Brain Science – Episode #32

The practice of being present

featuring Elisha Goldstein, PhD

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We’re joined by Elisha Goldstein, PhD - one of the world’s preeminent mindfulness teachers, a clinical psychologist, founder of the Mindful Living Collective and, creator of the six-month breakthrough program - A Course in Mindful Living. If you’ve ever used the Calm app, you might be familiar with his voice as he walks you through mindfulness practices to help calm negative emotions and anxious thoughts. He has extensive expertise in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and today he’s sharing his wealth of knowledge using mindfulness to naturally reduce anxiety and be more present and aware in our lives.

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What Is the Negativity Bias? The negative bias is our tendency not only to register negative stimuli more readily but also to dwell on these events. Also known as positive-negative asymmetry, this negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise. This psychological phenomenon explains why bad first impressions can be so difficult to overcome and why past traumas can have such long lingering effects. In almost any interaction, we are more likely to notice negative things and later remember them more vividly.

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Today we’re joined by another expert, Dr. Elisha Goldstein. Elisha, I had actually found out about you through Calm, the Calm app. I’m sure you’re familiar with that. You’ve done two different mindfulness, meditation - I don’t know what you call those on there, but they’re tracks; I listen to them. Anxiety, release, easing depression - that’s how I found out about you, and I did some research, and it turns out you’re pretty smart, and you do some cool stuff. So tell our audience about all the smart and cool stuff you’ve done.

Okay, so… Thanks for that introduction. Yeah, Calm is a great app; I’m on multiple apps, and done hundreds of different meditations over time, and I think for me, I’m a psychologist, and I’m a mindfulness educator, mindfulness just being like intentionally paying attention to our lives, something that’s happening, with more of a skillful eye, I would say.

I’ve written a number of books over time. The first one was the mindfulness-based stress-reduction workbook which was based on a very popular, global program - an 8-week program started by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli - and then kind of built on that with different books. The Now Effect - I’m covering happiness, and finally kind of realize that people need more experiences, longer experiences, they need to be in community, and so I’ve started building programs. Mindfulness at Work - that was exclusive to Aetna, and has now been replicated across multiple healthcare companies, hundreds and hundreds of different people have gone through that… The course on Mindful Living - a six-month online mentorship program that’s now turned into a professional training program… And so on. Small courses, 21 days, to ease anxiety naturally…

[00:04:09.19] I love putting people through programs, especially if they’re really engaging and in community, because that’s where the real change happens. And I keep writing, so I keep going.

Good. Well, that’s what I’m most excited about with having you here today, is - you know, not just all the information that you have, but the way in which you’ve made it so applicable… Because with our community, we talk about the brain - not just what we know about the brain, but how we can use this information to change our lives. We encourage our listeners to be your own scientist, of exploring different things and trying different things on to figure out what works… Because we all get stuck.

How did you get started doing that? I mean, to dig that deep in, to be so accomplished - where did you get your curiosity and your desire for doing this kind of stuff?

I think it’s the same place a lot of people do. Just to give you just a second of background - in my early 20’s I was in San Francisco during the dotcom book, and I was actually in the corporate world, I was in sales, and I was managing sales teams, and I was working hard, and as a lot of people always say, I was playing a whole lot harder. You’d find me South of Market Street in San Francisco, at the clubs, late at night, up for multiple days at a time sometimes… Just completely abusing my mind and body.

And I think in that suffering that was there, there was an insight that I cannot continue living this way… And it was this one night that I was south of Market Street with this guy that I told my friends “If you ever catch me with this guy…” This guy just lived a life of a huge amount of trouble… And I was in the back of his broken-down limousine, just trying to stay up for the next day… And it was in that moment that I woke up and said “Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m here, exactly where I told people I would never be.” And I got out of the limousine and I walked back home, because you could do that in San Francisco… But I woke up and said “I need to do something different.”

I had actually a family intervention close thereafter, and it was requested that I go to this adult retreat outside of Los Angeles… And it was there that I realized that what really mattered to me was being able to be more present in my life, and be more present for the people I love, and to be more focused, and stop abusing myself so much… And the final antidote that I’ll say about this story is that when I got back to San Francisco after that month, and I had all these insights and I thought I was totally changed, that was it - it took me only two weeks to fall back into my old habits… But a seed was planted; the power of that, the importance of it was my understanding, that I understand now more than ever, of how important it is to put yourself in the right environments, surrounded by the right people, if you wanna actually be the change you wanna see in yourself and in the world.

So I ended up going back to graduate school, I left the corporate world, went back to graduate school; that’s where I came in touch more with the practice of mindfulness, and I got trained as a mindfulness educator there over time, and it’s helped me tremendously be able to be aware of the difficulty within myself, the challenging emotions, the stress that’s there, the anger, the frustration, the sadness that can be there at times, especially in this world we live in at the moment, and be able to meet it in a more skillful way… Versus our reaction will typically be to move away from it, because we’re wired to move away from what’s challenging and difficult move away from what’s stressful, and move toward what’s comfortable.

You bring up this huge aspect of life that we talk about a lot, which has to do with awareness, and I love the way that you put this in your book, The Now Effect. You said “The simple, yet subtle truth is that life is decided in the spaces. However, the power to choose our responses comes only with an awareness of that space. As we practice becoming aware of the spaces in our lives, we soon come to understand that these are actually choice points, moments in time when we are aware enough to choose a response.”

[00:08:14.00] I think that’s so significant, because you’re getting at there was this moment when time slowed down, even though things were busy around you, that you got a different perspective. So can you talk to our listeners about the role of awareness, as it relates to change, and mindfulness?

Yeah. First of all, we all have it…

Yeah, we do. [laughs] I think we’re aware we are aware.

Yeah, it’s all there… So you just have to stop and pause. We all have experiences of waking up a little bit and saying “Oh, I’m caught in this routine and this patterning” that just happened and blended over time. Sometimes not until we’re much older do we wake up. There’s a guy - he’s passed away - that was a rabbi and a peace activist, and he marched with Martin Luther King, and his name was Abraham Joshua Heschel, and he said “Life is routine, and routine is resistance to wonder.”

So what he was saying there, if we kind of fast-forward that to the field of neuroscience for a second - he’s saying our brain is wired to make things routine, so we can juggle more complex things over time. It’s called procedural memory. Our brain memorizes procedure. And that’s healthy in a lot of places, like - now I don’t have to think about picking up my spoon and putting it into my mouth anymore without bumping it all over my face, because my brain knows exactly how to do that. Drive a car, type, talk with everyone here right now… But the problem is we get caught in unhealthy patterns, especially in response to stress, and our relationships with each other, our family, the people we love - our brain freezes them and all of a sudden we think we know exactly what they’re capable and not capable of, or what we’re capable and not capable of anymore… So we stop trying to be our best selves maybe.

But what we need to do, and what The Now Effect was based on, as you mentioned, which was this quote by Austrian psychologist, neurologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, when he said “Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response, and in our response lies our growth and our freedom.” And in that space, what I said is that you can take that space, and when you apply the practical application of mindfulness, of this awareness - and by the way, it’s just a skill that we can all build and apply - we can actually widen that space between stimulus and response, so that we can see those choice points grow, we can get a perspective. Literally, what we’re doing is we’re bringing blood flow from the base of our brain to the prefrontal region of our brain, which is more involved with impulse control, motion regulation, perspective… So then we can say to the emotional part of our brain “Hey man/woman, I see you there right now… Wow, you’re really overreacting in this moment. Let me just kind of soothe you right now and let’s see what the most appropriate or the most skillful response is.”

As a visual representation of that, I see that as pinching and zooming. In a photo–

Yes, yes, you’re zooming in.

…you have less detail, and you pinch and zoom in to get more detail of that space, because between those two is your opportunity to choose. And we’ve talked before about the power of choice. It seems easy just to, I suppose, maybe pontificate the power of choice… But in a practical way, in a very loving way, your choice is your super-power, and you have the ability to maybe have these insights, like you did. And as you were sharing your story, I had some (I suppose) shared similarity in my past with yours, where I’ve been in moments where I was abusing my life, so to speak, or my body, or my brain, and clubbing or doing different things in my life, where I was not the Adam that is here today talking with you… And I had those same kind of moments, like “Hey, what are you doing? This is not you, this is not your life. This is not what you want.”

And we so too often talk on this show about understanding what you want, what motivates you, what are you driving towards, what’s your purpose… Not so much just purpose, but what is your core motivation? “What are you optimizing for?” is what we say a lot. And I think that’s what people miss - that awareness.

[00:12:19.07] And what comes with that is understanding who you are, what you wanna be, and I suppose - to use back your words - who you can surround yourself with or the environment you can put yourself in to get there. And that’s what that space is. Pinch and zoom.

I love that. I’ve never used that before, and that’s why we’re in conversation right now. Pinch and zoom.

So much comes from conversation.

That might be the title of my next book, Pinch and Zoom. People are like “What’s that?!” I’ll give you credit for it.

I love it.

But some of this way in which our brain can have flexibility, but structure… Because one thing that stood out to me was about stress, and how stress affects our response. So if I can’t calm my brain down, I’m gonna see that really small square view, and I can’t then zoom out to see the broader perspective. There might be tools or resources that might help me buffer some of whatever I perceive to be stressful, negative or overwhelming.

Yeah, what would happen – so Adam mentioned the What, in some way, and the Who, almost.

And I think an important thing – and prior to us getting on here, Mireille, we talked about this idea of the Why… We have these thing that we know; everyone who’s listening here sometimes knows what’s needed in their life to be more balanced, to be more grounded, to walk their days with more intention, with more of a sense of play, with more of a sense of lightness… They know what’s needed, but it’s really hard to put it into action. We know we need to exercise more maybe, or stretch our bodies more, or we know we need some stillness maybe in our lives, or not to eat to the bottom of that giant bag of potato chips.

But then the question is, if I’m gonna employ these things, these things of caring about myself more, of being more skillful, why am I doing it? And to ask ourselves that question, to pause long enough and say “You know what, I need to take some time to think about –” I always think about this in response to, by the way, our smartphones. There should be a driver’s test that’s given before people are given a smartphone, don’t you think? Let’s take a step back and say “Okay guys, pause and let’s see how are we using this thing in a way that’s gonna be skillful for us.”

But the question is Why? Why do I wanna employ these methods? Because otherwise, the brain is not gonna have a reason to actually do those things. If we’re gonna talk about mindfulness and meditation, you saw for the past ten years all over every magazine - Time Magazine, Newsweek, all of these; it’s been all over everything, and it’s had the greatest incline of research all over the United States and around the world… And the question is, if I wanna employ this - yeah, this sounds really cool. You found me on the Calm app, on Meditation Studio, InsightTimer, or whatever apps there are… Why would I wanna actually motivate, to take the time out of my seemingly busy life to pause and train my brain? What is it gonna give me? And I think it’s important to take that time out, to ask ourself that question. Our brain actually has a reason to make that choice, to do that thing.

I think we accepted default. And the default is to autopilot. It’s not to dig deep or to understand myself or self-care… We almost need permission for those things. And I think we need educated individuals like you and Mireille, which I’m so thankful. I am not educated, I don’t have a Ph.D. after or before… I’m just curious, I’m a thinker, and I dig deep into these things, and so I’m very fortunate to have this conversation with you all and talk through this… But I think we just need people like you to give us the scientific backgrounds, but then to give us the permission and I suppose the benefits that can come with caring enough about yourself to think deeply about how you think. As Mireille has said before on shows, our thoughts are the soil of our brain… And to care about that soil.

[00:16:20.14] It’s interesting, Elisha, because I think about what you said and the default mode… So I’m gonna out my spouse here. My husband grew up sort of a car guy, and is so frustrated by all of the technology, with self-driving cars, and the less that people do to move and maneuver a vehicle. And he has been like a kid in the candy store since being able to go back and have a manual… Remember those?

Oh, I grew up on them my whole life, yeah.

A vehicle manual, yeah.

Right? And he talks about the different feel that cars have as based on how they shift and how you move them… And there’s this sense of power, or agency around “I influence my outside world by what I’m doing or how I’m responding.” And that seems like an important aspect of mitigating or managing some of this default mode.

Yeah, you need to have the awareness… You know, he has the awareness - because he has to - with the manual model of his car. We have to have the awareness to do that, or else, as Adam is saying, we just go to that. And the interesting about the default mode, speaking of brain science, is that there’s a part of our brain that’s named “the default network.” That part is involved with just kind of – you’re either ruminating, or the mind wandering, or if we’re feeling an uncomfortable feeling, it might say like “Hey, what’s this? How do I get away from it? What are all the reasons this is here?” type of thing. And what we know about that part of the brain - which is also called the cortical midline area - is that it has an inverse relationship with being present. So in other words, I’ll give an example that everyone can relate to here… When you’re sitting there at lunch and you’re typing away your email, you’re talking on the phone or you’re doing whatever and you’re eating your lunch, how often do you really taste that food?

Another example is if you’re really, it’s the most delicious meal on the planet and you’re really tasting that food, it’s like your favorite thing in the world, how often are you worrying at the same time? Not very much. So when one is up, the other is down. And there’s a whole lot of science around that which shows that. But we know that from our practical experience.

Basically, all science does is it usually backs up the things we already know, but it’s a window for us because we’re a culture that believes in science, so it’s like “Oh, yeah. Okay, good. That must be true, because that shows me things I already know. Yeah, I love that.”

That’s important, because our default mode can get us in trouble… Because the default mode, just to kind of point this out - the default mode to stress is to start projecting, our mind starts projecting into the future to see about what are all the worst-case scenarios that might happen… Or it reaches back into the past to say “What do I know about this stressful experience?” and it brings up a bunch of past stressful experiences.

So we either get caught feeling this negative thing from the past, or this anticipatory anxiety about the future… And what we really need to do noting the neuroscience is take a moment and very practically - now that we know this, we wanna lower the volume on the default network in that moment to help ourselves with the stress… And the way to do that - it’s very simple. It’s just like, you can maybe eat a sandwich with more presence, and you’ll do it. Or you can just kind of come to your body, take a couple of deep breaths, soften any stressed-out muscles that might be there, maybe do a one-second gentle stretch to open those muscles up… Because you wanna open things in your body, because that’s the opposite of what’s happening in your body during a stress response.

So we wanna open those parts of our body, take a couple deep breaths, and then ask ourselves – because now we’re in that space between stimulus and response that we’ve been talking about; we’re at that choice point… “What’s most important for me to pay attention to right now? Is it this social media that I’m on right now? Maybe it could be… Because maybe I’m playing, and that’s cool… Or is it this work that needs to be done? Or maybe I need to get outside and get some sunshine splashing on my face. Maybe I need to reach out to a friend. God, it’s been a while since I’ve had any real social connection.” Or “What is it that I need to be paying attention to right now? Maybe it’s that book I’ve been avoiding.” I don’t know, it could be anything.

[00:20:23.02] Yeah. It’s interesting what should I be paying attention to, because that next moment you could be stressed out… And I’ve had this actually happen and I had a similar scenario, where it was like three o’clock in the afternoon and I’m like “I need to be productive, but I just can’t right now. I just can’t right now. I can’t do this. I can keep pushing that rock up the hill; not down the hill, because that’s easier. Up the hill, because it’s hard”, and it was hard… And I’m like “What’s the best thing I can do right now? What matters most right this moment?” I took a shower. I took a shower at 3 in the afternoon. I didn’t need a shower; I took a shower, because I was like “I need to just take a moment for some self-care”, and I was like “That’s the easiest.” I really wanted to go out and ride my bike; you don’t know this, Dr. Elisha, but I’m a mountain-biker, so I like to go out and hit nature, hit trails… There’s a lot of (I would say) brain science embedded in mountain-biking, because it’s a sport, it takes athleticism, it takes skill, it takes courage, there’s a lot of fear involved even… It could be very dangerous, it could be very fun and just enjoyable. But there’s progression in it, skill progression… So there’s a lot of leveling up, and mind games at play, I suppose, when it comes to conquering a trail, or a course, or something like that.

So for me, that day I was like “What do i need to pay attention to right now? Myself.” And so too often do we not put that in the equation. Myself. Self-care. Take a shower.

Yeah, I think what’s interesting - that ability to stop and slow to ask yourself the question is super-important. In some of Adam and my earlier conversations – I think the children’s movie is Over the Hedge… It makes me think of the scene where – you know, when we’re stressed, we might be more prone to speed up, and sort of like get it done faster, or push harder, make it work when it doesn’t work… And yet in this movie, when everything speeds up, this one little animal - it’s like, speed slows way down. And while everything else is going on around him, he is so deliberate and purposeful in his movements, like ninja-like… But that’s part of what mindfulness can do in response to stress. And yet, it’s the antithesis of what our brain would tell us to do automatically. Is that correct?

Yeah, there’s two things there. One is that we’ve been trained by our culture to think self-care is a waste of time and indulgent, because we have to be productive. You might have listeners from around the world, but the United States has certainly been brought up from the beginning of its incarnation about “Pull yourself by your bootstraps/Self-made man” type of thing back then, because that’s what it was, to bring the gender context into the equation… So now what we’re learning is that to be able to take care of yourself, take those moments, take that shower - if we have friends and family that are around us, that might be something they’re thankful for, too… [laughter]

I said I didn’t need the shower. I didn’t need the shower.

I know, I know.

I’m just kidding. I feel you though, I understand.

But what that does is it balances our nervous system and brings blood flow to the front of our brain again, and allows us to then have more perspective and energy to focus on what matters; so we’ll make less mistakes typically, we’ll inevitably get more done… It seems so counter-intuitive, but it’s really what research shows over and over again around productivity, is that when we take time our for ourselves, we’re way more refreshed, way more on it, way more focused… But it’s a hard shift to make, because our brains really got the messaging from the time we were born on and on that “No, you can’t take these breaks. You’ve gotta be just on it completely.” We’ve been misfed a lot of information.

[00:24:13.16] I think you spoke to this a little bit earlier, but talking about a little bit of the way in which we’ve been conditioned… So the way in which our biases show up, or we sort of go “Hey, this is stressful, let me go draw back from what has happened”, or infer onto the future some sort of catastrophe, as if that’s going to result in self-protection or preservation. And that doesn’t actually work. But these biases likely contribute to interference with decision-making, right?

Yeah, but the number one way we try and avoid any situation is to think more about it. I’ll get in front of a crowd of like a thousand people and I’ll talk about “What’s the number one way we try to avoid things in life?” People say “We sleep too much, we eat too much, we drink too much…” But the number one thing we do first is we think about it. And it’s our brains, from an evolutionary perspective, trying to figure it out, because we’re just wired to survive. Our brain doesn’t care at all whether we’re productive, or happy, or anything like that. That’s not important. We need to propagate, we need to continue our human species. Without that, happiness and none of that matters. So it doesn’t matter if you start that new business, or complete that project, or live a fulfilling relationship, or any of that. If you’re not surviving, that doesn’t make a difference.

So its number one imperative is to help you survive, so it goes into the future and the past to do that, and it pulls us. That’s why this idea of stepping into that space between stimulus and response - which by the way, is just like a muscle… Again, we were talking about that procedural memory earlier, and it’s a procedure; to be able to give yourself the ability to step into that space and widen that space, so you’re in touch with that awareness, and all the choices that are there and available for you, and perspectives - it’s just a muscle. Practice and repeat, rinse and repeat, and you will absolutely notice it coming up more readily.

Another way of understanding this is our brain uses short-term memory also as a reference point to make decisions, and have perception… I mean, if you had a really hard moment and then you walked down the street and you saw someone walking towards you and you smile and wave, and they just looked at you and walked down by, you’d have one thought. Maybe “What’s wrong with me? What did I do? What a jerk!” or something like that. And if you had a moment where you just received this giant check in the mail [unintelligible 00:26:39.08] wide open and then you did that same walking down the street, and you smiled and waved and the person looked at you and walked down by, you’d say like “Oh, I wonder if something’s going on with them.” Or “Oh well, I just came into all this money, I don’t care.” Whatever it is. You’d have the exact same event, different perspective based on the preceding event.

So if you are working out, you’re doing mental fitness let’s say, you’re taking time to connect with your body, take a deep breath, maybe do a short meditation to kind of just train your brain to be here, then that’s putting those memories in your short-term memory. So what’s happening is a difficult event happens, a stressful event happens - you just hear something on the news, or something happens in your life and you catch yourself in a spiral or doing a behavior that’s an old pattern, that’s unhealthy for you… And in that moment, your brain brings up that short-term memory of like “Hey, this awareness, this presence, this space between stimulus and response”, you’re more likely to remember it and anchor to it, because you’ve been doing it more often. That’s just really how that works.

So everybody who’s listening to this right now, everyone can do this. Everyone can practice being more present and aware in their lives just in the little moments. You’ll build up those short-term memories and you’re way more likely to be aligned with the person you’re wanting to see in this world, because you’ve just practiced it. It’s the same as guitar, or anything like that. It’s really that simple.

[00:28:09.27] So we have this default then, you’d mentioned. It seems like we really have to fight for our prefrontal cortex to get the blood and do the work. It’s a constant fight to not fall back into the default. But then we’re also driven, I suppose, to some degree, towards negativity bias, because it’s all around us. And to some degree, you might even say people thrive in chaos. We’re almost drawn to it. If everyone is chaos…

You’re comfortable in it.

Well, I only know chaos. I can only really enjoy life in chaos, so I must thrive and drive towards chaos.

There’s something interesting about that, yeah.

I don’t understand it, but we have to fight for that prefrontal cortex – it’s like a wake-up call.

Well, there’s some adrenaline in chaos. There’s some adrenaline in seeing the twin towers get crashed into; that this many people have the infection rate in this place, or something like that. And there’s something kind of scary and exciting about it at the same time to the nervous system. Not to judge it, but the nervous system that gets ramped up, and excitement ramps up the nervous system just like anxiety does. So there’s a little bit of a stimulation, let’s say, to it. And our culture is very addicted to stimulation.

So that negativity bias that you’re talking about, which I’m assuming your audience knows about because you mentioned it, is something that is also stimulating to our nervous systems, as much as we might have this kind of push-pull with it. So we’re almost like addicted to it at this point, and that’s why we’re also so drawn to it. But to be able to have the ability to step back and say “Is this what I’m wanting in my life? Do I wanna scroll the news all the time?”, because my mind’s kind of addicted to it at this point, because there’s stimulation there…

I’ll tell you, sitting down and paying attention to the breath for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes is not that stimulating. And maybe it’s more what we need, because we’ve gotta really work with that stimulation factor. It could be quite boring maybe… So we have to create fitness in our brain. We have to do some mind-training a little bit to work with its sensitivity, its need for stimulation. It’s almost like – you know what it is? It’s just like how in the world sugar was just meant to draw us to certain foods, because we needed those foods to eat - fruits, and things like that; certain vegetables, whatever.

And then what we did is refined the sugar and put it in everything that we could possibly see; we put it in everything, just to get people to wanna buy our foods. So now we’re addicted to sugar. So it’s the same thing, we’re addicted to stimulation. And I’ll tell you, the smartphone hasn’t helped with that for a second. So now we have to create a little more mental fitness, ask ourselves “Is this helping me or hindering me?” Is this healthy for me? What do I actually want in my life and why do I want it? How am I gonna get it, and who’s gonna help me?”

Where does mind training begin then? It’s easy to say that because you’ve studied this, but for those who haven’t read your books yet - hopefully they might - or taken a course or a workshop, where do you begin to train your mind? Is it simply being present and aware, kind of connecting to the here and now? Or is it much more broader than that? How do you train your mind to think this way?

It’s a good question. It’s funny, just harkening back to the slowdown thing - because I think this is a really good initial thing to do… And I created this course called “21 days to ease anxiety naturally”, and the very first lesson in that course is about slowing down. So slowing down might be called an informal practice of awareness. Informal means we can weave it into our everyday life. It doesn’t take any extra time. Everyone loves that, because it’s like “Yeah, I don’t wanna take any time out to do anything. Let’s just do it!”

Bake it in, yeah.

[00:31:57.07] “I’m not gonna take any extra time. Save me time, save me money etc.” So it’s not gonna take any extra time. So all we’re doing is we’re saying “Slightly slow down in the things that you’re doing.” Everyone who’s listening to this can practice this today. What happens is your body is connected to your brain. Your nervous system is in your skull, it’s down your spinal cord, it stretches out to your arms and legs… So if you slow down, your nerves are picking that up, sending a message to your brain, like “Oh, okay… We’re slowing down right now. That’s cool. We don’t need to be so stimulated; we’re just slowing down.”

And then when you slow down – you always wonder why old people sometimes seem to be more present. They notice the small things sometimes - the flower, this or that… Their bodies have slowed down, so they see more around them in some ways.

They can catch the details.

Yeah, they can see the details. Right, I love that.

It’s like your analogy, Mireille, the fast motion versus the slow motion. They’re moving through time much slower, because they have allowed themselves to, just sensory-wise, slow down. Maybe not really through time, because we can’t manifest or change the way time flows; we’re all moving through time, and that’s pretty interesting to think about.

On that note, I wanna mention this because it’s so relevant, and I’ll swing it back to business for just a second… So this business we run, Changelog Media, so often in the media business does (I guess) the inertia of media just drive you faster. And so one thing that Jerod (my partner in this business) and I have said to push back on that is something you had just said, which is slow down. So when business or opportunity seems to be just overwhelming, we have to move faster than we desire to move, to achieve, to see success, we say “Slow down and check yourself.” Because all too often do we not just slow down, and think “Is that the choice I really wanna make? Is this really what I’m feeling?” or question what we think is true, examine it… But it takes that process of slowing down to do it.

That’s a moment of mindfulness, to be able to do that… Because you’re saying “I’m being intentional in the moment. I’m inquiring into what I need right now, what I wanna focus on, what’s the most important for me to do.” And we can quite literally also do that with physically slowing our bodies down. That also creates a mental shift in our minds, when you ask “What’s the entryway to mindfulness? What’s the entryway to this training?” The way you just said it n your business right now, by taking time out, not moving so fast and reflecting on what your needs are - that’s a very important business thing to do anyway, I think, for anybody, any entrepreneur, solopreneur, anybody in a company, to take time out each week and just reflect on what your needs are, what’s happened, what you’re wanting in the future… That’s a very mindful experience, without even calling it mindful at all. That was there prior to the big modern stream of mindfulness. That’s a really important thing to do.

So there’s the informal piece, which are weaving things through your day, just being present to what you’re doing while you’re doing it, eating, in the shower, just coming to your senses… It’s really rejuvenating your nervous system. Try it out, you’ll see. And even knowing you’re walking while you’re walking - things like that. Listening to your loved ones or your co-workers and just really paying attention to their facial expressions, and their body posture, and things like that. Or just in your car, while you’re driving, or commuting, or whatever, and you’re noticing yourself doing what you’re doing - see if you can pay attention to your body and ask yourself “Are any of my muscles tensing right now?” See if you can just drop your shoulders and take a deep breath, something like that. That’s the informal piece.

The formal piece - it’s more where you’ve found me, Adam, which is more through guided meditations.

Calm, yeah.

Yeah. Through taking time out…

I was gonna bring it back to that, because that’s something of what you say in those two different exercises, it’s very much that - how are you feeling? Are you tensing up right now? Just taking time to notice those things. I’m regurgitating your words back to you, but just taking that time, slowing down… How do you really feel right now? Are you sitting up straight?

[00:36:05.03] One thing you say which I think is pretty interesting is just settling into being here. As a guide, you the guide give the listener permission - where you’re at right now is where you need to be. And you don’t need to be anywhere else. Maybe you could be doing something else, but you don’t need to… So just settle into being right here, and where you’re at right now, and what you’re thinking about, and this self-care you’re planning for is okay.

We have a show on self-care we’re gonna release potentially before this episode with you - or after, I’m not sure which it’ll fall - but we kind of give that permission. At one point we pause and we say “Hey listener, it’s okay to take care of yourself. You have our permission - not that you need it - to take care of yourself, to prioritize self-care.

It’s not only okay, it’s smart. It’s a skillful thing to do. It will create more longevity in your lifespan, it can prevent disease, prevent cellular inflammation in your body, it can prevent against stress, help you respond smarter when those responses are there, it can help you focus better and be more productive… So that’s when I say, when we’re talking about the why - just giving people permission and saying “This is okay for you to do this”, it’s really important. Also, people acknowledging themselves for taking that time is also important, because they’re kind of celebrating the fact that they’re doing that, which - our brain runs on emotions, so it pays attention to what’s most emotional. That’s why trauma and the negativity bias, all that - we’re gonna do it like a fast whip in a direction, to pay attention to those things, because they’re really are heightened emotions.

If we can celebrate the good moments that are there, those moments we’re taking care of ourselves, and having gratitude, and being so appreciative of that moment - we’re heightening our emotion and we’re telling our brain “Hey, this is important to pay attention to. Pay attention to this, too.” Because we have to send those emotional messages to our brain, but only if it’s real-life experience. So that’s a really important thing to do.

You know, in talking about informal and formal ways, people use the terms mindfulness and meditation interchangeably… So for whatever reason, some people have strong feelings about meditation, and sort of going “Maybe it’s a little woo-woo, spiritual”, as opposed to just a practice. So can you help differentiate those? They’re similar, but different…

Totally. I did a whole YouTube on this. People can check out my YouTube channel on that, because that’s a really important question, and a lot of people have that question… Especially when this first came out, this mindfulness thing - mindfulness just as a noun means awareness. So really, you can embed mindfulness into anything. You can embed it into a meditation… A lot of people who are very religious Christians, very religious Jews, very religious Muslims, very religious anything/anybody, initially were like “I think mindfulness is not good. It’s changing our religion. I see it in discord with our religion.”

And what I would tell them is - because my wife and I used to run these family retreats pre-Covid. We’d go to Costa Rica, bring families out there… It was an epic time. And one time we had two Mormon families, a devout religious Jew family, and a devout religious Christian family, and we had this question come up. And mindfulness just means awareness, so it’s just like being present to whatever you’re doing. So if it’s prayer, be more present to that, be more intentional. That just enhances things. So that’s just the informal aspect of mindfulness.

Then there’s meditation, which is specifically taking time out of your life to sit, stand, lie down or walk, and do some sort of structured practice of some kind, where you’re intentionally paying attention to something, whatever the practice. There’s so many different types of meditations; there’s mindfulness meditation, there’s transcendental meditation, there’s chanting meditation, there’s Christian meditation, there’s so many different kinds. Then there’s people who say “I meditate on a flower”, there’s that kind of stuff, too…

[00:40:05.25] So under the umbrella of meditation, mindfulness meditation is one kind of meditation. Mindfulness also just means awareness, so you can also use the unstructured aspect, the informal aspect, and infuse that into anything that you want, whether it’s transcendental meditation [unintelligible 00:40:21.24] You can infuse mindfulness into that. But mindfulness meditation - just to close this out - comes from a particular lineage of meditation called Vipassana meditation. That is just a present-moment awareness mediation, just being aware of whatever is here, while it’s here, that kind of thing. And there’s a variety of different types under that, of different mindfulness meditations, which people are welcome – I have tons of those from various teachers all over my YouTube channel, and on my website, and stuff like that, that people can just go and practice with as they want to.

Yeah, I think this is just so important, because I see skills like this – and for people to know that it’s a skill, so they can learn it, and improve upon it at whatever point in time… But it really acts as an anchor. Senses are all real-time, so when I attend to the senses, I’m attending to the live channel in my brain, as opposed to future channel, past channel, and trying to mitigate the vulnerability that comes with that.

Yes. Well, we all try to avoid vulnerability…

Right, which is where I was gonna turn, because you’ve sort of brought this around, and talking about the importance of relationships, and I don’t wanna miss that aspect of our conversation as well… Because we talk a lot about community, and that especially during Covid life, when we’re more distant from other people, it doesn’t minimize the need that we have for social connections, and valuable ones; ones that give to us, as opposed to ones that take from us. So talk with us a little bit about your understanding of the role of community or relationships when it comes to mindfulness, managing ourselves in a more effective way.

I did a study back in 2006, a national research study that was published in the journal of clinical psychology, where I had people do this short mindfulness practice… But what we had them do was – they did that, and then I had them relate to something that they found meaningful. That could be the memory of a person, that could be something of a physical object, something like that… And at the end of the day, after three weeks of doing this practice just for five minutes a day, for five days a week, for three weeks, we found these statistically significant results around stress reduction, and well-being… And it was awesome.

Then I did a qualitative piece to it, which is interviewing everyone and then finding the themes and what people are talking about, and what I came to was the singular experience that people were experiencing who had these great results was one of connection. So connection was at the epicenter of statistically significantly reduced stress and statistically significant increase in well-being. Connection is at the epicenter of feeling well, and that makes sense from a nature perspective. If you have a web, a spider builds a web to be able to catch things. So you’re safe. So if you’re doing gymnastics, you might have a net underneath you, because it’s strong enough to catch you if you fall. You feel safe if the connections are there. And we are ultimately wired to feel safe and secure. it’s so important to us.

So when we feel like we have good, solid connections in our lives, we feel well. When we feel disconnected in our lives, we tend to feel unwell. And everyone here who’s in a significant relationship, or even has these significant friendships in your life, you know this. When those are fractured a little bit, or not in harmony in some way, you tend to feel imbalanced. You tend to feel kind of unwell. We think we’re these autonomous beings that are walking around in these flesh bodies, separated from everyone else, but really when we break it down - quantum physics points to this, classical mysticism from thousands of years of human experience points to this… We are way more interconnected than we know. We are not islands at all.

[00:44:11.14] And what we do know too, and so many people in business know this too, or different people in different sectors - when you surround yourself with people who are being the change you want to see in the world, you’re way more likely to level up into that space than if you’re surrounding yourself with let’s say some of the people I was surrounding myself with back in my early twenties, when I was south of Market Street, doing that kind of stuff.

So there’s something about it, whether we want to call it the mirror neurons, or whether we wanna call it a “monkey see, monkey do” type of scenario, or whether we want to actually say there’s these invisible threads between us, when we get to the quantum physic level, there’s something important in feeling 1) safe and secure with having strong connections, and 2) having those invisible threads help us naturally rise up. It makes it easier for us to be that change we wanna see in ourselves when we surround ourselves with those people. And that’s why for me it was so important.

Years ago I went from teaching eight-week courses in mindfulness and self-compassion, and uncovering happiness, and things like that, to bringing people through six-month courses, because the reason was I wanted people to make relationships with each other in these courses, so that when it was over, they then had these circles around them, these tribes around them…

As Jim Rohn’s famous quote was, “You’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with”, I wanted that to happen. But what happened was ultimately even six months wasn’t enough; for some people it was, but not for everyone. So that’s when I opened up - and especially right when Covid hit - I opened up the space called The Mindful Living Collective. The whole point of that space is to funnel people into it who all want to live with greater intention, greater mindfulness… They all wanna learn from each other - it’s this great shared learning space - and have experiences with each other, ongoing, that over time they create relationships with the type of people that are gonna be inspiring, encouraging and supportive to the person that they want to be in this world.

And it takes time, and it takes relationships, and there’s nothing more valuable in this lifetime or on this planet than to have those types of relationships in your life. Even people who – my dad’s a rabbi, and he’s laid with people on their deathbed for years, and he said (and many people echo this who do that) what they say over and over again, people who are dying, is the most important thing in life is who you love and how you loved, and the rest of it never really mattered. So it’s the relationships at the epicenter. But again, How is the issue. The Why and How is typically what we’re not really that aware of. And even to get to the Who.

In this particular culture right now our brain is gonna default to “Just give me the quick snippet of information, because I’m so busy in my life.” But to make a relationship takes intention and time. You don’t make a relationship like that, unless you have a trauma together.

Yeah, that’s insta-connection, trauma. Or an adventure.

That’s right.

Adventures are also connectors as well.

Totally. Absolutely.

In a world where we’re hyper-connected… Some would say we have plenty of relationship, because hey, we’re super-connected. Help us understand why maybe the hyper-connection we are in doesn’t give the results you’re suggesting? Because I would say that I’m more connected, but then also quite isolated, even though I’m quite connected digitally. We’re missing data. We talk a lot about data points. You asked before we started doing this show “Hey, this video we’re doing - is this part of the show?” No, but it’s a data point for us. So what data, what’s missing from the relationships and connections we seem to be making in an over-connected hyper-world like we’re in now, to get to the results you’re talking about? What’s the depth? How do you get to the depth?

[00:48:05.03] If you looked at people scanning their social media, if you were gonna do brain scans on them, you’d see not as many touchpoints in the brain happening that if you saw someone having some emotional resonance with each other in-person. Or even over video has more data points than just, again, scrolling through your Instagram, YouTube, social media, whatever it is. But that’s the way we’re getting really connected, is through these more two-dimensional spaces, or texting or messaging… Which is all good. Not in that sense all good, sorry. It’s good if it’s meaningful to you.

Good intentions at least. The intention is good.

Yeah. It’s good if it’s meaningful. Two-dimensional - what I mean by that is it’s not all bad; there can be good stuff from that. But we need more experiences with each other, and more really intentional connection.

In some of these circles we lead – in the Mindful Living Collective, what we do is we do these things called circles, which comes from the lineage… We’ve secularized some experiences from the Native American tradition, let’s say… And what we do is we drop in, we do a short mindfulness practice and we drop in, and people kind of move into this space into small groups of sharing what needs to be shared. And everyone else is just present to them. This never happens in our everyday life.

So we just kind of share, ‘This is what’s happening for me right now. This is what’s on my heart, this is what’s on my mind…” and “Wow, it’s really stressful” or “Wow, I’ve had this really great adventures lately”, or whatever things… And people are just listening with their full attention, just wanting to support and encourage you. And that’s how connection is created, when it’s that authentic – you have the space between stimulus and response, and two people are in that space together. That’s the strongest connection.

So we can have a web that’s a really weak web, a HUGE web, with thousands of – how many friends do you have on social media? Thousands and thousands of friends… But a fly is gonna just zoom right through it and rip that web apart. Or we can have a strong web, that’s smaller, but it’s strong. It’s gonna catch everything. It’s gonna catch you if you fall, it’s gonna catch everything. And all the research also points to you only need a small amount of connections. You don’t need this huge web of connections, just a small amount of strong connections. It’s way healthier for you than a large amount of weak connections with people.

Right. I would say too then the next thing after that is the ability to actually connect. Because you can meet in-person with people and have zero connection with them… Because maybe their emotional intelligence level is pretty low, or they’re not in the right place in their life, or whatever… This might speak to different ages, but I’m 41. It’s not as easy at my age to make friends. Not that I can’t… It takes more work, and it takes maybe – I’m not really sure what it takes, honestly; I’m just hypothetically speaking. But I would imagine there’s some difficulty there because of maybe the maturity level of the people that you’re interacting with, and then maybe even the motivation… Because sometimes maybe you’re making friends around business relationships, and then - well, sure, we’re friends, but all we talk about is business… Which is great, but it doesn’t feed to your whole being, your whole person you are - mind, body, spirit, soul… All those things that really make up Elisha, Adam and Mireille. It’s difficult to find those people.

One of the things that stood out to me in what you said, Elisha, was about sharing. And in the same way we’ve talked about the implications of cultural values, here in the States I don’t know to what degree there is reinforcement around sharing where people are really at… Because it can come with perceived weakness, or vulnerability, or exposure, that has some negative reflection on me… Which isn’t true, by any means, because as we’ve clearly pointed out, everybody struggles, everyone has challenges. But if I hit the ball, and it just keeps bouncing, and nobody responds to it, it can feel very void and not reinforcing to then share again.

[00:52:15.22] Yeah. There’s a reason why Brené Brown has sold millions and millions of copies of her books, and her whole work is on vulnerability…

…because everyone feels it, and everyone has a fear around it. And from an evolutionary perspective - of course, if you’re vulnerable, you don’t have your armor on, when someone comes and attacks you, you’re more likely to get killed. So our brain records in the same way at an emotional level. And I wanna speak to something you both were talking about, or specifically even to what Adam was saying - it’s harder to meet people; it’s not harder to meet people because of your age necessarily. It’s harder to meet people because the context isn’t there. So it’s easier to meet people in school, or if you are in a workplace scenario, you might have more experiences with those work people. Even if you were just talking about work, eventually you’d be off the clock sometimes, you’d be going to an after-hours place, something like that… I mean, the clean after-hour places…

Sure. The bike trails. The bike trails you mean. [laughter

Yeah, yeah, the bike trails… And then you’d be having more experiences; like you said, more adventures, and you can meet them.

And I think that we’re lacking those contexts… And that’s why in the Collective, that space, what we’re trying to do is create those contexts where people feel safe being vulnerable… And they know the people around them are supporting and encouraging to them, so that it facilitates that connection. That’s the how. Because connection and trust happens in the vulnerability. That’s where it happens. If I can take my armor off and be vulnerable with you, that’s telling you I trust you.

Well, you did that already. You shared with us your back-story, and that was to some degree vulnerability… And I can empathize with you easily because I had a similar background… So therefore I can understand you more, because - sure, I can maybe assume a few things, but you were vulnerable enough to share a story that sort of shaped who you are and why you think the way you do, that I think mirrors some, if not all of how I feel. I had a similar experience, so therefore we can be more deeply connected because we have similar paths/pathways to our thinking.

It’s interesting, as we talk, because I can’t help but think about the sort of – I’m trying to think of the word… But overlap, dare I say, in sort of talking about mindfulness, and this sense of connection, and how much we have to be open. And that that’s the antithesis… Like, when we’re stressed, we wanna push back and close down, and yet we need connection. But because of the vulnerability, again, we’re apt to step back and close down.

Yeah. What mindfulness does is it connects the prefrontal region with the limbic system or the amygdala, which is the more emotional region of our brain. The emotional region of our brain is saying “Shut down, shut down, shut down! Danger, danger, danger!” because we’re wired this way. And the prefrontal region is saying “Hey, wait a minute… I’ve just read this Brené Brown book and it told me that I need to be vulnerable, and to trust, so that seems like a wise thing to do”, but you find yourself in your relationship and it’s just – you’re retracting.

What mindfulness allows us to do is to notice that reactivity that’s happening in our nervous system, soften our bodies and take a deep breath, widen that space between stimulus and response, and say “This is the change I wanna see in myself. I’m going to take this step in this direction, because I’ve now slowed things down, I’ve pinched the screen and zoomed in…”

Pinch and zoom, yeah.

I pinch and zoom, I see the emotional center getting all crazy… I worked with some of my clients and I tell them “There’s no monsters in the closet.” Your monkey brain’s telling you there is; there’s no monsters in the closet. And I zoom in, and I say “You know what, I’m just gonna take that leap of faith, I’m gonna do it slowly…” I don’t have to rush into this. I do it slowly, I take that first step, and I’m going to soften and be here, be present with myself, and be present with this person, and let’s see what happens… As long as it’s not an abusive relationship, of course.

So we do that, and we do that with ourselves, too. By the way, it starts with us. How many of us are afraid or have that same type of reactivity when we’re just feeling an uncomfortable emotion just on our own. Can I pause enough to recognize the grief that might be here, or the love that might be here, and being present with myself or with another person? We stay away from love too, by the way, because many of us have experienced love goes then with pain. Loss of somebody leads to a lot of grief, which could be traumatic for people, so I stay away from love again.

Can I pause enough to feel the love? Can I pause enough to feel the grief? Can I pause to be with this, with myself? And what happens when I do - typically, people start to relax, feel more grounded, feel more present with their life, feel more authentic. If that’s the way they’re gonna go out, they’d rather go out like that, than just avoiding and clenched up.

I just think these are such important conversations to have, because when we don’t know that we can make different choices, we’re just prone to repeat what we’ve always done, and then don’t get where we wanna go. And I think that we all really are designed uniquely for the time in which we’re here. So when we don’t invest in recognizing our own individual design and how we best show up in the world, we don’t just injure ourselves, but everyone else as well that misses out on what we can each contribute to this world… And that’s what I see as so beautiful about people, the world, and when we work together.

I love that. You should transcribe that, that was really well said.

Well, the good thing, Elisha, is that we have a transcriber for our podcast, so it will be transcribed.

Grab that paragraph.

That’s right. I so agree with that, because if I don’t show up to allow Mireille to do her best - or vice-versa, if I can’t invest in me to invest in the “we”, then it’s a disservice to what we’re trying to do. And it seems easy to just slow down, but I think it is just that easy. Just slow down and think about what you’re doing. We keep saying this a lot… At least it’s been my core thought - what is my primary motivation? What am I optimizing for? And so too often when I’m struggling in a decision, or indecision, or thinking, as you said earlier, Dr. Elisha, about thinking too much, too long… You know, we just sit there and think too much about what we’re trying to do… What am I trying to do? What am I optimizing for?

Back to your father being a rabbi in the bedside at the end of life - I hate to be that morbid, but it truly is that. What do I wanna see having done in my life when I’m in that moment in my life? Do I wanna work 12 more hours? Achieve one more business goal? Sure, those are great things to do. Maybe drawing to community, and stuff like that, and connecting people, but… I’m gonna care more about a life well lived if I have cared about the people that have allowed me to be in their life, and have been in my life. And so often we just lose touch with that simple thing… Complexly simple thing, I’ll say… [laughs] Right?

It’s interesting… And another reason why I love doing this work and having conversations with individuals like you, Dr. Elisha, is because even amidst our conversation, I have been aware of my breath, and breathing, and when I am tensing and relaxing… So I would love for you to sort of wrap things up and give our listeners some resources - where they can find you and start to practice more of these skills, so that they can show up in the world in the way in which only they can.

[01:00:07.09] Yeah, I’m more than happy to. What strikes me as I’m about to share that is this importance that we all have somewhere deep inside of us of contribution and legacy, and kind of considering that when we’re considering this present moment of our life. One of the chapters I have in The Now Effect is called Present Nostalgia. Present Nostalgia is like thinking of yourself in the future and realizing what you may be missing right now… Because you’re like “Oh, I wish I would have been more present for that.” And then bringing that into this moment right now, and living from that space.

So yeah, you can go to ElishaGoldstein.com. That has some different resources on it. Also, TheMindfulLivingCollective.com is that shared learning space where thousands of people are in there, sharing learning… And there’s so many resources in there as far as meditation; a whole topic filled with meditations, and people talking about what helps them around anxiety, and stress, and joy, and celebrating each other, and talking about obstacles that they’re going through and sharing stuff around that… And we have a bunch of different courses in there, and deeper groups… One is called The Inner Core, which - we meet regularly throughout the week… So those are just a number of things that we have. Tons of meditations on my YouTube channel, Elisha Goldstein PhD. Tons of free resources, basically, that you can get access to.

The final one, that I think is really great, is this document I created called Five Keys To Happiness. That’s just ElishaGoldstein.com/5keys. That’s just a free resource for you to take and just start implementing those five keys into your life… Again, procedural memory, practice and repetition, rinse and repeat, and you get stronger with it.

Well, we’ll definitely link those up in the show notes for our audience… Because hey, it’s easier to click than it is to type, especially – you might be driving when you’re listening to this, so… Listeners, you know we’ve got the resources in the show notes, and we’ll link those up for sure.

Anything else to cover, anything else to say, Dr. Elisha?

I’m just grateful for you guys for putting on this. I think it was a really meaningful conversation. I hope everyone got something from it. We know that when we’re listening to things we can only really take away one to three nuggets from things to implement it, so don’t try and grab the whole conversation. You could take the sense and the feeling from it, but… Just see if there’s something from this that stuck out to you. And whatever that thing is, just see if there’s some actionable way you can move forward with it in the minutes and hours ahead of your life.

Pinch and expand.

Pinch and expand.

There you go.

Very cool.

Thank you so much!

Thank you so much for your time.

Yeah, thank you both.

Changelog

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

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