Is Your Brain Thriving?

During the month of May, we’ll be taking a look at The Five Dimensions of Wellbeing and how they relate to our mental health. Last week we discussed the energetic dimension, up next we have the mental and emotional dimension. Oftentimes, mental health conversations are focused on feelings, but on this episode of Inner Warmup, we’re talking about the brain. If you’re into neural pathways, pilates and The Ultimatum, you’ll definitely want to take a listen. 

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Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Inner Warmup where your inner work begins. My name is Taylor Elyse Morrison, I'm the creator of Inner Workout, and you as always our expert guest. Thanks for being here today. So, we are doing a series this month for Mental Health Awareness Month on multidimensional mental health. We're looking at each of The Five Dimensions of Wellbeing, and how they can relate to our mental health and here we are, we're talking about the mental and emotional dimension. If you're not familiar with all the dimensions and sub dimensions, I'll do a quick breakdown. 

So within this mental and emotional dimension, we talk about input, what's coming into your brain and how you're using it…emotions, pretty self explanatory. Looking at your feelings and how you're working with them and then those are tied together by sleep. Because if you're not getting quality sleep, it's going to be hard for you to use your brain to its fullest capacity, and hard for you to process your emotions.

My experience has been that in mental health conversations, we often like to go to emotions, talking about your feelings. There's some pretty good episodes of this podcast where we get into exploring your feelings. But I actually want to shift a little bit and look at another direction today with this question, is your brain thriving? Is your brain thriving? 

I think our brains are so cool. The more I learned about them, the more I'm like, wow. There's so much complexity in the way that our brains work and develop based on what we've been exposed to. But there's also so much similarity and just the mechanisms of how our brains generally operate. So our brains have all of this processing power, right? They are, I mean, like just think of the problems that humans have been able to both solve, and create, based on things that have been birthed in their brain based on using the power of their brains. But at the same time, our brains are wired to work as efficiently as possible. 

Our brains can work super hard, but they don't necessarily want to, they're always looking for these efficiencies. And if you've done any reading in the personal development space, or you're a neuroscience nerd, you heard about this idea of neural pathways. And essentially, our brain gets used to a certain way of doing things, a certain way of thinking, a certain way of talking about ourselves, or others. And it's almost like it's walking down a path. When I look at myself in a mirror, I think these things, when I am feeling tired, this is my go to response, and you just get used to your little neurons, they like to walk down the same path over and over and over again. And the more they walk down that path, the harder it is to walk down other paths, even if those paths might serve you better. What's cool about our brains though is that we can always create new neural pathways. We're not stuck in just walking down these pathways that we've created previously, we can change. But that change moves us into using a different type of thinking. 

I've heard this talked about different ways. So there's the idea of system one and system two thinking or one's really automatic, one is more complex. Or you can even think about it in meditation terms, where you become like the observer, and you're able to see what's happening, even as it's happening there’s some metacognition going on there. So what we need to do, if we want to make sure our brains are thriving, is to notice patterns. Step outside of the pathways that we are so used to walking down and that our brain wants us to walk down, to conserve its energy, and get into the role of being the observer so that we can make the shifts and changes that are actually going to make us feel cared for and will support our mental health. 

So as you're working with this question of is your brain thriving, I want you to think about how you're using your brain, when you're using your brain? Is it like your job - it’s so easy, so boring, you just kind of check out while you're doing everything but you don't really have an outlet in your life outside of your job to use your brain. So it's like you're either at work and you're kind of numbed. And then you're doing stuff in your personal life that's also kind of numbed. And there's no place where your brain can like, play and use all that processing power and creativity that it has. 

You can ask yourself, what am I doing right now that I'm a beginner at? What am I doing that is fun, and challenging, and creative. And it doesn't have to be all of those things at once but it can be. An example that came up for me. it was, and I mentioned this in a previous episode, during Pilates, I had this neural pathway that I do not have a strong core that goes back to like my dance days and doing core work and dance practice and always feeling like it was so hard. And then I went to work for a company where the CEO did Pilates. And I took a class with her and I was like, oh my gosh, she's so good at this. I'm so bad at this. Pilates is not my thing. 

And now when I get to do Pilates, it's like I can, I can't literally, but I can feel my brain working. I can feel myself wanting to say this is hard, I can't do this. In choosing to walk down a different neural pathway, I can feel my body, physically building different pathways of oh, this used to be super difficult, but it's a little bit easier now. Maybe I'm starting to shake five seconds later than I was the last time I tried this. 

Some other questions that you could ask are like, what am I doing that's really numbing me out? Where I'm just cutting off my brain, it’s like I'm turning off the light switch which doesn't have to be a bad thing. Sometimes it's really good to have things that just feel purely relaxing. I would argue things that feel restorative, even beyond just being “relaxing”, and moving into being restorative. And those things that you're doing where you're turning that brain light switch off, how is that working for you? How do you feel in the moment? And how do you feel after the moment is over? I've been playing around with this a lot, with things that I watch.

I have given myself permission to watch some like really drama filled reality TV shows. I watched Love Is Blind the second season earlier this year, and just finished watching The Ultimatum. And I watched the first season of Love Is Blind but I found like I felt kind of bad about it like, oh, I should be above this but it was entertaining and it was relaxing. 

And instead of, to my husband's credit, instead of feeling bad about it he's like, “why can't you just let yourself enjoy this?” But I found what was actually making it less enjoyable is that if I was watching this thing, and then I was scrolling down and hopping between different social media platforms at the same time, that's what actually felt really bad for me. So watching the TV, that and all the drama that was happening and eating it up. That wasn't bad for me, what was bad was when I was sitting there and I was just like also doom scrolling on Twitter, or like trying to watch the TV show but then trying to watch Tik Tok videos. I wasn't getting any benefit out of it. I wasn't actually shutting my brain off, I was kind of like overstimulating it from these different directions in ways that were not useful for my mental health. 

So when I was watching The Ultimatum recently, because it I watched it over a couple of weekends, I was doing art. And for one weekend, I was doing a puzzle. And the combination of being able to enjoy this thing, and to also have something to do with my hands but something to do with my hands that didn't have to do with introducing another screen into the picture made that feel so much more fun for me. And it added in a little bit of challenge too because I actually hadn't done a puzzle in a while and it was kind of hard but it was hard in a good way. I would sit there and like do a big, like happy dance or like a dramatic like pumping my fist when I would find a piece. There were multiple times where I thought I was missing a piece, I was like this is-…there's something wrong with this. I know this is a freshly opened puzzle, but something is wrong. No, it wasn't wrong. I just took me awhile to find the puzzle piece, and I got really excited about it. 

So I want you to think about is your brain thriving? And I gave you some different pieces, some different ways that you can look at it. And I want to highlight, if you're like me, and you realize like the scrolling on the little screen, that was part of the issue for you. We have our Scroll With Intention Challenge coming up! A seven day mini course, where you are getting to take some time to think about what makes your brain feel like it's thriving with regards to scrolling and social media and to create a new framework that works for you and that serves you. So if you're interested in that, make sure that you click on the waitlist to join. 

And for now, think about this holistically. You can think about social media, you can think beyond social media. Is your brain thriving? Do you have things that are fun and challenging and creative? Are things where you're like numbing out? The numbing out isn't actually giving you the benefits of relaxation? Take a few moments to think about this and I'll chat with you on the other side.

I hope this reflection’s served you well. You know that you can always say hi to us on Instagram, send us a DM. Share this episode if it resonated with. We are a small business, a tiny team, if you're looking for one way that you could support us rating and reviewing the podcast is huge, especially if you're listening on Spotify. It's super easy. It takes like two seconds to just hit give us five stars or whatever stars feels true to you. Thank you for your time. Thank you as always for your expertise and take care!