While there are many goals we may pursue in life — a better career, a better relationship, a greater sense of meaning, and deeper connection with those around us — they all start with first gaining a sense of clarity over what is getting in our way, what is helping move us toward our goals, and how we can begin to take ownership of our brains in a way that allows us to live the kind of lives we want.
For Due Quach, a survivor of PTSD and a successful management consultant, understanding how to improve her brain function wasn’t just necessary, but advantageous.
She writes, “It took many years for me to eventually see my having had PTSD as a blessing in disguise because it forced me to learn about the brain and to develop a unique set of techniques to take care of and enhance the functioning of my brain — things I probably would never have done if I had a normal brain.”
In her new book, Calm Clarity: How to Use Science to Rewire Your Brain for Greater Wisdom, Fulfillment, and Joy, Quach draws upon the latest research, as well as her rich life experience, to offer a framework of brain hacks to improve how our brains function and allow us to find greater fulfillment, joy, and success — even in times of distress.
“Being born on Earth is like a lottery. A small lucky proportion are born into loving families blessed with inner resources (like education, emotional intelligence, and resilience) and a degree of financial stability, where parents are generally able to shelter children from the harsh realities of this world for as long as possible, give them a safety net in case they fall, and then coach and equip them to prosper in their careers and to raise a family of their own,” writes Quach.
When we experience long-term exposure to very stressful conditions, our brains, minds, and lives become reorganized in such a way that hypervigilance becomes the default state, and we find ourselves constantly on-guard, and chronically unhappy.
Quach recalls her own experiences as a child: “It was hard for me to develop a sense of trust and safety in the world because I regularly watched customers try to cheat and bully my parents. Oftentimes, when these people didn’t get what they wanted, they angrily cursed out my parents and threatened to beat or kill them.”
What became increasingly clear to Quach was that to overcome her environment, she had to transcend it, even while at Harvard.
She writes, “I couldn’t stand how people turned every interaction into an opportunity to prove their intellectual superiority. I saw it among the students, teaching assistants, professors, and administrators.”
After becoming disillusioned with the mental health system’s lack of emotional investment in her mental health, Quach concludes that, to recover, she must take full responsibility for her healing journey.
She writes, “Whenever I started beating myself up, I would imagine an inner sage, a Greek philosopher like Socrates, asking rhetorical questions to help me think differently about the situation.”
Yet finding unimaginable success in the business world — becoming the senior investment director at one of the largest asset management firms in Southeast Asia — did not guarantee happiness.
“Although I had become an example of the American immigrant success story, I felt such an unexplainable emptiness inside me,” writes Quach.
The result of chasing rewards, and living in what Quach calls “Brain 2.0”, is often a life of quiet desperation. The way out, Quach tells us, is through finding our Inner Sage, or Brain 3.0, and embrace it as our most natural state.
By identifying our brain states, recognizing the triggers that move us into each state, and the thoughts, feelings, and actions that characterize them, we can begin to move out of autopilot and into conscious control of our brains.
Learning to observe the brain states in action and become more mindful of them also helps us keep our critical inner voice from dominating our field of attention. Instead, we learn to call upon our Inner Sage, listen fully, and allow for new insights and connections to emerge.
Quach writes, “The stronger the Brain 3.0 becomes, the more intermittent experiences we have of transcendence, the more we understand who we really are is the Higher Self.”
Connecting to our Higher Self, the world around us, and the present moment is not just the way to disentangle ourselves from the external things that tempt us with happiness that cannot possibly be realized, but to find that greater wisdom already existing within us.
Calm Clarity is not just a powerful story of transformation, it is an enthralling tour of the latest research on brain science, complete with actionable takeaways to radically transform the way you think, feel, and live.
Calm Clarity: How to Use Science to Rewire Your Brain for Greater Wisdom, Fulfillment, and Joy
Tarcher Perigree, May 2018
Paperback, 384 pages