Dr. Greg Wells

Think Better

Think Better

Learning to achieve the three states of human excellence

July, 30th 2018

When you are a science geek like me, you approach knowledge with a lens that can zoom in and out, seeking both fine distinctions and deep insights. Then, if you are a speaker, author and coach, you take what you have learned and sort out how to translate it into accessible and useable information.

This has been my process as I explore the realms of mindfulness, creativity, productivity, focus and joy. I’ve been reading, talking to people and doing experiments to test my thinking and apply my knowledge. This journey has helped me see that there are three distinctly interrelated states of being that we can all learn to access. One of them is pure mindfulness: complete immersion in the moment. The other two are ends of a spectrum: hyper focus for productivity and completely letting go for creativity.

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A Book in the Hand

July, 30th 2018

The power and potential of technology are well known and constantly in your face – from Apple ads to your Kindle to that app your co-worker is raving about. But when it comes to sheer creativity, there are significant advantages to leveraging the power and possibility of old school tools: physical books and pens.

Four years ago, I had a chance to spend a bit of time with Richard Branson. I know everybody references him, and it’s hard to relate because he’s hyper wealthy and has degrees of freedom that most of us don’t have. But during a Q&A session I sat in on, he explained that he always carries a notebook with him for ideas. A physical notebook. Since then, I always make sure I have one on hand. Whenever I travel, I go into a bookstore and look for a beautiful notepad. I also collect them from people I meet, like an incredible one I was given in India made from colored leaves pressed together.

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Shift from time management to priority management

July, 30th 2018

Ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? Like you are chasing your tail and barely able to get it all done? Like you are paddling madly upstream but still being carried along with the current?

You aren’t alone. It’s a feeling that most people get at some point. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a simple mental shift you can make that will change not only how you spend time but how you feel about the time you spend.

Stop managing your time. Start managing your priorities.

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Experiment your way to creating like Thomas Edison

July, 30th 2018

Here’s an informal experiment I ran recently that you should try.

I went for a walk downtown in Toronto, where I live, through the financial district where I was meeting a buddy for lunch. As I did, I made a decision to not pull out my phone while I was walking. I just watched people.

It was unbelievable. About 80 to 90% of them were walking with their faces down in their phones.

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Identify what matters most and hyper focus

July, 30th 2018

Here’s one of the biggest tips I offer people who want to amplify their performance: identify what matters to you the most and go after it with everything you have. It’s the path to optimal performance, wellness and joy. Avoid spreading yourself around and letting your time and energy drain away. Decide what you want to accomplish and get on with it.

I’ll give you an example.

A school board recently invited me to give a talk at night to a gathering of parents about lack of focus among students. At one point, a parent put up her hand and said, “My child is working until 11 o’clock at night. It’s disrupting her sleep. It’s getting in the way of other activities. This is a huge problem.”

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Be tech smart: deliberately engage and intentionally disengage

July, 30th 2018

Sometimes, the biggest lessons we can learn really do come from kids.

My daughter Ingrid is eight, and she recently began using an iPad. My wife Judith and I know that we can’t shelter our kids from technology. We need to help them learn to use it productively. So we have established guidelines and Ingrid is learning the ins and outs of what most adults struggle with – being on and off a device.

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Addicted to distraction: are you controlling your technology or is it controlling you?

July, 30th 2018

A few years ago, I was sitting at the back of a conference session with my buddy Bruce Bowser, President and CEO of AMJ Campbell. The speaker was riveting, and we were thoroughly engaged. But at some point during the presentation, Bruce and I started to look at the audience. What we saw was shocking.

As we looked around the room, there was a significant percentage of the audience on their phones. Bruce and I exchanged glances and gestures of disbelief. Then, at a break in the session, we went outside where the crowd was lingering and discovered 98% of the people in attendance were on their devices. When the day’s sessions ended, Bruce and I headed out for a walk in this beautiful old European city, and we had to avoid colliding with several people who had their faces down in their phones and nearly walked into us.

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Think + Learn = Thrive.

July, 22nd 2018

Helping people think better is thrilling, especially when it comes to making the connection between learning and joy. In particular, I love helping people explore their ability to take in different perspectives and the positive impact it can have on their wellbeing.

Recently, while I was doing some work with a group of educators, I shared an article written by Peter Diamandis about the future of education and the impact technology will have in the classroom. It was fascinating to see how people reacted.

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You get to decide how you consume media, news and technology

July, 22nd 2018

Recently, I was giving a talk to an audience of a couple hundred people when I was asked to explain my evening routine at home. It starts at six o’clock when I spend an hour or so with my kids, followed by an hour hanging out with my wife, Judith. Around eight, we do some yoga or relax through a hot bath/cold shower combo. By nine, I’m reading fiction or biographies to help my mind wind down and prepare for a high-quality sleep.

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Making social media an asset: passive consumption versus active engagement

July, 22nd 2018

Social media: damaging distraction or fabulous connector? It’s a question I get all the time from people who are wondering about their technology use and its effect on their lives. My answer? It depends on you.

Each of us has preferences about the social media channels we use. I interact mainly with Twitter and Instagram, though I have spent more time of late on Snapchat because it is the platform of choice for the students I work with. And of course, though it’s not a main channel for me, Facebook is another major social presence, irrespective of its recent troubles. No matter what you use, you need to make choices about how you do so.

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A key lesson from mental health experts: focus on simple strategies

July, 22nd 2018

One of the incredible aspects of the worldwide effort to promote mental health is that it brings together experts from a range of professions. By comparing notes, sharing knowledge and generating collaborative solutions, we are making a difference.

As a physiologist, my entry point into any conversation about mental health is an emphasis on the body. And while that remains a central focus in my work, I have built a network of people who complement my knowledge and help me understand topics that are a bit outside my wheelhouse.

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What we can learn from athletes about how to pivot from negative to positive thoughts

July, 22nd 2018

During my career, I have learned a great deal about human performance from working with elite athletes. The challenges athletes face push them and their coaches to learn to cope with enormous pressure. Many of those techniques are useful for the rest of us in our daily lives.

One of the most powerful mental skills athletes develop is the ability to pivot from negative to positive thoughts. It is a skill they practice a great deal because no matter the sport, and no matter how successful they are, all athletes fail over and over again.

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Why are we so determined to see failure as a bad thing?

July, 22nd 2018

It seems like everywhere I go, there is talk about the importance of failure – its role in growth, building resilience, driving success, connecting people and ensuring we raise adjusted and confident kids. I’m all in on the conversation. But I have a question: why are we so resistant to seeing failure as a positive thing?

Even a cursory glance at the role of failure illustrates that it can have enormous value.

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Regret, Dying and Helping Our Kids Embrace Failure

July, 22nd 2018

In 2009, Australian Bonnie Ware was a budding author and songwriter. She also happened to have spent close to a decade working as a palliative care nurse. That year, she wrote a blog post reporting on things that her terminally ill patients wished they had done differently. The post went viral, changing her life and leading to her international bestseller Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

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BRAIN BOOSTING FOODS

April, 23rd 2018

Key points:

 1. Good nutrition is critical for your brain to function optimally.

2. Slow-digesting complex carbohydrates fuel your brain for thinking, solving problems, being creative, and instilling memories.

3. High-quality fats are used to build the structures in and around your nerves that help to speed communication between neurons.

4. Healthy proteins provide the precursors for the neurotransmitters used to communicate between nerve cells.

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What a bike ride across Africa taught me about expectations

April, 18th 2018

The impact of learning to being in the moment

When I was finishing up my doctorate at the University of Toronto, I got a call from my dad out of the blue. He was listening to an interview with a man named Henry Gold who was putting together the first group to cycle from Cairo to Cape Town, crossing the entire continent in the process. Dad knew I was really into cycling and had loved Africa ever since I visited Tanzania with my sister who worked for the UN. He said, “You have to listen to this.”

I flipped on the radio and caught the final few minutes. It sounded incredible. So I called Henry, and it turned out his office was about two kilometres away from where I worked. When I got there, he had this huge map of Africa with the route mapped out in highlighter. We talked for a while and then Henry said, “You should come with us.”

I had just the right amount of money lying around and was almost finished my degree, so I would be able to take five months off for the expedition. I defended my PhD in February in Toronto and then flew out to join the group. It was -30 degrees Celsius when I left. I was a bit late because I had to do my defense, so they had already departed. I flew into Khartoum, Sudan, in the middle of the Sahara Desert. It was 52 degrees Celsius on my first day there – an 80 degree swing in a 24-hour period.

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How to shift your approach to mental health and learn to regulate your emotions: a conversation with Dr. Bill Howatt (part 6 / 6)

April, 12th 2018

This Q&A was adapted from my podcast conversation with Dr. Bill Howatt that aired on March 8th, 2018. You can listen to the interview here: http://drgregwells.com/be-better/dr-bill-howatt/. As Chief Research and Development Officer at Morneau Shepell, Bill is an internationally recognized expert in mental health who has spent 25 years helping employees, patients and leaders achieve their potential. Bill has a PhD in Organizational Psychology, did post-doctoral training at UCLA, has developed programs with organizations like the Conference Board of Canada and the University of New Brunswick, and is author of numerous books and articles, including regular contributions to The Globe and Mail.

Dr. Greg Wells: Let’s say someone has been dealing with some mental health issues and they are beginning to realize that they are on their way toward a mental illness. Or they just begin to realize that their mental health is compromised. Or they think, “Oh my gosh, yeah, I’ve been feeling really bad for a long time.” What should they do to make a shift back towards mental health?

Dr. Bill Howatt: Great question. I’ll walk through a little bit of framework. Just like getting bloodwork done, the first thing to do is establish a mental health baseline. There are lots of tests to help you do this. It’s one reasons why I worked with The Globe and Mail to create Your Life At Work. It’s a free online tool that you use to get a baseline of your quality of life at work and at home. It’s similar to the Total Health Index we created at Morneau Shepell. It helps a person get a baseline of their coping skills.

GW: What happens next? 

BH: Step two is very much like what you did in school. There were skills you learned: your ABCs, reading and writing, the times tables. With mental health, these are what we call “developmental coping skills.” They are qualities such as interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy or locus of control – the notion that you are in charge of your life. There are about eight or ten of them that we all need to apply in our lives. Those developmental coping skills are a kind of a foundation.

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Mental health vs. mental Illness: a conversation with Dr. Bill Howatt (part 5 / 6)

April, 12th 2018

This Q&A was adapted from my podcast conversation with Dr. Bill Howatt that aired on March 8th, 2018. You can listen to the interview here: http://drgregwells.com/be-better/dr-bill-howatt/. As Chief Research and Development Officer at Morneau Shepell, Bill is an internationally recognized expert in mental health who has spent 25 years helping employees, patients and leaders achieve their potential. Bill has a PhD in Organizational Psychology, did post-doctoral training at UCLA, has developed programs with organizations like the Conference Board of Canada and the University of New Brunswick, and is author of numerous books and articles, including regular contributions to The Globe and Mail.

Dr. Greg Wells: I have noticed that in the educational and corporate settings I work in, people tend to see mental health and mental illness as versions of the same thing, with mental health viewed as the more positive term. How do you break those two apart and what relationship do they have to each other?

Dr. Bill Howatt: People confuse mental illness with mental health. You can think of mental illness as one axis – from low to high – and mental health as another axis. I have seen lots of patients and employees with severe mental illness who achieve excellent mental health through supports and treatment. And vice versa; people without any kind of mental illness can be dealing with poor mental health, stress and negativity that have a significant impact on their quality of life.

GW: That is a really important distinction. 

BH: Yes. I can’t take the credit for the idea. I got it when the CEO of the Mental Health Commission, Louise Bradley, and I wrote an article together. We used Keyes Research and they did a nice job of splitting the two concepts apart.

If we think about physical health, we can ask ourselves what we do with our intention to have good physical health. The big ones are exercise, diet, and rest. Most of us know there’s something we can do for our physical health. And even if a person doesn’t do anything about it, they know how an absence of those actions or decisions can lead to a chronic disease, obesity or some other health issue. We tend to accept that something bad can happen if you’re not paying attention to your body.

GW: And that idea can be applied to mental health.

BH: Exactly. When I ask people what they did today to support and build their mental health, many of them look at me like I have three heads. I get the same response if I ask them what they did today to build their resiliency. So I try to simplify it. What did you do this morning to wake up and guarantee that you’re going to be happy and have a wonderful day?

We know happiness is an ideal state of feeling well about yourself. It’s a state of wellbeing. So, clearly there’s a thermometer where we can be negative or positive, feel happy or sad. It’s the emotional version of the weather. Sunny, rainy, cloudy, rainy. That’s your mental health.

The catch is that most people don’t realize that when they get stuck in negative emotions, there is a good chance they may not ask for help. One out of every five Canadians ends up with a mental health issue, but only one out of every three of those five will ask for help, despite the fact that reaching out for help has an 89% success rate for people struggling with their mental health. That’s partly why it is the biggest chronic disease on the planet right now. It’s a $2.5 trillion problem globally. Bigger than all cancers and cardiovascular diseases combined.

GW: So what’s the link to mental illness?

BH: In general, if a person has had mental health symptoms for more than six months, the medical criteria indicate they now have a mental illness. If people don’t get help early with their challenging depression or anxiety before it hits that point, their situation usually progresses to becoming a mental illness. The root cause may not be genetic. It could be psycho-social.

The way I try to explain the importance of getting help is to point out that delaying messes around with brain chemistry. If you don’t deal with how you’re actually feeling and thinking about the world, it can change your brain chemistry to the point where your neurotransmitters are altered. For example, a person who has severe depression is in a very difficult situation because their levels of serotonin are so low. It’s chemistry.

GW: What do you advise in terms of being proactive about mental health?

BH: I try to get people to be aware that they can deal with mental health through their daily outlook on life. I try to show them that we can protect ourselves a great deal by learning how to deal with how we think and process the world. When that doesn’t happen, that’s when people begin to face all the challenges around mental illness. It’s not all just genetic. I think that’s what people need to know. In fact, probably 35% of all the short-term disabilities happening in workplaces are basically adjustment disorders, which is a form of psycho-social stress such as how people deal with home and work.

So that’s it. I try to make sure people understand that mental health and mental illness are not the same thing, but that one can actually lead to the other.

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