Give yourself permission to do nothing. We are not meant to spend all our time focusing, thinking, and doing! In Italian there is a saying, il dolce piacere di non fare niente — the sweet pleasure of not doing anything. With the many demands on our time and energy, it’s easy to be doing something and thinking about something all the time. But our bodies and brains need time to recharge! Whenever possible, I like to leave myself one full unscheduled “leisure day” each week where I do absolutely nothing but relax. Can you remember the last time you did absolutely nothing and didn’t feel guilty about it?
I had the pleasure to interview Sophia Ariela Cavalli, Intuitive Mind Strategist and Stress Reduction Coach. Sophia is an internationally acclaimed Intuitive Mind Strategist, Motivational Speaker, Brain Hack Specialist and Stress Reduction Coach. Sophia has spent the last 20 years studying evidence-based brain strategies, mindfulness, meditation, and alternative wellness modalities. She blends her experience in senior leadership positions at multi-billion-dollar companies with her business knowledge and psychology background to create proven strategies for rewiring the brain and reprogramming the mind for success. Sophia believes in unleashing the power of human potential through her coaching, workshops, and seminars that are designed to engage, enliven, and empower.
Thank you so much for joining us Sophia. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in the wellness industry?
My fascination with the mind and brain began when I was in college — my undergraduate degree is in psychology. During that time, I started seeing an acupuncturist for some health issues I was having. The experience made a huge impact on me, and I was able to clearly see the connection between emotions, body, mind, and spirit. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for learning about the interplay and interconnectedness of all that we are.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting thing is something that continues to happen. I have found that when I am working on something like creating more balance in my life, taking more risks, setting better boundaries, increasing joyful moments, or whatever it may be, I seem to attract people that are working on the same thing.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
It was my first time speaking at a large event. I was so nervous that for three weeks I could barely sleep! As part of the event, I was also introducing others to contribute. When the time came to introduce a prominent figure in the community, I forgot their name and called them by another name. Everyone laughed and it became a joke throughout the event. Humor is powerful and not taking yourself too seriously goes a long way towards enjoying the present moment, which is really our most powerful place to be.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the mental wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
As a Brain Hack Strategist, I have studied and applied a range of evidenced-based techniques in my own life for the last 20 years. What I share with my clients now is the best of what I have gained from these modalities, along with my experience working in multibillion-dollar companies. I call my approach “practical neuroscience:” a blend of tools and strategies from Brain Gym® and Educational Kinesiology, Applied Kinesiology, and other cutting-edge techniques.
My unique contribution to the world of wellness is a passion for teaching others how to rewire their brains and live happier and more fulfilled lives. When we rewire our brains, we can accomplish our goals with greater ease and joy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I owe a great deal to one of my first bosses. Steve was insistent that we set professional development goals and would schedule appointments with me to see what progress I had made towards them. Prior to that, I did not write down my professional or personal goals, nor did I review them regularly. Now we know from research just how important is to write down goals and take action towards them every day, even if it’s just sending an email.
We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Change is hard! Most of us tend to be creatures of habit. Up to 95% of our emotions, decisions, and behavior are unconscious. When it comes to our subconscious mind, it’s impossible to outperform above any set point that resides within the subconscious mind. So, if we have an unconscious belief that for some reason it’s not safe for us to be thin, we will make different choices and take different actions than if we believe at an unconscious level that it is good to be thin.
Many times, we set a goal but then get overwhelmed by the enormity of it. For example, if eating healthier is going to require additional planning, getting up earlier, cooking, shopping at a different venue, etc., I might give up and stop before I have a chance to get my dopamine (motivation and feel good neurotransmitter) going.
But if I decide I want to eat better, come up with a few small steps to take this week and then slowly add a few more, I will feel more motivated to keep going because I’m building momentum.
Other times, with all the demands on our time and schedules, we just don’t make ourselves and our health a priority. Checking in on a regular basis with how we’re feeling can help. How am I feeling today? Is there one thing I can do right now or in this moment to feel better? Do I need to drink some water, eat something healthy, stretch or take a break? Is there one thing I can do for myself tomorrow?
In order to make true change, we must be willing to get out of our comfort zones. If we break things down into manageable steps, it doesn’t have to be so uncomfortable.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Give yourself permission to do nothing. We are not meant to spend all our time focusing, thinking, and doing! In Italian there is a saying, il dolce piacere di non fare niente — the sweet pleasure of not doing anything. With the many demands on our time and energy, it’s easy to be doing something and thinking about something all the time. But our bodies and brains need time to recharge! Whenever possible, I like to leave myself one full unscheduled “leisure day” each week where I do absolutely nothing but relax. Can you remember the last time you did absolutely nothing and didn’t feel guilty about it?
- Build pleasure into your day. In present-moment awareness we cannot experience both pleasure and anxiety at the same time. Pleasure stimulates dopamine and dopamine activity in the brain’s Executive Network, which then decreases activity in the Default Mode Network, where unconscious anxious feelings are believed to reside. To induce the production of dopamine and other happiness neurotransmitters, do something that makes you happy: eat a piece of chocolate, take a bath, get a massage, smell some fresh flowers, listen to beautiful music, eat a delicious meal, watch a funny movie and languish in the simple pleasure of it.
- Invest in experiences rather than things. Research shows that people who purchase experiences rather than possessions are happier. Have you been wanting to travel to Europe… or Bora Bora? Or maybe it’s front row tickets to see your favorite artist. Make a plan to invest in some happy experiences, then savor the excitement leading up to the event. While the happiness from these moments will fade with time, the experiences become part of us. The accumulation of the places we’ve been, lessons we’ve learned, and life-changing events shape who we are. Seek out every opportunity to experience your passions. These are the experiences that will shape your life. Personally, I have experienced many life changing events while traveling. The first time this happened was when I was twelve years old. I convinced my parents to let me go visit my aunt. I saved up enough money to buy my airline ticket and studied and lived with my aunt for three months in Mexico City. It was one of the happiest times of my life growing up.
- Take a one-minute break every hour. Even a one-minute break can shift your perspective and mood. Try this experiment right now: close your eyes, relax, and take three deep breaths. For the next minute, gently move your neck to make a full circle. Use that minute to notice your breathing as you move your neck very slowly and in a manner that feels delicious. At the end of the minute, check in with yourself. Are you thinking the same thoughts? Has your mood improved or are you more relaxed? Consistently taking one-minute breaks throughout the day can improve your brain health.
- Ask yourself better questions. Most of us are really good at asking questions — but not of ourselves. How many times have you found yourself asking why something didn’t work out or why someone said or did something? Asking why is not self-empowering and can put your mind in a negative thought loop. Ask yourself better questions: What can I learn from this situation? What did I do well? What will bring me joy today? What does my mind or body need from me today or right now? What’s another way of looking at this?
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
We know from research that physical activity releases a host of neurotransmitters that play an important role in regulating mood, some of which include endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. In fact, research shows that only 20 minutes of exercise will produce the happiness chemicals.
By exercising, especially consistently, not only do we release happiness chemicals, we can dramatically improve our quality of sleep, and improve memory and focus.
Recent studies on neurogenesis, (the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain), and exercise supports the possibility of physical activity promoting neuron regeneration in the adult brain. It’s exciting to think exercising can create new neurons in our brains.
For someone who is looking to add mental exercise to their daily routine, which 3 brain exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
We know from research that something as simple as gratitude as a mental exercise, practiced over time, can make changes in our brains and ourselves.
What are the last thoughts you think before you are drifting off to sleep? Are you thinking about what you are grateful for or what went well, and how you showed up in your life as your best self? If not, you are programming your mind for more of the same. The time before you drift off to sleep is so important. Avoid thinking about your problems, who you might be frustrated with at the moment, or what didn’t go well that day.
When you wake up in the morning, begin again with thoughts of excitement, gratitude, and expectancy for what lies ahead. Think of a few things that you are genuinely grateful for; it could be as simple as running water and electricity. I like to start my day by also asking myself a gentle question: I wonder what good things or miracles are going to unfold today? This puts me in a grateful and curious mindset at the start of each day.
We have already talked about taking one minutes breaks each hour to recharge, relax, and reset. Another option for the one-minute break is to get in tune with your emotional state. Right now in this moment what do I fell? Tune in to your body and sensations and then name that emotion. If you feel frustrated say to yourself I feel frustrated. If you feel angry, overwhelmed, stressed, or worried say that to yourself. Next say it to yourself in the third person. For example, I would say to myself, “Sophia is feeling worried.” Then tune in again and notice if you feel a shift. It’s amazing how this simple exercise of naming the emotion will tame the negative emotion and diffuse some of the charge, it not most of it. I invite you to play with this in the mix of your one-minute breaks.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho is a beautiful book about following one’s heart and pursuing one’s dreams. I first read this book after college, when my big dream was to move to Italy. I had studied abroad in Sienna and would go back to Italy on occasion with every intention of moving there. But each time I returned to the States, I would get right back into the swing of my former life.
After an almost life-threatening car accident, I decided to re-read his book. I was still putting the pieces back together for myself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Along with the accident came a great deal of loss, from relationships, to parts of myself, to a life that no longer fit. In 2006, re-reading his book changed everything for me.
I decided to take a solo trip to Europe, and, in the weeks leading up to that trip, I kept receiving “signs” and intuitive messages. While traveling in Spain, it was the first time that I completely surrendered to how life was speaking to me. Instead of returning home, I quit my job and decided to stay for another two months and then actually move to Spain.
When I returned to the US in 2007, it was the beginning of the financial crisis and I, like so many others, was not able to sell my house for almost a year. While there were many negative financial implications, I continued to pay attention to the messages I was receiving.
Listening to these messages has now become a way of life for me. I’m still a work in progress as I don’t always listen to my heart or slow down enough to catch the “signs,” but that’s the beauty of life — there are still so many opportunities to grow and expand.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A self-forgiveness movement! We are chained to the past by all the ways we have not forgiven ourselves for things we could have, should have, would have done. It ties up so much energy and blocks us from what we truly want.
I know that some of the most important work I have done is to extend to myself the same type of forgiveness that I extend to others. It has created many miracles for me. Just last week, I realized that I had not forgiven myself regarding a past relationship. That morning I spent several minutes repeating the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono prayer and then left my hotel room for the last day of a conference I was attending. An hour later I found myself in a discussion group with two sisters, one currently living in Belgium and the other in San Diego. I have wanted to go to Belgium for a long time.
Fast forward several hours later: I went to lunch with these delightful women and booked a flight to Belgium! For me it was an instant miracle and an illustration of the power of forgiveness: within hours of having forgiven myself and the other person, a long-awaited desire became a reality.
It’s difficult to share joy and peace in the world when we are internally withholding it from ourselves. When we forgive ourselves — for the most mundane to the most profound things — we forgive everyone, and it opens up space for unimagined possibilities.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” — Marianne Williamson
Fear, and the stories we tell ourselves from a fearful place, can be so debilitating. The first time I found this quote I was in a bad relationship and it inspired me to move on.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oprah! I started watching Oprah in college. I had a difficult relationship with my mother and Oprah felt like a mother to me. She created such warmth and safety for people on her show that people felt so heard and seen that they were willing to be vulnerable in front of millions of people.
I see Oprah as a modern-day alchemist. She has turned her deepest pain and darkest moments into light and love and then has been assisting others to do the same on the world stage with grace, humor, and Oprah’s special magic. She has touched the hearts, minds, and souls of millions of people all over the world. One can only aspire to have a fraction of her impact.
I have grown as a person over the years from watching her show and watching her as a leader, entrepreneur, teacher, and alchemist.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn @sophiaarielacavalli. If you like articles about the brain and neuroscience, connect with me on LinkedIn.