Last week I was fortunate to be invited to an event (in person at last!!) to hear a remarkable Canadian woman speak: Barbara Arrowsmith–Young.

Barbara is the author of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain - a worldwide bestseller – which tells the incredible story of how she struggled as a child with severe learning disabilities, built herself a better brain, and started a program that has helped thousands of others do the same. 

Sound remarkable? It is!!

It was so inspiring to hear her amazing story, that I immediately asked if she would join me on my podcast so I could share that story with you this week. She said yes, and it’s such an inspiring story for you. 

Here are some of the inspiring key takeouts you'll learn:

  • How she went about finding silver linings in the darkest of clouds. Overcoming challenges - as she chased her dream. A dream that to most of us sounds simple - that one-day learning would be easier for her. And what we can all learn from that.
  • How we can shape and increase the capacity of our own brains.
  • How curiosity, determination and a will to make a dream come true can help us overcome the most challenging of problems.
  • How Barbara jumped into the driver's seat of her own life after her Dad told her, “It’s your responsibility to go out and find a solution”.
  • How life-changing it can be if you follow this advice... “If the rest of the world tells you that you can’t do it, don’t listen.
  • How anyone experiencing self-doubt should forget about trying to get rid of it, and instead set about harnessing it's power.
  • How valuable meditation is for creating calm and developing a growth mindset…
  • How important it is to surround yourself with positive people who encourage and support you.

So, if you want to be inspired to overcome your own challenges and you’re interested in fascinating insights into how you can change your own brain, enjoy taking a front row seat on my conversation with Barbara. It’s truly inspiring. 

I can’t wait to hear what you think so please let me know in the comments below... or in my Podcast Facebook Group here.

And remember, it’s great to have these insights but the important thing is to move from inspiration to action - and to put your insights into practice.

So try to take a minute to reflect on what you’ve heard - makes notes in your journal - and decide what actions you’re going to take as a result.

...and if you need a beautiful journal to capture life learnings, have a look here for one you love, that you can personalise with your name on the front cover.

And please, let me know in the comments below or in my Podcast Facebook Group how you feel about the episode, what you'll put into practice as a result ...and then come back to let us know how it goes, so we can all learn from and be inspired by each other.

Dream Big!


Dream Life Founder  

PS: Talking about finding silver linings in challenges, I've had my own share of those lately (I think we all do!) and I will tell you more about that in the future, but I now have a specific journal for all my silver linings ‘when life gives you lemons’. 

Because when life gives us lemons, let’s make lemonade together!   







    My dream is to inspire and empower 101 million people around the world, just like you, to write down three dreams, and go chase them!  



    Full Transcript:


    What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail, if you had all the money, all the time, all the knowledge, all the resources that you needed? What would you do with your life if you seem to know that anything was possible for you? My name is Kristina Karlsson, founder of global Swedish design and stationery brand kikki.K and author of the book Your Dream Life Starts Here.


    And I love exploring these sorts of questions to inspire people to dream. Before I started kikki.K, I had a dream that I could bring Swedish assign to the world to create beautiful products that bring sparks of joy into the everyday lives of millions. Now that I have achieved that dream, I want to help you dream big. I want to create a global movement to inspire 101,000,000 dreamers to transform their lives and transform the world in return.


    Each episode, I'll be talking to some of the world's most inspiring people, exploring the powerful impact that dreaming has had on their lives. We'll be diving deep into the power of dreaming with real insights and ideas that you can use immediately to build a dream life of your own, whatever that means for you.


    Hi there and welcome back to another episode.


    This week's episode is simply amazing and so inspiring. My guest this week is Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, and she is the author of the book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. If you haven't read that book yet, it's a must read, so please add it to your list. Barbara holds a Bachelor of Science in Child Studies from the University of Galp and a master's degree in school Psychology from the University of Toronto.


    The Genesis of the Arrowsmith program of cognitive exercises lies in Barbara's journey of discovery and innovation to overcome her own severe learning disabilities. Diagnosed in the first grade as having a mental block, which today would be identified as multiple learning disabilities, she read and wrote everything backward, had trouble processing concepts, regularly, got lost, and was physically uncoordinated.


    She eventually learned to read and write, but continued to have difficulty in school with specific aspects of learning. Her unique combination of severe learning disabilities and intellectual gifts was a driving force in her development of the suite of cognitive exercises she created to strengthen specific functions of the brain. These now constitute the Aerosmith program and are used in schools worldwide.


    As the director of Aerosmith school and her Aerosmith program, she continues to develop programs for students with learning disabilities. Her vision is that all students struggling with learning disabilities will have the opportunity to benefit from cognitive programs based on the principles of neuroplasticity to change the brain's capacity to learn. Her story is truly inspiring and I cannot wait to dive in, but before we do, I was fortunate to do this interview in person, but there were some building work next door.


    But it's such a great episode that hopefully you will not even notice so let's get into it. Enjoy this episode. Hi, Barbara, and welcome to my podcast. I'm so excited to have you. I'm really thrilled to be here. So thank you. This is so fun because this is the first podcast for a long time I'm doing in person. So thank you so much for taking your time on your Australian tour to meet with me.


    Before we get started, I always ask the same question, and that is, did you have a dream as a child, something you wanted to do or become? That's a really interesting question. I think I struggled with learning right from the very beginning in grade one. So I think if I had any dream, I just wanted learning to be joyful and easier and not such a struggle. Beyond that, not so much, but really wanting to very early on find a solution to the challenges and difficulties that I had.


    Yes. And what an amazing job you've done with that dream for all our listeners. We have listeners in over 160 countries around the world, so not everyone might not know about you yet, so maybe just share a little bit about your story. So my story began very early and it began with my brain. So I was identified in grade one as having a mental block because at that time there wasn't even the term learning disability or learning difficulty because this was in the 150s.


    So being quite literal, one of my problems was comprehension and abstraction. Actually thought I had a piece of wood in my head. I thought I had a block of wood. And later I learned no, I didn't have a piece of wood in my head, but I had blockages in my brain. I had parts in my brain that weren't working. So my journey started in grade one when I was identified and my teacher told my parents and I overheard this conversation that I would never amount to much.


    My mother was told, don't have high expectations for your daughter. All of her learning is going to be a struggle. And I really feel like I was given a life sentence in grade one, which is pretty drastic. And learning was challenging. I wrote everything backwards. I read backwards. If I was given some numbers to add up, there was no order. Like if I was given 13 and 24, I'd add the three and then the one and then the two and then the four because parts of my brain that understood things and understood order and understood relationships wasn't working.


    So I absolutely recognized that there was something different about me because I could see the other children in the class and they were able to open books and read and learn. I would open the book and the symbols just didn't really mean anything. And I got put in the turtles reading group because at that time they used to name us after animals. And certainly you knew that the turtles reading group was not the group that one wanted to be in. I got the strap in grade one, like in that time, they would basically take a strap and hit you on the hands.


    And it wasn't that my behavior was bad, but I frustrated my teacher. She didn't understand why I couldn't learn. She didn't understand why I wrote everything backwards. I was a challenge to her. So I would say the one prediction that she had made in grade one that was accurate was that all of my schooling was going to be a struggle. That was really true. And I was really lucky in my parents. My mother was an educator, so she was determined that her daughter was going to learn to read and do mathematics.


    So every lunch hour I would come home from school and she would do flash cards, hold up cards with numbers and letters. And after school, she would hold up those flash cards. I can't say I really enjoyed it, but it took that amount of kind of brute force effort for me to learn how to read and to write and to do basic numbers. So I'm really grateful that she did that. Couldn't have been fun for her either. And then my father was an inventor and a scientist, and he had all sorts of patents for his inventions.


    And he had this belief that he instilled in me. He said, if there's a problem in the world and currently there is no solution, he said, it's your responsibility to go out and find a solution. And then he said another thing that was very wise. He said, if the rest of the world tells you, you can't do it. He said, don't listen. He said, don't be limited by conventional wisdom. This is how science goes forward. So I had no idea how I was going to come up with a solution to my learning difficulties. But that belief system, that mantra just played over and over again in my head.


    So I was constantly hunting, and I went to University to study child development, really to understand what was wrong with me. And then I went to graduate school in school psychology again, where you assess students that are struggling with learning. So it was really a part of my quest to understand my struggles. And it was in graduate school that someone handed me a book that changed my life, which was Luria's book. He was a brilliant Russian neuropsychologist, and it was a man with a shattered world.


    And it told the story of a Russian soldier who, in World War II suffered a very localized head wound. Leo Vizzetsky was the name of the soldier. So it was his story in his journals describing all his struggles. And then Luria, who was the neuropsychologist, describing what was going on in his brain. And as I read Zeitsky's Journal, I thought, we're living parallel lives now. This was in the 1940s, and I'm now in the we're half a world away.


    And I knew I didn't have shrapnel in my brain, but now I knew there was something wrong with my brain because all the things that he described that he couldn't do after his injury, I hadn't been able to do from birth. I was now 25, 26 years old. I couldn't tell time. I couldn't read an analog clock because I couldn't see the relationship between the hour hand and the minute hand. Sozevsky after his injury couldn't tell time. We talked about how meaning was just ephemeral, that it would kind of just disappear into a fog or a mist.


    I was writing that in my Journal. He was writing that in his Journal. Relationships like bigger than, smaller than I had to draw diagrams to understand because of the language. I couldn't interpret it. He had the same problem. So to solve a problem, the first thing is you have to understand what's the nature of the problem. So now I have the first piece of the puzzle. It was my brain. And at the same time, I came across work Mark Rosenstein, who is a brilliant psychologist at Berkeley in California, and he was looking at this idea of neuroplasticity.


    Now he was working with rats, which are easier to work with than humans. And what he found is if you put rats in a really stimulating environment with lots of toys to play with, they became better at learning so they could learn their mazes faster. And then he looked at their brains, and what he found was their brains had changed physiologically and functionally. They'd grown more dendrites, so more synaptic connections for better neurotransmission that more neurotransmitters, more glia cells and large capillaries.


    So he argued that that stimulation led to physiological changes in the brain which led to better learning. And this was 1977, I think, and the belief at that time was there wasn't really human neuroplasticity, or if there was, it's kind of stopped around age ten. And I'm now 26. And I went to all my professors at the University of Toronto and said, wow, I think I know what my problem is, my brain.


    And I think there might be a possibility that I could find an activity to stimulate my brain. And they all looked at me and they said, first learning difficulties have nothing to do with the brain. I don't know what they thought they had to do it, but now we know they do. And they said, and even if they did, your brain is fixed. So there's nothing you can do about it. But I remembered what my father said. He said, if the world tells you you can't do this, don't listen. So I figured if rats had neuroplasticity, humans must have neuroplasticity.


    So I went out and started creating my first exercises. And I had multiple learning difficulties. So I couldn't just create one exercise. I had to create multiple different ones for different parts of my brain, and I worked diligently at each one, and I saw remarkable changes. So I knew there was human neuroplasticity, and I was living proof. And then that began the basis of this work. I thought, if this could benefit me, I want to take this out into the world to help others that are struggling.


    And that was the birth of this work. Right. So we're now, I think, in twelve countries and 100 educational organizations. And my vision is to make this work accessible everywhere so that students, people, no matter what age they are from five to 85, can benefit from this work. Wow. Fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing that. So I had the privilege to see you speak in person yesterday. It was just so inspiring. And seeing the kids that you helped, it just made me cry.


    It was so beautiful and so inspiring. And I was like, how can you go from learning difficulties, going through the degrees that you've done, doing all the work and having those difficulties? How did you actually work out? First? What were your problems in the brain? And also how did you get through that? Well, I think I had unevenness in my brain, so I had some areas that were working really well, and then I had areas that weren't really working much at all.


    And so what I did, which is what a lot of individuals with learning difficulties do, is rely heavily on your strengths to compensate for the areas of difficulty. But the challenge with that is you're working maybe 100 times harder than other individuals, and not everybody is prepared to do that. So some students just give up and walk away. Maybe again because of the family I came from, that wasn't really an option. It was just expected that we would all be successful.


    We would all go to University. So I kind of joke. I became a workaholic in grade one. I worked over my lunch hours. I worked after school, I worked on the weekends. But it took that amount of work just to kind of tread water in education. So for whatever reason, I became really determined to succeed. But it wasn't a happy place because I knew the kind of effort. And I had this ritual when I was studying for exams in primary school.


    I knew how hard it was like, so I have a photographic visual memory, and I have almost a verbatim auditory memory. And that's what got me through. So I would lay all my books out, and then I would cry from the depths of my soul. I would just cry and cry and cry because I knew how hard this was going to be. And I almost think I put myself in a Zen meditation stage. Right. Like, I didn't know it at the time, but it's like I emptied all emotion out of my system and just became kind of this calm, open space.


    And then I would look at the first sentence in my notebook, close my eyes, memorize it. I look at the second sentence, close my eyes, memorize it, match it to the first sentence, and by the end of this process, which would take several hours, I could look at the first sentence in my notebook, close my eyes, and I could go right to the last sentence. And then when I wrote the exams, I would do a matching process, which was successful some of the time, but not always, because I didn't really understand.


    Comprehension was a big problem, so I don't really know what the question was asking, but I would look at the words and think I would go through my memory bank, and I would find a match to those words, and then I would put that answer down. So sometimes I get 100% on an exam, and sometimes I get 10% on an exam, because it really depends if I make a good match because I wasn't understanding. Sadly, you can get through a lot of schooling just based on memory and determination. So that was my saving Grace, that I had that exceptional memory ability.


    And then I think the executive functioning, the prefrontal cortex, kind of that goaloriented behavior. I was strong there, talked about it. I lived in I call it Amygdala hell, because I was terrified all the time. I was afraid if I met somebody and they'd ask me a question, I wouldn't understand what they were asking. So my strategy was a lot just to kind of sit at the back of the class and smile and nod my head and hope nobody asked me a question because I struggled with understanding.


    And one of the really profound changes once I created the exercises was being part of human discourse for the first time in my life. That was amazing, because before, if we were having this conversation, you'd ask me a question, and I'd smile and nod, and then I'd hope you'd go away, because my memory was good, I would play the question over and over again, and then I say, oh, I think that's what Christina was asking, right? But you hadn't waited for an hour for me to figure that out.


    So it was really lonely. I couldn't have that back and forth in a conversation. And once I strengthened that cognitive function, to me, it was almost miraculous. Like I could listen to somebody. I could understand them in real time, which I've never been able to do. I could actually make an appropriate comment because I understood. And then we could have a dialogue. We could go back and forth. There were lots of things that changed.


    I got better in mathematics. I got better in reading comprehension. But to me, the most profound was being in relationship with other human beings and understanding them. For the first time in my life, it was absolutely profound. I bet it's much easier to find out things now compared to when you started all this work. So how did you know what was your problem? Because when you feel a bit not sure what's wrong, how do you actually work out what you should strengthen?


    It's a really good question. I mean, I think I was very lucky because I came across Alexander Laurius work, the brilliant Russian neuropsychologist, and he was one of the early thinkers on mapping function to the brain. Like, he was just absolutely brilliant. And because of this book, the man with the Shattered world, it was one of the very significant difficulties I had. So it was like he laid out a roadmap, and I went check when I read it, and the fact I was reading it with my difficulty. So I have to read some of the passages 10, 20, 30 times.


    And I used to read things with colored highlighters, right? So I would highlight, and then I would make diagrams to try to translate language. It was almost as if language was foreign and my translator was broken. So I had to work really hard to try to understand things, but I felt like I was fighting for my life at that time because I saw no future for myself. I saw, like, nobody's going to want to hire me. I just struggled just to be okay.


    In graduate school, I was working 20 hours a day, sleeping 4 hours a night, seven days a week, and I compromised my immune system. I developed an immune system disorder because of all the stress. And I knew I couldn't sustain this, so I was desperate. And then someone handed me this book. Whether that was divine intervention, I don't know right at the right time. So that's why I dedicate my book to Luria, because I feel like I owe a life debt to him, because I really feel like he saved my life.


    So it was just circumstance that I came across exactly the roadmap that I needed for identifying my problem in his book. And then that made me realize I found every book that he'd written that was translated into English, because obviously he wrote in Russian and just massively read them with my highlighters, my diagrams to really try to understand more about this challenge. And then what might I be able to do?


    Because I didn't want to compensate. Like, you can compensate, like I was doing with highlighters and diagrams, but that takes extra effort, and it doesn't really do the job of what that cognitive function is. So as I was reading with this idea that you can't tell time, I thought, okay, I have to find an activity that's going to make that part of my brain work. And it wasn't necessarily that I wanted to learn how to tell time, but I needed to force my brain to process relationships. And what is a clock but a relationship?


    So that's what I started with. I started drawing clocks, trying to read clocks. And sometimes what I tried wasn't very successful. But just like an experiment, you keep trying, you create a hypothesis, you try something. And over time, I would read like 100 different clock faces, like really quickly, really accurately. And then I added more complexity because I got to the point where I could actually read 250 an hour and minute really accurately and really fast. But I wasn't really feeling change.


    And then I added a third hand, which is a second hand, and then a fourth hand. And now we have ten handed clocks. And it's not, again, about telling time, but it's making the brain really quickly process relationships. And that's where the change was, because it was almost like I was exercising like aerobic exercise, in a sense, for that part of the brain. And at a certain point, it was like the Blinders came off, like I could see the world clearly. I was no longer in the fog. I could understand conversations.


    I could read a page in a book and understand I was reading it. I'd never been able to do that. I would read that page 1020, 30, 40 times, but never fully understand. I would make a guess as to what the author was saying, but with the difficulty I had to walk around in this cloud of uncertainty always right, because you can never verify meaning. So part of it was that I got the right material at the right time in my quest. And then that next piece was what I do about it.


    And I saw that here's my problem. So I go to the medical library at the University of Toronto and get up the microfiche, and you look at all these articles, and I just read massively until I found this other piece of the puzzle, because you've got to identify the problem, but then you've got to have a solution for the problem. And that was neuroplasticity and the exercise. And I think because I was so determined and because I had the father that I had that gave me that idea, I was sort of meant to go down this path and create this work.


    Sometimes people ask, would I have preferred to have been born without the learning difficulties? I can't imagine my life if I hadn't had these learning difficulties because it led me to the work that I do today. So it certainly was very, very painful at many points. But really one of my biggest teachers. Yeah, I always talk about the silver linings, and you certainly have a lot of that. Do you feel less? I do when that you're on the airplane.


    And then they say if there's going to be a problem, these lights come on and they'll guide you on the path. I feel like those lights have been on all of my life guiding me. And maybe sometimes I wasn't grateful for them. But when I look back at it and I think, wow, I mean, I look at who my mother was. I look at who my father was. I look at the strengths I had and the difficulties I had. And it just feels like everything conspired together to lead me here.


    And then I feel really humbled that I've been able to make a difference in the lives of people around the world. The favorite part of my work is when I get to go to the schools that are implementing my program and talk to the students and hear their stories because they were me and I am them. Right. We all have student numbers because we track all of the data and we're doing research. And so I'm student one. I'm kind of ground zero. We know each other. We connect very deeply.


    And I feel very blessed and very humbled that I've had the opportunity to do this. And people also ask, am I going to retire? Never. Right. Because as long as there's more to do in terms of this work and more individuals to reach, and we're constantly developing more delivery models to make this more effective, doing research, to look into the brains of individuals going through this work to try to understand what is happening and are there ways to improve it?


    I will always be involved in this work. Yeah. Amazing. So for our listeners who are identifying with some of the things that you've shared, what should they do in terms of starting their own work? So we have a good questionnaire on our website that's totally free and it's totally confidential. So I think our website is arrowsmithschool.org or ArrowsmithProgram CA. You can get to it either way and just look for the questionnaire and you just go in and you answer a few hundred questions.


    And at the end, it will generate a profile based on your responses. Out of 19 different cognitive functions that we can work on, and it's reasonably accurate. Obviously, doing an assessment is more accurate, but it will give you a snapshot of strengths, like areas that are working well and areas that are limiting or causing some challenges. So to me, the first level is insight looking at your profile. So I would really encourage people to do that.


    And then my book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, each chapter is on a different cognitive function, and it kind of does a deep dive into what will this look like if there's a difficulty? What will it look like if there's average functioning? And what does it look like if there's a strength and there's little activities you can do to get a sense of what it might be like to have a difficulty there? We've also just done a really great five part webinar series. It's again free on our website, which is a deep dive into the brain, how our brain shapes us and around neuroplasticity.


    So I would encourage people to look at the website because there are lots of really, really good resources. If you've done the cognitive profile and have an idea, then there are some general principles that one can use in their own life to drive neuroplastic change. There's also the option. We have online programs. That was one of the benefits from COVID, where schools all around the world shut their doors physically and we had students around the world. So within three weeks, we adapted our program to go online their options.


    No matter where somebody lives in the world, they can access this work. But there's also three principles that one can add into. One's activities that makes it kind of a good workout for the brain. So one is active, sustained engagement. Like the idea is we were talking earlier about multitasking. But if you're going to really drive change in the brain, you need to have active, sustained, kind of laser focus on the task.


    So you pick an activity you are going to enjoy, because that will mean you're motivated to do it. And it doesn't really matter what it is, whether it's Crosswords or Sudoku, or learning how to dance or learning chess or learning a language, pick something that you want to do that you will enjoy so you'll be motivated to do it. And then kind of the rule of thumb is spend at least 20 minutes a day, five days a week. It's kind of like aerobic exercise. If you do it for five minutes, you're not really going to benefit. And then as you're doing it, the laser focus, like shut down all distractions.


    So all the research talks about that active, sustained engagement or focus. So that's kind of one hallmark. The next is this concept of effortful processing, which again comes out of neuroscience. And the idea is your brain has to have some effort in doing the task. So if you pick something that's really easy, it's like your brain is going to spin gears, right? So it's not going to be engaged and it's not going to be putting out effort. So might feel good, but it's not going to drive change.


    And then if you make the task too hard, your brain won't be able to engage because it's beyond mental reach. So you have to kind of think about that sweet spot of difficulty. It's kind of, again, just like exercise. Like if you went to the gym to lift £5 every single week, probably wouldn't gain much. But if you pick £200 the first time, you wouldn't be successful. So you calibrate the level of difficulty just slightly above where you're currently functioning. So there's a bit of a reach.


    And then once that becomes automatic, because it will eventually, then you make it a little more difficult. That, again, is a hallmark of driving neuroplastic change. And then the other one is once something goes on automatic pilot, which is nice. We all like to be on autopilot at points, but we know it's not going to drive neuroplastic change you add either some novelty or some complexity. And novelty means it's something new and different to the brain, so it can't go into the old routines and patterns.


    And complexity means you just add a little bit of difficulty that will start that effort for processing. So if you take those three principles active, sustained engagement, effort for processing and novelty and complexity and add them into your learning tasks, I guarantee that will build cognitive reserve in the brain, which is good, and it will keep your brain kind of sharp and active. So anybody can have those principles.


    And then if there's an area of real difficulty that's interfering with what you want to do in life, I would say go out and look for cognitive programs such as ours. And as I said, we have now these programs online as well as in person, so people can join us or look for other programs that are out there. But you want to look for something that's based on good science, because there's now a lot of programs that have been developed because the brain is sort of like the new hot frontier.


    I would just do your due diligence. And if there's no kind of research articles behind it or something doesn't make sense, then I would say avoid it. Or if there's a program that says do this one thing and it will fix everything, the brain is too complex for that. Like there's no one size fits all. So you want to look for something where there's again, that complexity or a range of programs to address different cognitive functions and where there's good science and research behind it. And I would say never give up. It's never too late.


    I mean, we've had 80 year olds that come into the program. The research is showing there's neuroplasticity across the lifespan. So just keep hunting and find what's going to work for you. Yeah, fantastic. Thank you. We'll link up to all those programs in our show notes for anyone who's listening. I have an online course where people come in with amazing dreams, and I have not seen a dream that I don't believe it's possible because I really do believe anything is possible unless it's something to do with space that hasn't been invented. That might take a bit longer, but I'm sure that's possible as well.


    But a lot of people come in and they deal with self doubt. They're worried about what other people think, et cetera, and they don't have the parents that you have. So what kind of advice would you give to those people who have big dreams? And these are often really capable people who have gone down a path that wasn't for them, perhaps a teacher's dream or a parent's dream, and they're just suffering with self doubt. What kind of advice do you have for them to pursue their dream? Just step into it.


    You're going to have to doubt. I had horrendous self doubt I had fear. I was terrified every moment of my life. I mean, less so now, but you just step into it and you bring the fear with you. To me, it's a fallacy to think I'm going to do something, get rid of the fear, and I'll be okay. It's just kind of your colleague or you just acknowledge it, but step into whatever it is that you want to do. And each time you step into it, it becomes a little easier. Right. Because again, it's like neuroplasticity.


    You're building new pathways, and then there's meditation. There's so much research on meditation and the benefit of meditation to kind of create that center and calm and growth mindset. And another thing is, I think surround yourself with positive people that are going to encourage and support you and not discourage you journaling. There's lots of tools and techniques. But I would say the biggest thing is just do it. Like just step into it.


    And each time you do, it gets a little less terrifying. And with every positive experience along that road, it reinforces those neural pathways in terms of that growth mindset and that positivity. So yeah, I would say go for it. Yeah. I was really inspired by a story you said yesterday with an 80 year old. Maybe just share that story because that gives hope because a lot of people think still that we should just accept the decline. But knowing what I know now, we shouldn't.


    So please share that. Absolutely. So she was a professor of anatomy in the School of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and she was retired for a number of years. And she had had a problem with face recognition. Right. So just recognizing people's faces and it had always bothered her. Like you go to a social event and you're a party and you look at somebody and think, do I know that person? Or you'd walk by somebody, you know, in the grocery store and they think you're rude because you're just walking by and ignoring them.


    So it hadn't affected her in her professional career, but it had affected her socially. And she heard about the work and she decided, okay, I think she was 74 at the time, and she thought, I'm going to see if I can do something about that. And she came in and worked on we have an exercise for that and made the same progress as a twelve year old. Right. To me, there's no age limit to neuroplasticity. We haven't seen that in our work. And then she went out and the rest of her life, she was able to recognize people's faces, and it had a significant impact on her social relations.


    So it's never too late. If there's something that is bothering somebody, look at it and come in and get it addressed. And then we worked with I think he was somewhere in his mid seven. He's a very successful entrepreneur in Asia and again, his son had been in the program, so that's how he heard about it. He loved meditation. But that idea of you meditating, you close your eyes and you have to visualize if you have a problem in being able to hold visual imagery, he couldn't do that.


    So again, he came in and worked on that in his 70s, made excellent progress, and he said, my meditation is so much better. Right. And then he also found socializing was better as well because it's a similar cognitive function. So to me, it's really promising that there is no age limit. And we also work with people that just feel as they're getting older, they're just not as sharp. So it wasn't a learning difficulty that they had throughout their life, but they just feel like they're losing a bit of that kind of mild cognitive impairment or kind of slowing down cognitively as we get older and we can reverse that.


    Just like you go to the gym to do physical exercises to Hone your flexibility in your body, you can go to the mental gym and do the same thing. So to me, it's just so hopeful and positive. This idea of if we can understand neuroplasticity and we can leverage it, we can address things before we just thought they were inevitable. Like, oh, we're just not going to get as sharp as we get older. We're also working with people with acquired brain injury and traumatic brain injury, concussion, car accidents, and seeing significant change.


    We're seeing changes in rewiring of the brain. We're seeing changes in mental flexibility, in cognition and memory. So we're working with a group actually in Australia of individuals with addiction. Right. Young adults with addiction because addiction rewires your brain and we're seeing really positive results there. And we're just doing some research. So it's so promising and hopeful. Right. Like, we don't have to accept limiting what we thought were limiting conditions.


    They don't have to be limiting conditions. I love that. One thing that I often share with my friends and also that I hear back that they struggle with is remembering names. So is there any tips to kind of just get that sort of sadly, I have a little bit of the same problem, so I have a good memory, so I'm probably not the right person to ask. I know there are little mnemonic tricks that people use to remember names. In some cases it might be a deficit where somebody has an auditory memory problem, and then it would be more than just names.


    Like they wouldn't be able to remember facts, they wouldn't remember details of things. And for that we have a program to stimulate that. But I think we're usually in a very stimulating environment when that happens. There's usually a lot going around when we're meeting all those people. So we've got divided attention. Right. Like, there are many things that we're attending to and not just that person's name and then there are multiple names that are coming in. So I think that's very common. And I would just suggest whatever those mnemonic tricks are and partly is it important, right.


    Like sometimes people just decide, well, I may never see that person again. Is it really important? So again, it's what you focus your brain on and really attend to and make relevant and critical. That is more likely what you remember. And I think probably in a lot of those situations, there's so much going on, we're kind of unconsciously making the decision that that isn't all that critical to remember that person's name. Yeah, makes sense. Makes sense. So how do we know if it's a personality emotional issue versus a cognitive issue?


    You spoke about that last night, and that really triggered me a little bit because that gives me hope. I guess personality can change as well. But I would love to know how do we work that out? I think it's to get curious. Right. Like, you see a behavior and usually as humans, our first attribution is that person is just being difficult or like we attribute it to emotion or to personality. But I said I would get curious and look at the behavior and then see, are there other patterns in that behavior that relate to that?


    So if the person is constantly late, are there other things, like do they struggle with managing money and budgeting? Are there things that they struggle around, like mental calculation? If somebody has that difficulty, often they struggle with really understanding time, understanding money, understanding how much of something is required, like say, if they're doing some sort of activity, like buying carpet for a room, like anything, is there a pattern to that behavior that shows that it's cognitive?


    Right. So the first step is to get curious and look at where else does it play out? Rather than just immediately kind of knee jerk, we say, oh, that person doesn't care or they're just obnoxious or whatever those things we are or the person that struggles in social situations, sometimes we might say, oh, they're rude, but again, it's starting to observe the behavior and where else does it play out and see? Is it cognitive? That's really the only way.


    It's starting to observe the behavior and see other instances of it. And then you see kind of a pattern that's cognitive. Right. And then it's understanding. That's just how their brain is wired. They're not doing it to make my life miserable or that they don't care about me because that's how they see and understand the world. We had this one girl, she was, I think, twelve when I started working with her, and all the children in her neighborhood would not play with her. What they said is that she lies all the time.


    Well, I remember showing her a picture. There's a number of people at a beach, right. And so there was the water and there was a rescue boat and there was somebody being carried out of the water. So clearly someone had drowned. And there was what looked like the mother whose arms were outstretched towards the lifeguard that was bringing this person in. And so I showed this picture to this young girl and asked what's happening here?


    And the mother had a hat on and she had netting in the front of her hat and this girl said, they're playing badminton. And so I asked her why she thought that, and she pointed to the hat and the net and that triggered an association of a badminton to net. And she had a very severe nonverbal thinking problem. But one of the hallmarks of that is the individual walks into a social situation and they'll fixate on one queue in that situation and they won't survey everything else that's going on.


    So this girl fixated on the hat triggered an association. She didn't look at the rest of the information. Clearly they were not playing badminton and that part of the brain kind of shuts down. It's made a decision as to what's going on and doesn't look at the other information. So in her neighborhood, she wasn't lying, but she saw things very differently. She interpreted the world very differently than other individuals.


    And I call that premature closure, like they close prematurely on the information, make a conclusion, and then act on that, but get into a lot of trouble socially because what they're acting on isn't what is really happening there. Now, we worked on that problem. She's now in her thirty s and she's very successful socially because she no longer has that difficulty. But all of those other children interpreted her as a liar because that's what they thought. She's lying like that's not badminton, she's lying. Right.


    And she wasn't. So I think it's looking at behavior a little more compassionately and trying to understand what drives that behavior. And in some cases it could be emotional or personality, but in a lot of cases it isn't. It's how that person sees the world. And then that should mean that we have more compassion for that person because they're really not making a choice about behaving in that way. That's how their brains wired. Fantastic. Thank you for sharing that.


    If through your methodology, people who have very severe learning disabilities or difficulties can get themselves to average. We talked about that yesterday. Can the same methodology get used to get average to exceptional? We've definitely had success with that. It's less common because those individuals don't necessarily feel the need to come to us, right? Absolutely.


    And often it will be the sibling or the parent of a student that's in the program for learning difficulties. They think, oh, this could strengthen this area where I'm okay, but I want to be better. Yeah. So to me, it's just whether somebody wants to put the effort into doing the work or not, whether it's meaningful to them. But actually we can do that. Yeah, amazing. Like that. That was one thing that came up in my thoughts last night because we were in a room with lots of brilliant people.


    So that was really interesting. Before we finish off, I would love to talk about how important it is to decrease stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation, because I think that affects our brains a lot. Sleep, definitely. I feel that a lot. But I know that long term stress and anxiety affects the brain as well. So what can we do to change that? Yeah. When we talk about neuroplasticity, people often think it's a positive thing, right? Like neuroplasticity means our brain will change in a positive way.


    Actually, it's a neutral concept. Our brain can change in negative ways as well. So some of those tips I gave earlier are to enhance positive neuroplasticity, like that active, sustained engagement effort for processing novelty and complexity. But also we can reduce the negative factors that lead to negative neuroplasticity. We all know if we get anxious and go to study for an exam, it will have an impact.


    But imagine if you have that anxiety every single day, like chronic anxiety, chronic depression, sleep deprivation over time. There's lots and lots of research to show that it can actually deep ruin in the brain. Like it leads to negative impacts. Good news is we can reverse it. So if somebody who's listening that's sleep deprived and anxious and depressed, don't figure there's nothing you can do because the brain is very neuroplastic.


    So I think it's really important that we spend as much time on reducing those negative factors in our life for good brain health. And so I think there are things like meditation. There are things like walking in nature, exercise. There's so much research now on exercise and neurogenesis and keeping our brain healthy. And neuroprotective effects, it stimulates brain derived neurotrophic factor. So meditation, walking in nature, just getting some good exercise.


    And again, it doesn't have to be excessive. Sleep is so important. I mean, sleep is important in lots of different ways. There's research looking at as we sleep, they do brain scans and they see similar areas that are active to the areas that were active during the day as we were learning. So there really is truth to we consolidate memories and learning as we sleep. So anything people can do to improve those kind of quality of life factors is really important.


    And I think kindness is also really important, like being kind to ourselves. So last night, maybe I didn't get all the sleep I need. So rather than getting up in the morning and beating myself up about that, just saying, okay, I'll do a little bit better tomorrow and just accepting that was my experience before. I think really having lovingkindness compassion for ourselves and putting self care high up on the list, we don't tend to do that.


    And I think especially as women obviously, we often are worried about nurturing other people. Well, let's do some self care and self nurturing because hopefully we're going to be on this planet for a number of years and we want the best quality of life that's possible over the course of our lifespan. So I think they're all things that are good for our health and they're good for our brain health. Love it. Thank you for sharing that. This has been so good.


    I truly enjoy this conversation. I'm just going to ask a couple more quick questions. I always ask every person I have on this podcast about their morning routine. Have you got one specific? Obviously not when you have jet lag, et cetera, but in your normal life? Well, usually because I have a bit of a problem with one of my hips right now, but I would either get on my treadmill in the basement or my bicycle and I would do a moving meditation.


    So whether I'm on my bicycle or on my treadmill, I have kind of a meditation that I do. And then at the end of the meditation, I said a prayer. Right. And I say, may this work go out into the world with ease, Grace and heart integrity, and may all of those who can benefit from this work be touched by it. And then I surrender it. So that's my morning routine. Wow. What a beautiful start of each day. And I always ask for the favorite book. Have you got any more book tips for us?


    I'm a voracious reader, but in my downtime, I like to read mystery novels, and I like to read ones that are set in different foreign countries. So I feel like I've been there. So I've got a whole list of those favorite authors. Untethered soul. I love that book. Yes. Michael Singer, I think. Yes. And then he's just got a new one out. But those kind of things that again, I don't know whether you call them spiritual, but kind of really living one's best life and being true to one's Soul's longing, right?


    Yeah. So I think I'm very attracted to that writing. Beautiful. Thank you. So I just want to thank you first for taking the time in your busy schedule and for all the amazing work you are doing to the world. And it was so amazing. So I'm going to inspire everyone who's listening to if they can see you live. It's amazing. And also to look closer to your work. So thank you so very much. I really had the most perfect morning for me. Thank you. Thank you. It's my pleasure.


    And my passion and goal is to build awareness for the possibilities of this kind of work. So thank you for providing me with that opportunity. Thank you. Oh, my. That was so, so inspiring. I love this conversation so much. It has actually given me hope to fix my own brain. I know I don't have learning difficulties but there are certain things that I'm definitely struggling with so this has really inspired me to do some of her programs but more importantly I am now able to recommend her programs to anyone who needs it and I hope you will do the same.


    I cannot wait to hear what you think so please let me know in the Facebook group. The Facebook group is a private one where we share things we get out of the podcast and other things that have to do with our dream live. So please join me. I will link to it in the show notes. There is also lots and lots of links, Barbara, so go to the show notes so you can check them all out. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did and I can't wait to have you back next week. I'll see you then.



    • Dream Life

      SO pleased to hear you found the insights valuable Jade :)

    • Jade

      Fantastic podcast! Really informative from recollecting my childhood where I wrote right to left and read books backwards (being left handed too)! To today suffering depression. Thanks for the insights!

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