On Monday I had the honor of sharing some favorite meditation practices during a workshop on the Neuroscience of Resilience with an engaged group of job-seekers. When we are in times of transition or challenge, being able to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body is key. We can bring a sense of equanimity and balance to decisions and actions we take.
The group was excellent. They participated readily, brought their perspectives into the room and asked great questions. I really enjoyed pulling together the presentation and materials for this session. I had in mind the struggle of being between jobs and careers, and I know this can be a place of uncertainty and stress. It can also be a place of discovery and growth, should we choose to embrace that side of the process.
It takes self-compassion to remain resilient in the face of challenges or struggles. Those of us who have harsh inner critics can feel as though we need to “reprogram” ourselves in a way. Self-criticism can be so habitual that it feels automatic. But when we access that higher self, that inner mentor, and allow ourselves some kindness, paradoxically we find it easier to take actions and move forward.
This group is able to tap the resources of Career Partners International, so they are fortunate to have support during their transition. I hope I was able to add to their toolkit of resources to help them along the journey. What a great privilege it is to be able to share on a topic I have studied for so many years for my own benefit, and on behalf of the teams I have led.
A potential client gave me a topic idea that I am exploring to create a workshop. I realized I have 10+ books on my bookshelf about the neuroscience of resilience. Kind of crazy when you get to create presentations on topics that you’ve been studying for years just out of your own personal interest!
So in readying myself to organize the outline I wanted to share a few thoughts here as I work on that. I am hoping to partner with a yoga teacher I know in order to create some practices that people can implement on the spot as part of the workshop.
As a person who has struggled with anxiety and depression in my past (and have come through a recent decade of robust mental health) I believe my experience can be helpful to others. I have read so many great books on this topic and will list some favorites here (this doubles as my bibliography for the session).
The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons, M.D. (2010) – especially Chapter 3 on the Roots of Resilience. This whole book is a gem for anyone who has ever suffered anxiety.
This latter book was referred to me by a kind Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor for whom I am still grateful. He identified the hidden grief I was processing back in 2010. If it weren’t for him, I might have lost my job since I had been put on a performance improvement plan (giving only 90% at work instead of the 110% I customarily give).
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (2010) – especially Guideposts #2 and #3 on Cultivating Self-Compassion and Cultivating a Resilient Spirit.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. (2014) – this book again brought me to yoga in its explanations of the physical mechanisms that keep trauma “locked” in the body (both physical and mental).
Overworked and Overwhelmed: the mindfulness alternative by Scott Eblin (2014) – I heard the author speak at a leadership event for my company and I knew he had important messages for me. Scott tells a powerful journey of his diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and the steps he takes to manage it. He actually became a yoga teacher in order to teach some of the things he was learning to take good care of his body. Another inspiration for me.
Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body by Daniel Goleman, PhD, and Richard J Davidson, PhD (2017). I knew meditation was starting to have an effect on me when I made a commitment to practice in February of 2017. This was the evidence I was looking for, that thoroughly reviewed the science behind how these practices change not only our current state but also our gene expression.
My premise is that human beings are (by nature) resilient. AND there are things we can do throughout our lifetimes to increase our own resilience in the face of difficult times.
I have many more. These are the ones that were top-of-mind as I scanned the shelves to work on my course outline. I will have WAY more than material than I can cover in a 2-hour session, but I can always hand out a reading list of suggested resources for those interested.
One of the discoveries most we make when we are learning new skills is that there is a BIG difference in learning new concepts versus practicing actual skills.
This became so clear to me when I began learning to meditate. There are an abundance of books resources and guided meditations out there. Really quite wonderful, actually. Check out Insight Timer if you want to start a meditation practice. I have used it for over 2 years and I love it.
But then there is the act and the art of practice. You do not learn new skills (like yoga or meditation) by reading about them. You must invest the time to practice, preferably daily, although 5 days a week would probably make a significant impact.
I like the cycle of learning as expressed in the four stages of competence model. Someone who knows nothing starts with unconscious incompetence. You do not know and you do not know WHAT you do not know.
Then you progress up through conscious incompetence. This is where I am now with teaching yoga. I KNOW what I do not know, but I must acquire the skills to act on my knowledge.
Eventually a learner passes through conscious competence, where they can practice the skill with their full and complete attention. I imagine this is where I will be by the end of my 6-month certification program. There are plenty of practice opportunities built into the curriculum, and I am happy for that!
The final stage is unconscious competence, when the learner has practiced so many times they can now execute their skill or practice with much less effort. Meditation is becoming like that for me, finally. I can drop in within a few minutes and feel fairly comfortable with it (which does not mean my mind is quiet) because I have practiced and primed my brain.
Are there new skills you are trying to learn this year? I find that this model gives me comfort, because the journey through these steps are naturally a progression that takes time. As our brain grows the neuronal connections it needs to make a practice seem “effortless” or at least smooth and well-practiced, we must stay committed along the way.
Three cheers for neuro-plasticity and our brain’s natural ability to grow, change and thrive when we give it the required nourishment along the way!
Did you grow up being told “not to hurt others’ feelings?” Many of us were taught that we should not say things to hurt other’s feelings. By extension that meant we are responsible for other people’s feelings.
It was a pretty radical discovery for me last year when I learned in more details how thoughts cause chemical cascades in the brain that result in “vibrations” in the body we call feelings. I encountered this concept from podcasts by Brooke Castillo. While I had studied this concept back when I first learned about cognitive and behavioral therapy in college, I had never fully applied it to my life.
I will use an example, because I think this helps make the concept more accessible. Say someone tells me I’m a smart-ass and nobody really cares about what I write. It’s a waste of time and I should stop doing it. I have a choice about how I respond here.
If it this a person I respect, I will probably want to ask some questions and get more feedback. (That’s how I am, researchers want more data and we often get curious.) If my self-esteem is not very strong, perhaps I will take their comment seriously and start criticizing myself: why would I think I have the right to share my thoughts or have a valid point of view?
Since I am fairly confident my opinion is at least as valid as anyone else, and because I write for myself, not for them, my response is likely to be different. I will perhaps speculate on their lack of efficacy and creativity in their life and I will dismiss their opinion. My new favorite way to re-frame this is: it is probably more about them (the reason they said whatever it was) than about me. It is a nice way to gain a little distance from what could have been perceived as a hurtful remark, and realize I still feel confident in my own work and process despite their words.
Granted, when we are actively seeking feedback from a trusted colleague, we sometimes have to be open to things that may not be comfortable to hear. This helps us gain valuable insight that might improve our work. That can be important if we want to hone our craft, or become better managers, or excel in our fields.
When I started taking ownership of my own feelings, and realizing that my thoughts were what created those feelings, it was very liberating. In order to feel different feelings, it is necessary to choose different thoughts. If we are in the habit of thinking certain thoughts, this takes some conscious effort at first, because we are re-structuring those neural pathways in the brain. Some of our old habits may have created deeper “grooves” if we have repeated those habits many times. But they are not fixed, they are flexible, and modifiable.
I am so encouraged by the latest research in brain science, that reveals that neuro-plasticity, or the ability to change our own brains is actually more possible than we used to believe. You know the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” that we sometimes employ when we do not want to learn something new.
But in fact, you can teach an “old” human new tricks. It takes practice, and it takes commitment. But fortunately it is possible and it is why we humans, using conscious thought and practice, are so remarkably adaptable to so many situations.
I do not encourage you to say things to people that intentionally try to “hurt” their feelings. I also know that my own fear of speaking my truth has decreased. If others are living in emotional childhood and hold me responsible for their feelings, it is unfortunate for them. And when I have feedback to deliver, I try to speak carefully and from a place of caring and concern. If I catch myself reacting out of anger or my own hurt, then I sometimes have to apologize later for saying something I do not truly mean. (We all have our defense mechanisms.)
But I have found this concept of taking responsibility for my own feelings to be game-changing. We are the creators of our own story, in charge of the narratives we bring to our own lives to make sense of them. Why not choose stories that are brave and courageous rather than casting ourselves as a victim?
If you have been through trauma or other difficult experiences which make it difficult to assess and influence your own emotional state, or are suffering depression, having the help of a therapist or counselor can be an amazing resource. I am not ashamed to admit that I have had wonderful therapists to help me during difficult struggles in my life. It is their insight and caring that allowed me to develop a more evolved understanding of myself. To me, there is no better investment.