As adults, it’s so easy to get in the habit of hustling all the time. We’re working, pushing, and striving for success, and while that’s not a bad thing, it does make us less likely to play. It’s not often that we slow down and take the time to relax, explore, and do things just for fun.
But it turns out that play is essential for our brains. It’s what keeps us young and curious, and it’s what allows us to keep learning new skills. In an interesting way, taking time to relax and play actually helps us develop the skills we need to keep hustling.
But don’t take it from me — take it from neuroscience expert Andrew Huberman! That’s right! We are back with part two of my interview with Andrew Huberman! In the first half of this intriguing episode, we talked a lot about how our brains control our emotions and stress levels. Be sure to go check it out if you haven’t already — it’s been blowing people away.
Today, we’re talking about how to have a success mindset and literally rewire our brains for growth. Andrew and I discuss the importance of keeping a sense of play in your life, what neuroplasticity is and why it’s the key to learning new things, the science of gratitude, and so much more!
I know this episode is going to be a game-changer for so many people, and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Let’s get started.
Have you ever tried to learn something new and been so frustrated you wanted to quit? I just started taking a one-on-one Spanish class, and it’s extremely difficult. I’m not going to lie, it’s been so frustrating that I started questioning why I was even trying to learn. I’ve had moments where I was sitting in class thinking, “Man, this sucks. Is this ever going to get easier?”
Learning a new language is so much easier when you’re five. Later in life, it can seem impossible. Why is that the case? It all comes down to the concept of neuroplasticity, the ability of our brains to expand the mind to do new things.
Although neuroplasticity is heightened when we are young, it’s still critical for us to continue to learn new things as adults. Otherwise, we’ll just be going backward. As aggravating as it may be, it turns out that frustration is actually the key to neuroplasticity:
“The mental strain you feel when you’re learning something is the trigger for neuroplasticity for your brain to change. Neuroplasticity is a process of taking something where there’s a duration path and outcome — where I’m working hard. I’m thinking hard. Maybe it’s a hard conversation. Maybe it’s a business plan. Maybe it’s a scientific career. And the goal of neuroplasticity is to make things reflexive. So you don’t have to think about them.” – Andrew Huberman
I would definitely love for my Spanish skills to become completely reflexive overnight. But unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. Neuroplasticity relies on effort. And that effort is often accompanied by frustration. Andrew noted that when we expend our effort, two important things are happening in our brains that help us learn.
When you are expending effort, adrenaline epinephrine is released. Not only that, but the focus you are bringing to a task recruits a neuromodulator called acetylcholine. This “focus” molecule actually highlights the areas of your brain that are involved in learning, marking those areas for change. That change actually happens when you are not doing the activity and are resting or recovering.
So when you feel frustrated trying to learn something new, remember this:
“Neuroplasticity … has two parts. One is the trigger … In adults it is triggered by focus and attention and even a heightened state of agitation. The more frustrated you feel, the more you’re actually triggering learning and saying, ‘this is important.’ The second part is deep relaxation … that’s when the connections between neurons called synapses actually get stronger. That’s when the connections that you don’t want get removed.” – Andrew Huberman
The deep relaxation state that Andrew mentioned can take place in deep, slow-wave sleep states or a type of meditation called yoga nidra. So when you feel like you aren’t learning anything at all, remember that! You might just need to sleep on it.
While strain and effort is essential to the learning process, there are two other components of learning that many adults tend to ignore — play and rest. Being intentional about incorporating play and rest into your life is actually important from a scientific perspective. Andrew is here to explain why.
When I was in Poland with Wim Hof earlier this year, I was with a group of about 13 guys getting into a freezing cold ice tub together for ten minutes. We were all nervous, and for the first two minutes, it was miserable. But after that, we decided to try and have fun. We were going to be in there for the next eight minutes anyway, why not try to enjoy it?
So we started chanting and singing, smiling through the cold. And guess what? It was way more enjoyable. Life is full of challenges, but trying to have fun makes them so much better. Andrew expertly explained the scientific reasoning behind this:
“If you are in frustration and strain, a sense of play is great because in play, you have focus, [and] you have intention and alertness. It keeps you light enough that there’s that dopamine release … As adults, we tend to be more demanding of ourselves. We don’t tend to embrace as much play. … I think [play] is important because it’s a great way to learn dopamine release. And it’s a great way to expand one’s experience of life.” –Andrew Huberman
There’s no way to make an ice bath not cold, but there is a way to make it less painful. When dopamine intervenes, it helps buffer your body’s stress response. Not only that, but it also increases your focus and alertness.
This is why you learn a subject that you love so much more easily than one that you don’t! When you’re having fun, learning increases and so does your quality of life.
The other thing that is necessary for learning and enjoying life is having periods of rest. As an athlete, there’s an off-season for a reason. When I played pro football, I had periods of rest between hard training blocks. This is because rest is key to renewing your ability to work!
Rest increases your serotonin levels, which are critical for being able to have the drive and energy to get back in the game. Andrew explained that this is the reason many go-getters get depressed and experience burnout:
“Dopamine is the molecule that makes us look at things outside the boundaries of our skin, to be in pursuit of things … serotonin is about feeling like we have enough in our immediate environment. And it’s so powerful because unless that serotonin box is check[ed] off periodically, we cannot lean back into the dopamine outward pursuit process for very long.” – Andrew Huberman
Balancing serotonin and dopamine is critical for the success of your body and your mind. So don’t forget to incorporate play and rest into your busy schedule. You need it more than you might think.
Andrew uses a meditation form called yoga nidra to incorporate rest into his daily routine and increase his serotonin levels. But he also uses another tool for resetting his serotonin — gratitude.
I think gratitude is wonderful. It has been scientifically proven to make you happier, and it is a great way to create a success mindset. Andrew explained that this is because it resets your body’s ability to be in pursuit of your goals by increasing your serotonin:
“Gratitude sounds like complacency, and people fear that they’re not going to be persistent … but serotonin resets dopamine, which puts you back in the fight and allows you to fight longer and further … If you look at high-performers in these very high-risk/high-consequence special operations communities, they have gratitude practices and they incorporate them.” – Andrew Huberman
Gratitude is not going to make you complacent. Instead, it’s going to give you the ability to work longer and harder by resetting your dopamine levels! The first thing that Andrew does in the morning is reorient himself to gratitude by just being grateful that he is waking up and alive. This gives his forward motion and helps him start the day with intention.
Andrew mentioned that he also strives to reward relationships, whether they are with his beloved bulldog, his mentors, or people who have impacted his life:
“I think a deliberate practice of relishing or enjoying what we have is so powerful and not just going through the motions, if we’re not enjoying it and we’re just waiting for the end result, we’re going to be unhappy.” – Andrew Huberman
What relationship are you grateful for today? What about your day has brought you joy? It could be as small as having a good breakfast or watching a movie with a friend. Whatever it is, reflect on it and practice gratitude right now. It’s not just a suggestion — it’s science.
Guys, this conversation was incredible. Be sure to listen to the podcast episode for so much more science and wisdom from Andrew. And check him out on Instagram! He teaches neurosciences through his posts, including lessons about stress, fear, dopamine, learning, and even research related to Autism and Alzheimers. He is also planning on coming out with a book, which I will be sure to get my hands on the second it comes out.
Andrew’s definition of greatness blew me away:
“The human species was given this tremendous gift of neuroplasticity, the ability to change ourselves and be better in deliberate ways. And my definition of greatness is anyone that’s making that effort, even in a tiny way, just to take this incredible machinery that we were given — this nervous system — and to leverage it toward being better, feeling better, and showing up better for other people.” – Andrew Huberman
I truly believe that is the reason we are here on this planet — to be the best version of ourselves for others.
If this episode impacted you, Andrew and I would love to hear from you. Tag Andrew, @hubermanlab, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. And don’t forget to go check out the first half of the episode if you haven’t already! If you know someone who could benefit from hearing this message, don’t hesitate to share it with them.
I want to leave you with a quote from the great Brain Tracy, who said “Set peace of mind as your highest goal and organize your life around it.” I hope this episode reminded you to find peace of mind in rest, play, and gratitude.
Remember: you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter. I’m so grateful for you. Thanks for joining me today — it’s time to go out there and do something great.