on his book Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions https://www.achieveit360.com/founding-director-of-the-yale-center-for-emotional-intelligence-on-his-new-book-permission-to-feel/

[xiii] Marc Brackett Interview with Andrea Samadi on his book “Permission to Feel” (Published on YouTube Sept. 2019) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeOzi8ZrFO4&feature=youtu.be

[xiv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #2 “Self-Awareness: Know Thyself” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/self-awareness-know-thyself/

[xv] Where Does Self-Awareness Come From? (January 2017)  by Nicole Gravagna, Ph.D https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/31/where-does-self-awareness-come-from/?sh=6080d3bd32b5

[xvi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #40 “Brain Network Theory: Using Neuroscience to Stay Productive During Times of Change and Chaos” https://www.achieveit360.com/brain-network-theory-using-neuroscience-to-stay-productive-during-times-of-change-and-chaos/

[xvii] Where Does Self-Awareness Come From? (January 2017)  by Nicole Gravagna, Ph.D https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/01/31/where-does-self-awareness-come-from/?sh=6080d3bd32b5

[xviii] The 9 Environments of You by Jim Bunch https://unmistakablecreative.com/podcast/the-9-environments-that-make-up-your-life-with-jim-bunch/

[xix] What is the Reticular Activating System May 2013  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCnfAzAIhVw

Aneesh Chaudhry on “Mental Health, Well-Being and Meditation: Overcoming Addiction Using Your Brain”

Aneesh Chaudhry on “Mental Health, Well-Being and Meditation: Overcoming Addiction Using Your Brain”

January 9, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #102 with Aneesh Chaudhry, the CEO of SoulPhysio Lifestyle that was born largely from his own personal struggles.

Watch the interview on YouTube here. 

As we start a new year, and Season 5 of the podcast, we will continue where we left off with Season 4, with a focus on Health and Wellness, that will take a shift to the importance of brain health, mental health and well-being. If we want to improve our results, and the brain is involved in everything that we do, and everything that we are, then we must put our attention towards understanding how we can optimize this organ—our brain.

We all know that 2020 was difficult for many people, but those who struggled the most were those who already were struggling. The Centers for Disease Control found that from a survey in June 2020, adults in the United States reported “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19”[i] and that “40.9% of over 5,000 respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder, trauma-related symptoms, new or increased substance use, or thoughts of suicide.”[ii]

When I was introduced to Aneesh Chaudhry, through a mutual friend, you will see why I took one look at the work he is doing and knew immediately that I had to interview him in our first podcast to launch 2021, to provide some hope and direction for those who might either know someone who is struggling at this time or going through their own personal struggle.

Aneesh dealt with significant Mental Illness and Addiction through his teenage years into his early twenties. He was diagnosed with conditions including depression, anxiety, bipolar, and this led him to search for answers as to why he was feeling the way he did. A Major shift occurred for Aneesh when he had his brain scanned in 2013 at Amen Clinics. He learned that the brain can heal itself, where his brain might be imbalanced, leading him to have the symptoms he was having. These answers gave him hope and direction that catapulted him into years of diligent study and lifestyle change. He got his bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a concentration of Behavioral Neuroscience. Aneesh also has a list of certifications in the area of health and wellness, including a Brain Health Coach Certification through Amen Clinics, making him a true expert in the field of Mental Health, Wellbeing and Neuroscience.

Welcome Aneesh, thank you so much for agreeing to come on the podcast to share your incredible story that really does defy the odds, showing the dedication you have in this area.

Q1: Aneesh, when we first spoke, on New Year’s Eve of all days, it really hit me that you understood this topic at the brain level, and this means that you have a grasp of something that we were never taught about in school, and most families that have these issues usually end up sweeping problems like addiction, mental illness or depression, under a rug, never to be discussed or addressed out loud, which doesn’t solve the problem.  I shared with you that when I first encountered someone with a serious addiction, I was at a loss of what to do. Now this was going back 20 years ago, when I didn’t find out all my answers to whatever I wanted to solve through Google (that had just gone live a few years before this). I spent hours at the library reading books, trying to understand alcoholism, and why one person can have one drink and not be bothered with a second, while another person just can’t do this. It baffled me that something so important was never taught to us in school. Can you share just how deep your addiction to marijuana and alcohol was, how you think it began, and how were you able to defy the odds and make it to the other side to recovery?

Q2:  For people listening, this can be a challenging time of year, (with the Pandemic aside which we all know amplified this issue) whether they are struggling with an addiction themselves, or living with someone else whose struggling which is just as stressful. This time of year can be the perfect time to make some personal changes. I’ve covered how to use your brain to break bad habits on EPISODE #35,[iii] covered Self-Regulation and Behavior Change for Leaders with David R. Hawkin’s “Power vs Force”  on EPISODE #70[iv] and we did speak with the hosts of the BrainTools Podcast Samuel Holston and Kirin Goy for EPISODE #97[v] on “The Neuroscience Behind our Habits, and Addictions” but can we go a bit deeper into first of all understanding what’s happening at the brain level and what exactly is involved in stopping the addictive behavior from the point of view of someone who has been there, come to the other side, and now wants to help others do the same? I want to go to the level of understanding what triggers the brain to engage in something we know is bad for us, and how do we break these triggers?

Q3: Aneesh, now that you have this understanding, I love how you want to make an impact on other people’s lives and educate our youth on this topic. Since you are certified with Dr. Amen as one of his brain coaches, I think it’s important to note something that I heard him say. If you are a parent, and you know that addiction runs in your family, Dr. Amen[vi] talks about the importance of having a discussion with your kids when they are old enough to understand, by saying something like, “Since addiction runs in the family, I want you to be prepared that you might like alcohol more than other people” or something along those lines. I know that Health and Wellness and this topic finally making its way into our schools, which I think is great progress, since it wasn’t there at all when I was growing up and having these conversations with our children can reverse the cycle of this disease.  Can you share why you were drawn to working with children, your vision with your Foundation for Youth[vii] and the work you are doing in our schools to beat the addiction cycle?

Q4: Since this is the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, I like to bring in the 6 SEL competencies, and when we spoke, one them, self-awareness came up a few times in our conversation. Why is self-awareness so important here? What should we all know about ourselves, and others, and why is a daily routine so important?

Q5: Can you explain what Ayurvedic Medicine is, how it helped you and how does it help to balance the body?

Q6: Since 2 of my favorite actors of all time (Robin Williams[viii] and Phillip Seymour Hoffman[ix] both relapsed after decades of sobriety, I’ve got to ask you about this. How do you look at relapse, and does using your drug of choice ever cross your mind? What do you do to prevent this from happening?

Thank you so much for your time, for all you are doing for the world to give people hope in these challenging times. If people want to learn more about you, they can go to

https://soulphysiolifestyle.com/

Twitter @soulphysio https://twitter.com/soulphysio

Instagram @soulphysiolifestyle  https://www.instagram.com/soulphysiolifestyle/?hl=en

Aneesh Choudhry on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/aneesh-chaudhry-986186145/

https://soulphysiolifestyle.networkforgood.com/projects/103477-main-giving-page Learn more about how to give to your youth foundation where you will support young people through the prevention of these challenges.

I also want to list some resources for people for might be looking for some answers with addiction.

RESOURCES:

https://www.bannerhealth.com/services/behavioral-health/conditions/chemical-substance-abuse

https://www.aa.org/

Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions by John Norcross (Dec.25, 2012) http://www.changeologybook.com/

David R. Hawkins, M.D. Ph.D. Power vs Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior. https://www.amazon.com/Power-Force-David-Hawkins-M-D/dp/1401945074

Understanding the Neuroscience of Addiction: What it Means for Prevention and Treatment April 25, 2018 by https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/04/understanding-the-neuroscience-of-addiction-what-it-means-for-prevention-and-treatment

Neuroscience of Addiction Abstract https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17101174

Understanding Addiction: New Insights into the Causes of Addiction https://www.helpguide.org/harvard/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain.htm

How to Balance Your Limbic System by Daniel Amen Dec. 27, 2016 https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/limbic-system-caring-brains-limbic-system/

Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #80 with Samantha Wettje on “Mitigating the Negative Effects of ACES” https://www.achieveit360.com/harvards-samantha-wettje-on-mitigating-the-negative-effects-of-aces-with-her-16-strong-project/

www.16stong.com

Rick Hanson The Neuroscience of Happiness https://www.rickhanson.net/ and his book Hardwiring Happiness https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CCPIIZK/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Ayurvedic: The 6 Stages of Disease https://essentialayurveda.com/ayurvedic-6-stages-of-disease/

The 3 Doshas: Their Elements and Attributes https://www.ayurveda.com/resources/articles/doshas-their-elements-and-attributes

COVID-19 and Alcohol Consumption Resource https://www.bluecrestrc.com/covid-19-and-alcohol-consumption/

REFERENCES:

[i] Is the Country Experiencing a Mental Health Pandemic? Oct 13, 2020 by Ronald W. Pies, M.D. Psychiatric Times. https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/are-we-really-witnessing-mental-health-pandemic

[ii] Mental Health Symptoms During COVID (Source CDC.gov) https://cdn.sanity.io/images/0vv8moc6/psychtimes/07d1f6853560f1cb04ddc689734c02ef87ab2d67-996x565.jpg?auto=format

[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #35 Solo Lesson with Andrea Samadi “How to Use Your Brian to Break Bad Habits” https://www.achieveit360.com/how-to-use-your-brain-to-break-bad-habits-in-2020/

[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #70 on “Self-Regulation and Behavior Change for Leaders with David R. Hawkin’s “Power vs Force”  https://www.achieveit360.com/self-regulation-and-behavior-change-for-leaders-with-david-r-hawkins-power-vs-force/

[v] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #97 with Kirin Goy and Samuel Holston on “The Neuroscience Behind our Habits, Addictions, Love/Fears” https://www.achieveit360.com/kirun-goy-and-samuel-holston-from-the-brain-tools-podcast-on-the-neuroscience-behind-our-habits-addictions-love-fears/

[vi] Alcoholic Parents: What it Does to a Child’s Brain by Dr. Amen and Tana Amen on the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/alcoholic-parents-what-does-it-do-to-a-childs-brain/

[vii] The SoulPhysio Foundation https://soulphysiolifestyle.com/foundation-overview

[viii] Robin Williams’ Long Struggle with Addiction https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/robin-williams-death-his-cocaine-724802

[ix] Phillip Seymour-Hoffman’s Partner Opens Up About His Tragic Drug Addiction https://www.today.com/popculture/philip-seymour-hoffman-s-partner-opens-about-his-tragic-overdose-t120028

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