This weekend begins a new five-part series on NPR’s Hidden Brain. The weekly podcast and radio program explores many of the unconscious patterns that drive our behavior.

The new series is titled "Healing 2.0", and will explore — among other things — how we can change our lives by taking a closer look at the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

Shankar Vedantam is the host of Hidden Brain. He recently spoke with WFDD’s David Ford about the new series and how he's internalized — and failed to internalize — some of the lessons presented on his show.

Interview Highlights

On lessons learned and the challenge of adopting best practices:

"I'm not always able to practice what it is that the show is preaching. I try. But I often find that I sometimes forget. For example, we had the psychologist, Kristin Neff, who used to work at the University of Texas at Austin, and she's very interested in the idea of self-compassion. And she talks about how you know, we often talk to ourselves in ways that are much harsher, and much more cruel than we would talk to anyone else. ... And she has found in her research that self-compassion is not just a kind thing to do, but it actually enhances performance, which I think runs contrary to the way many of us think about self-compassion. And I love that episode. I thought was a very profound and important episode. I try and practice that in my own life. But I find that I fail quite often, that I am still — I continue to be quite harsh with myself ... I think there are other ideas that we've had on the show, where I think I am much more successful. Katy Milkman at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, talks about a very interesting idea called temptation bundling, where she says, you get to do the fun things that you like to do, but if you can bundle them with important things that you have to do. So if you want to, you know, listen to your favorite radio show or your favorite podcast, but you also have to do the dishes, make sure that you listen to the podcast only when you're doing the dishes. So bundle the two things together, and that will help you do the things that might be more difficult to do. I've had more success with temptation bundling than with self-compassion."

On the making of "Healing 2.0":

"I think what happens is that we keep our eye on things that are happening and the culture and the world. And I think it's fair to say that especially now feels like more than usual, the world has a lot of hurt in it. And there are a lot of hurting people in the world. It certainly is the case I think that at this time of year, many people are reminded of loved ones who've passed on or loved ones who are no longer part of people's lives. And so the holidays sometimes are both sweet, but they're also bittersweet. They also bring with them painful memories. And over the last couple of years, we've been collecting various ideas over time. And I think the way it works is that internally at the team, we eventually decide, you know, there's a sufficient body of work here that we want to bring it together in a package in some way. So we have different shows that basically speak to each other, the themes that we explore on one day might be added to the next week. And so we think that bringing them together, in some ways, allows listeners to listen in a concentrated fashion to a whole body of work here. And some of these episodes arose in that way, as we started to look for other ideas, new ideas popped up."

On Episode #1 of "Healing 2.0":

"The first one ... is an especial favorite of mine. It's titled Change Your Story, Change Your Life. And it speaks to the idea that in our daily lives, all of us are going to have ups and downs. And when we think about our lives, we often think of ourselves as observing our lives, as witnessing our lives. So we think of ourselves as being you know, like the audience in a theater that's watching a play unfold on stage. And the insight of this episode is that while that is true, we are experiencing our lives in very important ways, we are also the author of our lives. We're actually deciding how the plot is narrated and how it's told.

And one of the really important insights is how you describe and break the chapters of your life turns out to be profoundly important in your mental health and well-being. So, if you tell the story of your life in a way that suggests that you tell each chapter so that something really great happens at the start, and the chapter ends with something terrible happening at the end, so you know two people fall in love. And at the end of the chapter, they get divorced or, you know, there's a breakup, that's what psychologists call a contamination sequence where something starts out great and ends up being very bad. But because our lives have ups and downs, you can also break the chapters differently. You can start with something that has a more negative connotation, and end with something that has a more positive redemptive tone. And these are called redemption sequences. And over and over again, the research has found that redemption sequences — when you tell your life as a series of redemption sequences — you tend to have better life outcomes than when you tell your life as a series of contamination sequences. So it's the same events, the same experiences that you have, but the way you narrate the story of your life turns out to be profoundly important."

On what fascinates Shankar Vendantam most about the human brain:

"One theme that I think over and over has come up is, you know, a theme that I think is echoed in many spiritual traditions. I was reading a book last week. And the book was referring to something that the Buddha said and as a teaching in Buddhism, and it's called the two arrows. And the Buddha is supposed to have said that, you know, as we go through life, we're often struck by arrows, and those arrows are painful. But one of the things that we do is that we actually add a second arrow to the same injury spot. And the second arrow is how we think about what has happened, how we process what's happened. And very often the way we process things, adds a second injury adds a second hurt to what's going on. I think that's a very important idea that I feel has echoes over many, many different episodes of Hidden Brain. The idea that we in some ways in the way we process what's happening to us can either add to or detract from the quality of our own lives."


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