Authored by a Comedian, a Neuroscientist and a Monk (Ruby Wax, Dr Ashish Ranpura and Gelong Thubten respectively)
This delightful interview with three of the most unlikely collaborators will make you laugh your way into having a refreshingly new perspective on yourself:
Ruby Wax says if you’re reading this, you’re a bona fide gold medal winner in the ‘Evolutionary Hunger Games’ where you had about a trillion to one chance of not being born a frog. This, she claims, should make us the happiest species alive, but we’re not. We spend our time on earth in a constant hunt for contentment and, as far as that goes, we’re in a holding pattern. But says Wax, “Finding out about neuroplasticity, discovering that I can remap my inherited neural wiring and rewire it for a better life, was the greatest news I’ve ever received”.
Wax is a sufferer of depression and holds a master’s degree in Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy. In this manual, she and her two collaborators cover everything you need to know about how to be human.
Ancient whispers installed in us a drive to be top gun. This makes us feel like we’re in a race but we have no idea what for. From the time we fenced off our plot of mud and called it a farm we became self-centred. This was the start of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ and wanting more is making us sick and our self-involvement is making us suffer.
The problem with thinking is we don’t distinguish between helpful thoughts and those that drive us nuts. Thoughts aren’t who you are, they make up about 1 per cent of what’s going on in your brain. The rest is dedicated to growing fingernails and replacing the 40 trillion cells in your body with new ones. There’s also no asshole gene. The stream of negative thoughts you are glued to is just the self-critical stuff you inherited from Mommy, Daddy, the environment, evolution and experience. Reality is electrochemical activity in your brain so you can direct it by safely picking which thoughts to use and which to lose. You are much bigger than your narrative. Breathe!
Feelings tell us about what we like and don’t like and without them we’d be zombies. Emotions are concocted by complex neurochemical systems which feed information to the brain giving us a sense of who we are, ‘I feel, therefore I am’. Emotions focus on safety; they are thoughts with alarm bells – error signals – showing us when we’re off balance. Emotional pain activates the same centres in the brain as physical injury. If you pay attention to the sensations in your body, you’ll get a full read-out of the emotional state you’re in.
The body is not an annoying lump of skin-covered flesh that you drag around under your neck. Rather, the brain and body are in constant communication and your body makes decisions way before you do. You can train yourself to use this teeny gap to consciously choose your reactions. Focusing on your body (embodiment) also helps us bypass hurtful thoughts and emotions. Our body never lies. Our mind can play all manner of tricks on us but the body tells us how we feel. Breathe!
We may be communicating more but too much face-to-screen talking makes us feel more isolated than ever. Compassion is the glue that makes life worth living but most people are too busy for it. We project our thoughts about ourselves onto other people so we need to learn to be compassionate towards ourselves before we can feel it for anyone else. Self-compassion doesn’t grow by itself, it’s a matter of reprogramming the stories in our narrative.
We’re all caught between conflicting impulses, a crossfire of desires which tear us in opposite directions. Do we go for the sex god or Ms sweet and innocent or do we choose the brute over the good guy? There are three types of attraction; i) lust (driven by the rush of adrenaline) which is short-term (literally lasts until the sex is over) ii) romance (driven by the reward-chemical dopamine) it’s about obsession and lasts slightly longer but not by much and iii) attachment (driven by the cuddle-chemical oxytocin) epitomised by friends growing old together. The longer-term relationship is possible only if we stop blaming the other person for our emotional stuff. If you’re doing i) and ii) and want iii) then you may have to upgrade to iWife4 or iHusband8.
You are the sculptor of your child’s mind. It’s not just your words, it’s whether you wince or not when you say them. If you are unaware of your habits, you’ll pass your crap onto your child. Noticing when your trigger’s been hit and not lashing out is emotional intelligence at its finest. Before you panic (and reach for the Xanax), you can change your behaviour, thoughts and emotions (like not passing on your fear of failure) to give your kids a better chance. Instead of worrying about their cognitive achievements, teach them three vital life skills; to control their impulses, pay attention and develop empathy.
There have always been substances you could chew, smoke or snort but now we’re addicted to seemingly normal things like eating, getting attention, shopping, sex, the phone (sometimes both together). The quest for novelty is driven by a craving for hits of dopamine. Problem is we know how to deal with limited resources, we don’t with unlimited resources. This puts our reward-based learning system into overdrive. Your thinking mind can’t keep addictions in check because it’s a great trickster that knows how to justify your urges. Change your habits and then become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. This way you have a choice to pull out or stay sucked in. And breathe!
Forgiveness is tough because it goes against our primitive nature which is more inclined towards seeking revenge. But forgiveness is about releasing ourselves from the burden of resentment which is a bit like holding onto hot coal; it’s you that suffers not the other person. We’re all capable of forgiveness but forgiving others starts with being able to forgive ourselves.
This century may be the one when we manage to snatch the genetic code from the clutches of evolution and learn to reprogramme ourselves. The clue lies in gene-editing and in vitro fertilisation. Both could help us take the next step in our evolution.
This manual also includes a helpful bunch of mindfulness exercises for every occasion. Breathe!
Invite Steph Vermeulen to inject a shot of fact-based inspiration into your next conference (virtual or live) or contract with her for a mind-shifting Personal Intelligence workshop (either classroom-based or an 8-week virtual personal development programme) that will uplift your teams from apathy to energy. In meaningful and practical ways, Steph prepares people psychologically to adapt to game-changing circumstances (like Covid) and – in the process – makes everyone smarter and more functional. With the shift to virtual programmes, businesses can benefit from Steph’s workshops in every corner of the world.