Thinking Through Adversity – Ben Ahrens – MensGroup Podcast

In this episode, Ben Ahrens and Sean Galla from MensGroup get into how thoughts and feelings contribute to our mental and physical health. We also get into the power of perspective and how to cope with adversity.

Today’s guest Ben Ahrens is a chronic illness recovery expert, TEDx Speaker, Neuroplasticity coach, and Co-founder of re-origin, and he’s here to talk about emotional management, the importance of perspective, and dealing with adversity. 

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00:07:06 CHAPTER I – Emotional Management

00:07:15 Mental & Physical Health 

  • Most people can probably identify with the feeling of mental weight or burden, feeling overwhelmed when it comes to deal with their own personal issues. Even though this sensation takes place in the mind’s realm, it actually translates into physiological changes such as muscle tension, heavy breathing or rapid heartbeat.    
  • Ultimately, the process of healing comes down to gradually removing those mental layers of discomfort in order to feel lighter, more relaxed and at ease, ideally in any given situation. This also helps bring down our threat response, which tends to get activated whenever a current context resonates with any past negative experience or trauma, affecting our overall immune system.  
  • When analyzing our present circumstances, it’s important to bear in mind that there are always to sides to what’s going on: what’s actually coming at us from the environment, and how and why our body responds to what we’re exposed to. The latter depends on several factors, including how safe or not our subconscious feels and how at ease or not our stress response is.

00:11:46 Feelings & Thoughts Management 

  • In and of themselves, thoughts are neutral – they are just what the mind does, the same way that the ears hear, the eyes see and the nose smell, the mind thinks. On that note, it’s key to understand that we don’t need to be that aware of our thoughts at all time, since they’re not always telling us something useful. Usually, the problem is not if we’re experiencing positive or negative thoughts, but actually our over-attendance to them. 
  • On the other hand, feelings are much more in the body than in the mind, and appear to be a much better compass for going through life. Along with emotions, they provide trustful information that can help us figure out whether we’re on the right path or not, depending on how comfortable we feel concerning a specific situation. 
  • Feelings and emotions are actually a consequence of biochemical substances produced by our own body. Being aware of this can be pretty helpful when it comes to regain our center and feel more grounded.  

00:17:31 Tools for Emotional Management

  • Scientific research has proven that our brain is widely plastic, meaning that it has an amazing capacity to change, regardless of our age and our learnt patterns. This means that we can mentally train ourselves to manage our feelings and emotions in a way that works to our advantage rather than the other way around.  
  • The first step towards learning to deal with our feelings is to accept them by focusing on their physical sensations instead of whatever mental story they may bring up. Then, the second step would be to try to take some distance from that particular feeling and move our focus to the present moment, paying attention to the parts of our body that feel relaxed and at ease. By doing so, we’re teaching our brain to rewire that rising feeling to a steadier physical state. 
  • Whenever we feel threatened, it’s always better to reframe that emotion by taking that threat as seeing it as a challenge instead – if the whole point of life is to stretch, expand and grow, then we’ll necessarily have to go through challenging situations in order to achieve this. Simply by changing that narrative and doing that cognitive reappraisal, our whole physiology changes in a positive way. 


00:26:39 CHAPTER II – Perspective

00:26:55 Switching the Negative Bias

  • The human brain takes roughly about eleven million bits of information per second, from where around nine million are inherently negative. This is due to our brain’s evolved negativity bias, which is designed to keep us out of danger. However, being aware of this grants us the possibility to re-train our brain, and switch that negativity bias into some sort of positivity bias. 
  • Given that our brain will tend to focus on the negative stuff (which is just a partial segment of the whole context), in order to re-build our mental patters we need to take a step back and take a wider look at the entire picture, so that we can be able to withdraw our attention from just the negative side of the situation and choose to place it on its positive side. 
  • Due to the fact that our rational being will be more conditioned by this negative bias, it’s possible that whenever we find ourselves practicing an activity that’s more sense-oriented and doesn’t leave much room for thinking (mostly physical stuff), it can be easier for us to achieve a state of flow and not be too hard on ourselves if we happen to fail at some point. However, we must make a conscious effort if we want to be able to apply this same approach to other areas of our lives in which the mind plays a more active role.  

00:40:16 Positive and Negative Events

  • Every situation we go through has a positive and a negative component to it. However, some events will definitely be more positive than negative and the other way around. In that sense, life’s like a pendulum that constantly sways from one side to the other. Nonetheless, if we acknowledge that there’s good and bad in all, we can consciously choose to focus on the positive portion of things, which would be like climbing up that pendulum – the higher we go, the less we’re gonna feel its swaying. 


00:50:13 CHAPTER III – Adversity

00:50:51 Advice on Adversity 

  • One good piece of advice that can come in handy when to dealing with unpleasant situations is to think about the future and how much the current context could have a long-lasting impact in our life. For example, if you’re in your thirties, you could ask yourself something like “what advice would the 40 years’ version of myself give me in these particular times?” Usually, the hypothetical answer to that question is something similar to “Take it easy and don’t worry too much about it”.  
  • Also, not giving too much importance to our inner stories and judgements and understand them as just old patters and habits engrained in our nervous system can go a long way when aiming to stay relaxed and at ease. 

00:55:58 Dealing with Adversity 

  • Adversity itself isn’t the problem, but our resistance to adversity and our inability to stay pleasant in the present what can have a negative impact in our life. Ultimately, accepting things the way they are while trying to make the best out of each day appears to be the best recipe towards happiness and overall wellbeing.