#156: Hack Your Happiness with Rick Hanson
#156: Hack Your Happiness with Rick Hanson
Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to hack your brain to be more happy?
This week on YAP, we’re chatting with Dr. Rick Hanson. Rick is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times bestselling author of several books, most recently Neurodharma. He has lectured at NASA, Google, Oxford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. As An expert on positive neuroplasticity, Dr. Hanson’s work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media outlets. He also founded the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom.
As a practicing Buddhist, Dr. Rick integrates the ancient teachings of the Buddha with modern science to explain not only what’s happening in your mind, but how to rewire your brain to experience more happiness and positivity.
In today’s episode, Rick will walk us through the scientific and spiritual concepts behind his newest book NeuroDharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness. He’ll break down a concept called ‘Monkey Mind’, provide quick hacks to ourselves in stressful situations, and explain the high-science theory of neuroplasticity.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes our brains happy at a scientific level, stay tuned in!
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() – Intro
() – Rick’s Childhood/Turning Point in His life at Age 15
() – Starting College at Age 16
() – When He Discovered People Can Be Unhappy
() – How Rick Became A Buddhist
() – What is Neuro Dharma?
() – Why is it important to be in a calm, steady state?
() – Keeping A level Head Amidst Success or Failure
() – What is the Essence Of Awakening?
() – Emotional Intelligence
() – What is Monkey Mind?
() – How does our Brain Influence the Way We React to Our Reality?
() – Quick Hacks to To Calm Ourselves
() – What is Neuroplasticity?
() – How Meditation Changes the Brain
() – Rick Explains what ‘Add-On Suffering’ Is
() – How to Counteract Neuroplasticity.
() – The Seven Ways of Being
() – Where to Find Nheurodharma
() – Rick’s Five Minute Challenge for Growth and Healing
() – Rick’s Secret to Profiting in Life
() – Where to Learn More About Rick
Mentioned In The Episode:
Rick’s Website – https://www.rickhanson.net/
Being Well Podcast – https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast/
Rick’s Books – https://www.rickhanson.net/books/
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#156 Rick Hanson
Hala: Hi, Rick, welcome to young and profiting podcast.
Rick: Hello. I'm really happy to be here. We spoke briefly before we started and I'm thoroughly psyched about what we're going to be talking about.
Hala: thanks. I'm really excited too. I know that my listeners love this kind of content, so I'm sure they're going to enjoy this conversation. So welcome Rick, for those who don't know you, you are a psychologist. You are the founder of the wellspring Institute. You are the host of the being well POS podcast and a bestselling author.
So we're going to get into your neuro Dharma book and seven ways of being in a bit. But first I want to start off by hearing a little bit about your childhood. So I learned that you had a big turning point when you were just 15 years old, you were a little bit awkward. You were unhappy and just pretty dissatisfied with life until you realized this big aha moment in your life.
So talk to us about this turning point when you were a teenager.
Rick: Oh, thanks for keeping me up there. So I, I grew up in, uh, a decent, fairly stable, lower middle class. Environment in Southern California, no abuse, no trauma, nothing horrible. And still for a lot of complicated reasons, including being really young while going through school, I was really unhappy. I was a lot of awkward, a lot of miserable, a lot of neurotic, and it just seemed pretty hopeless and right there, right about age 15.
And I know it was about age 15, cause I was reading dune at the time and the main character, Paul, my DB is also 15 when the book starts right about. And I suddenly basically realized that as bad as my past had been. Yeah. Much the present might suck. The future was open to me in the sense that I could always learn a little heel, a little and grow a little every day.
I could learn how to be a little less completely tongue tied around girls. I could learn how to be, not so scared of these big agro, you know, alpha male types in the locker room. Um, I could learn how to manage my own mind bit by bit and in effect I learned that learning. Knowing how to help yourself develop, not just memorize the multiplication table, but develop as a person was the strength of strengths.
Learning is the super power of superpowers because it's the one we tap into to grow the rest of them. It took me many years, including becoming a neuropsychologist, et cetera, to really understand the how of that, how we can actually heightened neuroplastic change inside our own brains and gradually hardwire things like grit, gratitude, compassion, and happiness altogether into our own nervous system.
And there are things we can do to do that, but the fundamental idea that I was in charge of who I was becoming, um, has shaped the rest of my life.
Hala: That's an incredible story. And I can't wait for us to dive deep on neuroplasticity and all the ways that we can improve our brain and actually change our brain. Uh, but first you've got some interesting things that I want to talk about in terms of your journey. So it turns out you started college when you were just 16 years old, so that's pretty incredible.
How did you end up going to school so early in? What was that like? Because at that age two years difference in terms of college is it's a big deal.
Rick: Oh, thanks for marking that. So, um, I skipped a grade, it was second grade, not a big deal. And, uh, I was a bright little kid and, and all the rest of that, and that had some advantages, but it also. Yeah, plus my own kind of shy, anxious temperament led me to feeling like the runt of the litter as my dad put it because he grew up in a ranch in North Dakota.
So I felt really shy and awkward, uh, going off to college though on the other hand, uh, breaking away from home and having a sense of being able to step into all kinds of new possibilities was wonderful for me and to locate it in our culture. I, when I started UCLA in 1969. So just imagine, uh, the height of the political changes of the time, the counterculture, um, all kinds of developments in psychology, the surge of Eastern wisdom coming into the west at the tail end of the sixties and early seventies, it was a wild time.
It was a fertile time. It was a good time to be in school. Plus there was a lot of great music as well.
Hala: That's so cool. I mean, it's, it's so great. See, I thought there was going to be something more to it. Not that you just skipped second grade, but that's, it's super interesting, nonetheless. And the fact that, you know, probably some of those. Feelings that you had is what ultimately led you to becoming who you are and what you do and what you're passionate about today, which is just really interesting in itself.
So a key part of your journey was wanting to understand why people feel unhappy and what sparks unhappiness. So how did this curiosity lead you to starting to study neuroscience and psychology?
Rick: Ah, well maybe, maybe I'd like to kind of draw people to a level of, I don't know, a kind of tender, tender intimacy with themselves a little deeper and ask people. What are some of the things you knew? When you were really young, maybe you didn't have words for it, but you just had a knowing you had a sense of what it was like for people around you.
Are you at a sense of who you were, your fundamental capabilities, maybe there was a dream for your life that really was starting to take form even when you were in kindergarten. And for me in my earliest memories, and I have a lot of memory of my childhood going all the way back, probably to late two years old, just in all of them, is this wistful poignant sounds of the needless on happiness.
The needless strive, the needless bickering, nothing horrible, but the needle is hassles. The needless stresses the knee, the needless worries, the needless feeling less than other people or being uncertain about where we stand with. Other people just. Needless. And so, yeah, absolutely. I had this sense of it and this kind of movement, not just observing it, but a movement of compassion, of movement, of compassionate action to do what one can.
And I'm far from unique. I think so many people I suspect for you as well, how right in your own background, uh, moving you to do what you do there also was that sense that there's so much unnecessary and happiness, and there's so much more wellbeing and harmony, even in a very real world, including in a competitive marketplace that we can forge together.
And there's a movement in you, a movement in me and probably a movement in many other people as well to try to be helpful in that way.
totally. I think you bring a really solid point across the fact that some of you, so many of us, we live decently privileged lives, you know, and we all have food on the table. Most of us are able to go to school and just, you know, we have roofs over our heads and we take all this for granted. And like the little things become such a big deal, even though we have so much to be thankful for.
And so I think that's a really great point. Um, so I want to talk about Buddhism because like we just mentioned, you grew up decently privileged, you know, you're from LA, like, you know, it's pretty unique that your religion is Buddhism. So talk to us about how you fell in love with that ancient each Asian, uh, religion.
Rick: Oh, sweet. So I grew up a casual Methodist that was kind of the framework and tons of respect, certainly for, for Jesus as a teacher and realized being that said, uh, the forms of all that just didn't somehow connect with me the way it was communicated, just felt kind of small and dogmatic and kind of bossy.
So then I land in college, the doors are kicked wide open, right? We're talking at 19 69, 70 and all the rest of that. And, uh, toward the end of college, I just had an interest in seeing, oh, what's out there in the Eastern traditions, which I didn't know really anything about. And I encountered, uh, Buddhist teachings, which in the roots of them.
not even religious, there are psychological, essentially, basically the fundamental observation of the Buddha is that everything is connected to everything else and is continually changing. And if we flow with that river, if we ride that horse in the direction is going, we suffer less than we harmless.
On the other hand, if we fight the fact that things are changing and we try to cling to our experiences and try to make certain things happen inside our minds. And we try to push away various things, we create suffering and harm for ourselves and others. Pure and simple. And so that's kind of where it really began for me.
And I guess I should add as well that that's, what's, um, been the heart of the matter for me, these fundamental, very psychological teachings about the deep nature of the mind and what are the causes of our happiness and wellbeing and welfare and harmony in the way we live with others. And then how can we embody those causes through personal practice learning right now, we're coming back to that principle of learning personal development cultivation of what's skillful and useful and good and enjoyable inside ourselves.
How can we actually develop ourselves in that way? So that's my orientation to all this. And later on, um, I learned a lot about, uh, both clinical psychology and then certainly neuroscience. So if you think about the combination of hardcore brain science, Clinical psychology and contemplative wisdom. That combination of those three things is just packed with power and full of skillful means for how we can help ourselves and other people.
Hala: Yeah. 100%. And honestly, I've interviewed a lot of neuroscientists and neuropsychologists, and so far, nobody has brought in this element of this wisdom that you're talking about, this Buddhism element. So it's really unique and I'm excited for this conversation. Uh, so let's talk about neuro Dharma. Um, you know, Dharma is something that I didn't know what it meant.
Uh, so just starting off, what is the name mean?
Rick: Oh, great. So it's a word from India originally. It means essentially the way. The truth that thanks. And it also can mean accounts of the way it is. So like a body of wisdom, we could say whether it's a body of wisdom in Western psychology or a body of wisdom, uh, in a particular tradition, such as the Buddhist tradition, which has many aspects to it, right?
Tibetan, Buddhism, Zan, pure land, other forms of it as well. And I put those two terms together because if you kind of think about it, I'm going to get a little geeky here. We can know ourselves into. First we can nor sells subjectively from the inside out in terms of our experiences. And that was all that was available to the early teachers, such as the Buddha.
And certainly until very recently, that's the only way we could know ourselves. It was alright, but with modern biology and then neuroscience, and then especially in the last 10, 20 years or so neuropsychology really coming together, we can know ourselves from the outside an object of late the combination of the two.
These two ways of knowing ourselves is what I call neuro Dharma. And we can go back and forth right here. We are. We're upset about something. Somebody. It's frowned at us. Somebody else took credit for one of our good ideas. Uh, if you're like a, let's say a woman as our daughter is reported to us many times, you're sitting in meetings and you say something, everybody ignores you.
Then some dude down at the other end of the table says the same thing, five minutes later, and everybody starts clapping. Like what? Okay, this is happening. It's happening inside your mind. That's what you're experiencing. Meanwhile, You can also know, oh, I've got this amigdala that is very sensitized to negative experiences.
And so it will routinely turbocharge something that's kind of a one or a two on the object of yuckiness scale, but make me feel like an eight or a nine in terms of being pissed off or wounded or hurt. Uh, oh, I can know that about myself. And I can also know maybe objectively that my amygdala got sensitized when I grew up in a pretty critical family or in a culture that was pretty critical or shaming, maybe body shaming or who knows what else it was doing.
Right. And by knowing that objectively about the hardware, you know, the three pounds of tofu like tissue inside the coconut, and now it's cooking away, knowing that objectively right about ourselves can be matched together with the subjective internal experience, which then let's say, might move you to is going.
Hmm. let's say that the amygdala has oxytocin receptors on it. In other words, it has receptors for a neurochemical that's released with experiences of healthy connection and the action that those receptor sites on the amygdala is calming and inhibitory like pumping the brakes in a car that's running away now down a mountain, knowing that aha, there I am upset about, let's say this thing that happened at work, but I can now deliberately think about or draw in the feeling of being with people, real people, including maybe my dog or my cat who actually care about me.
And when I bring them to mind, I start feeling more connected, more warm hearted, maybe my caring for them as well. And that is going to increase oxytocin activity in my brain and calm down my poor little amygdala. That's bird flashing red right now. That's an example of neurotic.
Hala: It's super fascinating. I, I guess I want to ask you this question. Why is it important to be in this calm, steady state? Like, why is that the best state to be.
Rick: Huh? Well, this great question. Um, I would say it like this, so I, you know, I'm a real person, I've done a lot of rock climbing, for example, and, you know, I can kind of get excited and intense and so forth. Uh, I think what's really helpful is to be able to sustain a kind of steadiness of self-awareness. And I think that's what you're really talking about around that steadiness of self-awareness sustained mindfulness of what's happening inside and outside around that can be all the emotions in the world.
There can be passions sometime there can be great peacefulness and tranquility at other times. It's all. Okay. But meanwhile, there is this steadiness of mind and that's why, as you know, um, unlike many people have interviewed me, you actually read my book, thank you to your credit. Um, you know, as you know, the steadiness of mind is the first of these seven qualities of ultimately awakening and that we can certainly use to great benefit, meanwhile, and we can train and it's especially important to train in our hyper distractible.
Multitasking flooded with stimuli, endlessly distracted. Time and culture. It's really important to be able to stabilize your own attention so you can plop it onto what's useful and keep it there, or pull it away from, what's not helpful, including ruminating about something that's bugging you.
Hala: Totally. And it's so funny. Like you're taking everything from like a very scientific level, but I talked to experts and very successful billionaires and CEOs, and they also just have gut feeling when I ask them questions, like, what is your secret to profiting in life? It's one of the last questions I ask on the show and a lot of answers are being even killed, killed.
You know, don't be too high, don't be too low. If something really bad happens, you know, don't get into a rut. If something really good happens, you know, don't get too cocky. Everybody says that, you know, you're taking it from a different perspective, but I totally agree there. Um,
Rick: I build on what you just said there? I really sorry. So this is great. So I'm talking first and I misunderstood you. I think a little bit about steadiness. Additionally, you're talking about what could be called equanimity being even keeled, right? Cause you can have steadiness of mind while being roaring upset about something and super rattled by it.
But at least you're steadily aware, which is better than being swept away. Additionally, I totally agree. And I think a lot about what it feels like we're in which we can be authentic. You know, I'm a time therapist too. People are upset, things happen. Other people are jerks. You're living in a time of COVID right now where it's, we're tired.
We're two plus years in c'mon right. This, we feel these things we can authentically feel. Nothing in what you and I are talking about is about lying about how we really feel or suppressing it or joining with others who are trying to suppress how we really feel or talk us out of it, or blame our lameness for how we feel based on how they traded us.
We're not saying anything like this. Well, we are saying, as you all know, is that a person can maintain and grow a core. What feels like a core of being inside themselves that is, has resilient wellbeing in it is calm and steady and even keeled, as you said, even when the world around us is flashing red, even when there's physical pain or sorrow or fear or anger flying around inside your mind, there can be that felt sense of a core of being.
And what's really interesting is to build it out increases. Through positive neuroplasticity. We can gradually build up this kind of resting state, this sort of underlying touchstone. It feels like home, you know, you can get in touch with that. You can come home to it and you can stay in touch with it.
And over time it can become more and more your resting place. As you look out at the world going, whoa, there's a lot of wild stuff flying around out there.
Hala: Yeah. And, and I know it takes a lot of practice and it takes a lot of building to make it more of a habit and to actually change your brain, like the makeup of your brain, which we'll get into. Um, so I do want to dig in on some more definitions, because I think the concept of awakening is one that a lot of us have heard about, but we don't really know exactly what it means.
And I know the foundation of your book is about cultivating seven ways, uh, that are the essence of awakening. So what is awakening exactly?
Rick: great. So, um, I've like I said, done a lot of rock climbing and I've gone out with a friend of mine, several friends, and one of my friends, when we get out into wilderness, he just wants to plop in a camp chair with a cup of coffee, a cigar, and a good novel. Okay. I get it. I can relate. My other buddy is a little bit more like me, like after we kind of settle out and have breakfast, we look around and then we will see some kind of mountain or hill or peak and we'll think, wow, it would just be super cool to get up there.
Right. What's up there at the upper reaches. So there is something in us that is curious after we worked through a certain amount of. Feeling bad about ourselves and bad in the world. And you know, we're upset a lot with other people and that kind of starts to stabilize some we're doing okay, we're doing okay for many people, there's a movement toward the upper reaches of human potential.
How much stability of deep contentment, peacefulness and love is actually possible. And what in the world are people talking about who are in all the traditions of the world, including those of the first people, the indigenous people. There are people who are like the Olympic athletes at sad of personal development, and they seem radiant.
Some of them seem saintly. Some of them. Function within a very specific religious tradition. Others seem to be outside of any particular religious tradition, and yet they have qualities about them that seemed very admirable and desirable. And we think to ourselves, well, I like a little more of that myself, right?
So one of the powerful principles, whether it's in business or athletics, or just everyday life, we look to people who are a step farther along, or maybe 10 steps farther along. And we look at them and we do a kind of reverse engineering. What are the qualities that they have that we could, um, internalize and live from increasingly in ourselves, which I think is one of the great services that you perform in your podcast, because in part yourself, and also those you talk with, uh, you're, uh, giving the rest of us access to some of what it's like to be those people that we can actually that's within.
Rick: For us to bring in to ourselves. And so in that sense, I think of awakening very broadly as the gradual process of waking up and moving increasingly. Up the mountain of human potential, whatever route we take could be an entirely secular road. It could be a more religious route. It could be a more spiritual route as we move up the mountain, those different routes start to converge, and we find as well that on each of those routes, the same seven steps again and again and again, which I'm sure we'll get into in a second.
What are those seven steps? But that's the fundamental process of awakening. I think of it as the birthright of all of us, a person doesn't have to go all the way to the top to be inspired. I will never climb Mount Everest, uh, but I'm inspired by what it is like at the top there. And the fact that people actually get up to the very top and I can use that in my more, you know, humdrum, you know, local rock climbing kind of adventures.
Uh, so. That's the thing I would just say. And the things that we're going to talk about are not just for so-called spiritual practice, man. Oh man. Oh man. They are so useful. I have a good background in business and they are so useful in the trenches of everyday life.
Hala: uh, 100%. I couldn't agree more there. I mean, it's, it's really just kind of like emotional intelligence, to be honest, when I was reading your stuff, I was like, oh, this is really just how to like, control yourself, uh, and make sure that, you know, you don't, you know, go out either like mentally, you know, get into a rut or do something wrong, uh, with other people.
Rick: Yeah. And also what, what kind of, I mean, almost all of us have had an experience or more where everything does clicks, you know, you're at the beach or the barbecue or your child is born or you just hanging out or you walk outside, you see the stars, something. Kaboosh all your cares and concerns fall away.
You're still functioning. You're still aware of that email. You need to ride the thing you need to do in the morning, but it just falls away and you feel just dropped in to a deep sense of wellbeing and all rightness often with a sense of some kind of maybe mysterious connection to everything extending beyond time and space even.
And we've all had a sense of that. Most of us certainly have had a sense of that. Well, why not spend more time? Right. Why not have that be more and more of your daily living? And when people spend more time there, they don't become selfish. Narcissistic, navel Caesers. They actually are moved increasingly to be helpful to other people to cause less trouble, uh, and to, you know, bring others along into their own stream of happiness.
Yeah. Why not go for it? Why not develop ourselves in that way?
Hala: And you know, as you're talking about this, I can't help, but think of the opposite of that, which is really monkey mind, right. This, so I'd love for you to explain what monkey mind is and how a lot of us really operate every single moment of our lives.
Rick: Uh, well, it's a great term for this notion that the monkey, the internal. Subject to the eye, as it were, is looking out through multiple sense. Windows, sights sounds, smells. And then also looking out through the window of thoughts or images, memories, emotions, and all the rest of that. Okay. And the monkeys bouncing around Barbara, Barbara burp, and w uh, you know, we all have that sense that we're living inside a kind of popcorn machine.
We're thinking about this. Then we dark to that, that our mind goes here. It's the definition of no steadiness of mind, right? There's no control. And I think of attention as a combination spotlight and vacuum cleaner. What we're paying attention to is illuminated by intention and through neuro-plasticity.
We are drawing what we're paying attention to, into ourselves with a negative bias, because the brain is like Rick HanR for bad experiences, but Teflon for positive ones. So getting control. Oh, that spotlight in vacuum cleaner is critically important. And monkey mind is the definition of not having control a certain key point here.
You know, people can sometimes dismiss this as new agey or a fairy or yoga camp or something or other, but actually it's as hardcore as it gets. Because if you don't have this kind of quality of both steadiness of mind in that internal, even kidness, you're not in charge of yourself, you're therefore not in charge of your life.
You're not autonomous. You're a puppet, frankly, being pulled by the strings of your environment and the reactions inside your body mind, you know, to be around your environment. And so if you want autonomy, if you really want to be in charge of yourself, the cultivation is set into some mine and you know, that emotional balance even killed.
And us, you talk about is deeply important. And also there's the opportunity to be competent. To become more skillful at this kind of stuff. I know so many people who've invested deeply in getting good at stuff that they know doesn't matter very much at their job or their golf game or something like that.
And yet they'll hardly put five minutes a day into getting mark competent at managing their own thoughts and feelings in their own inner world.
it is super important to do that because most of our thoughts are unconscious or subconscious. I think it's only 4% of our thoughts are actually things that we can control. And the rest is just good habits and really just re you know, redesigning our brain. Like you talk about. Um, so to help further drive this point, I'd love for you to explain how we actually react to things on a biological level.
Like how does our brain, um, how does our brain influence the way that we react to our reality?
Rick: Super deep question. Really great. Um, so this is a major topic. Neuroscience is a baby science, especially if you compare it, say to astronomy, you know, starting a couple thousand years ago, uh, the basic idea is that our thoughts, we are having thoughts and feelings, we're having reactions sites are occurring, sound, sensations, memories, images, plans, all the rest of that.
All of that stuff correlates in some ways that are still not entirely clear with underlying neuro-biological activity. So we have mind and matter two aspects of reality that are correlating together. Okay. The growing understanding is that our mental processes, our experiences, which are enlisting underlying physical activities processes in our nervous system to protect.
Our mental activities that are enlisting. These neural activities can force a kind of lasting trace to be left behind for our own growing skillfulness, happiness, resilience, and wellbeing. We can actually use our minds to change our brains, to change our minds for the better. Positive neuroplasticity.
That's kind of the big picture. And there are so many examples of that. Um, there's tons of research that shows, for example, that people who've had a lot of stressful or traumatic experiences are, uh, have, uh, sensitized. As I was saying earlier, there are amygdala, so they react more readily and more loudly and chronic stress also through cortisol release weekends, a nearby part of the brain, the hippocampus, which is supposed to put the brakes on the amygdala and also put things in context and third, the hippocampus signals the hypothalamus, another underlying part of your brain to stop calling for stress hormones.
This might seem a little technical or mechanistic, but it has actually huge implications. That being irritated, frustrated, driven. Pressured contracted, et cetera, et cetera today, let alone being traumatized today. Gradually makes us more vulnerable and reactive to stressors and pressures tomorrow. So it's really important first to engage in mindfulness, which research also shows does various things inside your brain that acts like a circuit breaker so that, um, we can be having negative emotions like fear or anger flowing through awareness.
But if we're mindful of them, there's a spaciousness. There's a distance from that that stops the reinforcement of the negativity and the sensitization inside our own brain. And as just a very cool quick hack, I'll tell people two things they can do that are grounded in really recent research that are super neat.
One. If you're upset about something or, or you're in a stressful situation or the oatmeal is really hitting the Flint, the fan around you, right. Um, tune into the internal sensations of breathing. You can even do it right now. Get a sense of the air flowing in and air flowing out. It's not airy fairy it's as grounded as a, gets the internal sense of your chest or lungs or belly expanding as you inhale and kind of coming back in as you exhale, just taking privately.
No needs to know you're doing that in the board meeting, right. Just doing it internally, activates a part of your brain. That's called the. The insula is a region or two of them on the inside of the temporal lobes on either side. And the insula is very involved with interior reception technical term for tuning into yourself, including your gut feelings.
So as you tune into yourself, the insula gets more active, which immediately quiets like a circuit breaker, the so-called default mode network of your brain. I call it the ruminator, which is where we go. When we're starting to spin out with our monkey mind, resentments Rugrats self-criticism woulda, coulda shoulda fantasies of vengeance and all the rest of that.
Just tuning in to your internal sensations and you can just kind of play with it immediately quiets the internal monkey mind and relax as the sense of being a beleaguered. Just that that's a quick hack, you know, half's five seconds, a few seconds, one breath, boom. You're starting to feel the benefit.
Second quick hack, lift your gaze to the horizon. Look out the window, look across the rump, get a sense of the bigger picture or just even imagine it neurologically what that does is it moves you out of this kind of egocentric self-referential oh, what are they doing to me? Or I'm going to get them, or my precious Moses out of that kind of tense contracted place into a more objectively view, a big picture view, which feels much less stressful, much more in the present moment and you know, much more effective.
So just right there, two little hacks tuning into the internal sensations of breathing or lifting your gaze to the horizon somehow can immediately neurologically this is evidence-based, uh, change the way your brain is functioning, which then in turn changes the way your mind is functioning. And therefore in turn changes the way your life functions as well.
Hala: Mm, I love that. We love actionable advice on the podcast. Um, so let's talk about this neuroplasticity in terms of the fact that it doesn't happen overnight. You need to practice with mindfulness meditation, you know, hours, days, months, years, so that you can actually change the biological format of your brain.
And, uh, I'd love to kind of drive this point home by talking about how your brain changes, depending on how experienced you are with meditation. So let's take a person who did like a three-day meditation workshop versus somebody who spent months meditating versus a Tibetan monk who spent their whole lifetime meditating.
How does their brain kind of change?
Rick: Oh, this is great. So first off, Neuro-plasticity just basically means that the nervous system changes here or is changeable, uh, based on the information flowing through it and the information flowing through it is the basis for what we experience in terms of our own consciousness. All right. Those changes can happen within half a second, actually as different neurons fire together, different neurochemicals flow.
Uh, it's kind of extraordinary just to imagine how, how small things are. I mean, you could put the cell body. Roughly five neurons, typical neurons side-by-side in the width of one of your hairs, the little connections between neurons, the synapses, you could put several thousand of them side by side in the width of a single hair.
Okay. So it's really, things happen really fast, more structural, not just functional changes, typically take seconds or minutes or days. It's a longer process whereby new connections formed between neurons existing connections become sensitized or desensitized, uh, neurochemical ebbs and flows kind of shift over time.
A different, larger regions of the brain can start coordinating more effectively with each other. Those kinds of changes can take longer to, to stabilize. But the beginning of it is typically a breath at a time. And when we talk about how much it takes to actually change things for the better over time, uh, honestly, my.
Bedrock threshold is five minutes a day, just five minutes a day. Uh, most people will not put five minutes a day into some kind of personal practice, but even if you give it that much, let alone more like 20 minutes a day, 45 minutes a day, any kind of practice, gratitude, practice, compassion practices, meditation affirmations, focusing on your self worth, building up kind of a lovingness in your own heart, whatever.
Or maybe even a religious practice, whatever it actually might be for you. Um, it's the law of little thing. It's usually lots of little bad things that moved us to a bad place. And it's going to be lots of little good things that move us to a better one, which for me, is extraordinarily hopeful is profoundly hopeful because that's, what's under our control.
It's the little things in the most important minute of our life, which is the next one minute after minute continuously, that's where we actually have influence. And so it's up to us to use that influence and no one can defeat us. No one can stop us from doing that, which I just love fantastically. So all that said, I can tell you how your brain changes, cause you seem like a meditator and I can tell you how your brain has probably changed over time and maybe others as well.
And four key areas I'll do this really fast because it illustrates some larger points if that's okay.
Hala: Yeah, of course.
Rick: First off parts of your brain, typically behind the forehead that are involved in regulating attention and also the called top-down or executive regulation of our emotions and our actions in general, those neurocircuits literally built strong.
New connections are forming. More blood is coming to those particular regions that are in effect kind of like the chair of the internal mental committee. You know, the physical basis for that is located in prefrontal regions, mainly right behind the forehead. Well, that's one major change that happens.
The second major change that is found in, in people have a kind of a semi-decent mindfulness practice with meditation as well, is that there's more, um, regulation of emotions, the sub-cortical areas of the amygdala, the hippocampus, and so forth. Those get better regulated. They're they're happier. They're less freaked out.
They're less angry. They don't fly off the handle so much. That's the second major change. Um, that's found structurally and people who are longtime meditators they're major change is greater body awareness. People become more in touch with themselves and being in touch with your body. Is the foundation of being in touch with your emotions and your you, and your deep, deep longings and important values and most heartfelt desires.
So that's a great third change as well, including through structural changes, particularly in the insula, which like I said, is involved in body awareness. And then last the sense of self. This is very interesting. People spend less and less time in the default mode network, the ruminator, which is very saturated with a sense of me, myself and I, especially an unhappy sense of me and myself and I, you know, I've been cheated and mistreated.
Why don't I get loved, right? You know, country and Western song list. And instead, uh, that, uh, activity decreases and there's more activity in other parts of the brain, particularly on the sides of the brain that are more associated with a broader, more open sense of who you are. You still know who you are.
You still stop at red lights. Speak up for yourself. You don't, you know, tolerate mistreatment of yourself or those others you care about, but it's in a much less, um, self centered or beleaguered kind of way, which is wow. An incredible relief. So those are four major changes. Well-documented in people's brains who have a regular practice of mindfulness and especially meditation
Hala: That's so incredible. You know, as you're talking, all I can keep thinking is that people who meditate and who practice mindfulness, they're just happier, right? They, their default state is naturally happier and no matter what happens in their external, they know how to process those experiences to actually just be happy and content and grateful and not let it totally off-balance how they feel about themselves and how they feel about the world.
Um, so it brings me to this other really fascinating point. And I think, uh, one of the most interesting things I found in your book was this concept of add on suffering, um, because you basically brought in this, this concept from Buddhism and, and, you know, tied it together with everything and it, and it really just helped it all come together.
So explain what add on suffering is.
Rick: Um, inherently in life, there's just a certain amount of unavoidable discomfort, physical and emotional, you know, you care about other people and if you see injustice landing on them or you just know, wow, it's really tough, uh, for them to be dealing with what they're dealing with, uh, you're going to feel it that's in the Buddhist metaphor, the first Aero or first.
In life, it's inherent, it's unavoidable. If we fight it, if we beat ourselves up about it, if we rage at others about it, it just makes it worse. That's the add-on part, much of our suffering, including subtle forms of uneasiness or knowing sense of inadequacy. I always have to keep proving myself. I have to always keep impressing other people.
Uh, that is what we add to the basic conditions of life, which in and of themselves are often just conditions in life. They're basically neutral. They're not inherently negative. They're not inherently a first start, but then we get agitated about them. And when you realize that it's incredibly hopeful, because if we are the makers of the majority of our own suffering, not diminishing, I'm not minimizing the actual first starts of life.
But when we start to realize how much we add to them with our. Complaints about the world and ourselves, our, our, uh, criticism of ourselves, our nasty nose tortillas, where people are obsessing repetitively in ways that have no added value. There's no learning, we're not gaining anything from doing laps around the misery track.
We're just digging that track deeper, actually through sensitizing ourselves in part driven by the negativity bias of the brain. When you start to realize, wow, I'm the source of that myself, a, you might be depressed for a day or two or three. I have been whenever. Darn. I, I was a key factor in all those things.
I was blaming others for rarer, but then you start to realize, wow, that is so helpful. That is so fantastic because if I can start, stop adding, you know, out on suffering through my reactivity, my resentments, my self criticisms, my meanness, my obsessiveness. If I stop doing that, I'm going to be so much happier and lighter and more able to be good for other people as well.
Hala: And more successful. I have to say that as I was reading this, I was thinking about all the, cause I think everybody has a spectrum of their add on suffering. There's some people who, who really do it a lot and they hinder themselves from any type of growth. And then there's some people who do it a little bit and they're, they're more successful because they don't navigate the world, blaming everything, but themselves in terms of where they're at in life.
So given everything we've learned about neuro-plasticity, how can we counter it?
Rick: Oh, that's great. Um, I, I think of, uh, people like you've described, I, including in business, um, particularly the top performers are kind of more this way. They don't have so much friction between themselves in the world. I mean, it is what it is. They work hard, they have goals, you know, they have aims, there's a work ethic there, but you don't feel like they're having friction.
It's like life I'm doing this. Gesture is a rope that moves through our hands. And as we kind of clench it, that's what creates friction and adds on all that heat, that extra suffering. So how do we actually do that? I think of three keys fundamentally that are just kind of summarized as deal with the bad turn, to the good take in the.
And that right there is really a roadmap again and again and again for dealing with life. So first off deal with the bad. If you have real challenges, take action. You know, as a longtime therapist, I've really learned, man, there's no replacement for doing what you can. Okay. You're knocked down by life, have some compassion for yourself.
Okay. Got it. Got it. Totally sucks. And ha what can you do about it inside your mind and out there in the world, right. Including how can you give yourself a little jumpstart, that little spark that then, you know, can move you forward. So deal with the bad. And part of dealing with the bad is accepting at mindfully.
It's there you're upset in the moment. It's how you feel. It's, it's how you feel may because of your own history. Uh, if you fight how you feel, you do. Make it worse. It sticks around, you know, right. While we resist persists now, so deal with the bad in this skillful way, including through mindful spaciousness second, when you can, and it may, you may not be able to do it in the fruit during the first shock or the first intensity or the overwhelming pain.
But as soon as you can also turn to the good, what is also true out in the world and inside yourself, who are the people you can turn to? What are the strengths you can draw upon inside yourself? What is still working alongside? What is just falling apart? What are the flowers that are still blooming?
What are the, what is the goodness in the heart of other people and inside yourself? What are the possibilities that still remain? Turn to the good, not as a bypass. Not as a spiritual or other kind of bypass of what is the bad, the problematic and the painful, but in part as a way to resource yourself, to deal even more effectively with what has gone so horribly wrong turn to the good, and then especially learn from the good most people skip this step.
They don't take in the good they're experiencing something useful. A moment of feeling gritty, a moment of determination, a moment of commitment to work to their exercise program, or being more patient with their aging relatives or being more rested in their own sobriety, you know, or just simple happiness or well-being, they're having that feeling.
Uh, but they don't marinate in it for a beat or two or three or a breath or two or three. They don't marinate in it. And so in the famous saying the neurons that are firing together, don't yet have time to wire together as well. Take in the. Slow it down. Uh, I talk a lot about the how of this. He usually takes a breath or two at a time.
You can take longer if you really want, but slow it down to receive into yourself. You know, the hard one fruits of whatever you're practicing in the time. So to me, that's the big, those are the big headlines, those three, and there's a lot of research that underlies the describes and documents, the neuro the neuropsychology of this process.
And I think in your book, uh, you said it in a really catchy way, you said, let it be, let it go, let it in. And I thought that was super catchy and something that we could just do anytime throughout the day when we just hit any sort of obstacle. Uh, it's something that we can tell ourselves to kind of reset and focus on that.
Rick: yeah. Super, thank you for calling that.
Hala: I've of course. Um, okay, so let's talk about the seven ways of being that.
steadiness lovingness fullness, wholeness, wholeness, allness and timelessness. And you say that they go together in clusters naturally. So let's start with the first three ways. Steadiness lovingness and fullness. What are these ways of being
Rick: So here's what I'm talking about. Like I said, let's look at those Olympic athletes of human, happiness, and wellbeing, and then reverse engineer back to ourselves. What are qualities we see in them that we can develop in ourselves and even begin to see already inside ourselves? So the first three qualities are steadiness of mind, a lovingness of heart and a fullness of being that makes us, helps us be even keeled, you know, uh, uh, quantum Quantum's as you.
In, your core, around the edges, you could be howling at the moon with good friends on a Saturday night, but in your core, the core of your being, there's a fundamental, calm, steady, uh, clarity there. So those three definitely hang together. And, uh, they're kind of psychological. They're probably very familiar to us.
Uh, interestingly, we can develop them even to the point of perfection. I mean, people who are really at the top of the mountain, and I know people, I know some people who are very close to the summit and I've accessed teachers who are hanging out there. Basically they have tremendous steadiness of mind.
Uh, their heart is warm, even if they're being assertive and dealing with stuff and underneath it all you can tell they're just rested in an underlying mood of peacefulness contentment and love. That's. You could see that in them. And we can develop this in ourselves then there's that second cluster, which is a little more maybe seemingly airy-fairy.
And yet when you kind of hear me talk about it, or when you look at it inside yourself, you go, oh yeah, I have a sense of that. I have a sense of that. Um, so the next three are wholeness and wellness and wellness. So I'm making up some words here. What do I mean by that? The first wholeness is a sense of letting yourself be as a whole and accepting yourself as a whole, without being divided internally and at war with yourself.
Just that ha doesn't that feel like a relief, like, oh, there's utter. Self-acceptance you're still a work in progress. You know, you're still learning a few things. You're still healing, a few things. You're still letting go of a few things inside a context in which you really accept herself. And you have a sense of.
Abiding as who you are as a whole. Okay. That's wholeness. Second. Now notice that means basically you're in the present, you know, the power of now be here now. Uh, you're in the present, uh, rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future you're in the present. And one thing, for example, that you start to notice when you're truly in the present, kind of right at the front edge of now receiving what's arising as it, as it occurs is that most of the time you're already basically, okay.
It may not be perfect in the present, but no shark has to. And on your leg, you're not devastated by terrible news. You're basically all right, right now in the present, whatever the future may hold and that recognition. That you actually are basically. All right, right now and now, and now is extremely grounding and strengthening.
Especially you have like me, you have any inclinations or toward anxiety, uh, or you've acquired, you know, anxiety cause of your nightmare boss, you know, the guy down the hall, uh, over the. You're basically. All right, right now. So coming into the present and for each one of these in the book, I talk about very current cutting edge plausible neuroscience that underlies each one of these qualities what's happening in the brain.
When you have the sense of present moment awareness, you're really in the present and therefore, how can we cultivate that so that more and more you can be stable there. And then the third is allness fancy way of talking about relaxing. The contracted sense of self, uh, put upon by others may be frankly, kind of narcissistic relaxing that relaxing self preoccupations, relaxing that urgency to keep impressing other people as if you have not already done enough.
Um, relaxing that while opening into everything, feeling connected, you know, your candidate. Right. You're you realize that you're a, you like holla is different from rec, right? We're like two separate waves in the ocean. Different causes and conditions are manifesting as you and I right now. And still we're part of the larger sea.
And our deep nature is water, which you can really go a long way with. So here we have that stirred cluster of wholeness now notice and allness, and this is a cultivation for a lot of people. You know, this is more of a personal development. If you have a particular interest in it and still wow. In everyday life, the more.
The chips are down and things are happening. The more useful it is to be able to bring your whole self, to bear without fighting with parts of yourself while staying in the present, not obsessing about the past or freaking out about the future while being very aware of how many factors are in play. And we're connected to many factors, and therefore there are many things out there that might be useful or certainly are important to take into account that's extremely helpful, even in the middle of the worst day at your business, or, you know, your marriage or your life.
Then last timelessness is really the ultimate. Um, for some people that sense of timelessness is merely. Uh, an extraordinary experience and that's how they understand it. That's cool. I'm fine with that. That's where they wanted to stop. For many, many, many people they have had, uh, maybe they have in an ongoing way, a sense that there's more to everything than what we see.
There's mysteriously more, uh, in the Buddhist tradition that more is talked about in a pretty stripped down way as what is eternal unconditioned, not subject to a rising and passing away, period. Other traditions bring more of a sense of consciousness. Even loving us, even a personality to that ultimate capital G ground.
I'm not preaching here. I'm just naming things that people talk about in field. Hmm, maybe your possibilities myself. Uh, I'm in, uh, I think there's more to it, you know, than what we see school in both in my experience and my kind of rational, informed, uh, view of things. And that's what timelessness is about.
And again, here too, we don't have to relate to that in a religious way. Uh, w we can relate to it as simply an openness to mystery and openness to possibility, uh, a sense of, uh, possibly a kind of underlying love, even that's woven into the ongoing wellspring of emergence of reality continuously, uh, and with a kind of attitude of don't know so much not so sure could be just that alone is an invitation into time of.
Hala: Hm, super Seaver interesting stuff. Uh, if anybody wants to pick up your book, neuro Dharma, where can they get.
Rick: well, thank you. It's everywhere. You know, the usual places, uh, you know, and all the rest of it. And, uh, it was re it's been extremely well-reviewed. It's a really, I have to say, you know, it was my sixth book and, uh, as a parent, you know, in a sound, so I'm the parent of all my books. I love all my children, but I like neuro Dharma the best.
It's a culminating book. I'm very personal in it. It's intimate, it's super practical. It's very heartfelt and it's very well referenced. So if you want the evidence you want the goods, uh, our son who played poker, uh, partly through college to put himself through college, talked about having the nuts, you know, in his hand, you know, having the goodies in his hand, I got the nuts in that book, that support as evidence when I'm saying it.
Um, I really encourage people to try.
Hala: I agree. It was a really easy read even though I'm not a neuroscientist and it was filled with actionable ways to actually get started and to learn how to meditate and you gave practices. So I really enjoyed it.
Rick: right. And how to use this in everyday life, not just in your meditation, and if you want, I'll even leave you with the five minute challenge
Rick: you on it. Okay. So like I said, most people won't give five minutes a day to their practice, but you could do this if you want to. And this supports what I wrote about in the book, not just in formalities of meditation, but in everyday life, which is where mostly we're going to heal and grow in everyday life.
First, as you flow through your day, a handful of times every day, slow down for a breath to take in the good, like right now, I'm having a nice interaction with you. You're a solid person. We don't know each other. Well, it's not more than what it is, but it's not less than what it is. We can take in the good of this feeling, uh, that we have with each other and how much enjoyment I've gotten out of this, certainly for myself.
So slow it down, taking the good that'll take you maybe a minute, a day second. No one thing in particular, you are developing inside yourself these days. What's one thing in particular, you're trying to grow. What's the superpower you're working on these days. It could be something very specific, like training yourself to be a little more patient when things happen around you.
So you don't just say the first thing that pops into your head, or maybe you're working on, uh, being less scared of public. We're asserting yourself in a meeting or being less vulnerable to just a brooding about a word someone used, or a, a little bit of a dismissiveness you encountered and feeling really bad for days afterward.
You're working on that. So whatever it is, you're trying to develop more inside yourself as a strength, focus on opportunities, a to experience that or some factor of it each day and be taken the good, slow it down. Once you get that good song playing in the inner iPod, turned on the inner recorder. So increasingly it becomes a part of you that might take another minute or so a day.
And then third, make sure that every day often just before you go to bed, that's a good time to do. Um, do what I call marinading in deep green. In other words, instead of the red zone or the pink zone of feeling stressed and pressured and irritated and resentful and hurt, uh, over the course of a day, we deliberately rest.
We find an authentic sense in the present of peacefulness contentment and love, whatever way you can. And I offer a lot of ways into this in the book itself, whatever way you can slow it down for a minute or two or three. If it's the last thing you do before your head hits the pedal, the pillow to just kind of reset and come home to this resting place inside yourself of a basic call.
Uh, sense of enoughness and contentment and a basic warmheartedness. As you rest there, you will be changing your brain. You will be changing your nervous system in your body and gradually hard-wiring that sense of peacefulness contentment and love into the core of your being so that you can take it with you increasingly wherever you go.
That's the five minute challenge
Hala: I love that. So I was just going to ask you and you answered it for me. What is one actionable thing we can do every day to become more young and profiting tomorrow? So thank you for that. And, uh, the last question we ask, all of our guests is what is your secret to profiting in life?
Rick: said fantastic question, because the way I'm going to slightly translate it, including from my own business experience is durable gain, lasting gain. The good that last, right. So much of what we experience is nice in the moment, but it runs right through our fingers, right? There's no return on investment.
There's no ROI ROI. So what is it that leads to lasting game, which might be translated? I have a business myself. I'm interested in financial profit in addition to personal profit, if you will, in terms of personal profit, you know, lasting gain inside yourself. I think the thing that has really helped me is a kind of humility that makes me value learning a kind of sense that, wow, we're vulnerable.
We're frail. Uh, we don't know everything. Um, life has challenging. We D we're we depend on things and that's not shame. It's humility that says I need to value. I need to look for ways every day to become a little unburdened from my childhood and my life to become a little clearer, a little more skillful with other people, a little kinder, you know, a little wiser, a little happier.
And I have the power to do that every day. And it really does come from me. This kind of intimacy of humility in a sense that says, ah, I don't know everything already. I really need to help myself grow and heal and learn every day.
Hala: It's so true. And it's like, it never stops. There's always room to improve and to continually better yourself and your mind and the way that you operate in the world. So I totally agree there. Where can our listeners go find more about you and everything that you do?
Rick: Ah, very kind holla. I think my website's the best place. Rick Hanson son, Rick hanson.net, and it's chock-full of freely offered resources, tons of quick little video snippets, audios practices, things people can do, um, you know, access to all kinds of other tools, uh, that are grounded in brain science and contemplative wisdom and practical psychology.
So Rick hanson.net, that's where I would encourage people to go. You might also like the podcast. I do, uh, like you do a podcast. I do a podcast with our sun forest, the being well podcast, which is really rising in the charts. Thank you. Thanks to him, especially, uh, and we also have lots of great guests there too, so people might want to check that out as well,
Hala: Oh, that's, that's so cute that you do it with your son. I love that. You don't hear that every day. Thank you so much, Rick. This was such an excellent conversation.
Rick: Thank you hall.
Hala: Okay, cool.
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