Years ago, I led a group of high school graduates through Central America on a service-learning year. Some of the students were stuck in a pattern of making destructive life choices.
Two huge 'aha moments' came out of that trip.
#1) Their beliefs about themselves, and the narrative they had formed (I'm a terrible person; I'll never succeed at anything; I'm an emotional wreck, etc.) was something they had LEARNED based on what they were surrounded by regularly - at home, in the community, at school.
These narratives, or mindsets, were like broken records that they kept listening to without having any awareness that another story was possible.
#2) Being needed by people interrupted some of the negative tracks on their broken record.
Through our counseling sessions and their experiences, many of my students had incredible breakthroughs and life-altering mindset shifts.
They finally started seeing themselves as powerful, creative beings - who could take the pain of their past and find ways to make it into something valuable for others.
I decided at that point to devote my life to figuring out how those mindset shifts happen, and to see how we might purposely spark these shifts in others.
I chose NYU in order to dive into neuroscience, particularly ‘self-directed neuroplasticity’, and the study of fear and emotions.
There, I worked with a postdoctoral fellow, Lasana Harris, on studies on stereotype content, disgust, moral decision-making and neuroeconomics. My thesis was on Empathy and Family Emotional Climate; I won third place at the annual Graduate Research Conference in 2010.
I was also mentored by Dr. Zoran Josipovic, whose work on mindfulness and meditation inspired me to spend several months at various monasteries and learn from teachers from India and Vietnam.
After that, I took all of this into my work as a counselor, and started presenting 'brain workshops' to students, parents and teachers.
I now live in Chicago and offer workshops and consulting to businesses, universities and organizations throughout the US and worldwide.