Written by: Dr. Nilesh Satguru, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Dr. Shauna Shapiro is a professor at Santa Clara, bestselling author, clinical psychologist, and internationally recognised expert in mindfulness and self-compassion. She has published over 150 papers and three critically acclaimed books. Her TEDx talk, ‘What You Practice Grows Stronger,’ has been viewed three million times.
Join us for this unique interview with Shauna, where we delve deep into her stories and beliefs. Then we explore the practices that entrepreneurs can engage with to place them on the path of mastery. Watch the full interview here.
1. I thoroughly enjoyed your book, ‘Good Morning, I Love You’. In the book, you vulnerably shared how a back injury stifled your volleyball career and led you to find mindfulness ‒ would you mind sharing this story?
I was 17 years old and dedicated my life to volleyball. I was captain of my team and I was recently awarded a scholarship to attend Duke University. On a routine check-up with my spinal surgeon, who I was seeing due to a curved spine, he noticed the curvature had become severe. They explained that if they do not operate urgently, my spine may puncture my lungs.
Within a few weeks, I had spinal fusion surgery, never played volleyball again and spent the next six months relearning how to walk. I became depressed as I could not see a positive future.
During that time I was given a book by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn called, ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’, and I remember opening the book and reading:
“Whatever has happened to you has already happened. The only question that matters is, ‘Now what?’ ”
It woke me up from ruminating on the ‘could-bes’ or ‘should-haves’ and it brought me into the present moment. It brought me to the moments of peace in between the pain. It gave me hope that there was a different way of living that I didn’t know about yet.
This led to me going to study meditation in Thailand and Nepal, where I had such a profound experience. For the first time since my surgery, I wasn’t in pain. It completely shifted my physical experience of my body.
I was amazed and decided to dedicate my life to studying the science of mindfulness and self-compassion. The shift was so profound that I wanted to understand what happened, and to use these practices to help people.
2. I love this story, Shauna. From your years of study and research, what would you recommend to the busy, stressed, foggy-headed entrepreneur to help themselves?
We have clearly discovered in the research that seven minutes a day of practice, five days a week, is what is needed to start to see shifts in your brain to help improve:
Innovation and creativity
Focus and alertness
Our brain is miraculous because it is relatively malleable. This is the underpinning of neuroplasticity ‒ we are able to shape, and re-shape, the structure and function of our brain through practice.
All of us agree that physical fitness is important. Mental fitness is the next wave. People frequently make time for movement but we do not make time to train our mental fitness.
What you practice grows stronger.
Here are a few practices:
Be intentional Ask yourself, “What do I want to grow stronger? How can I be more intentional today?”
Attention training throughout the day Research from Harvard shows that the mind wanders 47% of the time. Training your attention may be the most valuable thing you can do. Where you put your attention becomes the focus of your life. Notice each time your mind wanders and bring yourself back to the present moment.
Carve out a 7-minute morning meditation In the morning, your brain is in a suggestible state. This is why the morning is such a powerful time to practice. Instead of grabbing your smartphone, train your mind for presence, calm and focus with mindfulness.
Choose self-compassion when struggling When we judge and shame ourselves, it shuts down the learning centres of the brain. It keeps you locked into the very patterns that you are trying to change.
Self-compassion does not let you ‘off the hook’ or mean you are going to become lazy. It does the opposite ‒ it creates an air of curiosity and kindness to ourselves. This has radical neuroscience effects. It releases the neurochemical dopamine, improving drive and motivation, and it releases oxytocin which soothes us and creates an environment for learning.
Research consistently demonstrates that self-compassion helps you lose weight, exercise more frequently and improve productivity because it creates an environment for learning.
How to practice self-compassion:
a. Name the feeling ‒ this calms our physiology according to a study from UCLA
b. Think about others who are feeling this way, so that you don’t feel isolated
c. Choose to respond with self-kindness over self-blame, place a hand on your heart to release oxytocin if you like
3. These are incredibly helpful, Shauna, thank you. I would like to delve deeper into you. Why do you do what you do? How did you decide to become a teacher?
The honest answer is that these practices have changed my life in such a profound way that there is this sense of wanting to share them with the world.
My mission is to translate the science in an accessible way so people feel that it makes sense.
I came from a family of teachers ‒ everyone in my family is a teacher. If you’re not a professor or a teacher you did not come from my family. I grew up with curiosity and wonder, wanting to learn.
Neither of my grandparents went to high school, then when my grandfather was 40 years old he took the test to graduate high school, got into college and became a mathematics professor! He was the first to inspire everyone else to teach. My grandmother became a writer and, as a couple, they wrote 23 novels together!
Both of my parents are professors, and my aunt, uncle and brother are all professors too!
4. How did you deal with the weight of expectation coming from a family of high performers?
There is a wonderful Sanskrit term called ‘Mudita’ ‒ taking joy in someone else's joy, celebrating someone else's success.
Because I was raised in such a supportive environment I never felt that weight of expectation. The learning journey was fun and enjoyable because of the learning environment created by my family. I am grateful for that.
5. What are the negative beliefs you have shifted that’s helped you on your journey?
In the past, I had a belief that I was hard to love and that I was not very lovable. I don’t know where that came from and I don’t understand why so many of us carry so much self-judgement.
I felt it would be very hard to find someone to love me. Then I married someone and we had a very challenging relationship. We got divorced and it confirmed many of my negative beliefs. I ended up being single for quite a long time. Whilst I was single I really started to practise self-compassion and to learn my value.
As my self-love grew, and I trusted that I had a good heart, this shifted that belief and healed something deep within me. I got remarried last year, 10 years after my divorce, to the love of my life.
The way he loves me is only possible because I was able to love myself.
I remember asking my grandmother what the secret was to her 70-year loving marriage and she replied, “Self-love.” This self-love allowed them to love each other so deeply.
6. What’s the negative belief you are working on right now?
There is this sense that, as an adult or professor, you should know the answers. I am currently practising letting go of this idea and starting to practice living with uncertainty. Instead, I am living into the questions, not the answers.
7. One of the things I have been practising recently is speaking to my younger self. What would you share with your younger self knowing what you know now?
It is such a beautiful practice for myself but also for my four teenagers. My deepest prayer for them and everyone is that they feel loved and lovable on this earth. I wish that I had trusted that as my younger self.
8. Through all the challenges you’ve experienced ‒ the injury, losing your volleyball career, your divorce, what are the lessons you have learnt?
I hope the readers and listeners take this with them ‒ you can begin again, change is always possible and it is never too late.
This is not just some spiritual belief, it is the foundation of neuroplasticity. Change is always possible for all of us.
What an incredibly vulnerable yet powerful interview with Shauna. I loved how her pain turned into a lifetime commitment to serving others and humanity. Her deep curiosities have led to profound breakthroughs in her own life and in neuroscience. I feel truly lucky to experience her work and to share it with you.
What is one insight from reading this article? How will you implement it? Reach Shauna through her website or Instagram and make sure, no matter where you are in your journey, to get a copy of her phenomenal book ‘Good Morning I Love You’.
Shauna also has a ‘Good Morning, I Love You’ guided journal and a children’s book on the way too!
I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!
Dr Nilesh Satguru
Dr. Nilesh Satguru, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Nilesh is a certified high-performance coach, speaker and lifestyle medicine doctor. His mission is to inspire a community to Believe In Growth. After witnessing his father’s illnesses, his son's developmental challenges and resigning from a medical partnership, Nilesh dedicated himself to self-mastery to serve others.
With his coaching business, Nilesh helps entrepreneurs and executives perform at their best so they can create exceptional lives and serve their community.
In the world of medicine, Nilesh is a four-time award-winning medical teacher, a director for the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine, a lecturer at Southampton University, and he sits on the UK's national sleep steering committee.
Nilesh's aims to spread a message of compassion, openness, challenge and growth through all his endeavours.