Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning

Andrea Samadi’s “12 Mind-Boggling Discoveries About the Brain”

March 7, 2020

This is episode #44. Welcome to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator whose been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. This episode will be focused on “12 Mind-Boggling Discoveries About the Brain” that are outlined in Chapter 3 of my most recent book, Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement.[i]

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Back in 2014 when I was urged to add the most current brain research into my programs, I consulted with one of the leading neuroscience researchers in the country, who I still work very closely with, Mark Robert Waldman. He shared with me some of these discoveries, and then I created the real-world application so that we can start to look at the world with a different lens and improve our own personal and professional awareness.  These are my own Brain Rules with two being the same as Dr. John Medina’s. Let’s take a closer look and see how these 12 mind-boggling discoveries about the brain can be applied to your daily life.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 1: Did you know that “Our eyes don’t see colors; they see light waves.” This fact reminds us of how colors are created inside our brain. The part of the brain that we actually “see” the world from is our frontal cortex (right above our eyes). What we see is like a movie that blends light waves and sound waves with our emotional experiences that forms a story that is far removed from the reality that actually exists.  Colors from what we are looking at are decoded in the brain.[ii] If you can look at the image in the show notes, you will see how our brain really sees color.

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  1. Light hits what we are seeing with our eyes.
  2. This reflected light goes into the pupil and to the back of the eye to the cone cells.
  3. These cone cells decode the light waves based on how excited they are, (based on how long their wavelenghts are) and the brain translates the color of what we are seeing.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE?  There is a lot more to what we see than meets the eye. If we think of all that we can “see” with our eyes, we can gain some appreciation for the world, and our place in it. Next time you are in nature, look around and marvel at the sky, the mountains, or the ocean. There is so much to see and experience in the world and when we put our minds and brain to work, we can actually bring our visions that begin in our mind, into reality. This is the creative process. Take time away from your work when you want to create a new result in your life. With this creative process, everything that you create begins first off in your brain, and then when you take action to create it, so it is important to think and imagine what you want in clear detail, in your brain first, where everything we see with our eyes first takes shape. Our brain is involved in everything that we do. This is one of the reasons why writing down our goals is so important because writing stimulates our goals and behavior. It’s the first step of the creative process.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 2: Did you know that “Consciousness is created in the brain the minute we wake up?” Have your ever thought about what consciousness is? Stop the recording now and think about it. What is consciousness to you without looking up a definition. When I was first asked this question, I could just come up with the word “awareness.” Consciousness is something that after 2600 years of speculation, everyone agrees that it exists, but so far “no one knows what it is, or how it works.”¹ (Andrew Newburg M.D and Mark Robert Waldman “Words Can Change Your Brain). Various disciplines of science have tried to define what exactly our mind and our conscious awareness is, and Dr. Daniel Siegel tackles the definition with the idea that that  “the mind, brain and relationships are all connected” ² (Daniel Siegel M.D. Mindfulness and Neural Integration)  which is very interesting to think that we are all connected in some way.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE? When you wake up and start thinking, pay attention to the thoughts, ideas, people and places you are thinking about. You might get a strong feeling to call someone, email them, or go somewhere. Listen to your instincts as science is clearly coming to an agreement that our minds, brains and relationships are all connected and to pay attention to this insight. For example, there were times I had a random thought of someone I wanted to reach out to for an interview on this podcast. I always write down these thoughts and think about how each person fits into the content. The key is to pay attention to the thoughts you are having, write them down and then you can analyze these thoughts in greater detail. This is just another tool for using your conscious awareness in the creative process.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 3: Did you know that “Subliminal words can affect our thoughts, feelings and actions?” New research shows that “words and phrases repeated at a volume we can barely perceive can create subtle changes in mood.”³ (J. Weinberger, S. Kelner and D. McLelland). Studies show that the brain gives more attention to negative words, even when we can barely hear them.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE? Stay away from the news. We know that the same bad news is broadcast over and over again, but now research shows to even have the news playing in the background at a low volume, it can affect your mood. Turn it off!  This also explains why it is so important to hang out with positive people. You really are the sum of the 5 people you hang out with the most. If you don’t like this, you can make the necessary changes to improve your world by who you allow into it. Words really can change your brain, so be careful and selective of the words you are using (even thinking) if you want to elevate your results.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 4: Did you know that “The conscious mind can only hold 7-10 words in our working memory?”  If you want to remember a sentence, it must have less than ten words in it. We can only remember small chunks of information at one time.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE? Write it down, if you want to remember it! Use your notepads on your phone or keep a small notebook handy to write down daily tasks you need to remember. Don’t become frustrated when you can’t remember something. Know the limit of your working memory (otherwise known as our short-term memory) and success is yours!

Mind-Boggling Discovery 5: Did you know that “Memories are not real?” Memories are inaccurate and each time they are recalled, they are changed. When you remember something, the brain re-wires the connections between the neurons–literally changing the structure of your brain as you recreate the memory, change it and re-memorize it. The memory is subject to change each time you remember it.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE? Oh no, I thought I had an incredible memory! This does explain some of the articles I have read that suggest that memories are not reliable.[iii] This is even more incentive to keep a journal and write things down. Also, when looking at Dr. John Medina’s Brain Rules, he explains that since two people have different life experiences, we will perceive the same situation in a different way.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 6:  Did you know about the Negativity Bias that states “You must think positive thoughts to build optimism and resilience to stress?”
You must have more than three positive thoughts or feelings for every negative thought you have in order to build optimism and reduce stress.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE?  Since you can only think one thought at a time, be sure that your positive thinking outweighs your negative thinking. This is easier said than done, I know! A strategy I have used for years is to say “switch” when a negative thought creeps into my mind. Then replace the bad thought immediately with something positive and uplifting. We need to find strategies to get rid of automatic negative thoughts that will impact our results. What we think really does matter and can impact those around us.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 7: Did you know that “Our beliefs shape our reality more than our sensations?”  Our memories form our behavior, but they also form the foundation of our belief system. A belief is a thought process and the more we repeat that thought process, the more real it becomes.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE? Sometimes our beliefs can be limiting, so be open to challenging our beliefs with a different perspective or point of view. Think about some of the beliefs that you once held, that you don’t believe anymore. Here’s an example of a belief I have changed in the past few years in relation to diet and nutrition. 20 years ago, I would never have believed in the health benefits of eating high fat foods. When I first heard this a few years ago through biohacker Dave Asprey[iv] and his bulletproof coffee, it really stretched my mind. How could this be possible?  After being open to a new belief, I can clearly say now that adding fats to my diet (good quality fats that is—like grass fed butter) has improved my health and didn’t make me fat. Take your time when learning new things and be open to the fact that your beliefs might be outdated. If you were to ask me 20 years ago if I would ever put butter in my coffee or MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil in my shakes, I would have thought you were crazy. Think about some of the beliefs you’ve had over the years that have changed and be open to changing your beliefs in the future.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 8: I’m sure you have heard that “Too much stress disrupts the neural activity in the brain” since this is in line with Rule #8 from John Medina’s Brain Rules that “stressed brains don’t learn the same way.” We all know that stress affects both the mind and body in a negative way, so why not try some of the most recent and proven strategies to combat stress?

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE?  The fastest way to interrupt stress is by yawning because it lowers the hyperactivity of the frontal lobe. Add in some slow stretching and you will be more relaxed in sixty seconds or less. Be sure to add activities to your day that strengthen neural activity like giving your brain the rest time it needs to consolidate information, daydream, take a walk outside in nature, and practice being grateful in your life.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 9: Did you know that “Every brain is wired differently?”  For example, words don’t have the same meaning for everyone. Words like love, happiness, or peace might mean something different to your friend than to you. This is Rule #3 with John Medina’s Brain Rules, and his book explains why “no two people’s brains store the same information the same way, in the same place.”[v]

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE?  Don’t assume that the words you use will have the same meaning to others as they do for you. This is a recipe for miscommunication. Always keep an open mind and honor the fact that we all “think” differently.

Mind-Boggling Discovery 10: We don’t pay attention to boring things…or people.  John Medina chose this as Brain Rule #4[vi] and it is so important to understand this while attempting to learn something new. Medina explains that audiences “check out after 10 minutes” so it’s important to keep the interest of students during a class with engaging stories to help the brain to learn and remember.  (John Medina, Brain Rules). When presenting or teaching something to others, think of ways that you can be engaging and make your presentation memorable. What can you say that will stick in your audience’s brain and hold their attention? If you can tell a story that connects emotion to what you are saying, your audience will connect with you and trust you on a deeper level.

 Mind-Boggling Discovery 11: Did you know that “the brain thrives on happiness, joy, laughter and positive thoughts and feelings?” It feels great to laugh and it’s contagious! Even a fake smile can trigger circuits of happiness in the brain.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR DAILY LIFE?  We know what this means! Laugh more! Smile more! Tell more jokes! Be happy.

Mind-Boggling  Discovery 12: Did you know that “the brain does not like conflict and incompleteness?” The brain works hard to keep you working a certain way. When changes are made, habits are broken and new actions are taken, the brain freaks out and sends messages to your consciousness saying “go back to the way you were” since it’s easier that way. This is why it is so difficult to change old habits.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? When you have ambiguity or doubtfulness in your life, the brain will struggle. If you lack certainty in your life, your brain will struggle. To keep your brain working optimally, you must have certainty with the actions you are taking. Adopt this mindset and you will see progress in leaps and bounds.

With an understanding of your brain in mind, we really can adopt new strategies that change and improve the results we are looking for in our personal and professional lives. I hope you have enjoyed these mind-boggling brain discoveries as much as I have and have taken away some ideas that you can integrate into your life.  If you check the show notes for this episodes, you will see a graphic of these 12 mind-boggling brain discoveries that you can print as a reminder.

REFERENCES:

[i] Level Up: A Brain-Based Strategy to Skyrocket Student Success and Achievement by Andrea Samadi (October 2015, Wheatmark) https://www.amazon.com/Level-Up-Brain-Based-Skyrocket-Achievement/dp/1627872647

 

[ii] A.R. Wade and A.V Benjamin “How Do We See Color?” https://kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2013.00010

 

[iii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hidden-motives/201203/unreliable-memory

 

[iv] https://blog.daveasprey.com/category/podcasts/

 

[v] Dr. John Medina’s Brain Rule #3 “Every brain is wired differently.” https://vimeo.com/52294892

 

[vi] Dr. John Medina’s Brain Rule #4 “We don’t pay attention to boring things.”  https://vimeo.com/52294894