5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 5

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 5

Exercise 5 - Talk

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 5: Talk

Hi there!

 

Congratulations and thank you for getting to the fifth and final strategy of 5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When The Sh*t Hits The Fan.
 
The whole reason I created this series was because the sh*t had hit the fan for me. And I used these exact strategies to navigate my way through it.
 
I then thought perhaps you would benefit from these strategies too (if you missed the previous exercises you can access them HERE.
 
Have you done any of them?
Have they helped?
I would love to hear your feedback. EMAIL ME!

 

Anyway, back to my original sh*t. It was a trivial first-world problem, but it involved one of my kids. If you’re a parent you can no doubt understand why it affected me so much.

 

Mumma Bear came out in full-force, and with one goal: to ferociously protect my cub.
So, while it might seem minor and insignificant to some, it was huge for me.

 

I have talked about the pink fluffy dressing gown photo throughout this series because that is how it all started (you can revisit that story HERE or join our private Tough Mothers group HERE to read the original post).

 

I have also spoken about my condensed milk, straight from the can, highlight… but there is something else that happened before both those things, when the sh*t hit the fan for me.

 

I called my friend, Lydia.

 

Lydia is wonderful mum who I have been lucky enough to build a deep and connected friendship with. In short: she gets me.

 

And I knew she would get my sh*t that day.
So, I rang her in tears and blubbered down the phone to her for at least 20 minutes. Lydia listened. It was just what I needed, and I am so very grateful.

 

Something fabulous happens when we speak out our thoughts and feelings without the intention of the listener fixing the problem for us. We start to trouble-shoot our own problem.

 

Talking to someone you trust is literally like a massive brain-dump. As parents we have so many tabs open in our computer (brain) that speaking out loud is like shutting some of them down.

 

If you have a wonderful listener (like I did) they only need to offer a small opinion or piece of advice (a perspective shift perhaps – see exercise number 3)for things in your mind to change and become clearer.

 

Sometimes it is the sheer act of speaking that lets you create your own perspective shift.

 

This clarity is actually a sign that your brain is rewiring and changing itself. You are using different neural pathways and connections to think things through.

 

I have written about the brain rewiring and changing itself throughout this series, because that is the foundation of the work I do with mothers in our Tough Mothers courses. 

 

Tough Mothers provides holistic support for women during matrescence (the transformation a woman goes through when becoming a mother) and motherhood. It’s where neuroscience and psychology meet philosophy and spirituality (in its true sense), for mothers to create strategies to change their own brain wiring through self-directed neuroplasticity, and create a fulfilling life for themselves.

 

 

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change its own wiring, and to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections/pathways. This allows us to adjust and respond to new situations or environments. Through utilising self-directed neuroplasticity we can intentionally learn (or unlearn) new skills, actions and behaviours.

It sounds much more complex than it is. In fact, it is actually really simple.
Like the exercises in this series. They’re quite simple actually, right?

So, don’t let the science scare you, that just proves it works!

 

BUT BACK TO THE BENEFITS OF TALKING:

❤ Studies have shown that speaking your worries and feelings out loud reduces activation in the associated brain regions.

For example, when a person feels scared, their amygdala is activated. This is the region in the brain that alerts the person there might be danger. However, studies have shown that if the person speaks out the word “fear” the amygdala activation is reduced. How cool is that?

So, talking is not just good for getting things off your chest. It literally changes your brain wiring and therefore the neural pathways between key brain areas.

❤ Studies have also shown changed brain wiring in people who regularly speak to someone about their worries. They saw neural connections strengthened and a significant amount of improvement in the people’s lives. Even over the long-term.

This leads to less stress and worry, and also to creating more joy. Amongst many other things of course.

Most importantly though, you are teaching your brain how to deal with problems not only in the here-and-now but also in preparation for when another bout of sh*t hits the fan. Which is inevitable. Because, you know,… life

Sometimes when we have immediate sh*t, like mine was, speaking to a friend can have a profound effect. However, if there is recurring, or very serious sh*t in your life, I wholeheartedly recommend speaking to a professional.

This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you or your mind, it just means you value your mental health, and you want to get out of the sh*t (no matter how big it is) quicker and more effectively – remember YOU can rewire your brain with the right strategies.

If you feel that life is not quite what you hoped it would be at this point in motherhood. Or you would like to create strategies for your journey through matrescence. Or you just want to feel better within yourself (you’re allowed to, by the way!).

Please accept a complimentary chat with me, Dr Jen, HERE.

I GET YOU!

I’m a mother of 3, and am in the throes of motherhood. My unique background in psychotherapy and 25 years of brain research (I have a PhD in neuroscience), as well as working in this space with mothers for over 10 years, means I truly get you.

I hope that you continue to use the strategies in this series not only when the sh*t hits the fan but also in every-day life. Because when you change your brain you change your life.

 Life is too short for “that’ll do!”.

Use motherhood as the catalyst to create the fulfilling life you deserve to live.

Love,

 

This is the last exercise in this series.

 

I will be bringing more info and tips to you via this blog. So, be sure to check back regularly, or sign up to get my blogs straight to your inbox as soon new ones land.

 

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 4

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 4

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 4: Nurture Yourself

As mothers, we spend so much time nurturing our children, that we often forget to look after ourselves. Or maybe we just don’t have enough time.

Or… maybe we don’t make it a priority (I am definitely guilty of that!).

However, when the sh*t hits the fan, we can use it as a tap on our shoulder to remind ourselves that this is exactly what we need to do: nurture ourselves.

A good way to start this is to speak to yourself as you would to one of your children, if they were sad or in a crisis. Be kind and gentle.

Ask questions, such as:

  1. What are you feeling right now?
  2. What can you do for yourself in this moment to make yourself feel held and looked after?

They may seem like simple questions, but you need to give yourself permission to dig deep with your answers and be really curious. The more you can tap into yourself, the better your answers will be.

Then DO whatever came up for you in question 2!

Imagine you are wanting to give yourself a big cuddle.

How would that look for you?

For me, on the day of the great pink dressing gown incident (a reminder of that highlight of my life (NOT!) HERE), I really needed something sweet to eat. So, I dived into a can of condensed milk.

Mainly because that is all I could find in the pantry. But, oh mama, did it hit the spot!

I didn’t eat the whole can, ha ha ha, and I don’t always have sweets when the sh*t hits the fan for me, but on this day it was just what I needed. 

#Motherhood truths

Other days, I exercise – sometimes it is a vigorous run or workout, other days it’s a long slow walk with my dog. It really depends on what I feel I need. That’s why it is imperative for you to tap into yourself (which the previous 3 strategies in this series will have helped you to learn. Revisit them HERE).

Ask yourself questions like the two above, as if you are your parent or your best friend.

Below are examples that may inspire some ideas of how you can nurture yourself.

You deserve it Mama!

Self-Nurturing Ideas

  • Eat something yummy
  • Drink something you love (preferably not alcohol!)
  • Watch something interesting, inspiring or encouraging
  • Take a walk
  • Listen to some music or a podcast
  • Run, hit the gym or dance
  • Have a warm relaxing bath
  • Read a good book
  • Meditate
  • Bake or cook something you enjoy

NB: please do not overindulge in any of the “treats” listed. They are called treats for a reason.

The brain loves you nurturing yourself. It recognises it as a reward (there’s a hint there!*) and activates the reward centre of your brain.

Thereby the neurotransmitter dopamine is released which will make you feel more positive, energised and give you a feeling of achievement.

It might even make you feel a little bit happy *wink*

Also, new neurons are being wired together (in other words new neural pathways are created) because you are training your brain in new ways with your thoughts and actions. This will strengthen your brain to remember to nurture yourself again and again, creating a wonderful make-yourself-feel-good loop.

At this point, I would just like to say that all feelings are worth feeling. Making yourself feel good should not always be the end goal. Living in constant happiness is unrealistic. There are many lessons and much growth in feelings other than the ones we label as “positive”.

Please get familiar with them. Acknowledge them. Explore them. Just make the conscious decision to not live there.

 

Nobody is coming to save you!

You must look after yourself; for yourself and your children.

Give yourself permission to be kind to yourself, nurture yourself, and put yourself first.

You deserve it, and your brain will thank you for it too.

Love,

 

 

This is exercise 4 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 3

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 3

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 3: Reframe

Homeschooling has never been on my bucket list.

I know for many it is a beautiful thing, even imperative, but for me? Nope. No way!

I am an impatient teacher at the best of times – just ask my younger brother how it went that one time I tried to teach him how to drive a car, all those years ago.

So, when Covid-19 hit and we were all suddenly confined to our homes and schoolwork was being sent home, I freaked!

I was expected to teach my three kids, who are in three different years at primary school?

OMG!

Suddenly, I really had to utilise the brain training technique of reframing. I always practice what I preach after all.

Reframing = the science of deliberately changing your perspective.

Reframing is the science of deliberately changing your perspective. I say it is a science, because what is happening is that by deliberately changing our perspective, old neural pathways (the way our brain communicates with regions) are changed, and new ones are created.

WHICH BRAIN REGIONS ARE AFFECTED?

This really is determined by what it is we are reframing. However, I would like to give a shout out to the orbitolateral cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex (don’t worry, you don’t need to remember their names!) as they play a big role in identifying thoughts and changing them.

You can’t reframe without consciousness.

Where consciousness resides in the brain is still heavily debated, but you know, as well as I do, that it exists. And if you have practised exercises 1 and 2 in this series (HERE they are again if you missed them) you will know how to be truly conscious.

When the sh*t has hit the fan, it is up to you to be conscious of your thoughts so you can reframe them. This takes practise!

Practising reframing will strengthen your brain, i.e. your new neural pathways.

So, the next time you are faced with something that sends your thoughts into a spin, leading to unease, your brain will be trained. It will be quicker to recognise your thinking and reframe it. Which in turn strengthens your neural pathways.

It is a wonderful positive feedback loop!

4 easy ways to start training your brain to reframe

1. Become conscious of your thoughts to the situation. I mean become truly curious.

a. Why is this affecting me in such a way?
b. What are my beliefs around this situation that could be affecting my perspective?

2. Question your assumptions of what is happening and what this could mean – what events from my past could bring out these thoughts in this instance?

3. Accept the situation – Reframing is not a Pollyanna way of looking at the world. There is no denial involved in reframing. However, resisting facts will lead you nowhere fast – by this I mean true facts, not your interpretation of what is.

4. Purposely look at the situation from a different angle ie. perspective. Imagine moving around the situation like a fashion photographer does around a model; all different angles. Imagine being someone else (a real person you know) looking at the same situation.

a. What would they think?
b. What are the facts here?
c. Are there positives in this situation?
d. Could you learn something?

 

So, when it came to my homeschooling dilemma I revisited these steps. I had to.

What emerged is that it is not actually the homeschooling that was the problem but rather the time I now didn’t have to work on Tough Mothers

I love my business. Teaching mothers about matrescence (the transformation a woman goes through when she becomes a mother), their own brain and how women can train their brain to make permanent improvements in their life to become truly fulfilled, is my passion. Being dragged away from it was heart-breaking.

However, when I implemented the above steps, I remembered that this situation is only temporary (they will go back to school one day!). I also remembered how lucky we are to be healthy and safe (actually, once I looked at the facts I felt incredibly self-centred and entitled to be upset about something so small, when for many people the situation is much, much worse).

In the end, I accepted the situation. And miraculously homeschooling was not so bad after all (just to be clear though it is still not on my bucket list, and it never looked anything like this photo). At one point, my kids even said I am a pretty good teacher…. What the?!?

“Once I looked at the facts I felt incredibly self-centred and entitled to be upset about something so small”

Note to self: must look more into the belief that I am an impatient teacher!

Please don’t think reframing only works in trivial situations like homeschooling or my pink dressing gown incident (Check out our private Facebook group The Tough Mothers Village here to read about that doozy).

Dr Viktor Frankl utilised this technique while in Nazi concentration camps. His best-selling book Man’s Search For Meaning is a must read for anyone, and particularly if you want to see how reframing works on a much larger scale.

Now it’s your turn!

Reframing is a powerful gift you can give yourself and your brain.

Love,

 

 

This is exercise 3 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 2

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 2

Peaceful meditation

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 2: Meditate

I promise there are no lotus positions, incense or chanting out loud involved here. Meditation can look different for everyone!

How, when and where you do it, is irrelevant. All that matters is that you do some form of meditation regularly.

Why?

Because the benefits are massive, and it literally changes your brain for the better!

Which will come in handy when you are, for instance, training your brain for when the sh*t hits the fan.

And like exercise 1 (you can re-visit that exercise HERE), you can also do this exercise immediately as the stress starts (say for instance when Covid-19 hit).

 

I knew meditation was good for you but I didn’t realise how much it would nurture my mind and change my brain, until I researched and experienced it myself.

After I had my daughter (my third baby) I thought myself into a state of mental and physical distress. My stress-levels were through-the-roof because I let my negative mind take charge.

 

I needed to regain control of my mind, so I started meditating.

One of the most noticeable effects of meditation for me was:

It radically lowered my baseline (day-to-day) stress levels and anxiety.

If you imagine my baseline stress level was around 80%, you can see why it didn’t take much for me to reach 100% and completely lose it, even if the added stress was actually quite low.

Nowadays my day-to-day stress level sits somewhere between 10% and 20% – depending on how smoothly our school mornings are going. Just kidding, there are of course other normal life-factors that play a role too.

However, as you can imagine, it now takes a lot more for me to get to 100% stress, aka losing it, because I am starting at a much lower level. And let’s be honest sitting at 80% stress permanently is not a nice feeling.

Meditation has become one of my non-negotiables (like taking a shower or brushing my teeth). I do it every day, no matter what, because of the profound effects it has by changing my brain.

It’s not only stress-levels that are affected by meditation. Have a look at this list of incredible benefits of meditation that will have your brain ready in case all the sh*t hits the fan at once.

Why You Must Meditate

  • Decreased levels of stress and anxiety
  • Reduced cortisol (body’s main stress hormone)
  • Higher brain functioning
  • Increased clarity in thinking and perception
  • Increased awareness, attention and focus
  • Increased immune function
  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate
  • Lower risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Experience of feeling calm, internally still and connected i.e. blissful

  • Improved sleep
  • Improved brain function, memory & learning
  • Greater sense of clarity and productivity
  • Feeling kinder and more compassionate
  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • Better decision making
  • Better willpower
  • Increased grey matter in important brain regions

 

That’s because meditation literally changes your brain!

Remember the “use it, or lose it” principle from the intro?

The areas of the brain that are “used” in meditation are are strengthened. They grow new connections, i.e. neural pathways, in key areas. This is what trains your brain, and leads to the amazing benefits in the text box.

And if  these are not already enough benefits, meditation is also neuroprotective. That means, the neurons in your brain are literally protected from things such as ageing. Honestly!

There are many different types of meditation, and essentially it doesn’t matter which one yourpractice, as long as you practice!

Below is a short video about the quick meditation I practice daily.

 

 

If you’d like to learn more, Check This Out or contact me.

Now it’s up to you!

Please try out some form of meditation this week. I promise you will not regret it.

Love,

 

 

This is exercise 2 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1

breathe

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 1: Breathe

By this I don’t mean “take a breath, dude!”.

I mean breathe intentionally.

Take deep, conscious, deliberate belly breaths that you can feel going into your nose, raising your belly (not your chest), and exiting out of your nose or mouth.

This will do several things, but the following are two of the most important ones:

1. DEEP BELLY BREATHS WILL RELAX YOU

When we are stressed we take shorter breaths into the chest. This activates our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which sends messages to the brain to suggest we are in danger. Our fight, flight or freeze response then kicks in, which can lead to, or increase, feelings of anxiety and panic.

Deep diaphragmatic (abdominal belly) breaths will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which does the opposite; it relaxes you and calms your body and mind = CHILL.

 

2. DEEP BELLY BREATHS WILL BRING YOU INTO THE PRESENT MOMENT

Breathing consciously and deliberately means we can’t help but be in the here and now. When we are truly present we can’t focus on our stress or anxiety. In fact, the present-moment-master Eckhart Tolle says it is impossible to be present and stressed at the same time.

Being present gives us the opportunity to become mindful of our current situation and react consciously, rather than act on reflex. Mindfulness literally changes the brain. And scientific studies have shown it works (for a review see Hofmann et al., 2010).

 

Try this quick practice as often as you can to slow your breathing, move your breath into your belly and become present.

Sit upright in a comfortable chair and place both feet on the ground. Close your eyes and place both hands on your belly. Consciously feel your breath going in your nose.
How it does feel on your nostrils?
Is the air warm or cold?
How does the breath inflate your belly?
How does the air feel going out of your nose/mouth?
Count the breaths if you like. Your aim is to do about 10.

If your mind wanders, as soon as you notice it congratulate yourself on being human, and focus back on your breath.

Practicing deep breathing regularly will have profound effects on your current stress and anxiety levels. However, it will also train your brain for when the sh*t hits the fan.

Doing this exercise regularly (FYI it is a marvellous way to start the day!) literally changes your brain. It activates neural pathways that will reduce your baseline levels of stress, and change your brain’s neurochemistry. This means that you will naturally live with a lower level of day-to-day stress.

And when the sh*t hits the fan?

You will not only know how to immediately reduce stress by doing your belly breathing, but you will also be much less stressed than you once would have been, because you have trained your brain.

Love,

 

 

This is exercise 1 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.