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The Brain is a Mysterious Place

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

The brain is a mysterious place… a wild wild west of sorts, and not well adapted for today’s demands. I’m learning this and so much more as I explore the causes and remedies of burnout. Today is part one of two on the neuroscience behind burnout, which means today I’m going to tell you some of the fascinating things I’ve learned from Dr. Amit Sood, author of “Smart” and creator of the Resilient Option program.

Dr. Sood, colloquially known as the “Happiness Doctor” of the Mayo Clinic, talks about how our brains have very specific needs and vulnerabilities, many of which are rooted historically in our fight or flight response when facing predators. Our poorly adapted brains don’t know how to adjust to modern day demands, and as a result, we’re exhausted. Our brains are literally tired, and we don’t know how to give them the type of rest they need.

But here’s the thing: “rest” as we think of it, isn’t always the answer. Think of it as your brain is a carnivore, and you keep trying to feed it lettuce and carrot sticks. Your brain is like, okay… I’ll eat this (since it’s the only food you’re offering me), all the while wasting away because it needs some protein and fat.

For example, did you know that when you allow your brain to just sit at rest, you will often go into rumination mode, which isn’t restful at all? Why? Because you’re thinking about the zillions of things that upset you. The unpaid bills, the carpet that needs to be cleaned, the lawn that needs mowed, the last thing your boss said… and your brain is racing instead of resting. Yet in spite of this, we return to a work or family situation that requires a rested brain only to deploy an exhausted one instead.

So what does your brain need? It needs focused rest, creativity, positive emotions and connection to emotional motivation. This is the kind of rest that acts like a steak dinner for a brain that’s craving protein. Fascinating, right?

For the next 11 days I’ll be off the grid and on a work retreat, testing several forms of focused rest and designing Embers our in-person 2023 Reinvention Road Trip Summit on Burnout. I promise I’ll tell you all about it. In the meantime, give this a shot.


Close your eyes, and envision someone you have positive feelings towards. Picture their smiling face; imagine they are very happy at this moment. See their eyes; feel their joy. Think about the ways they have enriched your life, and how grateful you are for them. Now send them a silent thank you for being in your life.

Open your eyes, and check in with yourself. Did you feel an uptick in your mood? How’s your energy? Imagine what could happen if you extended this practice to your coworkers, your partner, your kids, your friends… Imagine how you might feel if you fed that hungry brain of yours with a steady diet of gratitude. Maybe, just maybe, you’d start to slowly recover from the state of being dry, and flammable, if not already on fire.

And spoiler alert! We’re working on three powerful, clear and tangible tools that can support your journey to burnout recovery, rest and renewal. This fall, we’ll officially share a pathway that can help you and others live a bigger, healthier and more beautiful life than you imagined possible. Stay tuned for more!


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