Your mind is powerful.
I’ve probably heard this statement a thousand times. It’s all over the books, media, podcasts, videos, everywhere, and I know that you’ve heard it, too. But many of us still lack a deep understanding of its power and how to use it for our benefit.
My guest today blew up the internet and our podcast the last time we had him here on the show. He’s a neuroscientist, and he works as a professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University. With everything that’s happening around us, there isn’t a more perfect time to share his expertise than now. He’ll help us to understand our minds better so nothing can stop us from achieving the greatness inside each one of us. Let’s all welcome back, Andrew Huberman!
In today’s episode, Andrew and I dive deeper into understanding the amazing human mind. We talk about how to unlock its power — particularly during really stressful situations. You’ll be surprised at how practical his pieces of advice are! Lastly, Andrew shared his thoughts on the law of attraction. Our conversation was so powerful and incredible that we had to break it into two parts, so make sure you don’t miss Part 2.
This conversation is not just timely, but truly an eye-opener. It helped me so much, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you, so let’s get to it!
Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist at Stanford University. He also runs the Huberman Lab, which studies how the brain functions, how it changes through experiences, and how to repair the brain after injury or disease.
In his career, Andrew has made many important contributions to the fields of brain development, brain plasticity, and neural regeneration, and repair. He’s received numerous awards and recognitions for his research and publications, including the McKnight Foundation Neuroscience Scholar Award, the Biomedical Scholar Award from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Cogan Award for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
In addition to being a tenured professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford, Dr. Andrew is a brilliant neuroscientist and teacher — he excellently explains complicated concepts so that everyday people can understand them and use neuroscience to improve their lives!
Andrew’s goal is to understand how the brain allows us to sense, evaluate, and respond to the world around us. He’s actively working on methods to re-wire and repair eye-to-brain connections for people who suffer from blinding diseases as well as investigating emotions and how they drive human behavior.
Dr. Andrew is clearly an expert on how the human brain works — I can’t wait for him to share his wisdom with you today!
When things are really tough in life, how do you deal with them? Do you tell yourself to stop feeling your feelings? Does the line “Calm down” work on you? Do you sleep on it? We all deal with stress differently. But for Andrew Huberman, there’s a proper way of handling this:
“When you’re stressed, and you tell yourself, ‘Don’t stress,’ or, ‘Calm down,’ that rarely works. … It usually has the opposite effect, and it can be damaging for relationships. ” – Andrew Huberman
Now, I think that this is something new. We’ve been taught all along that when we feel stressed, we should tell ourselves that we should calm down or that we should relax. But what Andrew was telling us, is somewhat the opposite of our practice. He tells us to take a different approach — top-down control. I asked him what it’s all about, and here’s his answer.
“There is an interesting principle that states, “You cannot control the mind with the mind. What you should do instead is to look to the body. The nervous system includes the brain but also all the connections to the body and back again. So, when you can’t control your mind, you want to do something purely mechanical, like the physiological side. Once you take control of the body in that way, then the mind starts to fall under the umbrella of this top-down control.” – Andrew Huberman
Top-down control can only be done through the presence of a fully functional and matured prefrontal brain. It allows for us to have a brake over our limbic system, which is the part of our brain responsible for our behavior and emotions. He further explains why this top-down approach to life’s stressful events is the most effective there is.
“Trying to control the mind with the mind is like trying to grab fog. It’s just going to keep moving. … The key is to take control of a real physical entity — the phrenic nerve. This skill isn’t something that you build up over time, because you literally have a set of wires that goes down to your diaphragm that can move your lungs. When you decide that [you’re] going to use the physiological side to calm [yourself], that’s top-down control. By using your phrenic nerve, you’re able to control the cortex that controls the limbic system. You’re taking control of your internal landscape rather than trying to take control of your thinking.” – Andrew Huberman
This information is truly empowering. How often do we feel powerless, particularly in stressful and traumatic situations? Some of us might find ourselves easily frustrated, mad, and at times, just giving up. Worse, we feel enslaved by the circumstances we are in or the emotions we’re experiencing. We forget that there’s greatness within us.
By not using our minds to control our minds, we are able to process things better. In this way, we can be able to take back control in our lives amidst any situation!
We just learned that the limbic system is in control of our emotional and behavioral responses. Because it is such a powerful part of our brain, it can make or break us. Under extreme situations, however, it can be hard to control this part of the brain. Andrew believed that this limbic friction results in two types of stress.
“There are two types of stress. … one type of stress is when you’re too activated, alert, and agitated. This is what we usually experience when we’re in physical pain or emotionally bothered. Then, there’s another side of stress, wherein you’re feeling another shutdown or when you’re feeling exhausted and you can’t get mobilized and alert enough. This is the stress that gives us the feeling of fatigue.” – Andrew Huberman
Andrew explained that if you’re having a hard time dealing with stress, it’s important that you know which one you’re experiencing because the solutions to the two are quite different.
“When you’re too activated, too alert, and you just find yourself too compulsive, do that double-inhale followed by an exhale. We know that is the fastest, and real-time tool for taking one’s state of alertness down. If you’re experiencing the overwhelmed and fatigued type of stress, there are also two ways to approach it. First is: You can sleep. You can get better at it, but it’s a slow tool. It’s not a real-time tool because you have to get up and deal with children, work, and life. So, a real-time approach to feeling the fatigue stress is to bring more alertness into the system. You can do this by knowing studying the direct relationship between how you breathe and your heart rate. When you inhale more vigorously or longer, you’re speeding up your heart rate. When you exhale, the diaphragm moves up, signalling the brain to tell the heart that it needs to slow.” – Andrew Huberman
This heart rate variability reflects the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which refers to the brain’s ability to slow down and calm the nervous system. And to summarize Andrew’s points, dealing with stress is really all about maximizing the power of breathwork!
“Breathwork can teach you how to operate these leavers, your brain and body, so to speak. Breathwork is a dedicated practice that you do away from these stressful events. By breathing, you can learn to control your heart rate, and thereby your mind. This is what the yoga community has done over the years. This is the principle behind the Wim Hof breathing [method], or TUMMO breathing, or the super oxygenation breathing method.” – Andrew Huberman
Isn’t that amazing? That we can just breathe our way to helping our mind come out of stressful moments in our lives? This leads us to what Andrew talked about in the last episode on the brain-body connection. You can’t drive your nervous system with thoughts and control your mind alone. You have to connect your whole body. This information is massive, and even Andrew thinks the same way.
“I do believe that having that knowledge in the mind allows people in a moment of stress to say, ‘Oh, I understand what’s happening to me. Therefore I should go to this particular tool because this is how it’s done. When in moments of stress, either excessively alert stress or excessively fatigued stress, I need to look to the body, because there are mechanisms that have been built into and designed to do this.’” – Andrew Huberman
With the progress in medicine and science in general, it’s sometimes easy to forget that our bodies and minds have built-in tools that can help us deal with life’s daily challenges. Luckily, Andrew is here to share his expertise on the topic.
“What I’ve described here is hardwired. Meaning we were all born with these neurons and connections in our body. We’re all born with these organs to be able to do these things. There’s not a lot of learning involved once you know how to do it. It works the first time. It works every time.” – Andrew Huberman
So there it is, friends. The truth is that power over yourself is found within you all along. It’s all about mind-body connection. If you can understand and master this, you’ll surely live healthier and happier!
For those who are not familiar, the Law of Attraction essentially says that what you think you can become, what you think you can create, and what you think about consistently, is what you’ll start to attract in your life. I’ve always been fascinated by this philosophy, and I want to understand it from a scientific standpoint. Andrew was generous enough to let me know about his thoughts on the topic:
“Senses take the physical entities in the universe, and they constrain our experience of the world. … When we focus on the sensations from our senses, we gain perception. For me, thinking is a lot like perception, which are sensations I’m focusing on. These sensations can be from the past, the present, or the future we haven’t ever had. … Now thoughts are easier to introduce, and assuming that they are perceptions — then they have the power to shape you and the way you see everything around you. Now, because they are perceptions, they are heavily constraining. If they’re repetitive, they are essentially called beliefs. Here’s the thing though, whatever you believe in, whether it’s positive or negative, your mind rewards you with dopamine.” – Andrew Huberman
This dopamine release is the probable reason why we’re attached to some type of belief, whether it’s wrong or right. It’s not really other things that motivate us to believe in a certain kind of way, but it’s the dopamine that shapes what we see as rewards. As long as it feels good, we keep on sticking to that kind of belief. So, how can we make use of this chemical for us to feel motivated and alive?
“We need to realize that how we view the world is shaping the release of these chemicals. When we have positive thoughts, we get a lift. If we can get a lift from our positive thoughts and then dopamine itself puts us in relationship with the outside world, there’s more possibility that is going to put us into momentum.” – Andrew Huberman
So a positive thought triggers forward movement. Many of us have heard this, but too often we underestimate the potential of the idea. But now, with science confirming that positive thinking can give you a little bit of a lift, you can use this knowledge so you can achieve bigger and greater things in life! Andrew even gave a piece of advice on how you can be able to use this knowledge even if you’re in a depressed state.
“You need to attach the dopamine release to the process of effort or goal-setting itself. And if you can attach dopamine release to the belief that you’re at least heading in the right direction, you’ll have more energy to keep going in the right direction. People make the mistake of thinking that the positive thought process should be attached to the finish line.” – Andrew Huberman
Not only is this information powerful, but it also gives hope to everyone who’s at the lowest point of their lives right now. Just like Andrew explained, it’s still possible to attract good things in life. Again, it’s not all about the finish line. It’s about your efforts, too. So give yourself a pat on the back, because you’re doing something great even with the smallest steps you take!
Robert Greene said, “The need for certainty is the greatest disease the mind faces.”
At this point in our lives, certainty might be the last thing that we can have right now. The global pandemic exposed us to our vulnerabilities and insecurities, and that could be the reason why many of us feel stressed, anxious, and fearful of what tomorrow holds for us. Yes, we might be powerless about this, but we are in control of how we respond to the challenges it brings. Just as Andrew suggests, you need to understand your mind so you can know how to benefit from it.
This conversation is a powerful one. Everything that I learned in today’s episode is 100% mind-blowing, so make sure to catch the full episode here. We’re only in the first half, and there’s still so much more to look forward to in the second part.
In Part 2, we’ll dive deeper into the science of positive thinking and how dopamine is released into the body. Andrew and I will also talk about how we can trick our minds into attaching internal rewards for external accomplishments, the science of gratitude and abundance, and so much more. It’ll be one exciting conversation — you’ll definitely enjoy and learn something from it!.
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If you believe that you can unlock the power of your brain and use it to achieve your goals, Episode 1072 is one you don’t want to miss!