Welcome to Joy Lab!: Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello! I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. To do that, we focus on building the elements of joy, the positive emotions and inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life. The element for this episode is hope! And resilience as we've been covering in this series of episodes, actually.
So if you're joining us here for the first time or have missed some episodes, you may want to head back to episode 53 because we're working through a series on the roots of resilience. Of course, if you're thinking, um, no, calming my mind sounds like exactly what I need right now, the title of this episode, then absolutely stay with us.
You can go back after. Alright, to start us off, I want to share a conversation I had with my four-year-old a few days ago. We were getting ready for school and she stopped putting her shoes on and started tearing up and said,
"Mama, I had a scary thought."
So as we do, I asked her if she wanted to share it, because we like to do this little exhaling practice to let go of thoughts that we're sort of done with.
She said she wanted to share it, and she told me that her thought was that she floated away in a balloon. So I asked her, "Do you think it's true?" And she responded, "Yeah, my brain was thinking it, so it was true."
So it just reminded me how powerful this belief is that our thoughts are true. It was kind of, her first impression of it, and especially those visceral ones that activate our stress response.
We think it, we feel it. It must be true. That makes sense, on the surface. We want to trust our thoughts. We want to trust that what we think is true, but so often it's just not. Which is both hard to accept... the things I think are often false and so freeing... the things I think are often false! Freeing!
Uh, and the good news here is that we have some power. We can work with our mind to quiet the stress response, to notice and let go of false thoughts, uh, and maybe even reduce the amount that pop up to begin with. So in this episode, we'll look at a few strategies we can use to create some space between ourselves and our thoughts so that we can embrace what really is our natural, calm mind.
Henry: I just love that your daughter said that.
Aimee: It's pretty cute!
Henry: "If my brain is thinking it, it must be true." That is a pretty good summary of what gives us so much trouble.
Henry: Sometimes I think that the internet is a little bit like our collective brain, you know, so that if it's on the internet, it must be true, right? And we know how ridiculous that sounds. And yet don't we sometimes believe that if it's there, if or if I'm seeing it in print or a picture, that it is real. We are living in a very interesting time where reality and truth are being called into question, oftentimes. Hard facts are sometimes considered subjective these days.
So, part of me is really optimistic about this, thinking, well, maybe we just need to go through this kind of thing collectively in order to, wake up to the power that our minds have. Or just to realize the truth in what a lot of spiritual teachers have said for eons, that we create the world as we experience it with our minds, you know, our perceptions, our beliefs.
Buddha put it very succinctly in the first lines of the Dhammapada: " With our thoughts, we make the world."
I think there can be a huge advantage just in realizing the role that we have in creating our day-to-day reality. You know, we do it by where we put our attention or what we believe to be true. And we rarely realize how much power our minds have, at least to change the quality of our experience.
And I think we need to own that. If we don't, you know, we could get floated away by a balloon or even worse!
Aimee: Yeah. It makes me think of, um, that balloon boy hoax.
That six, I think a six year old boy, supposedly floated away in a balloon. Do you remember that? So journalists really did no vetting. And viewers didn't ask questions, I didn't. You know, most of us didn't pause, ask questions like,
"Hey, can that balloon actually carry a 50 pound kid?" The answer was no!
But so many of us just took it as truth. We let our minds, like you just said, float away, uh, with that hoax. And I think what's hard to understand sometimes is that letting external sources like internet gossip, like the balloon boy story, or conspiracy theories, sometimes letting our attention run away with all those external stories seems more comfortable than just sitting with our own inner thoughts.
We talked about that a lot here at the podcast. Sometimes our thoughts are scary. Sometimes our inner world is gnarly, as you've said, Henry. Love that. Sometimes it just feels like too much to be with our thoughts. And so it's super tempting to just grab our phone and get some dopamine hits if we're too alone with our thoughts.
So then back to what you just noted, Henry. We're only seeing the world through all of this stuff we consume, whether it's true or not. And because we've sort of outsourced our thinking, it's really hard not to get swept away by it all.
Henry: I like that term, "we've outsourced our thinking."
Aimee: Yeah, I think so. Especially the internet, as you noted, it wants to take it all away.
And then there's the dopamine hits, like you mentioned. Um, which there is a place for, you know, but, but we don't want to let our minds be run by this addictive need for dopamine. At least not if we want a calm mind. So I mentioned earlier that I think of myself as an optimist. At least i, I try to be, and there's one very simple reason for that. It makes me feel better to see the good rather than the negative. I'm just happier when I'm hopeful or when I learn that, when I believe that things are gonna work out fine.
Some years ago I read book called Learned Optimism. And it was written by Martin Seligman. He's really one of our heroes here in Joy Lab because he was, you know, an early pioneer in the field of positive psychology.
Anyway, one of the things that he said in that book really stood out for me, and that is that he was acknowledging that pessimists probably do see the world closer to actual reality. But there is this strong correlation with thinking pessimistically and being prone to depression. You know, it just weighs down your mood.
So choosing to be more optimistic, whether it's always true or not, and then training yourself to do it can really be a powerful preventive for depression. Now, I'm not sure, frankly, if I'm an optimist by nature or not. Because I've had lots of times where I'll go down that sinkhole of negativity, but whether it's my nature or not, I know that I have to choose how I see things. I have to make that choice again and again, not just one time and I'm done.
And at first, frankly, it's, it's a lot of work, but it does get easier over time. In other words, this is a skill. And skills can be learned and improved with practice. I think the first step in learning that skill of kind of owning how we see the world, um, it's just to have that realization that you are thinking.
You know, it might sound obvious in saying it, but I think that most of the time we're actually pretty oblivious to the fact that we're thinking. And until we become aware of that, then we are really at the mercy of our thoughts.
So we do have a powerful ally in this, and it's usually called the observing self or the observer. It's located somewhere in our minds, but it's not the same thing as the thinking brain, which is what we often perceive of as the mind. The observer is that part of us that is aware that we are thinking, in other words, aware of our awareness, thinking, or feeling. The observer is able to step back, stay above the fray, and see what's happening without getting pulled into it.
Aimee: Right so that first step is to become aware that we are thinking. Of course. I wanna dig into an obstacle here, because I am a pessimist by temper, I like to say. Um, because tune tuning into that observing self can be tough at first, as we've suggested a bit already. So there's an obstacle there. It can be hard to take that first step, in part, I think because many of our cultures of overstimulation, uh, and also stigma around thoughts.
You know, believing that everything we think has to have some profound or repressed meaning or some interesting origin. I just don't believe that, sorry, Freud. So it's really natural to feel some hesitancy and discomfort, to get a little quiet and enter into our own inner world and the role of the observer.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite studies, speaks to this obstacle. I have to share it. I've been so excited trying to find the moment to share one of my favorites.
Henry: How did you wait so long?!
Aimee: Pins and needles. It's been terrible. So this is a study from Dr. Timothy Wilson and colleagues called, "Just Think: the Challenges of the Disengaged Mind". So I wanna tell you about it.
There were a total of 55 participants. Each one sat alone in a boring looking room, and were first told to rate the pleasantness or unpleasantness of some positive stimuli on a screen, and then negative stimuli. Namely an electric shock that they were given. So the part- so funny! The participants were then asked if they were given $5, would they pay any amount of that money to avoid another electric shock?
42 of them said they would pay to avoid it. Don't shock me again, I'll give you money. Kind of interesting. Here's where it gets really interesting. Participants were then instructed to sit by themselves in the chair in that boring room for 15 more minutes. To not get up, to stay awake with the goal of entertaining themselves with their thoughts as best as they could.
They were encouraged to have a pleasant experience and were given three pleasant activities, examples, they could think about or they could just think about anything else they wanted that was pleasant. Here's the twist, they also had the option at any time during those 15 minutes, of hopefully pleasant thinking, to press the button to self-administer the electric shock they got earlier.
Okay, so guess how many of those 42 participants, who said they would pay to avoid another shock, guess how many of them actually shocked themselves during their 15 minute thinking period?
Listeners take a guess. Henry, you too.
What do you think? Unless you already this study? I never...
Henry: I do not know... I'm gonna guess 12.
43% 18 of those 42, 43%. I think it's also a bit interesting to note that 12 of the 18 men, or 67% of the men shocked themselves with an average of one and a half shocks. Not even just once. Most of 'em did twice. One guy did it 190 times. Average of one shot every five seconds.
And these, I mean, these weren't like little shocks. They were you know, walk across a living room with socks on the carpet. Then touch a piece. I mean it, it gave you a pronounced moment of, ahh! Uh. It was six to 24 women or 25% shock themselves with an average of one shock during that 15 minute period.
So there's like a surprising gender difference there, but still, overall, 43% of those 42 participants shocked themselves. And I think it's pretty telling, just overall being alone with our thoughts can be really tough. Many of us would rather shock ourselves, right?
So let's get into that. How can we take that first step to calm our mind, to be with our thoughts in a way that doesn't feel so difficult?
Well, first, two things about this study. One, I can see why this is one of your favorite studies
Henry: all time
Aimee: I love it so much.
Henry: one of
And then secondly, I just don'tunderstand why so many researchers like to use electric shocks!
Aimee: It's funny!. I mean it makes for good, uh, sharing of studies. Also, I think, you know, for all the other animals without consent, we shocked. It's about time we shock some more humans. So just saying.
Henry: Oh, all right. So let's talk about the observer within. So I know that this concept can seem kind of vague at first, but once you've experienced sitting quietly and observing your own thoughts and feelings, you won't forget it. it's kind of like learning to ride a bike. Once you get it, you get it. Now, you might not be very good at it at first, but you can ride that bike and get better and better.
So the reason that this is so helpful is that it begins to give us back our freedom. So when I can see that this is just a thought, and nothing more, then I actually have a choice. What do I do with it? Do I choose to believe it, or maybe opt for a different thought instead? Do I want to see what's wrong with you or what's wrong with me.
Or, would I prefer to see what's right with you or me? So in other words, we can take back the power that we have given away to our unconscious thinking.
Now, back to resilience for a moment. A few episodes ago, we used this metaphor of a water cooler that we need to keep just full enough with this magical elixir of resilience to keep us afloat.
Now imagine instead of the water cooler that it, we have this big lithium battery in us and it's it, we draw our own energy from it. Now there's this concept known as phantom power, where let's say we leave cords plugged in around our house and they keep drawing power, even if what's plugged in is not being used.
And this is called energy vampires. So our negative unconscious thoughts are a lot like these energy vampires. But as soon as we become aware of them, we can choose to unplug them. And then we stop the loss of our energy, our resilience, and that gives us a chance to find some other ways to charge ourselves up again.
Aimee: I love the idea of unplugging those thoughts. So we work on that a lot here at the podcast, probably in every episode we're working on an aspect of this. We also do this really step by step, uh, in the Joy Lab program. So join us there for some really powerful practices.
And we've got another resource to help you do this. We have a calm mind meditation over at our new community. You can head over there and give it a try. Just go to NaturalMentalHealth.com and tap community on the top nav bar.
And big bonus, when you join the community, you'll receive some really helpful tools to support you as you uncover more joy, and you'll also help us keep this podcast free of those super annoying, middle of the episode advertisements and those like five minutes of advertisements at the beginning I've been hearing lately. I get it man. We just don't wanna do that here. It smashes the flow. So you can help us keep that flow supportive and joyful, and you can also help us, uh, shape some of our episodes even though Henry and I could talk all day about this stuff, we wanna make sure that it serves you all in the best way possible. So I hope we see you over at the community.
So let's close this root of resilience. We can look to some wisdom from Alan Watts, one of my favorite writers, thinkers. Here's what he had to say about our resilient nature:
" What I am really saying is that you don't need to do anything. Because if you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomenon of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns in running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of a galaxy. You are all just like that and there is nothing wrong with you at all.
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