Knowing Your Brain

Your Brain’s Neuroplasticity made simple
What You Should Know About Your Brain
Brain Rules

Classroom Movement #1#2,

Ways to help yourself focus in class  a list.

Key components of social emotional awareness:
○      self-awareness
○      self-management
○      social awareness
○      relationship skills
○     responsible decision-making

  • Research shows that among students grades 5-12, positive emotions such as hope, well-being, and engagement account for 31% of the variance in students’ academic success (hope is 13%, engagement is 10%, well-being is 8%) (CASEL)
  • Social Emotional Learning from CASEL, The Missing Piece 2

Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity, National Geographic

Maintaining Positive Emotions: Have it, Enjoy it!

  • Humans have a negativity bias: this means the brain has a tendency to pay more attention to and give more weight to negative rather than positive experiences.  For our evolutionary ancestors, learning from danger/negative experiences was more important than rewards/positive experiences.  The mind takes its shape from what we think about routinely (positive or negative), thus our brains are wired to focus on the negative.
  • Most positive mental states don’t cause positive neural structures to form unless you “implant” the positive experience in your brain
  • The steps to “implant” positive experiences:

1) Have a positive experience (notice or create it and experience it in your body)
2) Enhance the experience by: noting details about it, increasing duration, intensity, engaging all your sense, finding the personal relevance
3) Absorb the experience by pausing for 10 seconds to “let it sink into you as you sink into it”

  • This process is called self-directed neuroplasticity: using your mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better.  Essentially, by creating and absorbing positive experiences, we can change our neural pathways so that we creating lasting changes in the following areas:

○      virtues: patience, energy, generosity, restraint
○      executive functions: metacognition
○      attitudes: optimism, openness, confidence
○      capabilities: mindfulness, resilience, emotional intelligence
○      positive emotions: gratitude, compassion
○      approach orientation: curiosity, exploration
○      explicit memory: declarative/semantic knowledge such as facts and details
○      implicit memory: procedural knowledge, assumptions, attitudes, motivations
○      health: there’s research linking the immune system to the neural system

  • We need a ratio of 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction to have a healthy (decent) relationship…more positive makes it better.  This applies to any relationship.

Mood meter (from Marc Brackett at Yale): is a tool to identify and label different emotional states;
○      2 axes: Energy & Pleasantness of Mood
○      (Red and Blue zones are linked to critical tasks; Yellow and Green zones linked to reflective tasks and a more flexible mindset)

Recognize emotions: tone of voice, body language, physiology.
Understand emotions: causes and consequences
Labeling emotions: put language to emotions
Learn how to express and release emotions
Regulate having goals/strategies to choose the best possible emotions

“Heartfulness”: Tuning into the senses at moments throughout the day, pay attention to how you feel different emotions in your body (drop into being in your body since we are “human beings”).  Anchor yourself in breath, body, and sound. Tune in. 

Gratitude: (Emiliana Simon-Thomas, neuroscientist)

Gratitude Matters.  Research shows that we are not that great at expressing gratitude and remembering when people express gratitude to us.  Gratitude connects us to the world outside of ourselves. It increases our health, happiness, and sense of connectedness to our community.

  • The most powerful way to express gratitude that will have a positive impact is when you express:
  1. What someone did for you
  2. The impact it had on you
  3. Acknowledge that they went out of their way to do it for you (the sacrifice they made)

Feeling gratitude is good, but research shows you experience greater benefits if you share your gratitude. Possible tools/activities to use to express gratitude:

  •  Journals or lists (list 3 things each day your are grateful for)
  •  Letters or visits
  •  Art
  •  Random Acts of Kindness
  • School or workplace setting: positive postcards
  • Expressing positive associations/appreciations with students individually prior to big assessments can have positive impacts on their performance
  • Gratitude tree
  • Gratitude circle

Gratitude Practice  video length from the Greater Good
Why Gratitude Works from the Greater Good

Tal Ben-Shahar on gratitude: Life appreciates when you appreciate life.
Steve Jobs on gratitude and living life.

Building wonder and joy.

What does the healthy, balanced life look like? Siegel says it includes focus time, play time, connecting time, physical time, time in, down time, and sleep time. These are defined more fully in this short article on the resources page of Siegel’s website, Healthy Mind Platter.  Siegel suggest we keep track of how much we keep track of how much time we spend on each of these activities to gain awareness of the combination that works best for optimum mental health. This varies from person to person but everyone can benefit from a balanced of these elements in their day.

Inner Health
Pod Bean podcasts include relaxation podcasts specifically for teens and for school related stressors
A video guided relaxation with a teenager’s voice
This is a guided relaxation by Bella Ruth Naperstek. She has made guided relaxations for Kaiser Permanente

  • Waiting
  • Listening and hearing
  • Looking and seeing
  • Cultivating wonder and intellectual humility
  • Doing/Being shuffle

The treasure chest of the heart.

Self-Compassion & Emotional Resilience: (Kristin Neff, Professor of Human Development and Culture)

Self-compassion is about changing our self-talk to match how we would speak to someone else about whom we care.

  • Self-Esteem: a global evaluation of self-worth that comes from feeling good in the domains that matter to the individual.  The three domains are:

○      Success (money, athletics, grades, etc.)
○      Social approval (not objective)
○      Perceived attractiveness

  • You can try to manage self-esteem by deciding which domains matter to you, but those domain’s might not match society’s values.
  •  How you get high self-esteem,matters–if it’s developed by outside factors, it can result in consequences listed below.
  • The possible consequences of high self-esteem are:

○      narcissism
○      entitlement
○      bullying / relational aggression (people bully as a means of trying to raise their own self-esteem)
○      oppression / prejudice

  • Kids put a higher value on the perceptions of acquaintances than family/friends, meaning the people who don’t know them as well as true friends/family can have a larger role in shaping their sense of self (think teenagers…)
  • Self-Compassion consists of:

○      self-kindness: actively soothing and comforting self  (not harsh judgment) Example: Instead of “I’m such an idiot for forgetting my keys,” “Everyone forgets their keys sometimes.  It will be okay….”  When we get into our “self-critic,” we don’t acknowledge the pain we are feeling in that moment.
○       In order to feel compassion, we must see someone as a fellow human being and feel a sense of readiness to help them
○      Sense of common humanity vs. isolation: see our own experience as part of a larger human experience
○      Notice that life is imperfect (and so are we!)
○      Mindfulness vs. Over-identification of our experiences:

■      Allows you to “be” with painful experiences/feelings without feeling like you “are” that painful experience  (Example: “I am feeling a lot of pain and sadness right now” vs. “I’m always sad and always will be sad.”
■      Avoid suppressing feelings, rather just recognizing them as they are (We often jump into fix-it mode)
■     Physiological roots of self-criticism and self-compassion:

○      Self-Criticism comes from our reptilian brain evolutionarily–our threat defense system boosts levels of cortisol and adrenaline (which also make us depressed)
○      We are biologically inclined to “attack” the problem, but if the “problem” is ourselves, we become both the “attacker” and the “attacked.”
○      Compassion comes from our Mammalian brain (and oxytocin and opiates)
○      3 biological means for providing compassion:

  1. warmth
  2. gentle vocalization
  3. soothing touch

Resistance to self-compassion (Why is it so hard to be self-compassionate?)

○      The belief that it’s weak, complacent, passive
○      We confuse self-compassion with self-indulgence

Self-compassion wants long-term health, not short-term pleasure

■      With self-indulgent activities, it’s important to ask whether they are harming or helping you (ex. students who self-medicate to deal with stress….)
○      Confuse it with “making excuses” for ourselves
○     Believe that motivation requires self-criticism to push us to meet our goals

Self-compassion provides the safety to admit that we made a mistake without beating ourselves up
■     Instead, self-compassion is focused on our overall well-being
■      Reframe the motivational push:  “I believe in you.  How can I help support you in reaching your goals?”  Rather than, “Why haven’t you reached your goal yet?  If you were any good, you’d already have….”
■      Self-compassion provides the optimal environment in which to achieve our goals, when possible

 Research: Benefits of Self-Compassion

○      Reductions in anxiety, depression
○      Increases in positive mind-states
○      Same benefits as self-esteem but without the pitfalls
○      Linked to motivation but people were not as upset when the failed and then more likely to persist after failure
○      Improved health behaviors
○      Linked to conscientiousness (taking responsibility for mistakes)
○      Linked to coping/resiliency (in situations such as divorce, chronic pain, etc.)
○      More caring relationship behavior: forgiveness, perspective-taking, empathy, altruism
○      Study shows: 5 days of writing self-compassion letter to self reduced depression in participants for 3 months and increased happiness for 6 months

How to take a Self-Compassion “Break”:

○      Recognize that you are suffering and every moment of suffering is worthy of compassion
○      Turn self-judgment/comparative thinking into a sense of common humanity.
○      Give yourself the “gentle touch” of compassion by putting hands over heart or crossing arms into self-hug, or hold your own hands (whatever feels most comfortable, unobtrusive if, for example, sitting in a public setting….)
○      Go through this self-talk:

“This is a moment of suffering.
Suffering is a part of life.
May I be kind to myself in this moment.
May I give myself the compassion I need.
What do I need right now?”

What you can tell yourself when  you need self-compassion:

“Everyone is on his or her own life journey.
I am not the (sole) cause of this person’s suffering
nor is it (completely) within my power to make it go away
even though I wish I could.
This moment is hard to bear
But I will try to help as best I can.”

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