Brain Science – Episode #23

Your brain can change

an exploration of genes, Epigenetics & Neuroplasticity

All Episodes

You are not what you’ve been dealt. You might have heard in your life that you’ve inherited bad genes or even good genes, and from that you conclude that you’re doomed or blessed. In some cases there’s a margin of truth to that. However, the role of genes, Epigentics, and Neuroplasticity tell a different story. It’s a story of hope and opportunity for change.

Featuring

Notes & Links

Edit on GitHub

Transcript

Edit on GitHub

How often in therapy do you think you’re helping people change something they think they can’t change?

That’s like very–

[laughs] Yeah, I hesitated for a second, but…

I’ll answer for you…

it’s pretty routine. And yet, I would say the irony is that people come to me because they wanna change… Right? They’re finally at this place where they’re saying “Enough is enough. I wanna feel differently than what I do.”

I’m gonna have to paraphrase it because I can’t recall it; I’ll google it and get a perfect version of it, but it’s like, “The pain to change has increased more than the pain to stay the same.” So that’s what perpetuates this need, this yearn for change. And then you seek the necessary help.

Yeah, I think it is that the pain to stay the same is worse.

Okay, that’s it. Yes, thank you.

Like, if I don’t move, this is going to be far worse.

Yeah, I’m glad you corrected me on that, because yes, if the pain to stay the same is more than it would be to just bite the bullet and change.

Right, yeah. Change is hard. I always say, people fight change, but we have to fight to change.

Well, what’s even more ironic is that we’re always changing.

Whether we are actively participating in that change or not, change is occurring. Every new lived experience changes you. Every new cultural shift has its impact.

Yeah, we are so fluid as humans, in that we’re always taking in new information and incorporating it or rejecting it. It’s this constant fluctuation.

What kind of change, if you could pinpoint a couple that stand out most to you, in therapy, are people trying to seek therapy and change, that they feel they can’t change? What are the most common ones they’re trying to change, they think they can’t change, but is totally changeable?

Well, really how they feel. People come in and they’re dealing with oftentimes anxiety, or depression, or even trauma… A lot of times it’s relational challenges, of “I have this family member, or co-worker, or some person with whom I routinely have to interface, and I’ve gotta figure out a way to navigate our exchanges differently, because it hurts. Literally.”

[00:04:19.10] So what role does our genes play into these things? This idea - we’ll talk about epigenetics, even neuroplasticity - what role do these kinds of overarching sciency things play into everyday life for people?

Well, genes are really what we’re born with… So this is an area that I often have to do a lot of educating patients around, in terms of “We are not solely our genes. Just because this is what I was born with doesn’t mean “Here’s your future, it’s predetermined. Sorry. Deal with it.”

How does genes relate to DNA? I’m thinking - these terms people hear in their lives; they don’t study this stuff, they’re not into books like you or I might be… Genes are like “Okay, that’s my building blocks, and there’s something called DNA, and I’ve got my blood type, and I’ve got these things… My personality…” Break those down - genes, DNA, things like that.

Well, the DNA is what makes up who we are. So it is our genes. I don’t want to do too much of a deep dive into that, but genes are sort of like this building block for who we are. So when things go awry, it’s sort of like – you’ve heard of certain abnormalities like Trisomy 21, the 21st chromosome has this third aspect to it, which looks like what we reference as Down Syndrome.

So there are these genetic abnormalities, which are fixed, and you’re not going to undo. But we also aren’t just subjected to what we’re born with, because we know this in terms of, for example, alcoholism. People who have – we know that there’s a genetic facet or component to alcoholism. But just because you have it in your family line, i.e. a family building block, it doesn’t mean that then you will be an alcoholic.

In the same way with mental health - we can say “Hey, this is in my family lineage. There’s people in my life who have this”, but it does not then mean that you will in fact have that same issue. Does that make sense?

Yeah. In particular to alcoholism, and let’s just say an overarching theme, addiction - for me in particular, I can see how I have some alcoholic people in my family. I think almost everybody does. So that’s sort of like a normal thing, to some degree. But I can look at certain things – I have an addictive mindset. So I can say I’m susceptible to it, but I’ve somehow dodged that bullet, so to say, even. I’ve definitely drank in my life, I’ve definitely drank in my life in times when I’ve drank too much… And I have an addictive mind, or a mindset. Or it seems like I can get addicted to something easier than other people might, in my perspective. And maybe that’s playing out this whole genes role in my life and my lineage.

Sure. So maybe it just doesn’t look like alcohol, but maybe –

Anything fun.

[laughs] Yeah.

And that’s just it. It’s not all bad, right? But if you’re aware of – I like to think of genes like propensities. Like, “I’m more prone, I’m more likely…”

If I’m faced with a fork in the road, my brain goes “Go this way. This is the way.”

More often than not, yeah.

Yeah. So what we’re talking about then relative to change or epigenetics is that intersection of our environment and our genes. For example, maybe (God forbid) something really tragic in your life occurs, that if you had been drinking more often and that’s something you use for coping, it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to imagine that that would sort of tip the scales for you towards alcoholism.

Yeah. Totally.

I’m not correlating and say this is causing you, but given you have this foundation and given this environmental exposure, I just tilted the scale, in a way.

Right. And you can’t fight gravity. If we’re doing a gravitational metaphor, it’s gonna be harder for you to climb that hill back up to the other side, to tip the scale the other way.

Yes, exactly. So that first thing is recognizing or having the awareness around yourself and your genes. Now, that being said, there are some things where genes play a more relevant role. For example, in the lane of mental health, there are certain disorders like schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder… These are more neurobiological disorders, which means they start in your brain and they have a stronger genetic component than some other disorders… Than say depression, or even just anxiety.

That’s interesting. Regarding this addictive mindset I’ve mentioned and our discussion around it, I can see how I’ve also leveraged it. I would change the word from addictive to obsessive, and maybe that’s even got some borderline –

So I think just reframing this whole “Name it to tame it” idea, even the awareness around it… So I think awareness is super-key for someone like me or anyone dealing with or having a similar scenario in their life… Because I’ve been able to say, okay, it’s not addictive, it’s obsessive, and I’ve allowed myself or kind of brought into awareness what I allow myself to obsess over. So I obsess over work, to some degree. I’m passionate about what we do, but I’m not compulsive to the point where I do work all the time. I set boundaries in my life.

That’s also a learned behavior, too. I didn’t always do good at that. I haven’t been great at this in particular for a very long time. It’s been for maybe a good marathon, not the full life of Adam so far. But the point is, if I fixate or obsess over solving a problem, I’ll probably figure out the necessary resource to understand it better, to eventually solve it. So I’ve taken this sort of mindset and I’ve shifted it to a positive perspective, rather than this negative perspective. I’m not addictive, it’s obsessive, and I use it as a super-power to get over the hurdles in my life.

Sure. And so that’s just it. You’ve practiced a skill, and as we’ve talked about with building habits, you’ve sort of honed or sort of restructured yourself relative to habits that you engaged in routinely. So it makes a difference. And this is why – if you can imagine, whatever we practice doing over and over again is going to have an effect. If I practice this skill, or I practice even what I choose to eat on a daily basis - that’s going to take me down a road. So this is where the hope is of recognizing the way in which my choices actually influence my overall brain and my health, and how I feel.

Because guess what - if I realize I don’t like the way that I’m going, for example even naming it differently for you and saying “This is somewhat obsessive”, you can go like “Is this disproportionate? Am I spending too much time in this one area of my life?” For example mountain-biking. You’re like “Well, it started out just fine, and this is a great, healthy habit for me to engage in”, but now it’s like “I can do that work later. Oh, I’m sorry, family, I’ve gotta go bike. Sorry, friends, I’m hitting the bike.” Right?

Yeah. Well, that has crossed my mind a couple times…

And it’s true, because I think anything anybody likes - me in particular, I can speak from my experience, if I like something, I’m more prone to dive in deeper. And sometimes it’s a rabbit hole, sometimes it’s a layered onion, and it’s got multiple facets. If you ask me about something very geeky, I love bike tech. So I’m a technologist generally, but I love bike tech, geometry, things like this. Anybody who rides a bike doesn’t even understand the fact that geometry plays a key role in how that bike performs and is fun or not fun to ride, or what kind of trails it’s designed for.

I do. Because I’m that weird. I go that deep into things, because that’s what makes me enjoy them. That’s what helps me to really appreciate all the art involved and the science involved in bike technology. It’s crazy how much is involved, it really is.

So let me ask you, have you always been that sort of geeky around–

I didn’t even have to listen. Yes. I didn’t even catch up with you.

My mom recognized it when I was young, my wife recognizes it… Everyone that’s ever been close to me recognizes how deep I like to go. I love baseball cards. I still have those baseball cards. I loved comic books; I still have those comic books. That’s how deeply I grow a passion for and obsess over.

I would become a super-fan of all the greats in comics, all the greats in baseball, all the greatest in a given sport, all the greats in a given field. When I got in the military and I was given some opportunity, I began to love it and go deeper into it. Eventually, I served my time and that time in my life is over. I’ve found a new love. Then I found about business, when I went to work for Muzak, and I grew in love with business, and I’ve never stopped that particular obsession… And it’s only gotten more multi-faceted. So it’s interesting how these obsessions in my life have shaped me in many ways.

Okay. So if you can imagine as a sort of metaphor/analogy that our genes are like the foundation for our house, for our self, and going “What if you got curious or were exposed to other things earlier on in your life that maybe weren’t so functional?” Because all of what you’re saying are not negatives, right?

And I have been, yeah. Totally. I mean, without making this show completely about all my flaws, there’s definitely been things that I’ve done, that I haven’t outlined, that I’ve obsessed over, that was not – you know, in your words, that was maladaptive. It wasn’t good for my life, it wasn’t good for my trajectory of career or who I was as a human, the person I was. Definitely. Many things.

Yeah. So I could even out myself here a little bit… Even given, we all manage stress differently, and graduate school can be a stressful time in one’s life. I remember this time wherein – so it was when Crispy Cream… If you don’t know Crispy Cream, it’s a donut place that electrified the sign…

Oh, yes.

[00:16:07.17] They sort of highlighted it, and it said “Hey, hot donuts now!” And they happened to install one on my way between my house and my school.

No… No…!

[laughs] Right?

But yes. Because they’re that good.

They were that good… So I would love my crispy cream indulgence. But it took time to be like “You know what–” I called it the ten-minute phenomenon; it was so good and so yummy going down, and then ten minutes later I was going like “Why…? Why did you do that, Mireille?” These conversations with myself… So I had to actually use restraint to not continue – and it was so easy, because you just pull right in. It’s on the way… On the way to, and on the way from. Every day.

Yeah. That drive-through is there, it’s accessible, it takes just a minute… I mean, I can afford this; I’ve budgeted for this donut… Yeah.

Yeah. And so going “This is my environment”, and maybe I probably have some predisposition in my genes relative to weight and obesity, that I go “You know what - if I’m to keep doing this, this is the sort of fork in the road that’s going to take me a direction that I don’t think I really want to go.” But unless or until I was aware of literally that pain of like “Mireille, you feel horrible after you eat these. Stop doing this! Stop doing this to yourself!”

Yeah, totally. You said though “Maybe I’m predispositioned in my genes…” So that leads to the question of how the heck do we know what’s in our genes? Because if I had some wisdom – let’s say I’m a listener of this show and I’m 15, 18, 20, somewhere before my age currently, 41. Somewhere where I could have influenced change earlier in my life. It totally can change now, if I’m a 41-year-old listening to this show, but if I’m younger, how do I identify these things I’m predispositioned to, to say “Okay, these are my potential mile markers, unless I deviate…” As you said before, the fork in the road.

Sure. Well, to some degree - I mean, you can go real sciency. There’s test kits out there to actually look at and know your genes…

They call them markers, right? You’ve got markers for this, this or this…

Right. And I don’t know that that’s necessarily helpful for everyone, because it can also then make you aware of things you didn’t know, but you could then obsess over…

Oh… You think bliss is better.

No… But for some people - again, if you already are more anxious-prone, is that necessarily helpful for you, to know all of the idiosyncratic things relative to your genes? Because now, again, you have this awareness, and so what are you going to do with that?

I mean, I say obesity just because I ironically never necessarily reflected on that. I just know, looking back through – I mean, certain maternal/paternal sides, looking back through who has struggled with obesity… Like, “Wow, there’s more than I had really thought about before.” And that, combined with even my environment - I’ve talked about having been a gymnast, starting from a very young age, and I danced, which has a very narrow margin for weight. Like, if you’re going to be successful, you can’t have a lot of excess, right? Those things coming together, that intersection looks like I’ve been very deliberate around health habits.

[00:19:59.29] Because of those reasons, yeah.

Yeah. It’s not surprising even that I took the trajectory to go into the field of psychology recognizing the overlap of how my mind and how my feelings impact my decisions and henceforth my performance, both in the gym and in life as a whole.

You said though you’re not sure you could recommend knowing this because of awareness. We preach awareness quite a bit, so I wanna play devil’s advocate for just a second and say the classic answer there might be “It depends.”

There you go.

Because there’s some people that would love to have that information and could make – I don’t wanna say good decisions, but use that in a manner that helps their life, be aware of those opportunities or those predispositions, and actually do change. There’s some that will just take that as a sentence of some sort, like “This is where you’re going…”

“…and there is no stopping. The train is heading to the station. Good luck.” So maybe there’s some like that. But I would say for the people who are motivated to understand, be aware and change, I would think – if it were me, I wish I could have learned about genes earlier in life, so that I knew… Because I would have changed.

Sure, yes. Okay, but I guess that is highlighting there is not a one-size-fits all approach, and that the whole purpose of these conversations is I want you to think… I want you to think about yourself, and – I mean, they’re not free, so you’ll have to spend money on the kits in order to get them back… And what kind of validity do they have? I come from the place of “I’m not gonna recommend it if I haven’t investigated it or vetted it myself.”

Okay, I like that idea.

I haven’t done that, so I’m not gonna say “Yeah, go do that”, because I don’t know what you’re gonna get.

So here’s some homework if you’re listening then… If you know about genetic testing, and there’s some information you’ve read, or a book you’ve read, or something that seemed credible with you, share it with us. There’s comments you can go to… I’m not sure what episode number this will be, but you can go to Changelog.com, find the show and comment on the show… Or just tweet at us, that works too. But let us know, we wanna hear these things. This is a feedback loop. While we may not be experts in everything - you may be more so, Mireille, but definitely not me… I don’t know about genetic testing. I don’t know how valid it is, but I’ve gotta imagine there’s some validity in it. If we’re talking about it, they exist and there’s testing - who knows…? All it is is more data though, right? You’ve said this before, “All it is is more data.” It gives yourself an opportunity to be a scientist, to discover, to get curious, and I think that’s what that is.

Yes. But it’s the same thing relative to psychological testing. So one of the things in neuropsych testing is if people could have access to these tests, but they don’t know how to interpret it. So it’s like, do you know what a baseline is? Do you know how to make sense of that information? Just going “These are your genes” - who’s going to be the translator for you, to understand it?

Hopefully – and this is the skeptic in me out there, too… It’s like, I don’t wanna give my blood to people I don’t know. That’s why I can’t do the whole 23andMe, or what is it… Maybe I’m advocating for something I can’t even get on board with, I don’t even know. I’m not trying to advocate for it, I’m just saying be curious. So if you’re cool with that, do it. But I have a hard time giving my blood to people I just don’t know… Because your blood is a representation of you. If you were into cloning, you could rebuild an Adam probably from my blood, I don’t know… That’s the weirdo in me that thinks about that, but… Okay, so maybe investigate very deeply, and then not just the testing and the report that comes back, but the interpretation of those markers… There you go. Let’s end that part. I won’t [unintelligible 00:23:54.14]

I was gonna say, we’re gonna turn. We’re gonna go–

We don’t know. Let’s turn. [laughter]

[00:24:00.15] So what we’re talking about though is conceptually neuroplasticity. And if you haven’t heard about this, what it is is literally the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout your life. So neuroplasticity allows neurons, which are nerve cells in the brain, to compensate for injury and diseases and adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes.

One way in which I could say that it’d be helpful to know your genes is relative to autoimmune issues… Because we’ve talked about stress as it relates to our immune system, and going “Hey, if I know that I’ve got a long line, or even multiple people in my family who’ve had auto-immune things, I wanna be very considerate around how I manage my stress.” Because diseases - generally speaking - don’t just sort of pop up unexpectedly. There’s been a sort of repetition of exposure and navigating things in a certain way… Right?

Yeah, that’s definitely true. What’s also really interesting - auto-immune is such a common thing… This disorder out there is such a common thing, relating to your immune system, your auto-immune disorders, and stuff like that… And they play such a gigantic role, gigantic role in everyday life - from thyroid, to stress hormones… All these different things, they just play such a role, and I’m glad you said it doesn’t just pop up… And that’s why we’re talking about this, because part of this awareness to fight, this understanding of genes, and predispositions, and neuroplasticity and all these things - it’s like, what can I do…? I’m not a scientist; I wanna know some basic information to change my life. The basic prescription generally is eat a healthy diet, be active, and avoid toxic chemicals.

And be in relationship with people.

Of course, yes. [laughs] A healthy mind requires other people, so that’s the baseline there… But to avoid those things is sort of like giving yourself [unintelligible 00:26:12.16] and that’s auto-immune.

Auto-immune is generally impacted by those things, too. So this healthy diet or healthy eating or conscious eating, and how you’re active in your life, throughout your whole life, and then toxic things like chemicals, that are definitely toxic - avoid them.

Right. Well, and that’s just why going – it’s sort of like overloading the system… Maybe 5% - not so bad; 10%… Or I do this one time, two times, three times… But 25,000, or a million times of repetition - that’s where I get into trouble. So recognizing that there are certain habits we engage in, responses we do, which can help us or hinder us relative to where we wanna go.

I appreciate that it was Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone out of Harvard’s Medical School who described neuroplasticity as this intrinsic, so internal property of the human brain, that represents evolution’s invention to enable the nervous system to escape the restrictions of its own genome (i.e. genes), and thus adapt to environmental pressures, physiological changes and experiences.

That’s deep.

I know. So this is our hope. This is where I wanna camp out. And really, epigenetics is this study of the way in which our genes and our environment intersect. So a researcher going “How did these show up? What do we do? How can people change their genes?”, so to speak. And it really isn’t [unintelligible 00:28:00.07] but it does. It changes the trajectory. So it doesn’t necessarily change the gene itself, but it changes the direction of things for the future.

[00:28:15.04] Yeah… I mean, it interesting how the brain plays such a role in these things. I wouldn’t imagine that neuroplasticity would allow me to override my genome, to be able to adapt. The brain has that much ability; once we understand its capabilities and how we can play a role in the subconscious things that seem to happen… You know, I’m not taking an hour a day for my neuroplasticity class, so I’m rejiggering my mind. Maybe I am, through mindfulness or thinking over things or whatever; maybe that’s the way you do it. But I’m not sitting there literally mentally changing my brain. It’s just wild how that can do that, but then it has that power.

Right. So if we’re using this metaphor relative to a house, and our genes are the foundation… So I might have, again, the case of schizophrenia; there is a genetic component to that disorder. So there’s a crack in my foundation already. Well, then over time in my – I never developed skills or strategies to manage anxiety or stress, and now I’m all by myself in a really stressful situation. I’ve got the family history, so the gene is there… Now I get whacked right on that crack. And then I have the expression that looks like schizophrenia. Does that make sense?

Kind of.

So if I would have been doing other things earlier on – and again, it’s not like a guarantee. I can’t say “Well, if you do all these things, then you’re safe and you’re fine, and you don’t need to worry about it.” But if someone was using meditation, managing stress, anxiety, had social support, had other things, and they get hit on that spot on the foundation where the crack is, maybe they don’t have a psychotic break. It doesn’t mean that maybe they don’t get stuck and really struggle more, but it’s not a causal break.

Right. Is that because they’d been working on things like emotional intelligence?

I know we’re gonna talk about that at some point more deeply, but is that underlying what that is? Like, once you learn coping skills and have awareness, and you have a real clear picture of what you’re actually thinking or why you’re thinking it and all these things - is that emotional intelligence, to some degree? Is that what that is, like building up – not an IQ…

Like an EQ, yeah.

Yeah, it is… Because you have an awareness of going “This is where I get stuck or struggle, so instead of playing right next to the edge of the cliff, I’m gonna play way back here.” So maybe I make choices in my life where I manage my stress differently, which is an emotional intelligence. I have an awareness of who I am, and the things that I can handle… And you know, maybe I wouldn’t converge starting a new job that’s really intense alongside buying a house, moving to a new area and having a baby.

Pick your timing better… If you can.

But if you couldn’t pick that timing, realize that you’re gonna struggle… And that’s part of the awareness. It’s like, “Okay, this is a perfect storm of struggle coming up. What am I gonna do about it?” Well, now I have to leave a buffer in there, I have to say no to things I would normally say yes to, I have to leave a margin in my life, a time margin, a mental space margin, prioritize self-care, whatever that is for that person… It’s a reframing of “Okay, the next year is gonna be tough. it’s gonna suck sometimes. I may not fail, but here’s how I can set myself up for success, given the scenario I’m in.”

Yeah, so if I can geek out again for just a little bit… I wanna talk about this one specific protein (or gene) that’s called BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Can you say that five times fast?

[00:32:23.02] No, I can’t say it once…

[laughs] So BDNF is a gene that provides instructions for making a protein that’s found in the brain and spinal cord. And what this does is promotes the survival of nerve cells by playing a role in the growth, what we call as maturation or differentiation of neurons, and the maintenance of these cells. So this protein is active at the connection between our synapses where this cell-to-cell communication occurs… So these can change and adapt over time in response to an experience, which is what we’re talking about relative to neuroplasticity.

Is it like the soil the nerve cells are planted in, kind of thing? You’re taking care of the ground for which your neurons are planted in?

Well, sort of where they collide, where they meet.

Right, sure. Where they meet. It’s like a happy environment for them to live, essentially… The connections are positive, and positive influences; not negative, and negative influences.

Yeah. So you know, the precise biochemical changes that take place when neurons connect to form these networks can be complex. Researchers generally agree that this is the fertile ground, helping transform two neurons into a dance… Like, “Hey, let’s be friends. You hang out, I hang out. We’re good.”

Right…

So this BDNF - I wanna talk about it, because it’s so important in neuroplasticity. So there’s certain behaviors - not things in our brain that we do, but certain choices we make, that can (what we say) up-regulate, maximize those BDNF transcriptions… And those include exercise…

Oh, my gosh…

Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, and caloric restrictions.

So low-calorie diets – or not so much a diet, but a way of eating…

I would think what we’ve talked about in terms of – why am I blanking on the word…?

Intermittent fasting?

Thank you! [laughter]

Yeah. Because you go on an extended period of time, and you’re managing calories in a different way. Omega fatty threes, DHA. Fishes, a number of different foods have these…

But also exercise. And ironically, even - we’ll talk about this in upcoming shows, around which kinds of exercise actually play more of a role in BDNF.

That would be fun. Yeah, because not all physical exercise is the same. You’ve got high-intensity running, for example, which is like short spurts of running, and it’s way different than marathon-style running, where you’re running for many miles at a time. Short spurts - it’s different on the heart, it’s different on the brain… There’s a lot of different things that happen with different styles of exercise; heavy weight lifting of course is obviously that… But as you get older, it gets harder to be in the gym just simply to lift weights. At some point you have to think about flexibility and other things, so it would make sense that all these different exercise forms play a role.

[00:35:45.18] It’s interesting how Omega 3s fit in there. I always see in the milk area the milk that is organic and it has Omega 3 DHA in it. We’re trying to bring this into our diets more, because no one’s taking it as a supplement, or eating let’s say wild-caught salmon. That’s where you’re gonna get some of those things, because those are foods that are higher in it; so if you’re not eating foods, if you’re eating McDonald’s every day for example, you might wanna supplement Omega 3s. Maybe that’s a different story altogether, but the point is if you’re not getting it from the foods that have it occurring naturally, you have to supplement it, so you’re gonna wanna get it in your milk. That’s one way to get it at least.

Yeah. I’m totally forgetting the author off-hand, but there was a book written a number of years ago called Spark… And it highlights the way in which exercise actually improves brain flexibility. So it’s super important relative to learning and memory. And this is the heart of it. If you wanna have hope for the future, if you wanna feel differently, think differently, you have to learn new things, do things differently, and engaging in certain behaviors… Managing what you eat and moving differently contributes to improving the flexibility of your own brain.

And if you’re out there struggling with the word “exercise”, replace it. Replace it with physical activity.

Yeah, it doesn’t have to be “Exercise… I must go be alone and make my body move and sweat a lot.” It could be like I’ve found - I enjoy mountain-biking. That’s a physical activity. My heart pumps tremendously when I’m doing it. And I get out in nature, it satiates my technological side, where I get into bike tech, and it’s very tactile, it’s very analog; I get to build the bike, or maintain the bike… So for me, that’s my particular outlet. I geek out over the tire style; you know very knobby tires versus very fast, rolly tires, or whatever… It’s very multi-faceted. It’s not just exercise, it’s physical activity.

Right. But I can even pull this back further and going - movement is helpful for managing energy. We take in a lot of things. I’ve talked a lot about how we process information, and I wanna clarify that we take in bottom-up, and that bottom up looks like our genes and our hormones. But then we have top-down, which is our expectations, memories, mindset and emotion. So how I feel affects what I do… And then outside in, like you’re talking about even society, culture, family, life, expectation - all of that then makes your biking experience more fuller… So it’s more comprehensive in managing your stress changing how your brain works and reacts, and all of those things are enhancing the positive feelings relative to exercise… So then you’re engaging in more play, which means you’re actually practicing mindfulness while you do it, which is bartering the stress.

Yeah. Well, that’s what I mean, too… Just have hope that if exercise in and of itself doesn’t motivate you or doesn’t excite you, and you feel like yet another thing is telling you “Okay, well the key to a good life is exercise. I have heard this a thousand times”, just find a way to name it differently is what I’m trying to say… Because that’s what helped me at least. That’s my perspective. I gave it a different name, I gave it a different style, and it wasn’t just simply exercise for the sake of exercise. It was, like you said, playful. And my wife plays a role in it. She loves to see me go out and bike. My son loves it, too. My son’s a little shredder now. So now it’s a key component, it’s a relational thing between me and my son. And my new son, who will one day I’m sure wanna be a little shredder, too.

[00:40:02.11] So it’s got so many different facets, where before it was just simply, “Well, Adam, you know, to be healthy, or to enable BDNF or neuroplasticity (which I didn’t know about before), if you wanna influence this more fertile ground for these BDNF proteins to occur, to enable neuroplaticity, which is great, you’ve gotta exercise.” Well, it was harder to just frame it as exercise.

Right. Right. Well, it’s interesting, because all of why we have these conversations is so that people can know different information, to then do different. And one of the ways in which therapists often help patients change is this one modality or method in therapy that we call motivational interviewing. Have you ever heard of this?

It’s interesting, but it’s sometimes used in conjunction with other therapies, but can also be used as a standalone. The interviewer talks to people relative to their desire to change, and the reasons that they wanna change. You’re trying to talk about the possibilities around what might hinder somebody from engaging in exercise… Like, “Don’t use the word ‘exercise’. Use the word ‘move’. Do something else.” So if I want to change, but I realize I have a version two exercising, or like “Hey, yeah, we all know that’s good for us, whatever” - what this can do is help the person hear from the outside back in their own thoughts, and why they want to change, and the motivation relative to it.

Remember when we talked about habit formation and how important it is that we get an immediate payout; not like I get a payout five years from now. Right?

But again, even realizing that the donuts for me were an immediate deterrent, and I had to sort of link those together and go “What do I really want? Do I want that sort of outcome, or do I want a different one?” So then I can make different decisions, because I realize “You know what - this doesn’t make me feel very good, and it doesn’t take me towards the path of health.” Now, does that mean I never have a donut again? Um, no. [laughter]

I will eat donuts forever. Nothing will stop me.

No, but I actually – I mean, it’s so helpful when we talk about that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, that I examine how I feel in response to eating different foods. So it can even be a food that other people would say “Well, it’s a relatively healthy food.” Well, if it doesn’t result in me feeling very good, I probably am not going to want to eat that and make other choices around that.

So if we’re talking diet, what you choose to eat, if we’re talking exercise, if we’re talking relationships, if we’re talking coping… I mean, we can even talk spending. Going “What is the motivation to change and why would I want to do it differently? Am I really upset with how I’m feeling at the time that I think I really wanna start to do something different?”

Moderation is an interesting word, because it’s a word – I think that we say “Well, that’s a bad thing to do. That’s a bad thing to eat. That’s a bad way to do things.” Well, maybe… But in moderation, healthy moderation, most things that are in that lane at least can be done. Sneakers once a year, sneakers once a month, a donut once a month, or whatever it might be, in moderation… Moderation is a really keyword. There’s so many people that over-indulge or under-indulge, and moderation can be very helpful to not force you to never have a donut again.

[00:44:05.16] Right. I like to think about it like flexible, or flexibility. And then I wanna have strength, I wanna have structure, but I wanna be flexible around that. And that’s what you’re getting at in that moderation, of saying “I can have it some of the time” or “I could do this some of the time”, but I need to be considerate of the implications if I do that repeatedly.

Exactly.

So when you realize your genes provide the structure for who you are, but you’ve got wide open access to alternatives, that maybe you didn’t know were there, that you could choose to do.

What if I were to say “You know what - you could be more creative. You could be more flexible in your problem-solving if you exercised. If you got out and moved. If you went for a walk at lunchtime.”

I’d do it.

Yeah. We all (I think) want to feel good, but recognizing that sometimes that path to feeling better or having the life that we want actually involves giving up a little something I want, maybe even in the short run, for a longer-term, bigger payout. So I’m not gonna go full-tilt and extreme one way, like we’ve talked about Dan Siegel, the psychiatrist, whose mental health is really this sort of not-too-chaotic or not-too-rigid. I don’t wanna be on either side of the windshield wiper. I need a framework, I need some structure, and I need flexibility within that.

One of the most critical things when we talk about this idea of change is actually believing that it’s possible… Because look, if I look ahead and think “I can’t do…”, or “This never will…”, I’m not really gonna put effort in that direction. So I want to send you guys off from this conversation with the realization that you can do things you didn’t know you could, or have a life or something that you want, even if you didn’t think it was in the cards that you were dealt.

To some degree, flexibility in how we think and respond is going “Okay, that’s what happened to me, or those were the cards I was dealt. Now what am I gonna do with them? Can I make lemonade out of the lemons?” It doesn’t mean that you got all the cards you wanted, but I don’t want you to look at that as a sentencing around your future.

So think about - is there some way, something in your life that isn’t the way that you want it to be? What do you think about that? Do you think that you’re capable of changing that, or not? And then what baby steps, how could I do itty-bitty things repeatedly over time? Like, literally, if you do not exercise, I’d be like “Can you get up and walk for a minute? Could you on a commercial break of a show or during an ad of something get up and move around? Could you run in place? Could you do jumping jacks? Could you join with your family and go for a walk somewhere else?” Anything to hiccup the status quo that will move you in the direction that you really want to go, or where you wanna get to. That’s the exciting thing, and I want you to walk away with a renewed sense of hope, saying “I think I can. No, I know I can. It’ll just take some effort and some time.”

Changelog

Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

0:00 / 0:00