Rewire Your Brain for Calm, Clarity and Joy


Clint Murphy Shauna Shapiro


Shauna Shapiro, Clint Murphy

Clint Murphy  00:00

Good morning, Shauna, welcome to the growth guide podcast. We are going to be diving into your book. Good morning. I love you today. Before we do, can you give our listeners a brief bio about yourself? Sure. Well, good morning. And I’m delighted to be here. I am a professor and mother and author. And I’ve been studying the scientific effects of mindfulness and compassion for the last 25 years. And I am really committed to both the science and the practice. And where I’d love to start with you is, if we go back in time, you were having a challenging time in your life. And your dad gave you a book, and you read these words, whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it? Can you take us through what was happening for you in your life? And how did those words start to change your life and put you on a path they did? 

Shauna Shapiro  01:06

Yes, those were the most powerful words I’ve ever read. And I read them while I was lying in a hospital bed. I just had spinal fusion surgery, I was 17 years old. So I was a teenager and had hopes and dreams of being a volleyball star I had just signed to play at Duke University, and my scoliosis, which I’d always had since a child, but for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, all of a sudden, the curvature of my spine became so significant, it was going to puncture my lungs. And so basically, overnight, I had to have this spinal fusion surgery, I was in a hospital that for six months, I never played volleyball again. And it felt like my entire life had been taken away from me, I was in a lot of physical pain, but I was also in a lot of emotional anguish of, will I always be in pain, Will I ever be able to walk normally again? Will I ever play volleyball again, all these thoughts and fears, and I became really anxious, really depressed. And it was at that time my dad gave me this book. And really those words of Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn that opened up this path of hope of possibility that I wasn’t stuck, that the real question was now what. And it was a book about mindfulness and meditation. So I read the entire book and started reading everything I could about mindfulness. And eventually, a couple years later, once I had healed enough, I went to Thailand to a monastery to study and practice meditation and mindfulness. And what I experienced there was so profound, really so incredibly healing, that when I came back to the US, I decided I wanted to study it scientifically. And I really wanted to understand what happened and hopefully share it with others. And so I got my PhD and became a professor. And that was all 25 years ago. 

Clint Murphy  03:02

And one of the things on that trip that a monk said to you, and I love it when we either read or someone says powerful words to us, and they change our lives. Because I love sharing those words with others. What the monk said to you on your trip was what you practice grows stronger. Mindfulness isn’t just about paying attention. It’s about how we pay attention. So how did that inform the conversation that we’re having today in the book that the book that you wrote, Shauna? 

Shauna Shapiro  03:35

Yeah, that was a wildly impactful moment of my life. I still remember it vividly. Because I had been at this monastery for about four days at that time in Thailand. And it was a completely silent retreat. So I had been sitting with my own thoughts and emotions for these four days alone. And I was really struggling, because my instructions from the monks was I was supposed to train my attention by focusing on my breath going in and out of my nose, right. So I began, it sounded pretty easy. But no matter how hard I tried, my mind kept wandering off. And I started getting so frustrated, like, what is wrong with you? Why can’t you do this? You must be a fake. You’re terrible at this. And so luckily, this monk arrived to spoke English, and I asked if I could have an interview with him. And as I shared with him, my struggles and my frustration and my feelings that I just was a terrible meditator. He looked at me and he said, Oh, dear, you’re not practicing mindfulness at all. You’re practicing judgment, impatience, frustration. And then he said, those five words, whatever you practice grows stronger. We know this now with neuroplasticity, or repeated thoughts, emotions, behaviors, they shape our brain. And so explain to me that mindfulness actually isn’t just about paying attention. It’s about how you pay attention. This attitude of kindness and curiosity. So when your mind wanders off instead of beating yourself up and saying, Oh, you’re so terrible at this, you say, Oh, interesting where to go and gently bring yourself back. 

Clint Murphy  05:11

And when it comes to neuroplasticity, I definitely want you to dive in a little to that for our listeners who aren’t aware of how we can use it to really improve our lives. Part of that is where I think you tie in this concept of super highways of habits versus the old country roads that were used to traveling. And I thought that was a wonderful analogy of how we want to rework how we arrive at our practice and how we move forward in our practice. Can you talk a little bit about what neuroplasticity is and how it works? And in how we can create these superhighways? 

Shauna Shapiro  05:49

Absolutely. Well, first of all, neuroplasticity, I believe, is one of the most important and hopeful scientific discoveries of the last 400 years and brain science. Because what we’ve learned is that the brain is constantly changing. We’re never stuck that even into our 90s, we see neurogenesis, which is the growth of new neurons in response to repeated practice. So it’s such a hopeful message. Because what it’s saying to all of us is, it’s never too late. No matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter how hopeless you feel, there’s always this possibility of change. And as a clinical psychologist, the way that I’ve like to phrase it for my patients and my students and for myself, is we have these superhighways of habit, these kind of well grooved pathways in our brain, right, those are automatic reactions, or automatic mindsets, or habits. And a lot of times, they’re not that healthy. And what these practices are offering us is this possibility of carving out new pathways. And when you start, they’re not very fast, and they’re kind of hard. So I call them little country roads, right, they have brambles and bushes, they’re not super highways. But every time you go down that country road, every time you decide not to snap at your children, or not to binge eat or not to have the cigarette, every time you do that, you’re pruning away the old pathway, and you’re carving out this new healthy pathway. And what it makes us all realize is, we all have choice, it’s never too late. 

Clint Murphy  07:35

And tied to that I always read about this idea of focusing on the process, not on the outcome. And that ties to a couple of statements that you make, Shauna, one of them is you say, to transform our lives, we must liberate ourselves from the myth of perfection. In the second one is to transform our lives, we must focus on our direction, not our destination, can you color those in for us, and maybe tie them to your favorite Zen saying, which I sent a variant of that to my son a few weeks ago, which was aligned, that is, you are perfect as you are, and there is room for improvement. 

Shauna Shapiro  08:20

You are perfect as you are and there’s room for improvement, that is also one of my favorites. So basically, what’s important is to let go of this myth of perfection, right? That it’s this kind of ever receding goal. And what typically happens is when we don’t reach these kind of unrealistic goals that we’ve set for ourselves, we beat ourselves up. And we somehow think that blaming shaming, self judgment is gonna help us improve or make us better. And so one of the, for me, the keys of mindfulness is this, learning to treat yourself with kindness, learning to be on your own team, learning to be a staunch ally instead of a fair weather friend. So if you think about it, self esteem, it only works when things are going well. And then it deserts you when you’re failing. Self Compassion, which is, I think, foundational to these practices, self compassion is always there for you, and it’s supporting you no matter what. And it’s realizing that the direction is more important than the destination, am I going in a direction of greater peace or greater clarity or greater integrity? And what I like to say to people is just 5% more, you don’t have to be right, so can I be 5% less anxious or 5% less reactive? Or can I exercise 5% more and to realize that this pays dividends and that the intention is really to set your compass in the right direction? It’s not about getting somewhere.

Clint Murphy  09:58

And how do you tie that in because when you talk about the 5% principle, you’re just talking about goals. And we’re about to come into the new year we’re recording this December 21. People are going to come into the new year, they’re going to set ridiculously ambitious and unachievable goals for themselves for the new year, generally, less than two weeks into the new year, they’ve already stopped and so you talk about the 5% principle, you just alluded to it there. But you also talked about using that to set what you call ridiculously on ambitious goals. So what should the people be thinking about as they go into the new year with this idea of ridiculously unambitious? And how does that actually get them where they want to go? 

Shauna Shapiro  10:46

Right? Well, I’m gonna explain the science behind it because I think that is what really compels people. So when you set small goals, right, I call them ridiculously unambitious. But just the really just smaller goals. Every time you reach a smaller goal, it does two things. One is it builds trust in yourself that you follow through, because as you said, most people set these goals and then two weeks later, they’re not doing them. So we break trust with ourselves. So when you build trust, to and this is really important from a neuroscience perspective, when you reach a goal, however small, you release dopamine, and dopamine is this neuro modulator of motivation and learning. So dopamine actually kind of boosts your energy. So what you want to do is you want to set these small goals, you reach them, you give yourself what’s called an internal reward by just even internal positive self talk, which is great job, you reached it, or I’m proud of you or way to stick with it, that releases dopamine, and it kind of gives you more energy to then get to the next little 5% goal. So you can see it actually runners in long distance runners, what they found is when they looked at the final outcome of where they were going, it didn’t work very well. But if you could look just a few feet in front of you, that’s it allows you to keep the fastest pace, okay, so you want to reach these kind of smaller goals. The other thing is, is that when you break goals down into their component parts, what you do is you reduce what’s called limbic friction. So limbic friction is kind of you think about your limbic system, it’s limbic friction is what prevents you from kind of doing the healthy behaviors that you want to do. Olympic friction is when I’ll give you a perfect example. So one of my clients wanted to start exercising more, and he loved bike riding. So said, I want to start biking three times a week, but then he would wake up on Monday morning when he was supposed to go no, I don’t really feel like it. So what we did to reduce the limbic friction is we broke it down into smaller steps. And one of the steps of biking was to put the bike on the bike rack of his car because he liked driving to a special place to bike. So we put the bike rack on his car the night before, to reduce that morning time Olympic friction, because then the bike was already on the bike rack, he wasn’t gonna like take it off and not go right. So there was a much higher chance that he was going to go bike riding. When we break goals into smaller steps, we reduced Olympic friction, we increase the positive rewards of meeting each goal. And we’re we set ourselves up for success.

Clint Murphy  13:25

And would you say Shauna, I always refer to it as building your get shit done muscle is when you start on the journey, you start with the smallest possible goal, because you haven’t built that muscle yet. Yeah, the more you achieve those goals, the more you’re teaching yourself, I can achieve bigger goals in so we can grow them, all of a sudden we can have meaty ones. But we still want to we still want to break them ideally, all the way back into small daily habits versus this big, hairy audacious thing that’s 10 years on the horizon. 

Shauna Shapiro  14:03

Absolutely. And it’s the daily practice and the daily habits that change your life. What I like to say is subtle is significant. This changes lead to big outcomes. 

Clint Murphy  14:16

Subtle is significant that is making it into the promotional materials for this episode. I love it. So one of the things that a lot of people may have on their goal list this year when you think about what people have issues with. Some people may say I react too quickly. I want to deal with my anger. And for me, Shauna, that really started to take flight when I read A Man’s Search for Meaning a little over a decade ago and I’ve always loved the line between a stimulus and response. There is a space and in that space is our power to choose our response in our response lies our growth and our freedom. And I’ve spent you know, over the last 13 years really trying to increase that gap and become a person who responds instead of reacts. Can you talk about the difference between reacting and responding and how mindfulness helps move us from a reactor to a responder? 

Shauna Shapiro  15:24

Yes, it’s one such a beautiful quote too. Viktor Frankl is such a hero an inspiration, I think, to so many of us. And one of I think, actually, if you had to ask me choose one of the superpowers of mindfulness, it’s that it creates this space, this gap between the trigger the stimulus and your response. And what you can actually see in brain scans, right, when you take fMRI scans of people who practice mindfulness is that the threat detection center, their reactivity, actually gets deactivated. Now, obviously not completely deactivated, you’re still gonna know if you know, a saber toothed Tiger starts chasing, you’re gonna know what to do. But the amygdala actually starts to calm down a little bit. And what that does is it puts you back in choice that the prefrontal cortex comes on board, you’re able to make rational, compassionate, wise decisions. And I want to share a story about this, because it’s still impacts me so much. So mindfulness has become quite popular, as many of you have noticed. And it’s even made its way into the military, which is kind of a surprising place for it. But the military spent millions of dollars actually training soldiers in mindfulness, both to help prevent post traumatic stress, but also to help them make wiser choices and combat when you’re at really high stakes and high stress. So it’s, it’s become part of military training. And we had a high ranking officer who was mandated to this training because he had a lot of anger management issues at work, and they were becoming problematic. You can imagine when he got to the mindfulness training, he wasn’t very happy to be there. But as we set our intentions of why we’re here, and what’s important, right our direction, he said, You know, I’m actually struggling with anger at home, too. And it’s hurting my relationship with my children, my wife, so this is important, I’m gonna really try. So he set an intention to manage his anger, to reduce his emotional reactivity. And he really set a commitment to practice to practice these teachings of mindfulness and self compassion. And about a month later, he came back to the group and he shared the story. He said, I was at the grocery store, a cart full of groceries, I was just getting into my checkout lane. When this elderly woman with his young baby girl stood right in front of me. And he goes, and I was mad, because they cut it. I was about to say something. But then I remembered my intention, took a breath, and I was able to calm myself down, I’d say anything. He was, but then this, this woman starts like cooing and all over the baby with the checkout clerk, and they’re like, Oh, the baby’s Oh, they’re so cute. And all of a sudden, she hands the baby to the checkout clerk for a hug. And he goes, I almost exploded in anger. I was like, What are they doing? Is this a nursery? And he goes, but I remembered my intention. I took a deep breath, and I calm myself down. And he said, Actually, notice the little girl was kind of cute. He goes, an instant later, she was back in the arms of the woman, they walk out the door of the grocery store. And he said, and as this young checkout clerk was ringing me up, I said to her, that little girl was pretty cute. And she looked up, and she said, Really, thank you. That’s my daughter. And then she said, My husband died a few months ago. And I had to go back to work. So my mom brings my daughter through my lane every day for a while. And you can feel in that moment how grateful he was that he hadn’t reacted, that there had been this space, this pause, that gave him the choice, and how to respond. And that’s the power of mindfulness is it puts us back and choice. 

Clint Murphy  19:05

Yeah, that’s such a beautiful story. It’s tears at the emotions definitely Shauna, as you talked about what he was doing. You talked about the intention. And that was interesting for me in reading how you approach mindfulness. I’ve always looked at it as this idea of paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgment. But you talk about these three pillars being intention, attention, and attitude. Can you take the listeners through these three pillars that are at a higher level and how they interplay and then maybe we’ll dive into dive into some detail on a few of them? 

Shauna Shapiro  19:45

Yeah, so mindfulness is deceptively simple as a practice, and so I think I’ve spent a lot of my career as a professor kind of elucidating these elements of mindfulness. And as you said, there’s these three core elements. So your intention, which is just Why are you paying attention? What’s important to you? Your attention, of course, that’s what we all know this present moment awareness. And then your attitude, which I’ve mentioned this kind, curious, compassionate attitude, and all three of these kind of the co-arising of them as what mindfulness is, it’s the state of consciousness where you’re intentionally paying attention with kindness. Now, I want to take a minute to talk about each of them. Your intention, as I said, is why it’s your direction, it’s what’s most important. And what’s interesting about intention, so for example, the officer I was just speaking about his intention was to manage his anger. Okay? So intentions can be this kind of psychological ideas. But here’s what’s fascinating. They’re also neuro chemicals, when we set an intention that we care about, that actually means something to us. And that’s why it’s so important that he connected with it himself. I didn’t tell him manage your anger. He said, Yeah, this is kind of important to me. When we set an intention, that’s important. It releases dopamine, that neuromodulator of motivation I was telling you about. What dopamine does, is it gives us energy to pursue our goals. And dopamine turns into acetylcholine, which helps us focus our attention on those goals, to actually be more successful at reaching them. So intention is a really important first step, I always start there with my patients. The next step is our attention. And this is about just training and stabilizing our mind in the present moment. And if you’re listening right now, you might have noticed that your mind has wandered a bunch while we’re talking. Right? It wanders on average 47% of the time, so that’s about half of your life that you’re spaced out, you’re missing. So even if you can pay attention, just 5% more, right, that’s giving you 5% back of your life. So we train, we stabilize our attention in the present moment. And then this attitude of kindness, and this for me has been the most important and the most difficult that our habitual practice, you know superhighways are to really judge and shame. When I make a mistake, when I don’t do as well as I hoped when I don’t look the way I want to I have all this self criticism. And not only me, but everyone that I’ve worked with, right? I’ve worked with 1000s of people. You know, I worked with veterans and women with breast cancer and high level executives and stressed out parents and everyone I worked with, from all these different walks of life would always talk about the same thing, this sense of, I’m not good enough, I’m not doing it right. And so I became really interested in in self judgment and shame, like, what happens when we judge ourselves? Does it help us? Does it help me lose weight or exercise more be a better mom. And what we learned through the science is that shame doesn’t work. Shame can’t work, she literally shuts down the learning centers of your brain, keeping you stuck in the very behavior you want to change. And so this incredible alternative is this attitude of kindness. When we pay attention with kindness, it actually turns on the learning centers of the brain, and gives us the resources we need to do the work of change. So mindfulness then is these three key elements, your intention, your attention, and this attitude of kindness. 

Clint Murphy  23:24

So you talked right there about shame, being one of the things that gets us caught up gets us in trouble. The other one that you talk about as being a challenge is this idea, sometimes our self esteem, getting in the way. So how does self esteem get in the way? And then your answer to those, and you mentioned it a few times in the show already s this concept of self compassion. So for the listeners, because this is probably one of the things a lot of us are pretty bad at self compassion. So what is self compassion? Why do we want to practice it? And why do people say it’s radical? And that’s a long multi part question. But I’ll, I’ll give it back to you. 

Shauna Shapiro  24:10

It’s the most radical thing in the world to treat yourself with kindness to treat yourself the same way you would treat a dear friend. So this is a thought experiment, I often ask people to think of a mistake you’ve made or something you’re not proud of. Right? And you think about it, you’re like, Oh, God, I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I snapped at my children or I, you know, didn’t exercise for weeks or whatever it is, whatever you did. And now imagine your best friend who you love and care about came to you and said, I just snapped at my kids or I have an exercise for the week. Imagine what would you say to her? How would you respond? It’s radically different than how you talk to yourself. You would never say the kinds of things you say to yourself to your friends. You wouldn’t have any friends. So self compassion is about treating yourself with the same kindness and tenderness and compassion benefit of the doubt kind of that you would a dear friend. And this is a radical approach because it’s not something that we have practiced. And yet when you look at the science, and I won’t, I’m a dedicated scientist, and I’ll tell you why when I tell people that they need to practice self compassion, they roll their eyes at me, they say, uh, you don’t understand, I actually want to change, it’s really important, I need to stop drinking, like, this is a real problem in my life, or I need to, you know, and I say, I do understand, but when we beat ourselves up, it keeps us locked in those behaviors. The research on self compassion is incredible. So most of the kinds of misgivings that I hear is, it’s going to make me self indulgent, or it’s weak, or it’s selfish. But when you look at the research, and I’ll take those one at a time, far from making you self indulgent, people who practice self compassion, they exercise more, they eat healthier, they drink less, they take better care of themselves. So it does not make you a couch potato. People often say it’s selfish. What the research shows is people who score high in self compassion, who say they’re kind to themselves, if you ask their partners, their children, their employers, is this person generous or selfish? Are they good listeners? Are they compassionate with others, they score much higher. So self compassion, I believe, is really a superpower. It allows you to be kind to yourself to reach your goals better, and also helps you be a better citizen of the world. 

Clint Murphy  26:34

And like me, Shauna, you like three pillars, two’s not enough four’s too many. And so you talk about three pillars of self compassion, what are the three pillars of self compassion that we need to focus on? 

Shauna Shapiro  26:47

And I will say so my dear friend, Dr. Kristin Neff, is the one that developed these three pillars of self compassion, I developed the three pillars of mindfulness. So I will take credit for that. But she’s the one that chose these three, and did the research to verify them. So the three pillars of self compassion, the good news is, the first pillar is mindfulness. So we’ve already learned that pillar, you already know how to do that. The second pillar is kindness, learning to treat yourself as a dear friend. The third pillar is what I find the most powerful and transformational. So the third pillar is what’s called common humanity. And common humanity means you realize that you’re not the only one in the world that makes mistakes. You’re not the only one who’s suffering or struggling, that there are millions of people in this exact moment who are probably struggling with something similar. And so what common humanity is, I’ll give you an example, because I think sometimes it can get misunderstood. So I was working with a woman with breast cancer. And she was very struggling very much struggling with her diagnosis. She had two young kids, she was divorced, she did not know how she was going to endure treatment alone, and care for her children. She’s feeling very isolated. And we did the first step of self compassion, which is the mindfulness. So she just acknowledged her fear, her pain, her anger, her loneliness. And then she brought kindness to herself. Sweetheart, this is hard, I’m scared. But it wasn’t really helping her all that much, if I’m honest. And so then we went to the third step of self compassion, which is common humanity. And I said, in this moment, I want you to recognize all the other women who’ve been diagnosed, who are struggling, who are afraid, and probably some of those are single mothers, like you probably some are your similar age. Right? No one’s the exact same, but there’s probably people in a similar situation, probably many of them are feeling afraid, like you and angry like you. And I want you just to know one, you’re not alone and to descend them out your compassion. May you find peace as you exhale. And then as you inhale, may I also find peace. May you feel supported, may there be support for you, may I also be supported. So all of a sudden, you’re part of this larger community, you’re not alone. And that step is what enabled her to really find some equanimity and find some peace.

Clint Murphy  29:20

And something you just did there was beautiful and often when we talk about loving kindness meditation, we teach this concept of before you can offer yourself love and kindness, because for some reason, for so many of us, we can’t offer it to ourselves. It’s hard. So first, we picture that person who it’s easy for us to offer to that could be a family member, a child, your pet, close friend and we offer them may you be well May you be safe, may you be loved. And then we may be able to turn the table and say May I be well, May I be safe ,May I be loved. Why is it so easy for us to offer it to others, but so hard to offer it to ourselves and I and I jumped into loving kindness meditation for some of the listeners, they may not be aware of what we’re practicing when we practice that as a form of by belief, self compassion. Yeah. Do you want to take people a little through that, Shauna? 

Shauna Shapiro  30:22

Yeah. So first loving kindness meditation is cultivating your hearts capacity to love. And it’s about learning to love other people and ourselves. And traditionally, right, many of these practices come from Buddhism, although we have really worked hard to make them universal practices that are based in science that are available to everyone. But what I find interesting is, in the traditional Buddhist scriptures, loving kindness, you always start with yourself first. And it was just easy, you would send love to yourself, but as a clinical psychologist in the West, as we tried to teach this practice to our patients, and we said, Send love to yourself first. It brought up all kinds of emotions of, you know, not worthy of this, and it’s selfish. And it was really hard, as you mentioned, for people to send loving kindness to themselves. So we shifted the practice to make it more culturally appropriate, where you began with someone where it was just easy to love. Sometimes you could even just choose your puppy dog, right? Just anything that opened your heart. And you would say, you know, may my dog be peaceful and happy, they always are anyway, right? May they be healthy, may they be filled with this love and kindness. And then you’d be kind of feeling a warmth in your heart. And then like you said, you would do this, you turn and try to bring it back to yourself, once your heart pathways had been oiled. And oh, may I also be peaceful and happy and healthy. So what’s interesting about loving kindness, and I’m so grateful to Dr. Barb Fredrickson for the incredibly brilliant work she has done, she has taken loving kindness and done the scientific research to really put it on the map in terms of academia and psychology and medicine, showing the incredibly robust benefits of practicing loving kindness. Now, I want to emphasize that loving kindness is a little different than self compassion. So self compassion is predicated on the fact that you’re suffering, right? To feel compassion for yourself. It requires that you be in pain, loving kindness, practice you can do at any time. So loving kindness practice, for me is a daily practice that I do, that allows me to build those pathways of just friendliness and kindness toward myself and toward others. Self Compassion is a practice I do in the moment when I’m in pain. So in the moment, I’ll give you a funny example. I got a flat tire the other day, I was mad and frustrated, and I was gonna be late, and I was so and how soon I was like, Do you know why this happened to me? And then I said, Okay, this is a moment of suffering, I’m going to practice. So the first step is mindfulness. And I said, who I’m frustrated, and this is not what I want. Second step was to bring kindness, sweetheart, this is upsetting. And this is hard. And the third step was that common humanity and all of a sudden, I was like, Huh, I’m probably not the only one who has a flat tire right now in this world. And I started just wishing to all the people with flat tires, may you get to where you need to go on time that you’d be safe on the side of the road may triple A get there, and may they be nice. And you know, and it was kind of funny, like I was kind of an it just evaporated my ex. And so again, that wouldn’t be a time at practice loving kindness. That’s a time where I would practice self compassion, because I was actually in the midst of suffering.

Clint Murphy  33:48

Beautiful. And something that you alluded to earlier, when you talked a bit about shame. And then you talked about this idea, like when we want to give up when we don’t want to give up drinking as an example, we may beat ourselves up about it. What people don’t realize is that, and I love how you have these lines often have a rhyme to the or a nice lilt to them. In this one, you had this concept of what we resist, persists. Can you talk about that and how we can use mindfulness to reduce the resistance, which then allows us to not have it persist? 

Shauna Shapiro  34:27

Yes. So one of my favorite mathematical equations I learned from Shinzen Young, who’s an incredible Zen meditation teacher, as well as a scientist. And he said, suffering equals pain times resistance. So S equals P times R. I love writing it on the chalkboard when I’m at the university teaching, and from the mindfulness lens. Pain is part of life. Pain is the inevitable we’re all going to grow old, get sick and die and so is everyone we love. There’s no avoiding pain, suffering is optional. And suffering has to do directly with how much you resist the pain. Okay, so let’s take my flat tire example. So let’s say the flat tire, let’s say that created 10 units of pain. It was a frustration. It was a hassle. It wasn’t life and death, hopefully. But it was frustrating. So I’ve Kenyan it’s a pain. But let’s say I am resisting it. Like the dickens. I’m like, This is the worst timing. I can’t believe this happen. Why me? I’m so bad. I should have checked my tires are white, and probably my husband drove my car over a nail. And what’s his problem? I’m really resisting. Okay, so I’m resisting by, let’s say, one or 100 100 units of resistance. So I’ve 10 units of pain times 100 units of resistance, all of a sudden, I have 1000 units of suffering over this little 10 units of pain. Now, let’s say I still have my flat tire I can you it’s a pain. It’s frustrating. But I don’t resist it. I bring myself compassion, sweetheart, this is hard. I call AAA I do what I can, but I have zero units of resistance. So my 10 units of pain times zero equals zero units of suffering. Now, it sounds kind of too good to be true. But I invite everyone listening to try it. Because when we have that moment where we’re back and choice, and we say I’m gonna let go of my resistance, I don’t like what’s happening. I wouldn’t have chosen it. But fighting against it right now is just creating more suffering. You actually feel this release this, letting go. That reduces not the pain but the suffering. 

Clint Murphy  36:44

And Shauna does this tie into will often hear this proverb. Don’t let the arrow hit you twice. Yes. Yeah. It already hit you. Yeah. Now, you get to choose how you respond going back all the way to Viktor Frankl early in the conversation. Yeah, the arrow hit us. Yeah. Now it’s our turn to choose how we’re going to respond to the arrow. 

Shauna Shapiro  37:07

Right? And this is, this is where self compassion comes in. Yes, yes. So you already got the cancer diagnosis, you already got the, you know, the flat tire, whatever it is. And what we usually do is like, we beat ourselves up, or we say, What did I do wrong? That’s the second arrow. precisely when we’re already down, we kick ourselves again. That’s the time when we need to gently pick ourselves up and bring compassion. And you asked earlier, and I didn’t answer it. But why do we do this? It makes no sense. Because again, if your thought about you mentioned your son, if you thought about what you want to teach your son, you would want to teach him when he’s hurting, to offer himself compassion, not to beat himself up. Right? It makes no sense on some level. And I want to talk a little bit about this, because it’s important. There is a difference between healthy remorse and toxic shame. So I want to be very clear that what I’m suggesting is not that we completely let go of remorse that when we’ve made a mistake, when we’ve drank too much when we’ve acted poorly, it’s not that we just throw up our hands and say, Oh, well, I’m going to be nice to myself, and let ourselves off the hook. There’s an important moment. And this is why mindfulness is the first step of self compassion. There’s an important moment where I acknowledge this is what’s happening. Right. So if I’ve made a mistake, and I have yelled at my husband, and I don’t feel good about it, it’s important for me to acknowledge, I feel pain because I yelled at him and that pain is healthy, that’s a signal. The problem is, is then I say, kind of worst wife. And here I teach self compassion and compassion to everyone in the world. And then I’m just a bitch to my husband, you know, and then you spiral into toxic shame. So again, about that choice point, the Viktor Frankl quote, if you can bring your mindfulness to that moment, and touch the pain, but then instead of spiraling down, you spiral up, how can I shift? What can I learn? How can I acknowledge my own pain? How can I acknowledge his pain, that’s what leads to healing. And that’s what leads to not going down the same superhighway of habit and shame. But going down this new country road of compassion for both of you love it. 

Clint Murphy  39:26

And it’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about earlier, when we were talking about attitude is one of the pillars. You talked about this concept of choosing an attitude of kindness and curiosity. And you write in your book about science, showing that the path to a happier and more fulfilled life starts with grooving an attitude of kindness and curiosity into our brains. What is this grooving process? And how do we do it? 

Shauna Shapiro  39:57

Yeah, so it’s process just like you said, it’s a practice that choosing to be kind and curious with our experience, instead of immediately judging it, instead of immediately trying to solve it or figure it out to actually be open to learning. And what’s interesting is, so I’ll take kindness as an example. So when we’re kind to ourselves, when our compassionate with ourselves, it does a couple things. One is it releases oxytocin. Oxytocin is this hormone of safety. So if I can bring kindness to myself in the middle of a difficult situation, when it calms me down into it creates a sense of safety so that I’m actually courageous enough and willing to look at my mistakes, I’m willing to see myself clearly. What kindness also does is it releases dopamine, which we’ve touched on a few times, and dopamine turns on our motivational Learning Center. So it gives me the energy to then make the changes that are needed. So I think, again, kindness is kind of the secret sauce of mindfulness that really leads to transformation and happiness. 

Clint Murphy  41:07

Love it. We’ve already talked Shauna a little bit about this idea through Viktor Frankl quote about self regulation. And we talked about loving kindness, something that ties to that this idea of mudita is a beautiful concept I love. But  can we spend a little more time on emotional regulation, and guide our audience through you have some ways that we can practice emotional regulation, and reminders that we should consider to help us in regulating our emotion? Can you share some words.

Shauna Shapiro  41:44

I want to teach this to everyone in the world and I want to start in kindergarten, because it’s that simple. One, the help you tremendously. So here’s what’s interesting about emotions, first of all, they last 30 to 90 seconds. I know it feels like they’re gonna last forever, but they don’t, unless we feed them with our thoughts. Yes. So the first step is when you feel your emotion, to not tell a story about it did not start, oh, my husband, he did this, right, that’s going to keep the emotion going. It’s like a car, it’s giving it gasoline, if it has no gas is not going to go. So what we want to do is actually feel the emotion in our body. And the best way to do this is to start to just name it to name, I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I feel heat in my body, I’m sweating a little bit. There’s tears burning in my eyes. And as I start to name my emotion, it’s called name it to tame it, it starts to calm down my physiological reaction. Okay, so as I named my emotion, it calms it down. And that’s what leads to this self regulation, name it to tame it. And so when I’m working with patients, one of the things we work on, because a lot of people don’t actually know what they’re feeling, they don’t they’re so disconnected from the body. We live so much from our neck up in our head, just going through automatic pilot throughout our day, is slowing down and just noticing what am I feeling right now? How’s my body? Am I relaxed? Could I relax? 5%? More? Where am I holding tension? And we begin to attune to our emotional state to our body sensations that we’re better able to regulate, to name it to tame it. Are there any other steps we want to do in that process to let it ease through us? Yeah, I mean, there’s so many different steps for kind of reducing kind of the, the intensity of emotion and the stress of it, I think reminders are really helpful. So one reminder is that it’s only going to last 30 to 90 seconds. This is really important, especially when you’re feeling anxiety, and you just feel like it’s going to engulf you. The second thing to know is that our emotions are here for a reason. So if we can not try to push them away, but actually welcome them with kindness and say thank you for this information, right that, from my perspective, there’s no good and bad emotions. There’s different valence, of course, but they’re all messengers. And I think the third thing is really to come back to the present moment. And you know, one of the most effective techniques for anxiety is what’s called grounding. And grounding is where you just simply notice you know, three things, you can see three things you can hear three things you can feel, it brings you into the present moment, it takes you out of the storytelling that fuels the emotion and into the actual physical presence of your body.

Clint Murphy  44:43

Love it, love. Shauna, where I’d love to end the conversation on the book is with your morning routine, which ties into the title of your book, and so it’s hand on heart saying, Good morning. I love you, Shauna. So how did this morning routine develop for you, and how do you teach it to those that are your clients?  

Shauna Shapiro  45:44

Yes. So I have to admit, as a scientist and a professor, I am a little bit surprised that the most powerful practice I know to teach people is called Good morning. I love you. I wish I had a better, more scientific title. Because I’ll admit, when I was first taught this practice, I rolled my eyes and said, No way. It feels so contrived and authentic. I’m never going to practice this. And I was going through a very hard time in my life. During this time, I was going through a divorce, our son was three years old, I was devastated and terrified that that, you know, for my own life, but also really for him. And I would wake up every morning with this pit of shame and self judgment and anxiety. And my teacher said, I want you to start practicing self compassion, loving kindness. And I’d like you just to say, I love you, Shauna, every day. And I was like, No way. That doesn’t feel true. And she said, Well, how about just saying good morning Shauna. I said, fine. So the next morning, I woke up, I took a deep breath, I put my hand on my heart because it releases oxytocin that love hormone, so it’s good for you. And I said, Good morning, Shauna. And it was kind of nice. Instead of this avalanche of shame and anxiety, there’s this flash of kindness. And I kept practicing. And a few months later, I was at my favorite place in the world, which is called Esalen, in Big Sur, California. And it was my birthday. And I was all alone. My first birthday of my life ever being alone, my son was with his father. And I woke up that morning, and I went to do my good morning practice, when all of a sudden I felt my grandmother’s presence. And my grandmother, who had recently passed was a person I loved most of my life. And it was as if the damn around my heart burst. And before I knew it, I said, Good morning. I love you, Shauna Happy Birthday. And this love came pouring in my grandmother’s love my mother’s love my own self love. And I wish I could tell you every day since then, has been this miracle of self love. And that’s not true. Some days, it’s hard, right? I still have self judgment. But what is true is, I practice this every single day, every morning, I wake up, I put my hand on my heart. And I say, Good morning. I love you, Shauna. And I practice this, this pathway of kindness. And this practice has evolved. I gave a TED talk about it, which reached over three and a half million people. So there’s lots of people who know about Good morning, I love you. And I started teaching it to my patients and my students and I started sending not just the morning, I love you to myself, but out to my loved ones and my friends and my family and my clients and to the to anyone in that came to mind. And what’s been so powerful about it as I started receiving stories back from people who had practice people with cancer that shifted their entire relationship to themselves, with parents and their children on the way to school saying good morning, I love you instead of fighting. And one of the realizations I had as I’ve dove in into neuroplasticity is that our children, especially between the ages of zero and seven, our children are in what’s called a theta brain state, which means they are highly suggestible. They’re basically hypnotizable. And what I realized is why aren’t we teaching these skills, these resources to our children that they’ll have for their entire life, we can imprint them, we can hardwire them in. And so I wrote a children’s book that came out last month called Good morning, I love you, Violet. And it’s about the young girl’s journey to self compassion. And it has been the most rewarding, wonderful thing I’ve done. It’s been number one in new releases on Amazon, and it has been reaching so many children and the stories I’m getting back. The beauty there was one mother wrote me and she said she had bought it for her five year old daughter. She was going to be her birthday. She said she was wrapping the book and all these different presents. And her 11 year old son who is has a diagnosis of autism came out and said, Oh, Mom, I want to see the presents before you wrap them and she said, Fine, here take this book. And he went back into his room and he read the book and it came back out. He said Mom, this is me. I’m just like violent. I’m always hard on myself. I always judge myself. I always feel like I’m not good enough. He said it made me so happy at the end when she was kinda herself. And it just made me realize that you know, all of us struggle with not feeling good enough. And if we can teach these practices to our children and to ourselves, we can radically shift this world.  

Clint Murphy  49:38

Beautiful, a beautiful way to end on the book. I’m going to fire some for rapid fire questions at Shauna, what’s been one book that’s really changed your life?

Shauna Shapiro  50:08

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

Clint Murphy  50:11

Beautiful and I had a feeling that might be it. What’s on the shelf right now. What are you reading that you’re enjoying? Oh my gosh. Well, if I’m completely transparent, I love historical fiction, romance novels. Oh, okay. I have a stack of romance novels by my bed. And I’m endlessly teased by my family and friends. But that is what I absolutely love.  Great. I love it. What’s one thing that Shauna has spent less than $1,000 on in the last year that you’ve said to yourself? Well, I wish I had bought that sooner. 

Shauna Shapiro  50:45

Oh, my gosh, one thing, even that’s a really great question that I am gonna say these glasses that I’m wearing. I think they were like $12. But they’re the blue light glasses. And I’ve been doing so much online teaching. And they’re so comfortable so that I wish I had bought years and years ago. 

Clint Murphy  51:06

Nice. Love it. Because the shows about growth and evolution in our lives. What’s one habit, mindset shift or behavior change, that has had the most impact on your life, Shauna.

Shauna Shapiro  51:18

Without a doubt this Good morning. I love you practice. This has shifted the way I speak to myself every single day, and has so surprisingly had more of an impact in my life, not just in my relationship to myself, but also my relationship to others. I think by learning to love myself, it was the only way I could learn to receive love from other people. I think it’s the reason that I was able to let my husband who after my divorce, I was single for 10 years, I couldn’t imagine ever opening my heart to anyone again. And I think learning to love myself is what allowed me to receive his love and to eventually remarry. 

Clint Murphy  52:01

Beautiful, Shauna, we went pretty far and wide on the book. Is there anything that we missed that you want to make sure we get across today? 

Shauna Shapiro  52:08

I think you did a beautiful job. And I think the one thing I would end with is just this reminder, that change is possible. No matter what, no matter what’s happened to you, no matter what mistakes, science proves it. And this encouragement to begin again, that we can always begin again. It’s just never too late. 

Clint Murphy  52:31

Yes, yes. And where can our listeners find you Shauna? 

Shauna Shapiro  52:34 is my website. @DrShaunaShapiro on Instagram. I always check my website emails. If you send me notes or questions. I promise to respond. Thank you so much. This was such a joy. 

Clint Murphy  52:47

Yeah, thank you for joining me.

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