Upskill with The Mind Room

How to Up

In this recording of our first UpSkill webinar - co-founder of The Mind Room, Dr Jo Mitchell, will share with us key skills and strategies to care for our mental health and build wellbeing.

This livestream and recording is part of the the UpSkill series. Learn more about the series and sign up to be told about future sessions.

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Transcript begins at 1 minute and 52 seconds.


So, hello everybody I'm coming to you from Hobart. I'm just here in my little home at the base of Mount Wellington Kearney and on that note, I wanted to just acknowledge the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia and recognise the continuing connection to land waters and community. I pay my respects to them in their cultures and to elders past, present and emerging and welcome to all of you.

I hope we're going to have a little bit of fun tonight, but also talk about some of the ideas that come up around our mind and mental health and this very strange time that we are living in.

So I'm going to share my screen with you, and you should, right now, if our technology is doing everything it's meant to be doing, you should be able to see the slides that we have this session.

So these are strange times. And as we come to terms with our lives in the era of COVID-19 It's really put a spotlight on what matters most. You know our health, financial security and freedom and our relationships and connection to each other.

So tonight is this opportunity for us to explore ideas about the human mind and how we can work with it to move beyond just surviving and learning how to thrive in modern life. As Oscar Wilde said. ‘to live is the rarest thing. Most people exist. That is all’.

So how do we move into really thriving? That's the question that we want to explore.

Guided meditation

To get us started, and to get us into the mood, what I thought we could do is just a three-minute meditation.

Now, don't worry if you've never meditated before. This is painless and simple. It's nothing magical or mystical. It's just an everyday experience. If you do have a magical or mystical experience then you can thank me later.

However if you find yourself falling to sleep it's probably telling you something which is that you are tired. And lastly we're not trying to find an empty mind while we do this practice. It's really just noticing whatever turns up for you. So let's get into it. We're only going to be doing this for about three minutes.

Actually, while I've got you, before we start we're also going to be running a poll afterward and we'd love you to contribute and give us an answer to a question we're going to put on the screen. The link to that poll was in the description for this but we'll also show it straight after the meditation so you can jump on and give us some feedback.

So if you are ready to join me let's just sit quietly. Maybe put your feet on the floor, ground yourself if you’re lying down and let your eyes close. And I'm going to be here with my eyes closed as well. I want you to bring your attention into your breath, noticing the air in and out of your body. And as you breathe just slowing the breath down on the out-breath letting go of any obvious tension or holding on that may be in your body or in your mind. Just anytime you notice that your attention wanders away, maybe goes to sounds around you or gets caught up in thinking about what's for dinner tonight or something that happened earlier today or what you've got on tomorrow.

I want you just to notice where you are and gently, kindly, bring it back to the breath. You may need to do that once or 50 times. Each time just note the habits of your mind and then gently bring the attention back to the breath. And the last thing we're going to do here is just look beyond the breath. I want you to scan through your body. Notice how you're feeling right now. Is there any emotion present? Are you feeling pleasant emotions or unpleasant emotions? Maybe quiet low-energy ones like calm, peace or maybe high-energy ones like frustration, excitement, anger?

So just checking in and noticing what's there. There's no right or wrong here. It's whatever's present for you today. And while you're there, if you know what the name of this emotion or feeling is, would you say hello to it? So hello boredom, hello joy, hi anxiety. I'm taking a moment to thank your mind and your body for letting you take this pause to check in and see how you are. And on the next breath in we're gonna open our eyes come back to the screen and maybe you have a stretch.

All right thanks for joining us on that

How Are You Feeling Today?

Some of you are super fast. You're already onto the poll and responding to the question which is, ‘how are you feeling today?’

What's going on for you and seeing how the people around us are doing.

So on this word poll, you'll notice that the words that are coming up larger are the ones that are being repeated. So we have a bit of overwhelm and depression and tiredness and we also have good, chilled, keyboard, thanks keyboard, frustrated, nervous, optimistic. You know there's a whole smorgasbord of emotions that are going on for people right now.

And that's really important just to acknowledge there. To see how our community is, and not surprisingly there's a fair bit of frazzled and cabin fever and worried coming up amongst all those other more positive or optimistic or upbeat emotions.

I'm just gonna take us back to the slides. Thank you for joining us on that little journey and hopefully we might be able to make a bit of a shift for some people if you are finding that you're struggling a little bit. So that was a little mindfulness of emotions.

I'm going to come back to this idea of mindfulness a little bit later on because it's a really good technique for checking in and seeing how we're doing. And I think that that's what this time means. COVID has really done for a lot of us. It’s given us a big pause. A chance to look at our lives, our lifestyles to consider what really matters to us.

Am I Normal?

The question that kind of comes out of all this and one that we see in the consulting rooms of our practice at The Mind Room is this question of ‘am I normal?’


And the answer to that is well probably.

But what is normal anyway? We have a range of people coming in asking this question. And a lot of the time, what I think is going on for people is that they don't actually understand how their mind and their body works. And so they become really concerned because they're noticing shifts in the way that they're feeling or shifts in their emotions and go, ‘oh, my god panic! What's going on is this okay?’ And if we learn how to work a little bit better with our mind and our body then we wouldn't probably pathologize it.

Now this is not to say that there aren't people out there that are struggling with depression and anxiety and trauma and a whole range of mental health issues. But for a lot of us it can probably be alleviated by knowing a few things about what helps us to function and why our mind does some of the things that it does.

Negativity Bias

So I'd like to talk about two little quirks of the human mind that might be of interest to you and perhaps how we can approach them at this time.

So one of these particular quirks is something called the negativity bias. And if you haven't heard of this before, you would most definitely have experienced it. The negativity bias is this bias within the average human brain, so for most people, not everybody, but for most people. We tend to see, or notice, the bad much more easily much more readily than we do the good that's in our experience. And so we find that we need to balance it up. This kind of taking in of the bad news, the threat, the dangers, the worries. We need a lot more attention on the good in our life.

So this negativity bias has been well researched by academics. And then I think the thing that's really interesting here is seeing how it plays out in our own lives as well. How often has someone asked you a question about something good that's going on in your life. And pretty quickly it's turned around to the problems with that. I know my mum is pretty awesome at being able to do this when I tell her some good news like, ‘hey mum, I've got a promotion at work.’ It's immediately, Johanna, are you going to be okay? So you think you're going to manage the extra responsibilities? What's it going to mean for getting enough exercise? So very quickly she can turn it into what's the threats or the dangers around it. And I know that she does that from a space of love but it can still be a little bit frustrating. So this negativity bias, it plays out in our lives. What's happening is that evolution has kind of made this bet yeah that we are going to have to be tuned into threat and danger. So if we can anticipate threat, danger the bad things in life then we're going to be able to respond to them quickly and we're gonna survive. So it's a survival bet. Anyway, it turns out that the threats that we used to experience with things like lions and tigers wanting to eat us is not so much anymore now.

The things that are worries to us are less immediate and less physical. Not always, but the balance is absolutely shifted. And now it's more we have this stress response or this negativity bias kicking in when we get a letter from the bank or from a lawyer or from our utilities and we know that we've got to pay something. Or you've got a deadline coming up of some kind. So modern life is not so well adapted for this negativity bias and the triggers that it sets off in us.

So learning what to do with that and even just being aware of it is the first step. So that's number one, the negativity bias.

I have strongly in me this is my inner control freak. I love to control or try to control the uncontrollable and I'm not alone. It turns out there's a lot of us that try to mentally control the outcomes of our life when really we are just thinking about things that we can do very little about.

So let me break it down for you. What I'm talking about are the things you can control. You're absolutely the boss of this stuff. You get to look after 100%. We then have the things that we can influence now. They can be fairly variable and we can have really high influence over them or pretty low influence over them. And I'll show you an example in a moment. And then lastly we have this final category and all I can say is let it go. You have no control. You have no influence, let it go. For some reason we keep trying to hold on to these pieces particularly.

Control The Controllable

So let me run you through this one. Something that we have really no control over and that's the weather today. I don't know what it was like for you, but here for me it was beautiful. It was blue skies, sunshine and a really gorgeous but crisp cold kind of day. Anyway I didn't mind that it was like that, but the day before it was pretty miserable and it was raining exactly at my break when I wanted to go out for a walk which is super annoying.

Anyway we don't really have any control or influence over the weather. However we maybe have a little bit of influence over other people's response to the weather. So if you have kids, or if you have a partner, if you had someone that the other day, went, ‘Oh god, it's raining and now I don't get to go for my walk, that's really annoying’, you can probably say, ‘hey, it's not that bad. Come on, just chuck on a parka, get on your raincoat and head out.’ So we can change their response or maybe influence a little bit.

And then the last one the thing that you do you have control over and that's your response to the weather yeah. So what you decide in response to what's going on with the weather and similarly I think that those you know things about this whole kind of COVID experience that we have no control over, we have no influence over and then there's things that we do.

So that's what we're being asked to stay inside and to keep 1.5 meters away from others and be doing this slow integration back to work and the peace though that we have real influence over is our response to these. I think that does include making room for the uncomfortable emotions that come with it but also recognising that you don't have to stay there. You can do things that can change the way you approach the situation that you find yourself in.

So these are our quirks. The message around this is recognising what is controllable, what you can influence and what you have no control over. And remember the big thing that you get to look after is your response. At this moment there's no cure for the past, we can't do much about what has happened and it's pretty tricky to travel into the future except for in your mind but we can't get our bodies there to actually affect change. So your response this moment, and you know what, for most of us at this moment we’re okay. At this moment we're okay, we're safe.

Serenity Prayer

You might have seen this before, but I think it kind of sums it up better than I can and it's the Serenity Prayer.

“So grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

And I think this is where mindfulness really helps us. In tuning in and noticing and seeing the difference between the things that shape what we can change and the things that we can't. And learning how to accept or let go of those things that we can't.

Completing The Stress Cycle

So the second kind of idea I'd like to talk to you about is this idea of completing the stress cycle. Because in all of these and in our lives, in general, most of us will experience stress. I'm pretty sure that you have experienced it before and will again.

So this is not the last time that you will probably experience stress and it turns out with stress generally we know, kind of, what our levers might be. Things like if I'm stressed there's generally a stressor. So let's talk a little and see what that stress or might be.

So while I was sitting here and doing the meditation I have a cat called Chico. Chico has been adapting to Hobart life. He went from being a Melbourne indoor cat where he pretty much lived in a tiny little one-bedroom place and for seven years hasn't really gone outside or done much other than live in the city pad anyway would come down to Hobart and he's got all this space to roam he's getting used to outdoor life. He's met our local possums. He doesn't love them but they also love to come out at about the same time as when I was meditating with you. So I'm sitting there trying to run that meditation and Chico is scratching away at the door trying to get out.

I don't know if you could hear it but I certainly could and that created stress for me, I could feel it rising in my body. So my immediate response addresses the stressor. So I wanted to throw a pillow at him however I was a bit concerned that that would disrupt the vibe. So I didn't and I decided to let it go and to hope that you know you would let that fade into the background. So we have stressors in our lives. Maybe not as simple as the cat wanting to get outside to go say hi to the possums. And we've got to make decisions about, is this a stressor that I can problem-solve through? Or is it a stressor that I can maybe ask for some help around?

So ask others, if there are resources that you don't have, you can remove the stress. And in really dire circumstances, I guess we choose to remove ourselves. So that might be if you find yourself in a toxic work environment then you might get to a point where you go this is really not a good value fit for me and I am comfortable leaving this because I do not see how I'm going to change this situation.

I'm now getting stressed because I need to plug in my computer. Give me one second. Good I like a lot of examples. Rookie mistake 101 plug your computer into the power. So we have the stress and we usually have techniques for addressing the stressor.

The thing I never really got taught was that there was another part to the stress cycle. This part was really crucial if we are really to finish and release the stress from our body. And this is the release and the restore parts. So you have a tough day at work. You come home. You leave those stressors behind but just because you step into your home and it's safe and you're not dealing with those issues it doesn't mean that you're not still carrying the stress in your body. So this is about how do we let it out of our body. And I don't know if any of you remember, there was a Mars Bar advert and it went something like a Mars a day helps you work rest and play. I'm not gonna sing it to the little jingle but you get my drift. Anyway this is a slight variation of that. I'm not suggesting that you go do more work in order to release and restore your energy instead what I'm going to suggest is that sometimes we just need to refuel. And there's that other chocolate bar Snickers that did the ad which has Alf Stuart riding a BMX bike. And he crashes off the big jump and he's swearing his head off like our Alf Stuart does. And then one of these young mates comes up to him and hands him a Snickers bar and says, ‘here eat this’. You’re just not yourself when you're hungry and we all know that kind of hangry thing well it turns out that stress needs fuel. So sometimes it's as simple as eating and hydrating. We need a juicy brain for our brain to work optimally. You need to hydrate.

So it's not just about the body it's the brain. And in fact look at them they're kind of they're together. Head on shoulders. So we need to eat well, we need to hydrate, we need to look at what we're putting into our bodies. So taking in a lot of stimulants like caffeine and sugars it's just not going to help you to function well or release the stress as easily. A little bit of that stuff absolutely but just being conscious of how much.

The other way that we can complete the stress cycle and you probably find that a good night's sleep suddenly all that sort of weight drops off your shoulders. So we need to rest and that might be through sleep. It also might be through meditation and we know that meditation is key to helping us to regulate emotions and to manage our thinking and to restore the body. So it might be about sleep for you. It might be about meditating or it might be about a really, really easy technique.

Something that we do every day but maybe don't focus on is a breath. So the breath is direct access to your physiology. It goes straight to your autonomic nervous system and it sends it messages of either get ready to fight and run or otherwise it's okay you can relax now you can get on with digesting food and repairing cells.

And how about we have a little bit of an in-breath. You know when you are scared think about what you do with your breath. When something scares you, you have that quick sharp in-take of breath and that wakes the body up and lets you know beyond alert get ready now. When the thing that scared us maybe has passed or we realised oh actually wasn't what I thought it was, it's all fine what do we let go of? The breath. We breathe out and that out-breath is key to releasing stress from our body as well. So just even doing a few minutes of deep slow calm breathing can help just regulate the system again and lastly eat, rest and this one equally important play.

Gotta keep playing. Something happens to us as adults we lose this incredible capacity to play that we had with men with children. And that is a big mistake we need to bring back play and one of the things I've absolutely loved about this whole isolation era is this sense of play that has come out in our community.

I don't know if any of you checked out the Facebook page for isolation outing but it's people getting dressed up in their fancy clothes or just anything a little bit wacky to take the rubbish bins out because the rubbish bins were going out more than us it seemed at certain stages. My favourite one was a guy who was dressed completely in an astronaut's outfit and the caption that he had as he was out looking inside but being with the whole regalia on was no space in the bin. So I think people are finding ways to have fun with this. So play whether that's free movement through creating things you might be into, crafts or by connecting with your friends.

So there you have it. You need to release the stress. Don't forget to do the release and restore phase of it. Eat, rest, play.

So there was a little bit about coping with life and difficulties and the simple strategies that we can use. I'd also like to talk about the idea of happiness and thriving so Benjamin Disraeli, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain, not once but twice said, ‘action may not always bring happiness but there is no happiness without action’.

We need to do something and it turns out that the science supports him on that as well. So what we know is that and this is a very, very broad brush rule of thumb there's a lot of nuances to it but take onboard this general idea that when we look at the research and what determines well-being there seems to be three major parts to it.

  1. Your genetic set point. So what you inherited from your mum and dad. So curse them or hug them for how you feel your happiness or well-being is in life but part of it is about what we inherit which is half the picture.

  2. So there's another smaller part of the picture which is the 10%. Now that's the circumstances of our life. So that's things like how much money you have, how educated you are, whether you are married or not, or have children, how old you are now. These are the things that often we're sold on by marketers and by other people that these are the things that are really going to make the difference for us. And it's a kind of a tricky relationship. Absolutely, they have an influence. It's something like money for example. Money is a really interesting one. We can buy happiness it turns out. Money, particularly if you don't have enough to get you above the poverty line, will bring new freedoms, safety all the things that we need in life. A roof over our head, food on the table. The things that really matter. But once we get to a certain point, in Australia I think it's about $70,000, you don't get a lot more return for more income. Again, this is the averages across population there'll be people out there going hell yeah money absolutely makes me happy and I think that there's a relationship around what you do with your money and the values that drive those choices as well anyway. So this makes up about 10% of the picture.

  3. And then the 40% and this is the stuff that gets you know psychologists and behaviour change specialists really super excited because this is in that controllable bucket. Remember when we looked at what you can control, what you can influence, then what you can't? Well, this piece sits in that forty percent intentional activity. This is what you think, what you feel and what you do.

So we're gonna have a little play with that piece and I'm gonna take you through a well-being workout.

Wellbeing Workout

So you may already have one, but I'm gonna take you through a pretty simple five stage workout.

I want to ask you a question first of all so, ‘who there out there has a fitness plan?’

Now I’ve asked this of a lot of different groups and you find that about 99 percent of people will put their hand up, doctor, ‘yeah, I've got a fitness plan’. When I ask people if they are able to execute their plan a few hands drop down. So execution is the next level and hitting the mark getting that right. So say you don't have a plan, do you think you'd be able to let your friends give you a couple of tips on how to get started on their own fitness program? And most people, that absolutely we could do that. We could have a crack okay.

So then who here has a mental fitness plan? Now Meg, who you're going to meet at the end of this session, thinks that my little brain man doing his, I don't know what he's quite doing, is really, really ugly. I don't mind him. I think he's kind of cute anyway and who here has a mental fitness plan? And by that I don't mean that you have a plan for your depression or anxiety or these things.

This is about building capacity. This is about how you look after your fitness not your illness. Far fewer hands go up when I generally ask this. I can't see if your hands are going up or not so I will just assume that you are following the typical kind of trajectory when we ask these questions. And so the physical health sciences have done an amazing job at helping people to understand this and to look after their physical fitness.

The psychological mind sciences have done a pretty ordinary job because we've been so busy focusing on illness and what's going wrong with people. That negativity bias coming out again.

So here we are, we want to address that issue. We want people to understand that you can look after your mental fitness. So I'm going to give you a five-stage plan.

You can do this alongside me.

Wellness Workout - step 1

So it shouldn't take a second and you certainly won't work up a sweat. So the first stage in this plan is pretty simple. I want you to just take a moment to think about just one thing in the last few days that you're grateful for.

Now I want you to make it recent. So the last few days. And I want you to make it specific.

Just do a sweep of health, finances, family. I want it to be a moment. So for me in the last 48 hours I had, and please don't dobb me in, I had a sneaky hug with my nephew. I thought he was coming up to me to give me a fake hug but he actually kept on leaning in and the next thing I know we're having a real hug. It's the first hug that I have had in eight weeks. It was amazing that this is the moment I'm super grateful for. And maybe on the chat you can share with us the things that you're grateful for. We'd love to hear what they are.

Wellness Workout - step 2

That's step one. Let's move on to step two now. Step two I want you to take a look at this little sentence. If it is a sentence, and if you're on the YouTube channel chat, jump in and tell us what is it about this sentence.

What do you guys see?

God if you're a grammar queen or grammar king out there I'm sure you've already nailed it. And for those who are unsure ‘do geese see god’ is a palindrome. It says the same thing forward as it does backward.

Wellness Workout - step 3

Alright step number three. I want you all to get your baby goats, get your yoga mat and let’s move. Movement yeah. If you can't, if you don't have a baby goat, that's fine what I'd love you to do is just stretch your body and notice what that feels like. We’ll do a bit of a shake it off Tay, Tay style. Just move around a little bit because we've been sitting for a half hour now. Maybe you're out walking but I've been sitting step number four now for this one.

Wellness Workout - step 4

I'm going to get you to join me on a very particular type of meditation. It'll just take us a few minutes, but if you would like to after you've moved around a bit just settle back down again.

And I'll invite you to close your eyes and turn inward to your breath and if you're up for it popping your hands over your heart area. And I want you to bring to mind somebody in your life that's just easy to love. It might be someone that's in the household with you now or it might be someone that you haven't been able to see. Whoever it is, it doesn't matter it's someone that you've got a kind of easy loving relationship with. Now that may not be a human. That might be a pet. So whether it's your dog, your cat, your budgie, your granny your partner, your child we're just going to bring them to mind we're going to send them a little bit of loving-kindness.

So holding them in mind I'm just going to give you some phrases that you can repeat if you don't love these words you can use your own words. So with this person in mind: may you be safe, may you be healthy, may you be happy and accept yourself as you are, may you be safe, may be healthy, may you be happy and accept yourself as you are.

I'm just noticing the one love and gratitude in your own body as you send in these wishes to this person or passion in your life. Okay and on the next breath in, just letting your eyes open. Okay make four out of five.

Wellness Workout - step 5

So for the fifth step in your well-being workout, I want you, whoever that is cat dog granny mum brother partner whether they're with you right now or this some distance away, I want you to actually get in touch with them.

So I want you to send them a message of love and kindness yourself whether that's hugging the person that's in the room with you. So give them a hug. I think you're kind of strange walking up just out of the blue a big old hug. I'll send a message by text, SMS, Snapchat, Instagram whatever medium you want to use. Maybe write a letter, but reach out and let them know that you care to give away some of that love and kindness.

There you go. How you feeling?

Action for happiness

I'm gonna just unpack it for you and then we're going to head over and take your questions. So if you do have a question pop it in the feed so we can respond in a few minutes. And these ideas that I just showed you hopefully it felt kind of nice to do. Maybe the palindrome was a little bit like huh, ‘what is this? I don't understand’. That's the brain a little bit, but all of this was designed around evidence-based daily actions.

So the UK government back in 2005, asked the New Economics Foundation, which is a think-tank in the UK, to take a look at what the evidence told them around building wellbeing for individuals but also for communities. They came back with a list.

I'm going to show you what that looks like. They started with five originally. It’s expanded well beyond that but then they went, we've got these ideas. How do we translate it? And the translation has come through action for happiness. It started off in the UK. It does the community translation of these ideas and practical ideas for people to raise community well-being.

It's alive and functioning in Australia as well. If you want to take a look, the web address is on the page here. And it encouraged us to take these daily actions in everyday life to build a more compassionate and connected world.

Wellbeing Workout

So what were they? The first step there I got you to notice that negativity bias. We're really tuned into a threat in danger well we need you to get present and to notice what's happening right now. And often what's happening right now is absolutely fine. And also focus on the good more. We need to get at least five good moments for every bad or negative or threatening moment to balance out that bias. So be grateful. Savor the small moments. We need to spend more time there to get the brain actively absorbing this learning to keep on learning. You've come here because you're already sold on that idea. I imagine that you're curious about the world that you want new experiences that you want to grow.

So keep on learning. I got you to move with a baby goat. So keep moving. I'm not talking about high-intensity workouts like F25 or something on those lines. This is about daily movement. It's about incidental movement and it's about joyful movement. So find the way that brings joy to you to keep you moving your body because your brain will love you for it.

Connect. If you remember nothing from this, you know, the biggest, I think, the issue we're going to face as a nation moving forward is loneliness. The loneliness epidemic is real and it is taking years off our lives and it is really sad that it's maybe taken a global pandemic for us to find our humanity again and for us to start this process of really deeply connecting with people. Even though we physically may be out of touch. So connect to make time for family for friends and community. Listen to share and play but just take care of these relationships because they matter. And last, but absolutely not least, to give your time, give your attention, give your kindness. It doesn't have to be grand sweeping gestures but these small things really do matter. Giving away a smile is completely free. It's not only good for you as the giver you get all the hits of endorphins that come from smiling but it's good for the recipients as well. So find ways to give back here is a really simple recipe for your well-being workout.

If you're interested in putting your own plan together then we have a guide to support you. It asks you questions about what are you currently doing in these areas? What would you like to do? What gets in your way and what helps?

You'll find with this there'll be a link in the YouTube chat but you can also find it on our Mind Room website in our library where we got a whole bunch of other little resources to give away as well to help you live a thriving meaningful and connected life.

That is all from me, Joe Mitchell, it has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you've got something useful from today.

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