In this Bulletin…
Neuroplasticity: Your hidden superpower
November has simply flown by for me. I enjoyed speaking at the BAPOC mindfulness symposium and presenting a workshop for the VVM, a Dutch Mindfulness teachers Association. I spent several years teaching the Mindfulness at work curriculum to mindfulness trainers in the Netherlands, so it was nice to be back working with a group of people I love working with. In both instances I was talking about two of my favourite subjects: down to earth, pragmatic Mindfulness; and the importance of intention. Intention is the most underrated power in the universe. As humans we all have the power to set our Intentions for our lives, and it costs nothing! More about this later but trust me its important and could change your life.
I have also been putting the finishing touches to the PowerPoint slides and resources that accompany my newest mindfulness curriculum MindfulnessAWT. As you can see from the logo, it is designed to help people move from frazzled to focused. More about this later in the newsletter.
In tandem with my mindfulness and intention work I have been teaching workshops on how to ‘Supercharge your sleep’ and on ‘Digital Downtime’ – helping people to work better with tech.
Outside work I have been helping my small village prepare for Christmas. A large Christmas tree has been ordered, which will be delivered this weekend. Its our tradition for villagers to come and hang their own decorations on the tree and share a glass of mulled wine too. We also have a ‘living advent calendar’ in the village this year. Each night a new Christmas window will be revealed in one of the village houses which will then remain lit every evening until the end of advent. Its my turn to display a window on the 7th of December. Wish me luck!
How to have a stress-less Christmas
As the adverts keep on telling us, Christmas is now a season, not just a day. That’s my excuse for putting up my Christmas tree early. My Christmas tree has not a bauble in sight. Its full of every imaginable animal festive themed ornament. The number of animals that inhabit the tree grow every year.
Those of us that celebrate Christmas look forward to our favourite family traditions each year: fun filled Christmas parties, cosying up with loved ones next to the Christmas tree and a roaring fire, spending time with family and friends, not to mention buying and receiving perfect gifts. This utopian vision can be far removed from the reality that so many of us experience.
For many people the festive fun is overshadowed by stress and pressure triggered by self-imposed expectations of how the perfect Christmas should be. Here are a few tried and tested tips that I have shared with coaching clients and groups of busy people over the years.
1: Schedule time out for recreation or relaxation.
‘But Christmas is the holiday season’ I hear you say. ‘Why do I need to schedule time out’? Many of us take extended breaks for Christmas but there is a mountain of things to occupy our time, many of which we feel obligated to do rather than want to do. Tidying, decorating, or even refurnishing rooms to avoid ‘housebarrassment’ when relatives and friends visit is just one example. Christmas shopping in busy places with long queues when you don’t know what to buy people is another example. Christmas can be stressful. Make sure you schedule some time for your own self care. Add it to your ‘to do list’ near the top if you have one. You might carve out 30 minutes of exercise time, a coffee with a friend, or a soak in the tub. The busier you are, the more essential it becomes that you do this.
2. Let go of unrealistic expectations
The media paint images of the perfect Christmas that few of us can possibly live up to. This is compounded by pictures on social media of people you know having ‘perfect’ Christmas celebrations, in the ‘perfect’ house or party venue, wearing incredible costly outfits. With the cost-of-living crisis biting for many, we need to set realistic expectations. We can get lovely presents that our loved ones will value without breaking the bank. We can create special meals rich in love and care.
We can practice ‘minding the gap’ between how we think things should, must or ought to be vs present moment reality. Within this gap we can create so much self-inflicted pain and suffering that can be avoided. The simple act of accepting things ‘just as they are’ can take practice but will make a huge difference to your happiness this Christmas.
3. Drop expensive, high-stress rituals.
Do you drag your kids to expensive shows just because ‘it's a tradition!’ If your kids are whining every step of the way, why are you doing it? Christmas family traditions are great, but sometimes you outgrow them as a family. Let go of expensive, high-stress rituals and replace them with something simple and universally appealing, like a cooking together or playing cheesy board games.
4. Set boundaries.
If Christmas tension becomes too much, remember you don’t have to do it all or see everyone or do all the things. If you’re not excited about an event, or if social plans drain rather than nourish you — let go of them. Focus instead on time with healthy people and healthy, happy conversations. If you must spend Christmas day in the company of people who deplete you, remember its just one day. Try to schedule some secret time out for mindfulness. A short mindfulness of breath exercise or body scan exercise will help you to reboot your brain ready for the rest of the day to come.
5. Remember to have fun.
As you decorate the tree, watch Christmas films with your family, or take a drive round to see the Christmas lights, take a deep breath and fully appreciate the moment. Give yourself permission to forget about all those tasks still left on your to-do list. Focus on fun, laughter, and joy.
The neuroscience of feeling Christmassy
What is it about Christmas that evokes joy, happiness, and a sense or warmth? What’s the neuroscience behind feeling Christmassy? As the nights lengthen and Christmas approaches, I also love to see Christmas decorations light up the night sky. It makes me smile and lifts my spirits. There’s a good reason for this.
Christmas twinkling lights and sparkly decorations can trigger a release of serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is associated with reward-seeking behaviour and pleasure seeking — the reason we’re drawn to those Christmas mine pies, hot chestnuts and mulled wine — or stopping by to see the light displays on a local street. Serotonin reinforces feelings of worth and a sense of belonging — the reason many of us have our own holiday traditions that we repeat year after year.
At Christmas the hormone oxytocin plays a starring role. Oxytocin is a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Oxytocin is linked to warm, fuzzy feelings. It can lower stress and anxiety. It regulates our emotional responses and is linked to the formation of positive memories.
Recalling memories of festive scenes such as you as a child with Santa, presents under the Christmas tree, or sparkling Christmas lights causes activation in brain regions like the amygdala related to the previous feeling of Christmases past.
Researchers in Japan have found a link between happiness and an area of the brain called the praecuneus. Positive emotions like joy, excitement, and feeling Christmassy and purpose in life are related within this region.
After the last three years we could all do with a serotonin rush, a dopamine hit and a big glug of oxytocin!
Regardless of whether we feel happy or stressed in the festive season we all have within us the resources to improve that Christmas feeling. If you are dreading it, remember that your brain is simply playing the old recording of your feelings and experiences from previous Christmas holidays. The more positive experiences your brain has during the festive season, the more Christmas cheer you will have now and in the future.
Making 2023 the best year ever
What will be different for you in 2023?
New year is a time that we traditionally set new years resolutions. Unfortunately, few of us follow through on our plans and nothing changes as a result.
Research in study in 2007 concluded that only 12% of people who set resolutions are successful even though 52% of the participants were confident of success at the beginning.
In 2023 I urge you to set intentions rather than new years goals that are destined for failure.
The problem is that most of the goals that people set are not aligned with their purpose in life and the things that really matter. You can pursue goals for the next 10, 20 years, only to realise that this isn’t what you wanted after all. As Stephen Covey once said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
As I detailed in last month’s Flourish Bulletin your purpose is your highest intention in life. Its why you get out of bed each day. People make the mistake that your purpose in life must be something lofty or grand, but when you peel away the layers often its something much simpler and more fundamental.
I have had clients who tell me that it is their purpose in life to become a millionaire. Interestingly, research that shows that wealthier people are not necessarily happier. Money is rarely a primary motivator. You must question beyond this. Why do you want the money? What will it do for you? Make you happy? Make others admire you? There are other ways to do this. Clients sometimes tell me they want lots of money so they can buy a big house or a flashy car. Again, what’s behind this? What will the car or house add to their lives? Self esteem? Respect? In reality happiness is an inside job...
Its my purpose in life to help people to move from frazzle to focus.
Mindfulness, Intention, and mindset are three of the tools I use to help people lead their best life.
If you would like to get 2023 off to a great start by setting clear intentions and would like a little support, I offer 1:1 Intention clarity sessions. Contact me for details
I am also starting a new online group in January, which will offer a cost-effective way to get clear on your intentions and receive peer support as you work to create your future. I am offering free membership to the first five people who apply. Contact me for details
How to move from frazzled to focussed
Strip away the myth and media misinformation, mindfulness is a form of awareness training. It helps you to notice patterns of thinking and behaviour that no longer serve you well and find smarter alternatives. It’s been the subject of over 6000 research studies. In comparison to mindfulness most MBAs, leadership and management training have no underpinning research whatsoever.
It’s the science of mindfulness that got me hooked and is one of the reasons I have been working on for 12 years now. In 2014 one of my early mindfulness curriculums was published in Mindfulness at work for dummies. In 2016 it was the subject of an RCT academic study in Australia with Civil servants. In 2018 WorkplaceMT, a curriculum I co-created with The Mindfulness Exchange was published in Mindful Leadership for Dummies In 2020 I started testing and refining a new curriculum, Mindfulness AWT.
The MindfulnessAWT logo depicts how this new light version of MBCT training transforms frazzle into focus. A big thanks to Corine, a local artist and founder of the Ceramics Hub for helping me to create it. I'm looking forward to sharing it with you in 2023. Contact me for more information.
New flexible Mindfulness at work teacher training
For the mindfulness teachers amongst you, MindfulnessAWT is an evolution of WorkplaceMT, which in turn was an evolution of MBCT. The core difference with MindfulnessAWT is its designed to be effective as an online teaching or as a face-to-face teaching. Practice is made easier by weaving in intentionality to make the learning experience more personalised. Weeks 3 and 6 of the 6-week program have been made a little clearer from a trainer and participants perspective. Anyone trained to deliver WorkplaceMT will easily be able to teach MindfulnessAWT.
From January 2023 I will be offering a trainer training conversion course for mindfulness teachers who wish to teach MindfulnessAWT in a workplace setting, on or offline.
There are three options open to trainers.
For those experienced in teaching MBSR/ MBCT who have not attended WorkplaceMT trainer training, 14 hours of 1:1 training + notes+ slide decks +Recordings
For those who have attended WorkplaceMT training who HAVE NOT TAUGHT THE CURRICULUM RECENTLY or want a refresher 2 hours 1:1 + slide deck.
For those who have attended WorkplaceMT training who REGULARY teach the curriculum and are confident, I am happy to share the new slide deck and some notes on the small updates made to improve the curriculum.
How to sleep well every night
As you read earlier, I often teach sleep workshops. Sleep is the foundation that underpins our lives. Bad sleep impacts every aspect of your life. I highly recommend the work of Dr Guy Meadows.
The sleep book contains a five-week plan based on pioneering methods tested at The Sleep School clinic. The majority of sleep issues are psychological rather than physical, so armed with a little knowledge you can have a great night’s sleep.
Neuroplasticity: Your hidden superpower
When Noah Wall was born, doctors didn’t think he would survive. Brain scans revealed that had less than 2 per cent of a brain. Before his birth his parents were told that if he survived the birth, he would be severely mentally and physically disabled. They were offered a termination five times - but they refused.
Noah survived and to this day continues to defy doctors' predictions.
Brain scans taken when he was born and when he was three years old showed that his brain had expanded to 80% of a normal brain - an incredible result that no doctor expected. Noah has learned how to count, can hold a pen, and attends a local school.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to restructure itself after training or practice. Neuroplasticity helps us to override unhelpful mental programming that no longer serves us well. It helps us to grow and develop. Contrary to popular belief you continue to develop new neurones in the brain until the day you die. We are constantly adding to and reshaping our mental wiring with every experience we have.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle
An example of how neuroplasticity works: when you view the brains of people who frequently practice playing the violin under fMRI (functional MRI) they appear to have developed a larger area of their brain devoted to mapping their fingers. This change is directly related to the quantity and the quality of the practice they’re performing – their brains are adapting in very real and tangible ways.
When we try to do something differently it can feel awkward and hard. This is because your brains will try to default to the way you did it before. Deep withing your brain you will have hard wired strong neural pathways connected with this activity. Doing something differently makes your brain create new neural pathways, which involves a lot of energy. Over time the more you repeat the new way of doing things, the stronger the neural pathway becomes and the easier it feels to do.
Neuroplasticity is your hidden superpower.Why? Because Noah Wall is living proof that its possible to develop your brain more than doctors ever thought was possible.You are what you think, and you can change the way you think and behave at any age.
How will you use the power of neuroplasticity to change your life in 2023?
Wishing you a great December.
With best wishes, Juliet