Archive | May, 2014

Great Brains Don’t Just Happen: Dreaming of a World….

29 May

One of my favorite poets died yesterday. Woven in the flurry of memorial and tribute to truly creative and expressive people like Maya Angelou, is a story of life — one where a brain grows, develops, wires, re-wires, and adapts. Lurking beneath the surface we can find those factors that allowed this extraordinary brain to generate the work of this extraordinary person — a body of work that will outlast all of us.

I talk, a lot, about how to maximize well developed brains. Be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful and you continue the nourishing cycle that supports long-term brain functioning.

Here is what we don’t talk about enough…. What happens when a brain, from moment one, does not have the needed stimuli and nourishment to grow and develop? How many creators of spectacular written imagery like Maya Angelou or artistic visionaries like Judith Baca, creator of the Great Wall in LA or musicians who paint scenes with words and melody like Joni Mitchell never had the chance to develop because no one helped them nourish their brains?

That happens. A lot. All over the world. I started thinking about a conversation I had a couple months ago with Michele Gran from Global Volunteers.  Her organization is on the ground floor of a movement to change a condition.  The shift is this — create an environment where brains have the opportunity to reach potential and not  “by limiting factors that limit the growing mind.”  Here is that position – in a 100 second video.

As with just about everything else, once the process has started, we all have choices and we all have a path we walk.  What Michele and I spoke about was changing that basic condition and providing the building blocks for choice to take hold and that conversation changed how I viewed my role in all of this.

We can’t all do this kind of life changing work but we can all  find a way help in some small way to ensure that the next Maya Angelou has the building blocks for the brain she needs to make every life she touches better.  Find how you can make your impact.

Serving Your Purpose Is Good For Your Brain

23 May

I am a bit of research geek… I know and completely own that fact.  In most cases I try to keep the “statistically significant” talk to a minimum but this is one of those incredibly cool instances where science meets happiness and the result just might be the best reason to talk about how “finding and living your purpose” can create a path to better thinking — in scientific terms!

Link in the Chain

The stronger the link, the more powerful the message

Did you know that leading a purposeful life could help head off cognitive decline and potentially reduce your risk of developing symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s Disease?

A study done as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, examined how the positive aspects of life might keep dementia at bay – the goal was to actively look at “happiness, purposefulness in life, well-being and whether those kind of concepts are associated with a decreased risk of dementia,” in concrete, measureable terms.   Guess what researchers found?   People who reported that they lead a purposeful life (scored 4.2 or better out of 5 on the purpose-in-life measure) were about 2.4 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, compared with people who scored lower….

Carl tall trees

Grow strong roots, stand tall, and cover yourself with awesomeness :)!


Summary of findings in US News & World Report

If that is not a good enough reason, let’s look at what it means to live with a purpose from an every day brain health perspective.

  • When you do something meaningful to you, you feel good.  When you feel good your brain releases that nourishing trifecta of chemicals (dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline) among other happiness related chemical and electrical reactions.
  • When you feel accomplished — like you have really contributed to the greater good – notice that your respiration is more even and your stress levels (and therefore your biological stress reactions) reduce.
  • Finding your purpose is a learning and exploring process that requires actively using so many areas of your brain.  You are looking at how you want to live from an intellectual, emotional, and solution oriented perspective.   In order to do that, you must use every higher-level cognitive process and give those rational thoughts emotional value.

One last reason to live a purposeful life – something my mom taught me and that carries me through.  The balance of the world is very delicate and how we live our lives can change that balance.   Always give more than you take and whenever possible, leave each place you go and person you meet a little better for you being there.    It is the right thing to do for the right reasons at the only moment in time (NOW).

bailey rainbow

Spread your light everywhere you go.

For fellow research nerds, here are some more studies linking how we live our lives with how well our bodies age!

Positive Benefits of Positive Thoughts and Actions on Health From University of Wisconsin – Madison Institute on Aging:

On the Power of Positive Thinking From the Carnegie Melon University:

A little less geeky perspective from the Mayo Clinic:

Leaving Your Mark on the World: Projects Close to Home

13 May

The world is so full of need. Providing a way for people to lift themselves up and empower them to live a healthier, more productive life is so important, and something that helps us all “Be” better.   When I think of volunteer travel, I imagine working in a community in some far off country where people, living in third world conditions, desperately need a helping hand.

It might surprise you that you don’t need a passport to find a worthwhile, life changing volunteer vacation that will help you lift up others, travel, develop a deep appreciation for another culture, and experience new ways of looking at life while you find and serve your purpose. Yes, there are places in the US that lack essential services for their residents, particularly their children, to thrive, and those communities need our help as well.


There are many volunteer vacation options and projects in the US. It is so important to find the right match for you, your interest, your travel needs, and your health status.  Check out for an extensive listing and to match what you are looking for and what you need with a project.

My interests revolve around brain development and Global Volunteers, a US based nonprofit I discovered while exploring volunteer vacations, shares that passion.  This organization just gets it that if we create an environment for people to grow and thrive, that, by itself will allow more brains to reach their potential and people to contribute to the world on a deeper level.  Brains need good nutrition, stimulation, social interaction, and purpose to feed the chemical and electrical systems that fuel neuron growth.

global volunteers logoGlobal Volunteers crafts projects that focus on helping fill areas of need – in particular those that help lift the community as a whole and build healthier, more productive community members.  When I spoke the founder Michele Grand, last month, we talked about how each of their projects around the world, zeroes in on those essential services people need to thrive.  That is a concept and focus that I believe will enable us all to leave our positive lasting mark.

Let’s look at a project on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana facilitated by Global Volunteers.  This is an isolated community with huge holes in essential services needed to build strong, productive brains.  Global Volunteers, under the guidance of community leaders, created an immersive program that allows small groups to spend a week working in the early childhood center or the assisted living facility or the community college or the care center or other areas where the need is great.   Mentor, build, share knowledge, and enhance your own brain health by serving your purpose in a challenging, fulfilling, social environment…. How great is it that you can contribute on such a meaningful level using all those skills that you have accumulated over the years?  DIGITAL CAMERA

The fact that Global Volunteers understands that Baby Boomers are the both the now and the future of meaningful volunteering just seals the deal for me.  Looking for a meaningful way to spending some time leaving your mark on the world?  Check out the Global Volunteers projects all over the world!

I have not been compensated by Global Volunteers in any way — just given the gift of one of the co-founder’s time to talk about building better brains globally!

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