Clinical psychologist Shauna Shapiro talks about how to use neuroplasticity to reach a place of kindness and compassion, of self love, instead of judgment and fear.
This week, Rabbi Rami interviews Shauna Shapiro, PhD. A clinical psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University, she is one of the leading scientists studying the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion on wellbeing. Her new book is Good Morning, I Love You: Mindfulness + Self-Compassion Practices to Rewire Your Brain for Calm, Clarity + Joy.
One of the most hopeful and exciting developments in science has been the discovery of neuroplasticity—that is, our brain continues to change throughout our lives. The good news, Shapiro says, is “It’s never too late to change. No matter what has happened to us. All of us have the capacity to begin again.”
“What you practice, grows stronger,” Shapiro says. As we perform actions, we lay down neural pathways, or what Shapiro likens to super-highways of automatic habit. But you can lay down new paths, and as you practice them, they get stronger. So put your intention and attention on pathways you want to enhance, she suggests. We don’t need to be perfect, Shapiro assures us. Think, “Can I create five percent more ease, or become five percent more patient?”
Mindfulness is helpful because it puts us back in a place of choice, she says, where there is a gap between the stimulus and the response. Instead of simply doing the compulsive behavior, we become aware of it, and do so without judgment. And the next step, Shapiro says, is to have self compassion. You might say something to yourself such as, “Oh, sweetie, you’re feeling really anxious right now.” This soothes the nervous system.
The last step, she suggests, is to send out compassion to other people who are in a similar situation. It helps us feel less alone if we are sending out good vibes to other people who are overeating, or drinking too much, or going through a tough divorce, or struggling with cancer. With practice, Shapiro says, we can learn to care for ourselves, just as we care for a loved one or friend.
To read an excerpt of her book, click here.
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