"Boys do cry". Trigger warning- an important conversation about suicide prevention with Ken Loftus.
"Boys do Cry". Opening an important conversation about suicide and what we can do to prevent it. Making sense of Mental Illness. Ken Loftus has 20 yrs experience as a counsellor and Founded the Sunlight Centre. On episode #86 of the Thriving Minds podcast, Ken and I discuss what can be done to actively help youth and adults in suicidal distress. Listen to the podcast here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/episode-86-trigger-warning-we-discuss-suicide-and/id1471835230?i=1000559173552 Ken was told stories of people who had asked for help and were told to “go to emergency department ”, or “Go home and go to your GP tomorrow”, and “You need a Mental Health Plan”, and knew more needed to be done. We are really fortunate that Ken has given us his time and expertise so we can openly discuss this important topic. (If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and help is available. Please contact any one of the following organisations in Australia are listed below, at the bottom of this post. We are all normal and abnormal across our lifespans "People may feel like they’re abnormal if they are told, “You have an anxiety disorder, you have a depressive disorder.” Talk with them a little bit about the fact that there are advantages to anxiety and that low moods might have meaning. It might not just be something that’s broken in you, it might be that your emotions are trying to tell you something. I think that makes many people feel less like they’re defective" . Help someone today to light their spark Meaningful message without words. - such a wonderful way to capture such a complex world and find small ways forward. 75% male and 25% female- Perhaps evolutionary psychology? Males have consistently higher rates of suicide than females. Since 1907, the male age-standardised suicide rate has been consistently higher and more variable than the female rate. (Data collected from the Australian Institute of health and welfare. https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/suspected-deaths-by-suicide/data-from-suicide-registers. Data for each year from 2016-2021 show that in Victoria (Coroners Court 2021, 2022a): around three-quarters of suspected deaths by suicide are among males the majority of suspected deaths by suicide for both males and females occur among those aged between 25 and 54 around two-thirds of suspected deaths by suicide occur in metropolitan locations. From the "Boys Do Cry" campaign. Ken discusses the possibility of this arising ~50, 000 yrs ago, where the men heading the tribe had to be physically strong, for the whole tribe to survive. Being seen as weak becomes a problem to our very survival and being the chief of the tribe. Picture by Charles R. Knight - http://donglutsdinosaurs.com/knight-neanderthals/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18725346 This leads to a basic instinct - don't be seen as weak. Then somewhere along the way this was transferred to being that you are not allowed to emotionally weak either, that is a man crying became viewed as being weak. Ken discusses the observation that physical and emotional strength became confused with survival instincts and how this has led to " men don't cry". The moment, when men realised they are not that strong, but still wanted the top mates in the tribe, they started saying, I think the sun is a god using the expanding thinking parts of the brain. From the strongest men being the chiefs of the tribes, it shifted to the witch doctors. As our cortex expanded and we started using our brain to become the chief of the tribe, this is when mental health problems started. It is how we use our enormous brain to manipulate, control and remain competitive. Changing evolution is no easy task. By Photo Credit:Content Providers(s): CDC - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention&Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #1322. Listening and community connection are the keys and not trying to fix the problem. It is Ok to talk with and share our feelings with our kids. As we create an environment of awareness. Parents being open and aware that they don't have the answers and that we are on the same evolutionary journey as our kids. Working with the brain and overcoming our instincts rather than avoiding it. Dealing with the anger rather than the trigger of the anger. Reality TV shows are the equivalent of modern gladiatorial centres, showing the most embarrassing aspects of people and making us feel that the people we watching on TV are worse off than we are. Suicide prevention means helping the community come together as a village again to help us raise our families and ourselves. Train the supercomputer brain like a muscle. Healthy Minds mean finding one thing to do everyday to build the physical connections in the brain. Know the supercomputer is doing an amazing job at keeping us alive. Many times our phobias, anxiety and depression are survival responses and they serve us well but may not benefit us across our whole lifespan. Understanding the supercomputer brain makes all the difference to help us understand why we do what we do and to be more compassionate to others. "Susceptibility to Mental Illness May Have Helped Humans Adapt over the Millennia" excerpt from Scientific American. Randolph Nesse, is a professor of life sciences at Arizona State University, attributes high rates of psychiatric disorders to natural selection operating on our genes without paying heed to our emotional well-being. What’s more, the selective processes took place thousands of years before the unique stresses of modern urban existence, leading to a mismatch between our current environment and the one for which we were adapted. In his book, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry, Nesse recruits the framework of evolutionary medicine to make a case for why psychiatric disorders persist despite their debilitating consequences. From Randolph Nesse's book on GOOD REASONS FOR BAD FEELINGS asks a fundamentally new question. "Instead of asking why some people get sick, it instead asks why natural selection left all of us so vulnerable to mental illness. The limits of natural selection offer one kind of answer, but several others are equally important. Our environments are vastly different from those we evolved in, making us vulnerable to addiction and eating disorders. Bad feelings like anxiety and low mood are, like pain and cough, useful in certain situations, but they often help our genes, not us, and, like smoke detectors, they are prone to false alarms. Social anxiety is nearly universal because our ancestors who cared what others thought about them did better than other people. Guilt makes morality possible, and grief is the nearly unbearable price of love. Recognizing the evolutionary origins of such symptoms helps to distinguish them from diseases. Trying to understand an emotion requires understanding individuals as individuals." "Some conditions, like depression and anxiety, may have developed from normal, advantageous emotions. Others, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, result from genetic mutations that may have been beneficial in less extreme manifestations of a trait". So it’s not saying that these emotions are useful all the time. It’s the capacity for these emotions that is useful. And the regulation systems [that control emotion] were shaped by natural selection—so sometimes they’re useful for us, sometimes they’re useful for our genes, sometimes it’s false alarms in the system and sometimes the brain is just broken. Nesse suggests that low mood could be advantageous for two very separate reasons. One of the motivators is to shift strategies to escape a situation, and the other is to have people stop striving and conserve energy. How do you reconcile these opposing theories? Evolutionary explanations for our "emotions" by Randolph Ness Click here to read his whole paper. Fear, an important emotion to keep us alive but when left can drive many of our negative emotions. Excerpt from Randolph Nesse's paper -below. "Imminent danger of attack elicits panic, a coordinated pattern of physiological, psychological, and behavioral alterations. The adaptive significance of the physiological changes that accompany panic were astutely recognized by Cannon (1929:193-224): increased sugar in the blood is available for metabolism; epinephrine reverses fatigue; the nervous system, re-routes blood circulation to support maximal exertion; increased muscle strength and tension facilitate action; higher concentration of blood corpuscles and rates of respiration increase exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide; and increased blood coagulability prevents excessive blood loss. Panic alters cognition and behavior as well as physiology. The mind becomes focused on finding escape routes. If none are obvious, anxiety rises quickly. Motivation to flee towards home and trusted relatives becomes overwhelming (Marks 1987). Facial and vocal expressions of fear solicit aid and warn kin of danger. The state of panic is a coordinated syndrome whose components occur together, not because they arise from a neuroanatomic locus, but because they are useful in the face of imminent attack. People who repeatedly experience panic develop agoraphobia, a remarkably consistent syndrome that includes fears of specific cues: wide open spaces, closed in spaces, places where intense fear has occurred before, and being far from home, especially if unaccompanied by a trusted relative. These characteristic agoraphobic fears are well suited to avoiding attack in a dangerous environment (Nesse 1988). A person who lacks the tendencies to panic in the face of danger and to experience agoraphobic fears in dangerous situations will, in a natural environment, be at a selective disadvantage. Panic disorder is a disease that results from faulty regulation of panic, but panic itself, like cough, is not a disease, but a defense against a particular kind of danger" Here is a list of the advantages of the fear response to our survival. "The first is that we have bad feelings for good reasons. Fear, anger, sadness, and loneliness are not abnormal, they are defenses that help us to deal with situations that decrease fitness. In order to explain them, we should look first not to brain mechanisms or personality characteristics, but to the current life situation of the person experiencing this feeling. What resources are being deployed using what strategies to attain what goals? What is the outlook for the future of this person's ability to achieve his or her goals by these means? These questions are the essential core of an evaluation for a possible emotional disorder. An outline for an evolutionary psychobiological life-situation analysis is proving enormously helpful to me in understanding the origins of my patients' difficulties" Randolph Ness says. "We shouldn’t try to make any global generalizations, we should examine every patient individually and try to understand what’s going on". Meet Ken Loftus, Founder of the Sunlight Centre. Ken has been working in the Healthy Mind field for over 20 years, and moved to Brisbane 5 years ago from Ireland. Ken has worked in residential care with under 18's, suicidal crises centres and school settings, and founded the Sunlight Centre 4 years ago in South Brisbane. Ken's favourite therapy is CBT and loves Evolutionary Psychology too! In early 2017 Ken moved to Brisbane, began private practice and founded the Sunlight Centre. The Sunlight Centre was created in 2017 and began seeing its first client in October. As a new charity, grants and funds were hard to come by, so Ken and his team created their own fundraising events to help keep the doors open and the lights on in the Sunlight Centre. With that came unique fundraisers such as our Retro Movie Nights, and ANON, the Sunlight Centre’s annual anonymous art exhibition. During Ken’s studies obtaining his Psychology and Psychoanalysis degree, he started his work in Child Protection and mental health with residential care work. After returning from travelling, Ken worked in the ISPCC as a national supervisor for Childline, where he trained volunteers around Ireland in Active Listening skills, Children’s First and Child Protection policies and procedures. Ken moved back towards residential care work as a Social Care Team Leader, and during this time he completed his Diploma in Clinical and Therapeutic Guided Imagery and then his integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist Diploma. After working as a tutor in St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada, Ken returned to Ireland and worked as an accredited counsellor and psychotherapist in a crisis intervention centre, his private practice, and creating and facilitating workshops, completing his Diploma in CBT and studies in therapeutic Mindfulness. In early 2017 Ken moved to Brisbane, began private practice and founded the Sunlight Centre. Suicide Helplines. If you are struggling and have suicidal thoughts, please know you are not alone and help is available. Please contact any one of the following organisations in Australia are listed below. 1. Sunlight Centre
Ken Loftus, Clinical & Executive Director, 1300 259 724
email@example.com 2. Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the Lifeline support service, available 24/7. 3. Suicide Crisis Text Line - 0477 13 11 14
For those who feel more comfortable with texting rather than talking to someone. Confidential one-to-one text with a trained Lifeline Crisis Supporter 4. Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636
This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also chat online with the beyondblue support service every day from 3:00 PM until 12:00 AM (AEDST). 5. Samaritans - 135 247 nBased in WA 6. SuicideLine - 1300 651 251 Based in Victoria Please know you are not alone and help is available. Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/selenab)
Are people behaving badly or in poor brain health?
How many times have we frowned upon people behaving badly? For millennia, the main lens we had to understand the brain was by observing behaviour. We have spent decades devising strategies to shift, nudge and change people's behaviour. Pause for one second, now imagine, you have a window inside the brain when someone is behaving badly. You would immediately see that the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex is not lighting up (Davidson and McEwen 2013). Then we see that the amygdala and hippocampus are going off like an alarm bell. These parts of the brain play a major role in bad behaviour, such as screaming at someone that cuts you off in traffic. We know that the prefrontal cortex is required for healthy brain function and plays a role in good behaviour. Healthy brain function can be measured through our executive functions (EFs). Strong EFs arise from the physical connections in the prefrontal cortex functioning and communicating well. When EFs are strong we maintain attention longer, remember what we are told and can manipulate mentally allowing us to follow instructions. This improves our ability to make short term decisions and long range plans, and most importantly we can say no to unhealthy things for ourselves. Strong executive function in the brain allows us to monitor ourselves and as a result prevent overreaction, or acting out, eating unhealthy food, and drinking too much. What is our collective responsibility with this new knowledge? Do we work out ways to increase the activity of the brain of someone behaving badly to bring the prefrontal cortex on-line or not? This is the philosophical dilemma we are facing as the new knowledge streaming in from brain science research is quickly changing our mind about what leads to good and bad behaviour and mental health disorders. The evidence is mounting that good and/or bad behaviour arises from the health of the underlying physical brain. We are born with a unique brain architecture. To put this into a different context. Let's think about when we are cooking and use a recipe. To prepare a meal we start with the recipe, follow the instructions, buy the ingredients, put them into an empty pot. After stirring the ingredients, we have made a beautiful chicken kiev. You are now asked to make fish and chips but this time you start with the meal you have prepared, the chicken kiev, rather than starting with a new recipe and the ingredients. How may you ask? Now to translate this to back to the brain’s architecture and people. People are born with a predetermined meal from a recipe built from generations of ingredients. This means when we are asking people to change their bad into good behaviour immediately, it is like turning a chicken kiev into fish and chips. It takes innovation, outside the box thinking, time and effort. Where do you start from? How neuroscience helps us understand how to change behaviour. Meet Molly and Maisy The fundamental structure of the brain is guided by an inherited blueprint or hardware, and we share this in common. Having a common hardware is important for basic activities like eating, drinking, and moving our bodies. What makes us unique is the software, or the parts that are plastic and coded from our life experiences. Such as the places we are born, parents, diet, love and attention we have received. Because our life experiences are varied, this means people have different starting blocks, there is spectrum that exists from a little to an extreme resilient neural network. This means that everyone handles stress differently. Now consider how this translates into differences in our ability to learn and succeed at school, in relationships, and across the lifespan. Let’s meet Molly and Maisy. Molly and Maisy are two students starting school for the first time. Molly comes dancing into the classroom on time, sits down, and is happily paying attention to her teacher. The teacher and classmates talk about Molly as being the smart, easy going and well behaved one. Next to Molly sits Maisy. She often arrives to school late, often while finishing a can of coke, and sometimes wearing different coloured socks. Molly strolls into the classroom, poking faces at her classmates, and ignoring her teacher. The students love Maisy because she makes them laugh. Her teacher thinks she has her work cut out for her with Maisy. Unlike Molly who has been reading to her parents since she was 3 years old, Maisy has just started reading. The teacher and classmates talk about Molly being the naughty one. Maisy is the poor student and she has just started school. For a moment, let’s turn to what’s happening inside the brain of Molly and Maisy. There is burgeoning evidence that the brain's physical structure or architecture is pre-determined and can be shaped by good and bad experiences. Adverse or bad life experiences tend to leave an indelible mark on the brain and impact on long-term mental health and illness across the lifespan. Healthy or good life experiences promote brain health that contribute to building stronger brain architecture that buffer toxic stress. If Molly and Maisy are in the playground and they trip over and scrap their knee, we would race them to the first aid station and attend to their knees. When we start to view Molly and Maisy through the lens of the quality of their brain health. How do you now view Molly and Maisy’s behaviour? The main impact of toxic stress is on the prefrontal cortex, the area at the front part of the brain that drives our executive functions (EFs). The components of EFs that are important for success in health, career and life are attention, inhibition control, and working memory. If we are born with a brain architecture that is impacted by stress over a long time the parts of the brain that support EFs are likely not as strong as someone who has come from a loving and supportive home. Let's return to Molly and Maisy and think about the differences in their life experiences and how this impacts their ability to sit still in class, listen to instructions, and have "good behaviour". Think about having the ability to shine a light on activity in the prefrontal cortex of Molly and Maisy. What do you think you would see? Would you think about the impact of Molly and Maisy's life experiences on their ability to learn, sit still and behave well. How do we translate this knowledge into understanding and actions that would benefit both Molly and Maisy brain health at home, school and for the rest of their life? The good news for Molly and Maisy, we are learning tools to harness the brain’s plasticity. This is ripe avenue of research and it is being shown that physical exercise is one of the best ways to improve EFs and brain plasticity. There are many others including nutrition and cognitive brain training. By promoting brain health and executive brain function we lessen the cumulative impact of "toxic stress" on the ability of the brain to learn and as a consequence facilitate good behaviour. How to tap into the brain's plasticity over the lifespan The hidden potential of the brain for change has been known for a long time dating as far back as Lao Tzu and Buddha. In fact, the Buddhist monk’s brains have now been scanned by Dr Richard Davidson’s research lab. They discovered that mediative practices expand parts of the top part of the brain- the prefrontal cortex- making them less impulsive and more able to handle stress. The famous author Viktor Frankl who wrote, “Man’s search for meaning” survived the holocaust concentration camps in the 1940’s. He writes about having a strong mindset combined with purpose that helped him survive the horrific treatment and conditions compared with others that did not survive. He was describing how he developed a form of brain training to train his mindset to not only cope but to thrive beyond the camps. The Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof got his nickname “The Iceman” by breaking several records related to cold exposure including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts, running a half marathon above the Arctic Circle barefoot, and standing in a container while covered with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes. Wim Hof discovered neuroplasticity to become more resilient. From this discovery, he went on to create the scientifically validated Wim Hof method, that involves simple techniques that include breathing, ice exposure, and conscious control of his body temperature and immune system. Wim Hof has now trained thousands of people around the world with his simple techniques, published in top scientific journals, such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. There is growing evidence that exercise, meditation, nutrition and cognitive brain training can be applied to improve executive functions. Imagine when the view of the brain is more akin to being like a muscle and needs daily training and is incorporated into physical exercise programs. Taken together understanding and assessing the health of the physical architecture of the brain will amplify our understanding of why people do what they do, both good and bad. By only paying attention to behaviour without considering the underlying health of the brain then we are missing a great opportunity to improve people’s lives. Neuroscience and technology have revolutionised our understanding of what drives bad behaviour. The trick is improving the health of the brain first.
BIG IDEAS flow when they are simple and engage people
What does it take to turn an idea into a big idea that captures people’s imagination and then changes global behaviour? How did Airbnb and Uber become iconic global businesses compared with MySpace and Couchsurfing? How did Watson, Crick and Franklin solve the chemical structure of DNA through the design of the double helix compared to hundreds of scientists before them? A spectacular example of how to engage people in a BIG Idea is the recent UK exhibit at the Dubai World Expo. The big idea was to create an exhibit to showcase UK innovation highlighting artificial intelligence and the space sector. Es Devlin is the artist and designer who created the UK exhibit called the PoemPavilion that coalesces AI technology, architecture, engineering, neuroscience, music, and poetry into an immersive exhibit that engages senses and embeds a collective sense that humanity will create a better world. Every visitor to the Pavilion donates a word that is fed into an AI-generated collective poetry algorithm. The word is written into couplets by an algorithm trained on 15,000 poems from more than 100 British poets. The genius lies in how it is possible to design a building that interacts with its visitors. Upon entering the exhibit, the donated words appear on lit-up tiles that are part of the building, and the words are part of a collective AI-generated poem. People can sit and become engaged immediately in the display, eagerly searching for their donated word. The shared humanity is palpable as hundreds of people sit together engaged in both the building and the collective AI-generated poem. After leaving the exhibit, the donated word appears on the front of the building. It becomes part of a poetic ‘Collective Message’ projected onto the front of the Pavilion’s cone-shaped structure. You may not be able to attend the Dubai world expo, but you can be part of a poetic collective message by experimenting at the boundaries of AI and human collaboration at https://artsexperiments.withgoogle.com/poemportraits designed by Es Devlin in collaboration with Google Arts and Culture and creative technologist Ross Goodwin. It originated from a conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Serpentine Gallery, London, in 2017. The big idea behind the Poem Pavilion is a human ‘Collective Message’, inspired by Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Message, which asks: “If we discover other civilisations out there, what message could we send that represents humanity and planet Earth?” My word was neuroscience, and my AI-generated contribution to the poetic collective message became, “your neuroscience have been delicate and lovely, the commons of the soul are still”. The big idea is distilled into a simple message. What word would you donate?
Beat stress to loose kilos: neuroscientist
Retraining the brain to beat stress is the key to losing weight and keeping it off, a leading Australian neuroscientist says. There’s overwhelming evidence that many people who lose weight through dieting quickly regain it. This is because people have learned to ignore their brain – an organ which has been dictating behaviour since prehistoric times – and have accepted emotional eating that comes with living an over-stressed lifestyle, according to Professor Selena Bartlett from QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation. Diets can in fact make us fatter and more stressed, says Prof Bartlett “When we are stressed our brain seeks pleasure and that’s the problem,” says Prof Bartlett. And the more stress you experience, the more your brain seeks pleasure to counter it. Choosing to beat stress in order to loose weight has long been advocated by US neuroscientist, Dr Caroline Leaf. Stress, like real food, is not inherently bad – it makes people alert and ready for action. But it depends on how a person reacts to stress that determines the outcome of a situation and in this case weight loss, according to Dr Leaf. “Thoughts are real things that occupy mental real estate,” she said during her 2015 TEDx talk on the power of our thoughts. If a person chooses to react wrongly to a challenging situation, they enter stage two of the stress reaction. “During this stage, high levels of cortisol circulate in the blood for extended periods of time, in turn contributing to prolonged high blood sugar that can also lead to insulin resistance, pre- diabetes, and weight gain, since prolonged high levels of cortisol lead to the accumulation of fat instead of fat breakdown. “In this toxic situation, fat tends to accumulate around the middle of the body and is a risk factor for heart disease,” writes Dr Leaf. In fact, prolonged, high levels of cortisol can lead to Cushing’s Syndrome – characterised by fat accumulation around the middle and back of the human body. The good news is that it’s possible to override the way the amygdala – the emotional part of our brain – responds to stress, says Prof Bartlett. “When the rational brain is in charge; sustainable weight loss is possible,” she said. PROFESSOR BARTLETT’S FIVE STEPS TO HELP MAKE THIS HAPPEN: 1. Be compassionate to your brain – it is an amazing organ that can be severely damaged by stress, especially in childhood while it’s developing. 2. Get to know the brain – an awareness of how the amygdala – an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobes – drives your behaviour is critical to overriding unhealthy impulses. 3. Identify when your amygdala is taking over in stressful situations and acknowledge when you’re tempted by the urge to eat comforting food, like sugar. 4. Replace food and alcohol with deep breathing, stretching, walking, running or any movement that feels good. 5. Reduce sugar and alcohol intake and increase cardiovascular and high intensity exercise – these will help to heal your brain of its stress-induced damage and build a strong, healthy body.
Becoming aware of the slow silent foods and drinks that harm us with Dr James Meucke AM
Imagine knowing that there are ingredients in food and drinks that when consumed over time are slowly and silently leading toward type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and in the worst case blindness. In this powerful episode with Dr James Muecke AM who is the Lieutenant Governor of South Australia and an Adelaide-based eye surgeon, we discuss how a poor diet is the leading cause of death. The startling understanding is that type 2 diabetes may be preventable through changing our diet. A pivotal moment happened for James when his patient Neil, woke up and was blind in both eyes, as a result of his type 2 diabetes. Further still, even if you have type 2 diabetes, imagine knowing that it may be possible, in some cases, to change your diet and have remission? James is Australian of the Year for 2020 for his 32 years of humanitarian work. He is using this powerful platform to raise awareness of our poor diet, laden with sugary drinks and ultra-processed foods, which is devastating the health of Australians. Not only is he improving awareness in Australia through his influence with government and other organisations. He and I discuss how we were both addicted to sugar and what we did to reduce it and improve our health. Dr James Muecke here graduated with Honors from Adelaide University Medical School in 1988. Following his internship at Royal Adelaide Hospital, James lived and worked as a volunteer doctor in Kenya in 1989. After completing ophthalmology training in Adelaide in 1995, James worked as an eye surgeon in Jerusalem for 12 months. James furthered his expertise with a Fellowship in Ocular Oncology at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. He returned to Adelaide in 1998 where he has been a Visiting Consultant and Senior Lecturer at Royal Adelaide Hospital (retired 2020) and Women’s & Children’s Hospital (retired 2016). James established the Ocular Oncology Units at these two centres upon his return. James has taught the diagnosis and management of eye cancer in ten countries in Asia. He founded not-for-profit organization Sight For All in 2008, turning his boundless energy into a fight against blindness in the Aboriginal and mainstream communities of Australia and many of the poorest countries of the world. Sight For All’s comprehensive and sustainable projects are now impacting the lives of over one million people each year. His commitment to social impact and humanitarian endeavors has earnt him a number of awards including an Order of Australia in 2012, the Australian Medical Association’s President’s Leadership Award in 2013, and Ernst & Young’s Social Entrepreneur for Australia in 2015. Degree of Doctor of the University (honoris causa), University of Adelaide, 2021 Australian of the Year, 2020. South Australian of the Year, 2019. University of Adelaide Distinguished Alumni Award, 2019 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (Australia, Social Category), 2015 Finalist, Pride of Australia Medal, 2014 President’s Leadership Award for blindness prevention in developing countries - Australian Medical Association, 2013. Rural Health and Wellbeing Award for service to Aboriginal eye health in South Australia. Member of the Order of Australia for the provision of eye health services to Asian and Australian Aboriginal communities, 2012. Learn more about Dr James Muecke AM here.
Breaking free from gurus, cults, idealogies, self-help leaders with Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal
What happens when you realise you have been raised in a cult at 19 years old, and your gurus have been abusive in every way: spiritual, mental, physical, sexual and financial? This is Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Professor of Management at Macquarie University story of resilience and what is took to break free and rebuild her life. She joins me on a powerful episode of the Thriving Minds podcast #93: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/episode-93-breaking-free-from-gurus-cults-and-self/id1471835230?i=1000567097677 How do you break free and how do you rebuild your life when everything you knew before is gone and abandons you? Her family were some of the first people lulled into the Kabbalah centre, the one now famous because of Madonna and Gywneth Paltrow. In a 2013 interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Madonna opened up about her life at the time and what led her to the practice. “At 35, I was divorced and looking for love in all the wrong places. I decided that I needed to be more than a girl with gold teeth and gangster boyfriends. More than a sexual provocateur imploring girls not to go for second-best baby,” she admitted. “I began to search for meaning and a real sense of purpose in life. I wanted to be a mother, but I realized that just because I was a freedom fighter didn’t mean I was qualified to raise a child. I decided I needed to have a spiritual life. That’s when I discovered Kabbalah.” This is the story that is for all of us that are vulnerable and suffering in search of answers, and from absent parents, leading us to gurus, religions, or people that are happy to holdpower over others. Debbie watched first hand, how power and money changed the founders of the Center from their original intentions of doing good. The first red flag: If you are not allowed to question anything- then you know that you are in the wrong place The second red flag: If you are asked for money. The third red flag. You are feeling vulnerable and trauma and overcoming adversity. "The Kabbalah Center does its level best to control its members, telling them what to wear, where to go, what to tweet on Twitter, what to post on Instagram and Facebook, what career decisions to make (that turn out disastrous because they don't know what they are doing and are severely mentally ill), who to date, who not to date, who to talk to and who not to talk to, regarding love and friendships. They take steps to isolate members from their family, friends and business associates not involved in the cult, in an effort to manipulate them without interference from unbiased people who care about them and will tell them the truth - you're being lied to, deceived, manipulated and taken advantage of. The sad part is Kabbalah Center members such as the Bergs, Madonna and Jay-Z, wreck the lives, relationships and careers of those that get involved with them, who don't realize it until it's too late. They are altering the course of people's lives for the worst and it's sick. What kind of people meddle in other people's lives to these extremes. It's unhealthy and not normal" A short minute on Google, to anything guru-like and cult-like and the word fraud or lawsuit is the other place to see what is behind closed doors. For example an article written by Anna Merlan for Vice showed up federal court records showing that Berg, his brother Michael, his mother Karen, the Kabbalah Centre itself, and a constellation of related entities are the defendants in an explosive civil lawsuit first filed in New York in July 2019 by seven core former Kabbalah devotees. The plaintiffs were part of a group of special spiritual workers within the organization known as “chevre.” The suit lays bare several long-running controversies at the Centre. Members of the previous chevre—one of whom once served as a spokesperson for the Centre—accuse the organization of being little more than a personal enrichment scheme for the Bergs themselves. The plaintiffs, the suit claims, were led to believe “that they would be spiritual workers who were to help enlighten humanity to the teachings of the Kabbalah. In reality, the individuals who control the Centre–the Bergs–“operate a cult that preys upon those seeking to improve the world through the performance of good works.” It also claims that the Centre’s “ultimate objective” is “to raise revenue and solicit donations that benefit the Individual Defendants and their families.” Dr Debbie Haski-Leventhal's story is about child abuse, emotional and financial abuse. This is not just a story about religious cults. This is about all cults, gurus that abound themselves on people's suffering. We talk about how to know if you are in a cult, whether it is a workplace, political party, self help gurus and anyone that denies you access to "special knowledge" that makes you feel less. We discuss how she overcame 18 years of brain washing to restart her life. Her latest book is called "Meaningfulness" and gives the tools to work your way back to find purpose in life beyond cults and anything that reduces your ability to question or flourish. After leaving the Kabbalah Center she moved to Jerusalem to study philosophy at the Hebrew University where she also studied a Master’s in Management of not-for-profits and a PhD. She migrated to Sydney, Australia in 2008, worked at the Centre for Social Impact and in 2011 moved to Macquarie University. Dr Debbie Haski-Leventhal invites you to " BREAK FREE" by finding "Meaningfulness in your own life". You are perfect and enough. She tells us on the podcast how she did it.
Conversation with James Rhee about why love and kindness at work matters.
Most people would say love has nothing to do with money or work or joy. Have you considered what is their money: joy: love equation? What ratios would you devote to each of these. If you are like the majority of people in high performing organisations, you would rate love as the least important. James Rhee now has 1 million views on TED, for his kindness at work talk. This is not the “being nice” version of kindness nor the “Love Eat Pray” version of love. This is about the human need to be seen and heard and the feeling of safety generated that leads the people and their brain health toward creativity, innovation, and purpose. James is an expert at building back businesses, especially when they on their knees, through optimising the unmeasurable, “goodwill” of its people and translating this into the balance sheet. In the process of turning around Ashley Stewart, a near bankrupt, consumer women’s clothing brand for plus size, moderate income, black women. He captured “goodwill” by operationalising our collective human ambition to be better. In this interview, we discuss businesses that operationalise “goodwill”, through kindness and love toward their people. In contrast, workplace stress, does completely the opposite, as Forbes recently published an article showing the main reason people want to leave their job is an awful boss or a toxic and stressful workplace. Similarly, people remain in jobs because they feel appreciated, thanked, and feel part of driving the purpose of the business. Goodwill pervades every aspect of the business, and it is almost akin to that feeling you have when you are part of something much greater than yourself. Some refer this feeling to “energy or soul or spirit”, words not often used in business. The synergistic benefit derived from the “combined human capital” of a team behind its leader is notoriously difficult to measure, and unfortunately, when it leaves, it is felt fast and furious. James has learnt that authentic leaders, not only lead by example, but capture and bottle the essence of the communal nature of human capital. He discusses how kind people across a business, raise the whole business to unforeseen levels, drive thriving processes and balance sheets and most importantly build better future leaders. We talk about ways to transform the inevitability of a future being a technology driven and much-touted universal base income, a concept of providing a low payment to everyone, due to the disappearance of work to giving individuals opportunities and knowledge to grow businesses that build back better Societies. Within each of us, lies a renaissance opportunity springing forth in the post-pandemic 2022’s. James was given a red helicopter when he was 5 by a father of his friend at his school, to say thank you to James giving his son something to eat at lunchtime. The red helicopter materialised “goodwill” and gave James his most important lesson for life, and that is, how to make tangible the intangible nature of human capital component of “goodwill. James is the founder of Red Helicopter, a media EdTech start-up to accelerate business school education for all, he teaches at MIT Sloan, and Howard University. The first assignment the students are given is to answer the question: what their optimal money is, joy, love equation for life. What is yours? Join us on an exciting episode #79 of the Thriving Minds podcast.
Designing teams that flow
Imagine exiting a train station and rounding the corner in an urban part of London for the first time, on your own, without knowing a single person to start studying in a Design School after growing up in a small town. This is exactly the unlikely path taken by Lisa Scharoun, now Professor and Head of the School of Design at QUT. This never occurred to her growing up as one of 5 children in the middle of rural U.S.A. As Steve Jobs famously quoted, you can only join the dots looking backwards. What comes to your mind when you hear the word design? At first, it invokes fashion, architecture, and iPhones. Then, after talking with Lisa on the Thriving minds podcast, it became clear that expert design is the gateway that provides the simplest solution for complex problems. For example, it was the discovery of the design of DNA, the double helix, consisting of two strands that wind around each other like a twisted ladder that led to the scientific and genomics revolution. The simple design was discovered in1953 by a team of scientists putting together the pieces of a puzzle built by hundreds of scientists, starting with Friedrich Miescher in 1869. Watson and Crick, with the help of Rosalind Franklin, and others, used cardboard cut-outs on a table of the individual chemical components of the four bases (AC TG) and other nucleotide subunits that make up the chemical structure of DNA. Watson and Crick shifted molecules around on their desktops. It took a team working together inflow to discover the double helix structure of DNA built by nature’s simple design. Together they solved one of the most complex scientific problems, being the way in which all living forms are connected to each other (see Pray et al., 2008). What could be more complex than designing teams to achieve flow states? The ability of team members together to flow arises from a complex array of small daily decisions each member has made. From choices of how to get up in the morning, amount of exercise, and the food being eaten. In Lisa’s case, her life flowed from exchanging letters with a family friend at 10 years old in Germany into studying and working across the USA, UK, China, Singapore, and Australia and becoming International expertise in design. Her team flow was designed by creating a collaborative environment with a mantra of ‘change comes by design’. They created a set of promotional posters for the Olympic Village that highlighted the history and significant contributions that Australian Paralympic athletes have contributed to the sport. This set of posters, created for the London 2012 games, has subsequently been showcased at the US Embassy in Canberra as well as at every subsequent Paralympic Games. As we enter the post-pandemic COVID-19 era, the dominant design we face is how to live sustainably within an economic model that demands consumption and growth. A design solution to this complex puzzle is greatly needed, for example, how would we re-wild the Earth as proposed by David Attenborough. Please join Lisa and I as we discuss how to design teams that flow. Citation: Pray, L. (2008) Discovery of DNA structure and function: Watson and Crick. Nature Education 1(1):100
Escape from stress with Sarrah Le Marquand, Editor in Chief Stellar and Body and Soul Magazine.
There is no doubt, to be human right now is not easy. It is almost impossible not to feel the shift underneath in the world order and the feeling is palpable. For us in Queensland and NSW, this is on top of catastrophic floods, and the pandemic. It is OK to be human and feel the suffering. It is also OK, to escape for a few minutes into worlds that seem far removed from danger, clean-up, masks, and strife. This is the beauty of creating worlds for others to escape to. Join us today with Sarrah Le Marquand is the founding editor-in-chief of Stellar, the country’s most read Sunday magazine, and also editor-in-chief of Body+Soul, Australia’s leading health media brand. Sarrah is also a weekly panellist on the Today show and is a regular co-host of The Project. She has appeared on Sky News, Q&A, The Drum, Studio 10, The Morning Show, Sunrise and is a frequent guest on ABC Radio. In 2021 she was announced as the first ever ambassador for Women’s Community Shelters, an Australian charity providing crisis accommodation for women and children experiencing domestic violence. Thank you Sarrah for everything you are doing to help others have some relief. This is the guest on Episode #82 on the Thriving Minds podcast.
Good reasons for bad feelings -the smoke detector with Dr Randolph Nesse Professor and Psychiatrist.
We can learn about social anxiety and the smoke detector in our brain and learn how to reset it when it is making us unwell. Dr Randolph Nesse is a pioneer in evolutionary medicine. After treating patients for anxiety and mood disorders, he discovered that there are really good reasons why we end up with bad feelings. It is all about our genes and how they have helped us to survive over time. He discusses how social anxiety affects many people. We talk about the reasons why. We have developed special parts of the brain designed to make us socially connected and to belong to a group. His books examine aim to discover why mental health disorders exist to make psychiatry more effective. Our need to belong to a group or tribe or society has been fundamental to our survival as a species over millions of years of history. Inside the brain there are places designed to make us feel under threat or feel safe. Listen to our conversation on Episode #87 of the Thriving Minds podcast. Link here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/episode-87-good-reasons-for-bad-feelings-a-new/id1471835230?i=1000559886222 SUMMARY We have good reasons for our bad feelings. There is nothing wrong with us. Social anxiety is one of the main reasons that sets off the smoke detector in the brain Because being part of a social group or a starling in a murmuration or a person in a mexican wave matters for our survival We understand how this happens, physics shows -one particle under the right conditions becomes a snowflake When 20-35 people standing up and then down at the right time and speed in a stadium- becomes a mexican wave Large number of starlings gather and it becomes a murmuration When we face a dangerous situation, the neurons in the brain come together quickly and activate the "smoke detector" to keep us safe from danger Similarly public speaking, meeting a new person, standing in a crowd, can also send off the smoke detector As Dr Nesse says, understanding the "smoke detector" helps with managing social anxiety by practicing and learning how to hit the reset button on our smoke detector SMOKE DETECTOR PRINCIPLE Think of a situation when you enter a room or have to give a talk in front of people and you feel anxious, with increased heart rate and breathing, a sense of panic comes over you. It is like a smoke detector going off from a burnt piece of toast. In this case, it is your brain's smoke detector, a place designed from millions of years of history, sounding the alarm, and setting up the systems to get away from danger. It is a cheap system, or neural circuit, that activates in milliseconds- quick get out of here. When this happens, run away from the situation or sit still and hope no-one notices you. Dr Ness describes in his paper called "The Smoke Detector Principle" Link to his paper here. "In Descent of Man, Darwin argued that human morality had evolved from the social instincts of animals, especially the bonds of sympathy and love. Darwin gathered observations over many decades on animal behavior: the heroic sacrifices of social insects, the tender bonds of affection between female apes and their offspring, the courage and loyalty of dogs for their masters. Cooperation and regard for others were beneficial to animal communities as a whole, and helped them to survive in the battle for life". Listen to Baba Brinkman rap about Dr Nesse's book here. Fabulous way that he makes this book accessible to everyone using music. Why birds of a feather flock together- Murmuration Highly recommend viewing this extraordinary video that shows 300,000 starlings moving together in a movement termed "murmuration" to protect themselves from all types of predators in the wild. It is extraordinary demonstration of the development of the nervous system for connection and survival. It is a stunning and extraordinary example of social cognition. SNOWFLAKES ARE SOCIAL? Like all advances in science, murmurations are now being studied. In contrast, to what we infer from biology, it seems that the flying patterns of birds or murmurations can be understood through physics, In fact, there are new suggestions that murmurations follow the same laws as when crystals form, and avalanches. They live "on the edge" and are transformed in an instant. PEOPLE BEHAVE LIKE PARTICLES TOO THE MEXICAN WAVE Doesn't the starling murmuration remind you of a "wave" in a sports stadium? In fact, this has been studied by Illes Farkas, Tamas Vicsek and Dirk Helbing by analyzing more than a dozen waves and published in Nature in 2002. Just like the particles in a snowflake that were obeying a few simple rules and ended up creating a seemingly complex phenomenon — snowflakes, for example. In the stadium wave- see the youtube video. They found that each stadium wave in most cases is clockwise, at a speed of about 20 seats per second, and most surprisingly the wave was triggered by as few as 20, 30 or 35 people. The "wave" depended on: the distance between audience members, how many neighbours an audience member could see the readiness, or probability, of an individual to start standing up, assuming that others nearby are already standing." https://www.npr.org/2016/08/15/488285360/the-physics-and-psychology-of-the-wave-at-sporting-events Mexican Wave is triggered by as little as 25-35 people ONE IS NOT ENOUGH 25-40 people to trigger the wave UNIVERSAL LAWS OF NATURE TELL US WHY WE GET ANXIETY A more detailed look at the Milky Way suggests that it is rather like a Mexican wave rather than flat disc and a murmuration. As we strive to understand why we do what we do- understanding where it all started helps to move forward. We can learn to reset the smoke detector when it is not serving us. Social contact and nature are some of the ways to start to press the reset button on the smoke detector. Meet Dr Nesse MD Randolph M. Nesse, MD is Research Professor of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, where he became the Founding Director of the Center for Evolution Medicine in 2014. He was previously Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan where he led the Evolution and Human Adaptation Program and helped to establish one of the first anxiety disorders clinics. His research on the neuroendocrinology of anxiety evolved into studies on why aging exists. Those studies led to collaboration with the evolutionary biologist George Williams on Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, a book that initiated much new work in the field of evolutionary medicine. His research is on how selection shapes mechanisms that regulate defenses such as pain, fever, anxiety and low mood, and how social selection shaped human capacities for morality. His larger mission is to establish evolutionary biology as a basic science for medicine. Dr. Nesse is the Founding President of the International Society for Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Sciences, and an elected Fellow of the AAAS. His new book, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings: Insights from the Frontier of Evolutionary Psychiatry shows how asking evolutionary questions about why mental disorders exist can make psychiatry more effective. Learn more about Dr Nesse and his books at his website. https://www.randolphnesse.com/good-reasons-book-info
How exercise helps us remember better and extends our lifespan with Dr Tara Walker, neuroscientist
I can hear you now. I don’t run, or I am too old to run or the classic, I want to protect my knees, and the list goes on. This is exactly what I use to think. Exercise is the one thing shown across several studies to help the brain produce new cells or neurons, also called neuroplasticity. Dr Tara Walker, a neuroscientist, at the Queensland Brain Institute has spent the last 20 years trying to work out how running helps the brain’s memory centres function more effectively. In a recent high-profile journal, she and her colleagues published a remarkable discovery, that a trace element, selenium, they found in the blood leads to the production of more brain cells in the part of the brain, called the hippocampus, that helps us learn new things and remember old ones. Selenium can be found in nuts, grains and fresh fruit and vegetables and particularly in brazil nuts. For example, one brazil nut a day is enough. Having brazil nuts does not help and can lead to problems. As much as we might like to take a supplement rather than run or exercise. There will never be enough benefits conferred from supplements that are equivalent to exercise. The main reason is that exercise gets the heart pumping blood and oxygen to nearly every place in the body and keeps the heart and body fit. It activates skeletal muscle that helps with insulin sensitivity and diabetes. The benefit list goes on and on. There is a lot of debate about how much exercise is the right amount. Can you do too much exercise? The right prescription of exercise has not been worked out. But there is no doubt that some form of movement everyday matter to stay healthy. For those of us not able to walk or run, then we can move our arms. If this is not the case, then we can learn something new, like a language, or meet new people. The brain needs a lot of novelty, and learning to stay healthy. Dr Walker has gone one step further than many of us and that is to work out through experiments how exercise improves factors in the blood that leads to changes in the brain. This was ground-breaking research. The most surprising discovery was just how much memory is improved with aging from adding exercise and the supplement, selenium. This leads to the idea that what you eat matters to getting the brain benefits from exercise. Dr Walker also didn’t think she could run. She was a swimmer when she was young. But by taking small steps, she slowly built up to running. She thought a 10km fun run was her limit, but then came the half and full marathon and now she is training for a 60 km trail run in the mountains in Brisbane. While she runs, her best ideas come, and this is how she decided to examine the blood of animals exercising to discover that proteins related to selenium are changed. This was the beginning of an 8-year project to demonstrate how exercise changes the brain. It takes a village running together to make breakthroughs in neuroscience. What amazing work, and how lucky are we to interview her on episode #80 of the Thriving Minds podcast.