Mulling around the self-discovery section at Miraval, Tucson (my ultimate happy place), a book jumped out at me. “Good Morning I love You” – Mindfulness + Self-Compassion Practices to Rewire your Brain for Calm, Clarity and Joy. I have always been intrigued by the brain and knowing that something greater is helping us interact with the world, so I immediately purchased it. I was ready to learn more about rewiring the brain for a positive mindset, clarity and self-compassion.
After spending the last several months reading this book and listening to every podcast I could find on the author, Dr Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion … I am now hooked. I am crushing on Dr Shapiro and everything she is saying – which is confirmed by science – makes absolute sense!
MY TAKEAWAYS …
Here’s the simple fact, you aren’t changing because you keep doing the same things. You most likely are having the same thought patterns, emotions and feelings. Change comes from doing something different. You are actually “practicing” something at all times – this means you are growing “something”.
Here is the million dollar question … What are YOU practicing? Love, kindness and acceptance of yourself OR judgement, guilt and shame?
NEUROPLASTICITY Can Help but What Is It?
BAD NEWS, GOOD NEWS
So from ages birth to 25, it is much easier to learn new things like a new language, to ride a bike or ski – When I was first learning to ski, I was so perplexed watching adorable 3 year olds whiz down a slope while I was struggling on the bunny hill – ha ha. Learning at a younger age can be done without trying too hard. After 25 years old however, the brain becomes a little more fixed and a little harder to re-wire. Neuroplasticity after the age of 25 must be activated because it is no longer passive. This is all bad news. Hold tight, the good news is coming next!
The beauty of the brain is it can actually change no matter how old you are or what mistakes you made. It is NEVER TOO LATE to rewire your brain and transform your life. Your brain has the capacity to rewire and change YOUR ENTIRE life.
So Is it Too Late for You to Change?
Now change happens over time and in small increments. It requires practice and actually creating new neuropathways in your brain. Dr. Shauna Shapiro, says “The foundation of neuroplasticity is “WHAT YOU PRACTICE, GROWS STRONGER.” This means until you engage, you won’t be able to change. The only way to change is through practice.
So you want to change? Well, you have to do something different. If you have had pain or trauma and you keep engaging the same pathways – you are just reenforcing that. The only way that you heal, and change is to do something different. Relating to your pain in a different way will help you make a shift.
MINDFULNESS, WHAT IS IT?
Mindfulness is a way of being present and aware. It is paying attention with kindness, openness and curiosity. Mindfulness helps you see clearly so you can make wise choices and respond to life effectively. Instead of pushing away an emotion, like fear, you welcome it- it allows you to be with whatever is happening in the moment – no matter what is happening.
Mindfulness gives you a choice. You have choice over what you think, how you were feeling, your actions and behaviors. You can only have choice, if you are aware. Staying connected to your body, feeling your mind and your heart is important. When you bring “all of yourself” to the present moment, you are available to meet each moment.
Mindfulness provides the space between the stimulus – whatever is happening to you – and the response. In that space lies your choice and your freedom. Mindfulness allows you to see your self-judgment and notice it. The essence of mindfulness is to love yourself, be self-compassionate and accept yourself. Remember you are doing the best you can with what you know.
Mindfulness practice is good for you! It increases happiness, empathy, and compassion. It also improves attention, memory, and the ability to perform on tests. If that wasn’t enough, it also cultivates innovation and creativity, grows areas of the brain related to well-being and can even slow the aging process by altering your DNA – Sign me up 🙂 Mindfulness helps you see clearly and clarify your values so you can get back on course. With practice you can learn to accept your emotions instead of fight them and become more compassionate with yourself.
Intentions are values and what you care about. They help guide you to what is most important in your life. Intentions set the compass of your heart.
Life is busy and full of distractions. You are receiving so much input all of the time. At times you may lose touch with what is most important to you. You may have to really think about what your priorities are in life and what you care about the most. Reflecting on your deepest hopes and values – What do you want to grow? What is important to you? What are your core values?
When you set an intention, it releases dopamine which motivates you and tells your brain to “pay attention”. It is like a compass directing you in the right direction. Dopamine is incredibly important because it gives you the energy to do what is important. It moves you forward and helps you be present, focused and alert.
Here are some examples of intentions you can set- “I want to be a more present mother.” “I want to be a more patient teacher.” “I will live this day with kindness.” Intentions like these, set the compass of your heart in the direction of love and kindness.
Attention is focus on the present moment. It trains and stabilizes your mind in the present moment. Where you put your attention becomes your life. Humans tend to have very reactionary attention or go back and forth like a ping pong ball instead of being in choice. Science studies show that the mind wanders on average about 47% of the time. Attention is learning how to bring it back and refocus in the present moment.
Attitude is HOW you pay attention. Are you paying attention with kindness, compassion, openness and curiosity OR shame and judgement of yourself and others? Are you listening with an open mind? Often you may be thinking, “I like this. I don’t like this.” You are actually judging things, other people and yourself. When you judge and shame yourself, it actually shuts down the learning centers of the brain and keeps you stuck in the very behaviors you are trying to change. Treating yourself with kindness, turns on the learning centers of the brain and gives you the resources you need to change. Treating yourself with compassion does not let you off the hook, rather it helps you see clearly what you did so next time so you do it differently.
Change is Just Around the Corner
To engage neuroplasticity, FIRST you must set an intention – why you are practicing? The intention you set will give you motivation. You’ll say something like, “I want to change.” “I want to learn…” Your intension releases dopamine which turns on the of learning and motivation centers of the brain and engages neuroplasticity.
Second, you must be actively engaged and focused (cue up the attention).
Lastly, motivate yourself through positive self-talk, encouragement and having a positive attitude. Learning is a process.
HERE ARE A FEW POWERFUL PRACTICES TO TRY
Practices are a roadmap to change. It is important to have tools and practices to support you in your self-discovery journey. Dr Shapiro says these simple powerful scientific practices will help bring about lasting change.
What you do first thing in the morning is incredibly important for your health. First, it is important to know that the morning is a very powerful time. When you wake up, your brain is in a theta state – meaning it is a very trainable and suggestible time. The morning is the time to protect the mind and train your attention and clarity. The science also shows that your mood in the morning predicts your overall health. Instead of grabbing your phone in the morning and going on social media or thinking about your to do list, try something new.
Morning Practice 1 – The Magical Morning Question
Start your day by waking up and saying, “I wonder what surprising and beautiful things will happen today”. This practice will help your brain look for the good and counterbalance your Negativity Bias – this is the tendency of the human brain to scan for danger and negativity which protects you. Humans tend to be wired to look for the negative and focus on what is wrong. Rather, start your day with this morning practice to prime your mind to look for the beauty and wonder instead of problems.
Morning Practice 2 – Set a Morning Intention
Begin your day by setting a daily intention. Where do you want to focus your attention? What are your personal values, goals and aspirations? Ask yourself, “What do I want to grow?” This will guide you. It is important to do this practice with kindness and curiosity rather than shame which shuts down the learning centers of the brain. Intensions release dopamine which turns on the learning and motivation centers of the brain and engages neuroplasticity. Intentions direct the compass of the heart and reflect your deepest hopes and values.
Morning Practice 3 – Good Morning I Love You
Begin your morning by putting your hand on your heart – which is a connection to your body – “Good Morning (Tricia), I love You” – putting your hand on your heart releases oxytocin, the hormone of love and safety. This practice can change your life from moving out of shame and sadness and into love. This simple but powerful practice teaches you to greet yourself with kindness.
Protecting your mood in the evening is also very important so you want to shape your brain in positive ways.
Evening Gratitude Practice 1 – 3 Good Things
End your day by strengthening your gratitude which has increases happiness and positive moods. Reflect on 3 things, large or small, that went well during the day. Sensory detail help memories stick so visualizing sounds, smells and feelings are important as part of this practice.
Evening Practice 2 – Love and Kindness Practice
End your day by strengthening your kindness, happiness and well-being. Place one hand on your heart and call to mind a loved one. As you bring this person to mind, feel your love for them. Go through all the people in your life or people that have touched you that day. Send them love and kindness by saying, “May you be peaceful. May you be happy. May you be healthy”
The 5% Principle
Change happens in small increments. It does not happen overnight. Create micro habits by doing things just 5% more. Maybe drink water with lemon in the morning just 5% more, get 5% more sunlight or do 5% more sit ups. It’s like baby steps.
Our culture is so focused on perfectionism and striving for the next thing. Focusing on the practice – changing with small steps – is really going to help you make significant changes in your life. Although, it can be hard to engage in behavior where you don’t see the benefits immediately, little micro shifts can have huge impact over time. You will actually see a difference practicing a new habit 5-10 minutes a day. The key is daily practice. Also setting very small achievable goals and then celebrating them, releases dopamine which propels you forward!
The Smile Mediation
Smiling is powerful. It sends a biochemical message to the nervous systems that you are safe to relax the flight-fight-freeze-fawn response. Try bringing a gentle smile to your face throughout the day and see how your body feels. “In this moment, I am ok.” When you smile it signifies to the nervous center that you are safe. Invite in this warmth and kindness
Calming Technique – Name it to Tame it
Practice meeting your emotions in a healthy way. Emotions rise and pass. They actually only last between 30 and 90 seconds – rising as a wave and then settling again. How you respond to your emotions and meet them will impact their trajectory. When you name your emotion, it can put the brakes on physiological reactivity and calm the nervous system (and you) down.
Then “feel it to heal it”. Emotions need to be felt and released. The final step is to bring kindness to it. Being your own inner ally. Example “I am feeling stressed right now.” When you name it, there is a part of you that is witnessing it and no longer consumed by it.
When naming your emotions, you are getting a little distance from your emotions and gaining perspective and clarity. Naming emotions activates your prefrontal cortex. After naming it, take a pause and then make a choice how to respond to it. The witness state of awareness -pausing in mindfulness – allows you to take a mental step back from whatever is happening and use a higher order thinking to observe a situation objectively.
Lastly, (and unfortunately) it is important to feel the pain of your emotions and take responsibility for your wrong choices and repair it. With practice, you can learn to accept your emotions instead of fighting them and become more compassionate with yourself.
Self-Compassion is bringing kindness to yourself and turning compassion inward. When you have self-compassion, you are able to take risks. You are not afraid to fail because you are going to try again. You have faith in yourself.
The Self-Compassion Practice involves putting your hand on your heart when you are having a hard time. It is treating yourself like you would a dear friend. Think how would you talk to a loved one or your child. It gives you the ability to pick yourself up and try again. It can be a new moment to begin and start fresh.
Another Self-Compassion Practice is to imagine something you are struggling with – friendship conflict, sleep, children etc… – To support yourself in a Self-Compassionate Way, write a letter to yourself from the perspective of what would you say to your best friend. How would you guide her? It is easier to give advice to a loved one.
Studies show that people who are more compassionate with themselves are more compassionate with others. Your practice can ripple out into the world.
Challenges You May Face
When you set an intention and then later break your commitment to yourself, you may begin to lose trust in yourself. Often shame and guilt follow. Research shows that shame and judgement does not work and create change. They actually keep you stuck because these feelings shut down the learning centers of the brain and inhibit you from having insight and making changes. Your resources are shuttled into survival pathways which lead to a fight or flight response. When you judge yourself and put pressure on yourself, you inevitably get lost in the self-criticism. Shame and judgement keep you repeating the same unhealthy patterns and habits and deters you from learning new behaviors.
Humans have the mistaken belief that if we beat ourselves up that we will do better and change BUT it is actually the opposite. When you are kind and self compassionate with yourself, you think more clearly, problem-solve more effectively and are more motivated to make a change.
You may think you are alone and the only one experiencing pain or trauma, but there is actually a term called Common Humanity. People suffer and go through challenges – this is life. Often, you may isolate yourself in your pain and think you are the only one suffering but reWhen you are feeling alone in your struggles, in the moment of pain or frustration, remind yourself you are not alone. Think about all the others that are struggling. Send them compassion and then breathe it back to yourself.
Have you ever heard of Negativity Bias? I mentioned it above. Negativity Bias is how humans were able to evolve hundreds of years ago. Humans are wired to focus on what’s wrong, what we are afraid of, and what could possibly happen. This keeps us safe. Long ago this made sense for survival. Today, humans still tend to look for the negative and the danger. However, living with Negativity Bias is really not a great way to live at all. Instead practice cultivating more joy and gratitude to prime the mind to focus on beauty. Balancing your Negativity Bias by focusing on beauty and positivity is something you can try today. (Dr. Rick Hansen)
What to Remember
Cultivate an attitude of kindness and compassion. Reflect and focus on your healing practices rather than blame and shame. Be intentional about how you are living your life, how you are taking care or yourself and what you are exposing yourself to. Make choices to nourish yourself to support your “best self” to come forward. Using Mindfulness, you always have choice in how you are going to respond to a current situation.
In conclusion be proactive and take care of yourself instead of waiting for a challenge or tragedy in your life to make a change. The only way that you heal and change is to do something different. When you strengthen your compassion for yourself, you are able to give it out. Because we are all interconnected, everything you do ripples out into the world and will cultivate greater compassion for those around you.
Science shows it is never too late to change to change your brain because it is constantly changing throughout your life. Humans can restructure the brain at any moment. So what are you waiting for? Take a small action today in your personal growth today.
- What you practice grows stronger. What are you practicing and growing?
- Mindfulness is intention, attention and attitude. Reflect on today, did you pay attention with kindness, openness and curiosity?
- The morning is incredibly important for your health. Can you set a morning intention or start a morning practice? Which one sounds comfortable?
- Change happens in small increments. What is something you can do 5% more?
Shauna Shapiro BLOG Good Morning I Love You
TEDTalk What You Practice Grows Stronger
Chasing Consciousness Podcast The Science of Minds and Reality with Freddie Drabble
The Psychology of Mindful Meditation An approach to stress management and happiness.
Live Happy Now Podcast #50 Regulating Emotions with Dr. Shauna Shapiro July 14, 2020
GOOP Why Self-Esteem is a FairWeather Friend January 21, 2020 Shauna Shapiro
Untangle Mindfulness for Curious Humans
Dr Shauna Shapiro – Activate Your Superpowers: Mindfulness, Self Compassion, and Neuroplasticity September 13, 2022
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