At the start of her career as a 4th-grade teacher, Melissa Hughes was tasked with teaching children how to learn, but she had never herself been taught how the brain works. Today, as a neuroscience expert, author and speaker, she finds that we all want to learn how to make our brain work better. She joins host Kevin Monroe in a lively discussion about the neuroscience of purpose on this week’s show.
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Melissa posted a video about psychological numbing on LinkedIn that caught Kevin’s attention. He asks Melissa to describe psychological numbing and the effect it has on us. She explains, when something tragic happens over and over, we feel the emotional magnitude of it less and less. It’s not that we don’t care; but the more we are exposed to bad stimuli, the more desensitized we get. Sadly, as the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy or willingness to do something decreases, because we feel like there is nothing we can do.
Start With One
When it comes to tragedies, big numbers are really abstract but one is a real person. Melissa says that fighting psychological numbness takes intention. The answer is to look for one person and make a difference in his or her life. Kevin adds that this one intentional act of kindness creates a ripple effect.
The Neuroscience of Purpose
We are much more positive and engaged when we have a purpose, Melissa says. It’s a myth that we want everything to be easy; the human brain likes a challenge but it needs to matter to us. We find joy when we are in a place where we can be both challenged and positive. When we live a purposeful life, the limbic system produces more happy chemicals – oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine – instead of cortisol, the stress hormone. Understanding why it’s important to increase these happy hormones intensifies their benefits to us.
Make Gratitude Part of Your Routine
Gratitude works the same way as the happy hormones: the more you do it, the more you benefit. In fact, the best way to get out of a negative feedback loop is to intentionally break it with gratitude. Melissa starts and ends her day by writing in her gratitude journal. Doing so sets her up for a successful day. When you envision yourself being successful, she says, you alert your reticular activation system, also known as the brain’s bouncer, to let in any opportunity that will help you reach your goal. At the end of the day, think of one thing that you are grateful for. You will feel more empowered and more empathetic towards others. We are in much more control of our brains than we think.
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Melissa’s book: Happy Hour With Einstein