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The She-Suite Summit23 Speaker Spotlight: Neuroscientist Dr. Michael Mannino

The She-Suite Summit23 Speaker Spotlight:
Neuroscientist
Dr. Michael Mannino

Meet Dr. Michael Mannino, neuroscientist and peak performance expert. He is currently Chief Science Officer of the Flow Research Collective, and has been the lead peak performance coach, working with hundreds of clients, from all walks of life, from high level executives, to athletes, surgeons, students, and more.

Dr. Mannino holds a PhD in neuroscience and complex systems, and has researched networks of the human brain involved in attention, and perception, with an emphasis on the framework of embodied cognition. This past March, he took the time to join us at The She-Suite Summit23, sharing some of his key insights and considerations with our audience of over 1,100 attendees.

Below are just a few of the top takeaways from his session on mindset, performance, and purpose, to help you take steps towards living your best life, on your terms.

Q: Why is the mind/body connection such an important piece of our overall health and well-being?

A: There’s a rich connection between the mind and the body that can truly help us; this is a science called interoception. Interoception is paying attention to what’s going on inside you. So being sensitive to your heart for example, the movements of your gut, dry mouth, tension in your muscles, and pain. Research has actually shown that people who have higher levels of interoceptive sensitivity and accuracy show greater mental wellness, greater mental well-being, and greater cognitive processes like decision making. This has something to do with the vagus nerve, which is the 10th cranial nerve and connects the mind and the body. It’s been shown that people with a higher vagal tone, or higher vagal activity, which actually translates to more variation in our heartbeats, have better stress resilience, better emotional regulation, and better social functioning.

Q: Tell us more about ‘flow’ and what it means for our brains?

A: Flow is a potential wellspring of achievement and well-being. By definition, flow is an optimal state of experience or consciousness where we feel and perform our best. It refers to those moments of total absorption where we’re so focused on the thing that we’re doing, the task at hand, that everything else seems to disappear. Our sense of time changes, there’s a loss of self-consciousness; action and awareness merge. It’s an effortless effort, that’s what it’s been referred to. Each decision we make flows seamlessly to the next, each action we take flows seamlessly to the next. That’s why it’s called flow, because when Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied this phenomenon, everybody reported the same thing. They were just flowing in the moment.

Flow is also autotelic… autotelic just means self purpose. It means that you’re doing the thing for the sake of the thing itself. It’s intrinsically motivating, it’s intrinsically rewarding. So when you can align activities like that in your life, they facilitate the idea of flow or the concept of flow.

Flow increases subjective well-being and psychological well-being, and the absence of flow has actually been linked to depression. We know flow enhances cognition, so it enhances learning, creativity, productivity, performance, in some cases by 500% on the far end. The brain becomes an innovation engine; it improves self-efficacy, which is the belief in our capacity to accomplish goals, our goals and the things we set for ourselves. It improves quality of life, and life satisfaction. Studies have shown that people who score off the charts for life satisfaction have the most flow in their lives, no matter how much money they’re making or they have.

Q: In a nutshell, how are flow and purpose related?

A: Purpose is a main intrinsic motivator and a main driver of flow. Purpose fuels flow and flow fuels performance. What’s the biology of purpose? What’s the science of purpose? What’s the neuroscience of purpose? We know that humans are hardwired for purpose. Our brains have built mechanisms to subserve having a purpose in life. It’s a deep, deep part of our biology. William James, one of the fathers of psychology and American philosophy once said, “The great thing in education is to make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy.” Purpose does exactly that. We are biologically built to have purpose in our lives, and so having a strong sense of meaning and purpose gets your biology working for you! And when you set up your life like that, you facilitate flow, creativity, performance, and so on.

We know purpose boosts performance, motivation, productivity, and resilience. Purpose has so many biological benefits as well, boosting resilience in brain cells, and lowering neuroinflammation. Fascinatingly, people with a strong sense of purpose have a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and age-related decline. So think about that; having a strong sense of purpose in your life actually protects your mental health. It decreases depression, decreases anxiety. Those with a strong sense of purpose have longer lifespans because it literally creates biological changes down at the cellular level.

Q: What are a few ways we can help clear our minds when overwhelm starts to creep in?

I would recommend breathwork as a place to start. Protecting your sleep, and prioritizing recovery are also crucial, but I think the top thing to try is focusing on consciously controlling your breath. There’s a ton of different techniques out there. Breath by James Nestor, is a game-changing book, in my opinion, as a neuroscientist. It can help you to understand how to control your breath, and cultivating the practice of it. Mindfulness is another separate yet important practice to help calm your mind down, this helps with mastering the ability to control where our attention goes; and in today’s world, that is a superpower! Pair that with some deep visualization work, and spending time in nature whenever possible.

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