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 don’t directly register that our brain needs a rest, but without it, fatigue sets in reducing effective functioning and reaction time. We then become vulnerable to mind wandering.

Dr Sood emphasised that to combat fatigue and re-energise we need to regularly recognise and respond with intention, to give our brain what it needs after a period of engagement. He suggests this comprises three things:

  • Rest which is the ability to switch off from planning and problem solving.
  • Uplifting emotions such as gratitude, joy, and love.
  • Motivation, which is a connection with our why or values, we need to reconnect with why we are doing our focused task! This can relate to intrinsic or extrinsic motivation but preferably both.

The acronym RUM summarises these needs. Thus our brain needs RUM every 60-90 minutes to re-energise us, maintain good functioning, mental health and resilience.

Dr Sood gave some great practical examples of what aspects of RUM might look like. These included:

  • A morning gratitude practice
  • Looking into the eyes of someone you love and getting feedback from them.
  • Commiting to accepting a minor imperfection of someone close to you for a week
  • Appreciating the people in your life and making sure they know you trust, accept and understand them

Positive Psychology has many other evidence-based strategies that can help us access a regular dose of RUM! What’s your favourite tipple?

The work of WOHASU provides inspiration for much-needed ongoing research to help us understand how to support our wellbeing effectively by working with our brain functioning rather than fighting it. We need this to help people learn to incorporate easy, regular habits into our daily life that support our psychological health in the same way that brushing our teeth for 2 minutes each morning and evening maintains physical health.

Find out more about The World Happiness Summit (WOHASU) and add your name to the waiting list for 2025
@wohasu #wohasu2024 @karenguggenheim

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