Coaching Podcast: Rewiring Your Brain Using Neuroplasticity
This transcript of Episode 36 of the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast centers on how to build up empathy and how to use it in relationships.
John: Hey guys, today on the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast, we are going to talk about how our voices don’t belong to us and we’re going to try to answer as many questions as we can.
So, we talk a lot about life coaching or anything under the umbrella of life coaching and I had a session the other day, and this person, she was talking about all of the voices that we hear—or that she hears—in her head and I could definitely relate because I hear a lot of voices in my head throughout the day, and they’re conflicting and, as we were processing, I had this revelation that a lot of voices that we hear actually don’t belong to us—and what I mean by that is the residue from parents, from past relationships, from society, from our siblings, our friends. So I wanted to ask you Noelle, what do you think of that? And how much of what goes on in between our ears are actually not our truth but from external sources?
Noelle: It’s such a big deal and it’s such a reality and it's something that I think everyone must contend with. As you were talking, I was thinking about all of the clients that I’ve worked with to specifically identify what that voice is and where it came from. And a really important piece of this, from a coaching technique, is to identify how old you were when that voice first showed up. And there’s actually a technique that we teach in the Catalyst Intensive called Gremlins, and this technique is designed to help people work with those voices.
The way that it works is it relies on externalization, where you take that voice and you give it a face and a name—perhaps even figure out how old you were when that voice first came to be—and then you get it outside of your body and you contend with it as it is, as it’s own entity, and you can then, that trips your prefrontal cortex into functioning, whereas before your limbic system was functioning and your limbic system governs your emotions. Your prefrontal cortex governs logic.
Noelle: So when those voices kick up, we’re in our emotional brain, and in order to get back to our logical brain we need to identify them.
John: And we all know that when we’re in our emotional brain, we may make a lot of decisions based on our emotions that aren’t necessarily true and we may be reacting or we may make decisions that we regret later because we’re pulling from emotion.
Noelle: Oh yeah, 100%. A fun fact about our brains is that when our emotional brain turns on, our logical brain turns off, and the two are incapable of functioning at the same time.
John: Mmm, so this is really interesting and I think this is great because it sheds light on sometimes where we pull from and why we make the kind of decisions that we make and also I think that if we are making decisions that are not completely honest to us, but they’re impacted by other voices that we hear, things that have been ingrained, old blueprints, etc. They may also be your own voices, but not from your current self. So you may be making decisions on a lot of who you used to be, and how you used to think, not so much who you want to be.
Noelle: Absolutely, and I think a really super duper important thing to consider—and everybody’s unique—so everybody has a completely different response to these voices, but something that I have seen pretty freaking consistently in 10 years of coaching, is that the voices—knowing they exist in your limbic system, knowing that they put you in your emotional brain, knowing that they remove you fro your capacity to engage in logic, the outcome of that kind of clusterf*ck is that people go on autopilot and they revert to old, unconscious behaviors.
John: Right, and you know our conscious, our subconscious is 90%, that’s where we pull from.
Noelle: It is and I have a great example that I want to give from one of my own clients. So I was working with this client on weight loss, overeating, eating and so as a coach, my job was to get in her head with her and understand what happens from a 360º perspective. So what’s the behavior that she wants to stop? She wanted to stop binge eating. "Okay, well when do you binge eat?" "I binge eat when I first get home from work." "Okay, well walk me through what happens when you walk through the door and you get home from work." "Well the first thing I see is my empty apartment and it’s dark." "Okay, well what happens next."
And she told me that this voice started playing in her head saying, “You’re old, you’re fat, you don’t have anyone to share your life with, you don’t have children, you’re a failure as a woman,” and I was like “Whoa that’s pretty intense, whose voice is that?” and she said “Oh that’s my mom” and I was like “Whoa, so how do you want to deal with this, how do you want to contend with it?”. And what we ended up doing was giving that voice a name and a face and it’s own entity so that when it started up she was able to differentiate, externalize, and say “Hey mom go f*ck yourself."
John: Yeah, yeah.
Noelle: “Get out of my head”. And so that way she didn’t unconsciously walk to the pantry, which is what was happening, and just eat bag after bag of chips to self soothe, which is a perfectly normal reaction if you have all that noise going on in your head.
John: Yeah I love that story and also I think many can relate to their voices coming from their parents. I like that. So this is step one, is to be aware of the voices, where they’re coming from, and realizing that they’re not yours. I think that’s the first step, right?
John: And that creates distance, and then you can actually stop internalizing and know that this voice or whatever this person is saying—whether it’s you’re fat, or you’re dumb, or you’re an idiot or whatever—it’s not truthful, it’s coming from someone else, so it’s easier to not internalize that. What do you think is step two once you’re aware of this?
Noelle: Step two is replace. So, it’s kind of like catch and release, you know? So you have to, once you figure out that this voice is coming to you from outside of yourself, it’s like okay put it in the box, get it out of the container that is me. And then step two is to replace it with what you want to realistically think, feel, and experience instead—what you want to think, feel, and experience instead.
The second part is so very important because so many people are great at identifying the voices but then they don’t replace them, so you’re stuck with this empty space, you’re stuck with this residue, you’re stuck with, as you said, an absence of your current identity, right? So, when you replace the thought, from a neurobiology perspective, what’s going on in your brain is that neurons that haven’t ever met each other before start ramming into each other because this is a new way of thinking and being, and then they fuse and they form a new neural pathway that is a new road for your thoughts to travel down and that is how you rewire your brain using neuroplasticity so that you’re no longer subject to those really terrible gut wrenching feelings that often accompany those icky voices.
John: Thank god you’re the other half of this podcast because I talk to myself a lot all day and I have another podcast, but it’s refreshing to have some science behind me, you know?
Noelle: Well, you know we’re a team.
John: Yeah, absolutely. So I love this and I think that many can relate to hearing the voices. So the step one is to create distance by recognizing that some of your voices are not yours and then step two would be to replace them. And I love that you said experience, right?
John: I’m a huge fan of experiences, I think there’s nothing more convincing than an experience. We can visualize, I know there’s a power in that, I visualize all day, I’m a dreamer, I see things. You also mentioned feeling in your body, which I think is huge, right? The mind—
Noelle: Yep, yep.
John: The mind, body connection, but also giving yourself a new experience. You could think—for example, if you’ve been in toxic or abusive relationships—you could think about what a healthy one would look like, you could read about it, you could watch video courses on it, all of that, but when you actually give yourself that experience and you actually taste it, I think that’s the most powerful, as far as internal shifting.
Noelle: It is, and this doesn’t have to be revolutionary. I think people listening might say “well how do I give myself that experience?”.
Noelle: Let’s go back to the example that I used of my former client with the binge eating and coming home to an empty apartment. So, for her, that experience was previously steeped in shame, because her mom had given her this context of shame, but that wasn’t hers, it didn’t belong to her, so when she replaced it with what she wanted to think, feel, and experience instead. You know, I want to think I’m coming home to my apartment, this is gonna be the time for me, I’m gonna watch my shows, I’m gonna cook a dinner that I want to eat. I want to feel a sense of control, I want to feel a sense of empowerment, I want to feel a sense of connection with myself. And I want to experience my beautiful apartment, I want to experience the ways that I have lovingly decorated it, I want to experience being in this space that I have created for myself. And that’s how you shift it, that’s how you rewire.
John: Yes and guys listening—think, feel, and experience—memorize that, because it’s such a great, simple just a life tip in general.
Noelle: Oh, yeah and what we’re doing here is we’re actually running through the CliffNotes of two complex techniques that we teach in the Catalyst Intensive. So guys, if you’re listening, you want to be a life coach, you like this stuff, come on in, we teach it. Another thing that I wanna talk about is what happens in your body and the mind-body connection and how we can kind of work with this stuff. There’s something called negative automatic thoughts.
John: Right, right.
Noelle: And they’re based on outside stimuli. They’re like triggers—your nervous system kicks on, you have a physiological response to something. And what your body is doing in these moments is telling you that there’s something that is traumatic that you need to pay attention to. And you might experience it in your throat, your chest, tightness in your chest, a feeling in your stomach, a feeling in the back of your neck, some people grind their teeth, they might experience pain in their face or head or headaches—these are all somatic responses and I think every single human out there can relate to that feeling of being unsettled and not quite right.
John: Mhmm, absolutely.
Noelle: So when you’re replacing the technique—when you’re using the replacement technique, it’s also really important to consider how you want your body to feel. And when you do this, across the board from somatic resonance, soma is your body through your head, you can entirely shift your full body response to outside stimuli that used to give you these really bad feelings. And with repetition and consistency of awareness and then replacement, you won’t experience the somatic negativity.
John: Yeah, I think we live in a world where—I’m guilty of this—we run so much on logic—our checklist, the things that we need to do—we’re constantly thinking logical, but when we start talking about the work in body and feeling and experiences, to me, it makes the world more three dimensional and it kind of pulls you out of the logical plane and puts you into the here and now and also connecting with yourself, which I think most of us, because of life, we’ve disconnected with ourselves, we’ve just become logical creatures.
Noelle: Oh yeah, we’re so disconnected from our bodies.
John: Hence yoga and meditation and everything else that’s exploding.
Noelle: Think about going and sitting down in a restaurant, or at a bar, or in a park and 80% of the people are gonna be on their f*cking phones, not aware of their surroundings, not engaging with other humans, they’re not embodying their bodies into something, you know?
John: Yeah, yeah.
Noelle: When you guys do that you’re completely detached from yourself, from your surroundings, you’re engaging your dopamine centers, and your limbic system and you’re not allowing yourself the embodied experience of living, in 3D, in the world that we exist in.
John: Noelle told me once to smile more because no one in Los Angeles even makes eye contact, let alone smiles at people, and like why? What’s the point of that? How is that gonna help anything? But you know, again, the experience of human connection, the dopamine that shoots into your brain, all of that stuff.
Noelle: So I can give you the deeper cut on that. Human beings thrive and actually get healthier with love—and love is a word that has been assigned a lot of Hallmark greeting style importance—and what love actually is, in a neurobiological sense, is a moment of micro-connection between a human and a human, or a human and a conscious animal, like your dog, where you are agreeing in that moment to give each other mutual care. So it can be as simple as smiling at someone jogging by you as you’re sitting on the park bench. It can be as simple as saying “have a great day” and making eye contact with the person who has just poured your coffee rather than being on your phone with your earphones in and walking away. When we do that, when we have those exchanges of micro-connection, it causes cardiovascular healing and actually repairs your heart from all of the damage that negativity, and fear, and scarcity, and pain causes to your body.
John: That’s really interesting.
John: I use that example because smiling at someone is just so simple. It’s something so small. But it’s not small, it’s huge.
Noelle: It’s huge and it’s becoming obsolete in our society.
John: Which is sad.
Noelle: Which is really just incredible, we’re becoming a f*cked up indoor species that doesn’t know how to connect with each other.
John: So I want to switch gears. What Noelle and I do, we do a little question roulette, and so we take about 4 minutes—and what’s fun about these is, I get about 80 questions every time I post it on Instagram, and they only have about a sentence or two to answer—to ask me the question—so these are kind of hilarious and Noelle and I will do our best to answer them.
Okay Noelle, are you ready?
Noelle: I’m ready.
John: Alright so question one, and I’m just picking them randomly. What are some tips on getting over someone you loved so deeply?
Noelle: Oh, I’m not the right person to ask that question of. Next!
John: Next question okay. I just want to say one thing to that, I think we all get into the habit of playing the highlight reel and feeling all the great stuff that happened in old relationships, but we rarely play the documentary. So my advice is to start playing the documentary and know that you guys broke up for a reason.
Okay, next question. Can you love someone that you lost respect for after admitting they had sex with another? So this is about infidelity.
Noelle: Yeah, so I like Esther Perel.
John: Oh, she’s amazing.
Noelle: She’s amazing.
John: So smart.
Noelle: So, Esther Perel and her husband have been married for a very long time, but she describes them as being on their 7th or 8th or 9th marriage as a couple and that ever time something shifts relationally, they have to renegotiate their marriage and kind of like start all over again and essentially choose each other again. And I think the really important realization here is that when you go through a process of—something has shifted in your relationship, whether it’s the birth of a child, or whether it’s infidelity, or whether it’s moving to a new state or a new home, or something in one or both partners’ complex identities has changed, you need to renegotiate, and things are not going to go back to the way they were before, but there’s also an opportunity for things to continue in a different state, in a different form, and how exciting is that, that you’re not with the same partner throughout your lifespan, you’re with the same person who will be many different partners to you throughout your lifespan.
John: Love that answer. This is from our friend Andy. Would you rather, every time you have sex it last for five minutes or for five hours?
Noelle: Now, Andy is personally my favorite naked man.
John: Yes. He will be nude again when my book comes out.
Noelle: So props to Andy for being my absolute favorite John Kim male model. So I mean—
John: Five minutes or five hours? Five hours is a long time.
Noelle: That’s tantra, right?
John: Yeah, but every time you have sex?
Noelle: There was a great quote about tantra that I read, so you give your answer and let me pull up the quote because I think it’s a good one to read.
John: My initial thought was five minutes because it would just be five magical, meaningful minutes, but now that you mention tantra, I would just have less sex, but when I do have sex, it would be f*cking epic and it would last for five hours. So it would be almost like an event.
Noelle: So, let me paint it for you differently—what if sex were an experience that lasted for five hours and foreplay was going swimming and then preparing dinner together.
John: Oh I like that, yeah. Because most people think that foreplay starts when you take your clothes off, right?
Noelle: Right, it doesn’t have to, it can be a letter, it can be a wink, it can be—
John: I’m awake, I’m alive, that’s foreplay.
Noelle: Right, so here’s the quote, and I have to give Erika Hart credit for this and if you guys have never checked out Erika Hart, she’s a colleague of mine and a really phenomenal activist, and she says “What is liberation, and the definition applies to tantra, it involves full integration of mind, body, and spirit. One does not contribute to a liberated existence without all three. It requires the deconstruction of the shackles on the body and the decolonization of the mind, and is a spiritual practice that is grounded in a view of oneself as divine. Liberation requires an active practice that is centered on self care, nature, and radical acceptance, and the integration of it all—that is tantra.” So, I would choose five hours of a full-partnered integration of mind, body, and spirit, of letting someone know me deeply on all three thresholds.
John: I am convinced, and going back to this idea of experiences, that’s a new experience that I would like to have. Thank you for that.
Noelle: You’re welcome.
John: Alright guys, that is this episode. Keep asking your questions, Noelle and I will do our best to answer them, and Noelle, thank you for your time and your brain and your wisdom and your friendship.
Noelle: Indeed, all the things.
John: Awesome. Guys, when you’re out today, smile at someone.
Noelle: Take care.
Listen to the full episode here, and subscribe to The Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast on iTunes or anywhere you get your podcasts!