Why We All Need a Dose of RUM!! – WOHASU talk

Why We All Need a Dose of RUM!! – WOHASU talk

Dr Amit Sood is a former professor of medicine at The Mayo Clinic and founder of the Global Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing. His Stress Management and Resiliency Training (SMART) model helps people understand the ways in which our brain functioning can be unhelpful for our wellbeing and teaches strategies to help combat this. This program has considerable empirical research supporting its effectiveness at promoting wellbeing outcomes in a range of populations. At The World Happiness Summit (WOHASU) in London on the 19th of March 2024 Dr Sood shared, through engaging personal anecdotes, some of his ideas and demonstrated some positive brain hacks through experiential practice. He highlighted how difficult it is for us all to disconnect in our digital world and the impact this has on our brains. Common issues of human suffering such as chronic stress and long-term health conditions like back pain are significantly impacted by the way the human brain works. For example, studies indicate that the brain has two major modes; the focused mode in which we are engaged and absorbed “on task” and the default mode in which our mind wanders reflecting the pattern of distraction. The brain toggles between these modes of functioning. When too great a percentage of our time is spent in default mode, this is associated with poor mental health outcomes and given the cultural pressures of our fast-paced world distraction is a constant pressure. Our brain becomes fatigued every 60-90 minutes when we are engaged in moderately challenging cognitive tasks but we are generally unaware of this as the brain functions automatically below our level of consciousness. We...
Acceptance as a Foundation for Resilience

Acceptance as a Foundation for Resilience

Introduction In this blog I hope to explore how awareness and acceptance of the messages our emotions bring us can influence our resilience. I contrast this with our natural tendency to resist, struggle with, control or rationalise our emotional experiences. Psychology has great difficulty in defining what we mean by emotion. In this context I am characterising it as a combination of iteratively interactive internal experiences associated with physiological changes in the body plus associated cognitions and action tendencies. Many psychological approaches distinguish between cognitions and emotions and indeed we experience our thoughts and feelings differently but in practice they are usually closely linked and hard to separate. The ideas of acceptance discussed here apply equally to feelings, thoughts and sensations. Our information alert systems I describe these three elements of physiological symptoms or sensations (such as anxiety “butterflies in the tummy”), emotions and cognitions as different types of messages about something in our environment that our biological, evolutionary and personal learning histories want to draw our attention to. These are our incoming data alerts, rather like different types of pop ups we might see from email, messaging, social media etc when we are working on a document. Our challenge is to decide how to relate to these messages, (which alerts have important information, which are unhelpful) and how we respond to them in a flexible and considered way that helps us live a full and meaningful life rather than being hijacked by them. What we do know about emotions is that they are generally short lived experiences that pass in their own time and they are not easily...
Evolutionary Psycho-Neurophysiology and Positive Psychology

Evolutionary Psycho-Neurophysiology and Positive Psychology

Evolutionary Psycho-Neurophysiology and Positive Psychology: How our evolved brain can impact wellbeing. I am not a neuropsychologist. However, as a clinical and coaching psychologist, I share a number of insights with clients on the way the evolved brain can impact wellbeing. These can be extremely helpful in normalising the challenges we face in everyday life, understanding how problems with mental health can arise and providing routes to address them. In this blog I highlight the key issues as I see them, noting that neuroscience is really complex, we don’t have the full picture yet and what is presented here is a huge simplification intended to be helpful but “held lightly”. I draw on the work of Paul Gilbert (2014), Ryan and Deci (2000) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The legacy of evolution As humans evolved, a number of characteristics became embedded in the way our brain and body worked because these made it more likely that the individual would survive and reproduce. These characteristics were relevant to the context of man in a hunter-gatherer, survival based world. They persist as part of our biological inheritance because change at this level takes a long time to happen so there is a significant lag. Indeed our context in modern society changes so fast I wonder if our biology will ever catch up! The point is that some of the design adaptations of the human brain and body don’t work as well in the 21st century as the environment they were developed to work in. Plus some of our “newer” human abilities such as verbal behaviour and higher level cognitive functioning can...
Positive Psychology, Control and Wellbeing

Positive Psychology, Control and Wellbeing

Introduction In this blog I look at the role of control in our wellbeing and talk about my model of the things we can control with a practical example of how this might be used to support mental health. Is control good for us? Most of us like to feel in control. It helps us feel safe and ordered. Ryan and Deci (2000) highlight autonomy as a key psychological need (along with competence and relatedness, see my previous blog on Self Determination Theory for more detail). The fulfilment of this need for autonomy is associated with good mental health and improved motivation, whereas when it is blocked, motivation and wellbeing decrease. Autonomy involves the idea that we are in control of our actions, we are free from pressure from others and we have the ability to make our own choices. When we have this sense of this control, we feel authentic which boosts eudaimonic wellbeing. Many types of psychopathology stem from people seeking control in maladaptive ways when it is blocked in important areas of their lives. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and eating disorders can be extreme examples of this. How much control do we really have? So a sense of autonomy is good for us. But how realistic is this in everyday life? Often external circumstances can’t easily be changed and we certainly can’t control other people’s attitudes and behaviour, although we can sometimes influence them by how we act. Actually even our own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations are also not as much under our control as we might like to think. For example, if I tell...
What is Positive Psychology Coaching?

What is Positive Psychology Coaching?

Introduction: In this blog I talk about one way in which Positive Psychology (PP) Coaching can be applied to help people live flourishing lives. I aim to explain what this might involve and when it might be helpful. An applied science PP has always been an applied science aimed at providing evidence-based practical approaches to help improve wellbeing for individuals, organisations and societies. Perhaps the most well-known application is through Positive Psychology Interventions (PPIs). These are “self-help” type packages aimed at individuals without mental illness which; “enhance well-being through pathways consistent with positive psychology theory” (Carr et al. 2023 p1). This includes key PPIs such as promoting gratitude in various forms, using your strengths, pursuing intrinsically motivated goals and cultivating savouring, mindfulness, optimism, kindness and forgiveness to name a selection! There is an inevitable debate about exactly which interventions should be included in this definition and the veracity of the evidence base (Boiler et al. 2013, Carr et al, 2021, Carr et al. 2023, White et al. 2019). However, there appears to be some consensus that many PPIs show evidence of having a small to medium positive effect on well-being indicators and a reduction in markers of mental ill health and stress and that these improvements are maintained over time (Carr et al. 2023). What is not really clear is; who is most helped, by which interventions, under what conditions and context, and through what mechanisms. We know that “person-activity fit” or finding the right intervention for the individual and addressing internal and external barriers to implementation, is important. We also know that sustaining the effects of interventions through...