Improve mental resilience (understand your brain)

Tougher Minds Founder Dr. Jon Finn explains how we can all improve our mental resilience by understanding how our brain works.  In this short podcast, he outlines how we can begin taking simple steps towards feeling better and being better, in work and life.

Dr. Jon also explains how he is working on getting a better night’s sleep. This was recorded as he was walking on his office treadmill.

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Podcast Transcript 

Hi, everyone, my name is Dr. Jon Finn, and welcome to another episode of the Tougher Minds podcast, I am just on my workstation treadmill. So whilst I go for a walk in, in my office space, I just wanted to record a quick podcast and reflect on some insights about the challenges that people are facing. 

I’m just going to get my treadmill up to a slightly higher pace here. So I’m walking about 2.4 miles an hour. So we know that lots of people are really struggling at the moment with these extremely difficult lockdown circumstances that we’re under. And that word resilience and mental resilience keeps coming back up. What I find is that the term resilience and mental resilience can be a little bit a little bit woolly, sometimes a little bit. Not very specific. So I just want you to reflect on what we understand by being resilient. And at the heart of the way that we understand this is our Lighthouse Brain model. So this is the way that we explain people’s brains to them. And within this explanation, we can really understand what we mean by being resilient. 

So imagine that you have a lighthouse in your brain. And there are two characters that live in the lighthouse and run the lighthouse. The first character is called H.U.E., that’s spelt H U E. And H.U.E. stands for horribly unhelpful emotions. And H.U.E. lives in and works in the lighthouse’ control room. And its job is to use the lighthouses light to scan the horizon. And not just the present, but the past and the future. And what’s his first instinct is to look out for threats and problems and issues and worries. And that could be things that have happened in the past, it could be things that are happening right now. But it’s also projected into the future. To project almost the worst case scenario of what might happen, so it’s making up problems if you like. 

And once there are no obvious problems to pay attention to in the past, in the present, or the future, his next instinct is to look out for easy things to do things that give it short term gratification. So it could be eating a chocolate biscuit, or checking your social media, or breaking off the mentally complex task that you’re doing. To go look on a website, and just give your brain something easier to do. It could be resisting, doing exercise, it could be staying up later than you know is helpful. But you just want to watch that next episode of the series that you’re watching. So that’s what H.U.E. does. The second character in the lighthouse is called Willamina Power or WillPower, you can decide which one it is for you. And, and we imagine that Willamina power lives in the lighthouse library. And he’s interested in studying and learning about how to get better in the outside world and, and what’s going on. 

And what happens when H.U.E. spots a problem could be a problem that’s from the past could be a problem, it’s in the future, it could be a problem that’s projecting into the future. And when it sees a problem that calls up to Willpower, and it makes Willpower when there’s a problem as a problem comes down and helps me and, and what we’re seeing actually here is called emotional regulation. But this is the metaphor that we’re explaining it through. So Willpower goes down. And it First of all, can help you to understand well, is this a problem or not? So is there really a tiger in the room with you? Or is there an immediate problem that you need to resolve? Or is actually just to make something up. And Willpower is like H.U.E.’s coach, it can help you to overcome the real problem if there is one. But if there’s no problem it can help to help H.U.E. to reframe some of that unhelpful thinking if you like, and to get H.U.E.’s attention back onto something that’s more helpful for you. 

And this is at the heart of what resilience is all about. When our brain is working properly, we can have a really good relationship between Willpower and here. And when we talk about resilience, what we mean is, they means that you’re really good recognising if you’re doing things or thinking about things that are not helpful for you could be beating yourself it could be worrying, could be eating the wrong kind of food, could be not sleeping as well as you need to be, could be not being as productive as you need to be. 

But it’s just starting to understand that I’m doing lots of things here that are not very helpful for me, it could just be one or two things. And then, if you are resilient, you’re good at getting your Willpower in this Lighthouse Brain metaphor we’re using to actually help you to do things and think about things that are more helpful for you being at your best. And that’s a wisdom that is at the heart of what we understand by being resilient. Neuroscientists call it emotional regulation, social scientists call it self control. And as I said, When everything’s working well in your bread, there’s a really good relationship between Willpower and H.U.E.. 

But what’s happening increasingly in the v.u.c.a. , world volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world, in these lockdown situations we are facing is that it becomes more and more difficult to have a really good relationship between your Willpower and here. And that means that we need to be really proactive in training up our Willpower to be a better coach to hear. And that’s, of course, is what that’s what is at the heart of all our Tougher Minds training programmes. 

And one of the new programmes we’ve created is the Me Power resilience programme. And that’s a training programme if you’d like for your Willpower to make it easier to actually manage you and build better habits. And the absolute foundation of this relationship, and the foundation of resilience if we want to have this really positive relationship between our Willpower and our H.U.E., is good sleep, diet and exercise habits. And we know that these have been really disrupted in this lockdown situation for many people. So I just want us to think very quickly and pragmatically, how can we start just to get our sleep, our diet and our exercise habits back on track. 

And these ideas I want to take from the sleep diet and exercise masterclass from the Me Power resilience programme. The first thing that we would suggest that you do is that you just step back and use your Willpower to do that you just reflect on your sleep, your diet, your exercise, and give yourself a score out of 10 for each area over the past 24 hours. So 10 would be perfect sleep. One would mean you didn’t sleep at all. So you give yourself a score out of 10 for your sleep last night, you give yourself a score of 10. For your diet, either yesterday, or so far today, whatever’s easier. And you give yourself a score out of 10 for your exercise, either yesterday, or so far today. Remember, in exercise terms, walking is included in an exercise, it’s not just going and doing vigorous exercise, I’ll go for a run or go into the gym. Walking is included. It’s what I’m doing right now to talk on top up my exercise. And this is what we call intelligent self watching. 

So we should have a score for sleep, a score for our diet and a score for our exercise. And this is the first step to starting to build new habits in these areas and build a better relationship between Willpower. And here, the nice thing to do is just to target one of those areas, we might like to work on all of them at the same time. But that’s not possible. So we can just pick one, often we fall into this trap of trying to make changes that are too big or too ambitious. So we’re just looking to make tiny changes. 

So just pick the one area, either your sleep, your diet or your exercise where you think, yeah, that’s that’s the priority for me at the moment. So for example, I’m going to pick my sleep. And I’m going to say that, imagine that I gave myself a seven out of 10 for my sleep last night. My aim tonight is just to get five or 10 minutes more sleep tonight than I did last night. And that’s it. Maybe I can get an extra half an hour sleep. Maybe I could get in even extra hours of sleep. And if I do that’s a bonus. That’s great, but I’m just only for an extra five or 10. If I’m working on my diet, I might just want to eat one more piece or portion of fruit or veg today than I did yesterday. 

And maybe I could easily do three but that’s great if I can. I’m just going for the one from exercise if it was an exercise area I wanted to work on then maybe I just I just want to do an extra 10 minutes more walking today than I did yesterday. So what we’ve done is we’ve set, we’ve self watched by giving ourselves those scores, and we’ve done some intelligent self watching, then we’ve just created an aim what we’d like to achieve in the next 24 hours, the final thing we need to do is create a plan. 

So my plan for my improved sleep will be I’m going to be in bed by this time, I’m going to make sure that I’ve turned off all my handheld technology about an hour before that, because I don’t want to look be looking into those light sources like my from my phone, or my laptop, or my tablet, that basically tells my brain not to release melatonin. And then I might say what I’m going to be doing when I go into bed at 10 o’clock, for example, I’m going to be reading my book. And they might be some parts of my plan. We know that making the plan, a plan that’s going to actually allow us to make a positive change is the most difficult piece. And again, that’s why we’ve created the in depth Me Power Resilience programme

But what I’ve just described, there are some big ideas from the the sleep diet and exercise masterclass. And I’ve started to introduce one of our tools there, it’s called the one week, sleep diet and exercise swap plan, because we self watch, we mechanism and we make a plan. So this idea of scoring yourself out of time, for each each area, making a name and then making a plan, you can do that for the next five or seven days. And you’ll quickly start to notice some little wins and some positive change in your behaviour. And if you don’t have the Me Power resilience programme, you can also completely free you can access the Me Power resilience planner. And although it doesn’t contain the one week sleep diet and exercise plan, it’s got some other tools in there that make it easier to start planning out some of these fundamental things that are going to make it easier for us to be resilient. So I hope this helps you to get a better understanding of what resilience is. 

And I hope it helps you to start if you want to be more resilient to start making some positive steps that are simple and practical, that are going to actually allow you to be at your best more often. So thanks for listening, guys. Looking forward to the next podcast. And here’s the core idea. We’re never going to be perfect in these areas. It’s always about just stepping back, reflecting and making one tiny aim just to make it a little bit easier for us to be our best more often. 

And that’s all we can do is we can work towards our best by holding ourselves accountable for being at our best. So I hope that’s really helpful guys. Thanks for listening, and I’ll speak to you soon. Remember, you can access the Me Power resilience planner absolutely free, just check out on our website. Thank you very much. Enjoy the rest of the day. 


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