Full transcript of neuroscience and motivational expert Colleen Lightbody’s TEDx Talk: A Journey of a Worrier to a Warrior at TEDxHyderabad conference.
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Colleen Lightbody – Managing Director of The NeuroLeadership Group Africa
10 years ago I discovered that I had a brain. There were two things that precipitated this. Firstly, I discovered the amazing and wonderful and magnificent concept of neuroplasticity. And secondly, life threw up some unimaginable challenges at me. So I have some science and I have a story.
Science — talking about the science is what I do for a living. So I find that quite easy. Talking about my story is not so easy and this is the first time that I am sharing my personal story on a global stage. Some of my closest friends don’t know the story.
So I’ll start with the science, because that’s the easy part. If you had a brain in your hands you would literally be able to — the brain is about the size, by the way — you would be able to put your fingers deep inside that brain, because your brain is about the consistency of hard butter. The brain is soft, it is not rigid as was previously thought. It is amenable to change right through actual lifetime. This is an incredibly exciting concept.
The brain is like a muscle. When you go to gym you lift your weights and you lift the weights and your muscle becomes stronger and thicker and denser. It’s exactly the same with the brain. The more you use your brain, the more you use any parts of your brain, the thicker and denser and stronger your brain becomes. So the reason this is so incredibly exciting is because it brings up endless possibilities. I in my career have seen people change their IQs significantly. I’ve seen people change their temperament, people that are able to stave off age-related brain diseases to a huge degree when they use their brains effectively. I have seen people take up musical instruments in their 50s and begin degrees in their 60s. So this is incredibly exciting and I truly wish that this was knowledge that I had had when I was 14 or when I was 18 or even when I was eight.
The thing with this — finding this knowledge about the brain — finding out about neuroplasticity is it brings responsibilities. You have a choice of what you wire in your brain and the brain that you create. If you pay attention to jealousy and negativity and rumination and worry, that is what you’re going to manifest in your brain, and that is what I manifested in my brain. So you have a choice to change from a ‘worrier’ to a warrior of the mind but it takes commitment, it takes control and it takes courage.
So I’ll start 10 years ago and I’ll tell you a little bit what I was like 10 years ago. 10 years ago, if I had stood up in front of three people to talk, I would have found that’s an incredible event and now today I’m standing here at TEDx in Hyderabad. 10 years ago I smoked, I drank, I was overweight. In fact, I was actually once one and a half times the size that I am now and I had no self-confidence. I certainly didn’t believe in a life of possibility. I’ll go back five years before this.
Five years before, my son Gabriel was born and I was lucky enough to be present at both of my children’s birth. And why I say lucky enough is because my children are adopted. So it was an incredible privilege to be invited to see them born, and I don’t know how you ladies do it, because it’s a tough thing.
The social worker came to me just before Gabriel was born. This is protocol and she said to me, “Colleen, if there’s something wrong with this child, are you still going to adopt him?” And I said, “Definitely not”. You see I had a beloved brother who I love more than anything on earth. And when he became an adult, in early adulthood my brother was diagnosed with bipolar one disorder, a really extreme version of it. And we have been many years going through hospitalizations. At one stage my brother went missing for a period of time in Okavango swamps in the African [Botswana] where we believed he’d died. And eventually my brother did die, a most traumatic day. And I didn’t want my daughter to have to go through the same pain and suffering that I’d been through with the sibling. So I said, ‘No, I would not take the child’.
So Gabriel was born and the pediatrician took this little creature to the side and checked him out and came back to me and said, ‘Look, I’m really sorry to tell you this but the child has got congenital hip displacement’. Now congenital hip displacement — and he had in both hips quite badly — is where the little hip forms outside of the socket so the socket does not form properly and it requires quite a bit of intervention to correct.
So the social worker came to me and said, ‘Colleen, I guess this means that you’re not going to take the baby’. And I said, ‘No, quite on the contrary, I can manage this. It’s a physical disability’. So we went through a couple of years, it was fairly tough and this is the time when I made a choice. Gabriel at first was put into something called a Pavlik Harness which is a little brace — the hip sockets in place, we used to call him little chicken, because he looked like a little chicken. He was not able to move much and we weren’t able to take it off to bathroom at all. Unfortunately this didn’t work.