Dr. Cindi Ackrill
Dr. Cindi Ackrill is a leader in the world of stress mastery and making the vital connections between the little choices in how we work, lead, and live, and creating a life of meaning and well-being. She edits the Contentment magazine for the American Institute of Stress, is faculty in several coaching schools, contributes widely in media, and delivers keynotes/workshops/trainings for a variety of industries. She's passionate about helping humans take the struggle out of being human.
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Highlights & Imperfect Transcript
Our brains are wired for comparison because that helps us with safety/survival.
When we're under stress, we go to our more primitive survival mode.
We need to be careful to understand our natural tendencies, our wiring and patterns and meet them with self-compassion instead of judgment
We need to understand that self-compassion is actually a strength.
You can't stop automatic thoughts, but you can notice them, meet them with compassion, and start to choose better responses.
If you're really depleted, you really need to recharge and restore, and then you can look at your intentions with more clarity and power.
When we feel more whole again, we may have a completely different perspective than we had when we were feeling desperate, grabbing for purpose.
You can calm your mind just by shifting to diaphragmatic breathing.
Listen to a relaxation-guided meditation on something like Insight Timer or Calm or Headspace. Making this a practice actually trains your brain to respond more than react.
In the pursuit of “success,” we learn to self-motivate with self judgment and that harangue in our minds.
To undo this pattern, you've got to build new habits. New habits take intention and repeated attention to that intention. This actually rewires your brain. When you repeat the pattern, you insulate that wiring with myelin and it becomes a new habit.
We need stress or we'd be bored. How we talk about it matters. Maligning it, glossing it over or denying it is not helpful, but improving our relationship with the circumstances of our lives makes us stronger and resilient.
Stress might be actually the thing creating enough tension in your life to motivate you, make you productive. The key is not letting it make you sick.
Recovery has to match the tension.
We can do amazing things if we build in replenishing that energy.
I think curiosity is just amazing. It turns our brains on. It ramps up your frontal lobe. It allows you to start to understand.
We're finally going to have more conversations around stress as a society, as a culture.
I'd like to see us shift out of the disease model completely and into focusing on how do we make ourselves mentally and physically whole.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a lovely book on flow.
Think about what you need to do to shift instead of just banging your head against the wall trying to get your brain to work. Give it what it needs.
When we feel really down and out or stressed out, we tend to withdraw and we actually need the very opposite thing. We need to connect.
Humans actually have a social brain, and a social brain is really important to our safety.
Those are signs for you. Love yourself through those signs. That’s self-compassion. And love yourself when you give into them.
The Velveteen Rabbit.
Mindset of the C’s – Calm, Clear, Curious, Creative, Courageous, and Compassionate… and Grateful helps too!
Cheri Honeycutt: You're gonna love this podcast. On it, I speak to my dear friend and leading expert in stress and well being Dr. Cindi Ackrill. As a practicing doctor in the 80s, she realized that she was stressed out, but was simply told to well be less stressed. This led her on a personal and professional journey to learn about the brain and how to cultivate a sense of well-being. This podcast is chock full of information about how we humans work and how to navigate these stressful times to find a sense of meaning and living on purpose. I can't wait for you to dive in to this powerful podcast.
Hey, good morning, Cindy. I'm so excited to have Dr. Cindy Ackrill with me today. Cindy, how are you?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I'm great this morning. How are you?Cheri Honeycutt: Good. I'm so good. I'm so good. I'm so excited about our conversation. You guys, Cindy and I've been friends for a very long time. That's not the reason she's on this podcast, but it's a nice little bonus. Cindy is truly someone who is a perfect fit for this podcast because she has been working and helping people live on purpose. She's going to give you more about that about her work around stress and her work around her expertise has really all been very much in alignment with what we do here. Cindy, I want to give a little bit of an introduction to you about the official stuff. Can I do that?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Sure.
Cheri Honeycutt: Okay, good. It's one of those things. Can we read your resume, but I do want folks to know a little bit about you.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And it's always uncomfortable to sit through.
Cheri Honeycutt: So breathe. This is stressful, right? It's stressful. So take some of your own advice and breathe through this, right? Let me tell you about Cindy. Cindy is a true leader in the world of stress mastery. I loved that word when I was reading that on something you sent me. Stress mastery. She makes these connections between the choices that we make and how those choices impact our well being and give our lives meaning. You can see why I invited her on the show.
Her background is in primary health, applied neuroscience, leadership, and wellness coaching. This mash-up of all of these things that Cindy knows has made her really a powerhouse leader. She's a speaker. She's a trainer. She's on the faculty of many coaching schools. She's called on by the media. She’s really a leader in this idea of around stress.
In her words, she likes to teach or promote real life strategies to tame stress and ramp up self-care. That's awesome, Cindi!
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Thank you! I love your word mash-up. I've never used that one. This is the oddest grouping of things that I do – mash-up. Perfect!
Cheri Honeycutt: It's a mash up. It's the best, right?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I'm a mash-up!
Cheri Honeycutt: You're a mash-up. Yes. And it's phenomenal. So Cindy, let's just take a deep breath. We're getting ready to have a great conversation. Take a deep breath. I bet you encourage people to do that all the time.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I do.
Cheri Honeycutt: So I want to know, we talked about it before I turned on the record button that often we as speakers and coaches come to our work having come through the door of dealing with our own stuff. Is that true for you?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Totally.
Cheri Honeycutt: Tell me. Tell us.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And I think that's also true for a lot of entrepreneurs because you see a need and you go to fill it but early on in my medical career, I was starting to burn out and I was going through infertility at the same time, which was not a great layer on top of internship. My doctors kept saying you need to stress less but when I said, “Okay, how?” No answers and in fact, physicians in general had a very poor understanding of stress at that point. This was in the, okay, dating myself in the 80.
When physicians don't know about something, they tend to shy away from it because they like things they know about and can teach you about. So I early on noticed that my colleagues were burning out. I was burning out. And nobody was giving us any tools. As I went through life and applied neuroscience, I saw from a brain perspective, that when the brain is stressed, it really doesn't learn very well. It doesn't regulate mood very well. It was very obvious that this was important and still no clues about what to do with it.
Luckily, science has hugely advanced and we understand it a lot more. In retrospect, I can look back now and see so many of us in our pursuit of success weren't taught to manage ourselves. We weren't taught to manage our brains, our energy, and to get to what you do for so many of the people that you and I have coached to feel disconnected from their purpose.
Stress is often what started that off—that disconnect. Now, the disconnect can also cause stress. So it's a self-fulfilling prophecy from that point on.
Cheri Honeycutt: I call that do-loop.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah, exactly. But we over and over feel this disconnect. So I learned about the science in stress and then started to empower people because now the science really shows that if you feel empowered to deal with your stress, it's not as toxic.
Cheri Honeycutt: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: But they never gave us the course. In any of the professional teachings that we've had, where was the course on how to manage your energy or your emotions or real life?
Cheri Honeycutt: Right. Right. That makes a lot of sense. It's a little less—it's harder to manage. I mean, it's harder to see. You can't control it. You don't put the pill down your mouth. You don't see the bone heal. Right? It’s harder to probably create that program. Would that be true?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: It is. I think for an awful lot of high achieving people, for everybody, then there's a layer of shame that adds on to it. It's like, especially by looking at Instagram, “How can everybody else have their act together? And I'm feeling like, I'm, you know, treading water and the water’s like, slowly creeping up (07:29)
Cheri Honeycutt: Seriously. Yeah.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And so there's huge shame for not knowing something that you weren't taught, which is so sad.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah. Oh, my God! Yeah, let's let that soak in. Huge shame for not knowing something we weren't taught. Right. And yet, we're supposed to deal with it or just do that less, whatever that was.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Right. Yeah. Cut something out like your children. (Laughs)
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Or your happiness and your health. It's pretty sad. I think also that there are some people who handle it better than others. There's a spectrum for everything, of resilience. I think what's sort of interesting is those of us who are more empathic, more sensitive by nature, which makes us so good at our jobs are also more susceptible to stress.
Cheri Honeycutt: That makes sense. I remember talking to one of my kid’s therapist, and this is not directly related, but she said, “Sometimes your children are born and they're dandelions. And sometimes children come into the world as orchids.” This idea that just by our nature, we may have a sensitivity or be more inclined to be stressed? But it's also a gift in its own way.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I completely agree with that. I know that you and I have both been to the world of discovering about attention deficit and all these different things that people struggle with. They all have gifts. There's a gift to be insensitive but is exquisite. It was actually kind of pounded out of me in my medical training, my intuition, my ability to kind of 5th sense what was going on. I don't mean that I gave out drugs based on a 5th sense. No. I used science. But there's so much more to that to be able to ask the right question, to be able to see that this person is disconnected from their purpose or from a relationship or something that really matters to their health.
Cheri Honeycutt: So let me ask you about that. Back in that day, you're coming in through your medical training, and like in any training, they want you to kind of fit into the herd. And in some ways, your own uniqueness was a little squashed or maybe not recognized. Did that add to your stress? Do you think that's part of what made you stressed out?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. And one of the things that I do—and I know a lot of my clients do as well, other humans—is when I start to feel like that I start playing the comparison game, which is so toxic.
Cheri Honeycutt: I have no idea what you’re talking about. What is this thing called the comparison game? (Laughter) What is this that you seek of?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: It’s like, “Okay, so Susie seems to be just nailing this.” I don't know that Susie goes home and cries in her pillow or you know…
Cheri Honeycutt: Exactly.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I don't know. And I think that's one of the beauties of what is coming out of our post-COVID world is a little more realization that we just never know what's going on in somebody else’s life.
Cheri Honeycutt: We don’t. We do not know below the waist of the Zoom call. Metaphorically speaking, we don't know. I'm getting ready to sound like a really, really old curmudgeon, but I would imagine that with social media. You were referring you a moment ago to Instagram. For those of us when we go into stress, which triggers our comparison, which triggers our own shame, and then we don't have to go very far to see a lot of folks who look “better” than us, which just exacerbate cycle of self-flagellation. How do we navigate this new world?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I think one of the things is to understand that process that's going on. If you take some time for a reflection, just recognize it as that. Don't judge it. It's a natural, natural process. Our brains are wired for comparison because that helps us with safety. That is more than our primitive wirings. We should be able to compare situations so that we can find safety. When we're under stress, we go to our more primitive mode. We go to—I call them like your go-to jeans in the closet. (Laughs)
Cheri Honeycutt: Right. Go-to sweatpants now, Cindi.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. Exactly. Jeans? Are you kidding me? (Laughs) We go to these go-to behaviors when we're under duress because it takes much more energy to be intentional. We go to our habitual ways of thinking.
Another thing to understand about the brain is it really likes to validate its own little model. If it has a model that we're somehow lesser or that we're suffering, it tends to see the data that proves that.
Cheri Honeycutt: Right. We want to validate what we believe to be true.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Right. We’re validating ourselves. We've all met that person at the cocktail party who's just validating their life. But that's a natural brain mechanism. If we had true compassion, we'd understand they're probably just nervous. These are natural tendencies.
I think in the mindfulness movement, and the positivity movement, which have just exquisitely beautiful parts to them, we need to be careful to not judge ourselves and to understand our natural tendencies and to have self-compassion for those. To say, “Look! Look at me! I'm doing the Instagram comparison thing again. I know that doesn't make me feel good. Maybe I need to just rub my heart a moment, take a deep breath, and say, okay, what do I really need right now?” Not “Ugh! Why? There it goes. She's so much cooler than I am! If only I own that, I’d be cool.”
Cheri Honeycutt: If only… If only… Yeah. Cindi, you said about five different things right in that last sentence that are like gold. First of all, I wrote down the word “self-compassion” as I was listening to you and then you actually said the word “self-compassion”. Oh, my gosh! If I'm hearing you correctly, when our brains are doing these things that they're wired to do, which comparison of, even go to our defaults, which may be not serving us completely, to (sit down 14:36) and add another layer of shame or judgment on top of that, versus self-compassion is, yeah, talk about a double-whammy, right? And so do you have anything you want to add about self-compassion?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Listen to Kristin Neff’s TEDx Talk, read her books. Self-compassion, I think, is something that we need to understand it as a strength. It does not mean that we accept being victimized at all. There's something called fierce self-compassion where we actually advocate for justice for, for what's needed. But self-compassion is just being kinder to yourself. For most of us, if we recorded the track between our ears, oh, my goodness, that's not a very pretty person.
Cheri Honeycutt: We would never say those things even to someone we couldn't stand probably.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Really! Exactly! So can we just recognize that? You can't stop automatic thoughts, but you can notice them and start to counteract them and meet them with some compassion.
Cheri Honeycutt: Absolutely. Then you also said that it takes more energy to be intentional when we were talking about slipping over here into to our more reptilian or whatever word, autopilot. My work is around living on purpose, being intentional from what do you do on a Tuesday afternoon to how do you take the actions that you're creating the life you really want? But that intentionality, you said, takes more energy. Would it be fair to say that even living intentionally can bring about some kind of new stress?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: It can and it can motivate you to get beyond your stress. There is a duality there. When you're talking about being intentional, you're talking about using your highest brain powers, which are in your frontal lobe. That was the last part of the brain to develop. It is largest in a human and we're very, very attached to it. We think it's always working perfectly. (Laughs) But in reality, the rest of the brain has far more power.
And when we're stressed or our energy is depleted, for any reason. Maybe we're dehydrated. Maybe we haven't felt connected. I look at energy as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And by spiritual, I mean that connected to purpose, that connected to the people that matter, your values, your faith, if that's important to you. When you're depleted in any of those areas, your brain feels it.
Well, the first part of your brain to go offline is your frontal lobe. Because it is the most energy demanding. It’s kind of the last in the cherry chain of energy reserves there. It's the slowest. It is hugely energy inefficient compared to the rest of your brain. If you're really depleted, you really need to recharge and restore and then look at your intentions. You have to do it from a space where you've got the bandwidth and the powered up frontal lobe to do it.
Cheri Honeycutt: Oh, that’s such beautiful.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: At the same time, when you have a beautiful purpose because that's the most highly motivating thing for humans, it can help you do those things that you need to do that.
Cheri Honeycutt: Hmm, I love that. Okay, that is so awesome. I'm getting my head around this. I love this idea. I've said it in other ways around like spiritual stuff is like when your energy's really low is not the right time to sit there and craft your new five-part plan.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Exactly. World peace.
Cheri Honeycutt: Let me just go over and do and fix and all that. But what you're saying this is almost a pause or a step back and go, “Wait a minute, let me get really grounded, healthy through that and then show back up.”
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Show back up whole.
Cheri Honeycutt: Whole. Yeah.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And that means taking some time to look at the different parts of your life, your different needs, your universal needs. The sleep deprivation in this country is humongous.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah. I have no idea what you're talking about.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. I'm being paid back for not understanding it as young doctor. When we start to look at the different areas and think where am I the most depleted and what do I need to fill in to be more of a whole circle, to reattach our heads to our bodies. Zoom is like the perfect metaphor. From here down, it doesn't matter. When we get whole again, we may have a completely different perspective than we had when we were feeling desperate in grabbing for purpose.
Cheri Honeycutt: Beautifully said. Let's just let that soak in. When we're not whole—I don't know what the word would be. When we're fragmented maybe, first of all, there may be signs that were fragmented and a time for us to step back and be whole, but it is not the time for us to come in and get into this huge reconstructing your life. We go back and we take care of the basics and become whole. That leads me to something you said a few moments ago too. You said perhaps there's a somatic response, you put your hand on your heart. I know the value of literally that kind of physical body movement. Can you speak to some of that as simple tools that folks can do?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: There are more nerves going from your body to your mind than the other direction in this big complex of vagus nerve, which regulates our autonomic nervous system. It’s our both the “flight or fight” sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic. The rest, digest, mend, put ourselves back together, find aberrant cells, pre cancer cells and kill them, do all those things that we need to do to be healthy.
Well, we can use our bodies to go this way and calm our minds when you just bring yourself into diaphragmatic breathing – bringing your diaphragm a little lower, filling your belly, it's really your lungs, but like your belly softens as you breathe in and your diaphragm descends, there's receptors in all of these beautiful feedback systems. The human body is unbelievably cool. There are these feedback loops that then tell your mind, okay, it really is okay. And that will dampen down that stress response that keeps you from being able to use your frontal lobe.
This relaxation response that was coined by Herbert Benson at Harvard years ago and was kind of pooh-poohed by regular medical society for a while until somebody said, “Oh! That matters.” Medicine is very slow. When you use this relaxation response and whatever triggers it for you, it can just be breath, which just happens to be free and visible and you can do it anywhere, any time. Or you're doing progressive relaxation where you tighten a muscle and then you let it go. You're listening to a relaxation-guided meditation on something like Insight Timer or Calm or Headspace.
There's so many ways you can explore to see what relaxes you and then train your body to go there more often. Train your body to find neutral more often. The problem is we've been living in like 15th gear and one of the things that's in our frontal lobe is our self-awareness. So the longer we live in this revved state, the less we recognize it, the less we recognize neutral again. We actually have to do a little work to come back to neutral and start to recognize that again.
The beauty that overlaps what you're doing, is when you get to neutral, it's so much easier to find your grounded space. And to have your purpose come from a grounded space instead of that space, as you said, of trying to do it, fix it, if I just do this, and what I call the one more thing syndrome. It's like if I just wiped down the kitchen counter, I'm gonna be a whole human.
Cheri Honeycutt: Who knew it was so simple, right? Wow. This is so good. As you were talking, I was thinking of a couple of stories and thinking about my own resistance. I have so many stories of my own resistance to this, pooh-poohing this idea. I remember I used to share an office back with someone and she would leave a couple times a week to go get a massage or go get acupunctured. And I would just, under my bath, go, “Oh, my god! Seriously?” I was both a martyr and judging like “Damn! She needs so much self care.” And really, I was craving. My own resistance. And really, it was my own story of just suck it up, buttercup. Just suck it up and just be tough, girl.
I have another story. I'll just tell you this real quick. When I first got married to my first husband, it was in was the era of the VHS tapes. It tells you how long ago. I brought from work a VHS tape that was on stress reliever to do this stress tape. My husband at the time said, “That's great. You definitely need that. I'll go out into the garage while you do it.” Well, he came in to go to the bathroom and he caught me. Are you ready for this? He caught me fast forwarding to the end. I want to be stress free as fast as frickin’ frackin’ possible!
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Fast as I can. (Laughter) That is just so perfect. But I decide he has rewarded that behavior for decades.
Cheri Honeycutt: Thank you. Yes. Yeah.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: The person who stayed latest at the office was rewarded. There is actually a term and I'm blanking on it. But the taxi drivers have in New York for picking up illegal interns at like 2:00 AM taking them home for a shower and getting them back to the office by 4:00 AM. We have been rewarded for it. As well as there is a positive to it. Because there's an internal—as you used the word, story, we learn to self-motivate with that judgment and that harangue in our minds. It got us places. It got us places from the inside and patted on the head from the outside. “Good girl, tough buttercup.”
Cheri Honeycutt: I imagine there's that adrenaline rush that comes with all of that, you know? Then the other thought I was having, as you were talking is that how easy it is for us to dismiss the simplicity, if you will, of stopping to breathe, of taking a respite that somehow even our solutions to a problem need to be more complex. And really in this arena, it's not that complex.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I call it tweaks, baby steps. I mean, you've been doing this for a heck of a long time. Much of it is habitual. To undo it, you've got to build new habits and new habits take intention and repeated attention to that intention so that you can rewire it in your mind and then you can insulate it with myelin and it becomes a new habit. But you need to take it in tiny bites. It's got to be so little that your resistance is kind of, you know, tripped. Like one breath.
I used to do a lot of leadership workshops, pre-COVID. I miss people. Just before you go into a meeting, as you walk through that doorway, take one solid deep breath. One solid deep breath. And then the next couple of weeks after you've been doing that, add something to it, ask yourself who you want to be on the other side of that door. Just little teeny, teeny things like that add up.
Cheri Honeycutt: They do. I imagine that some folks listening to this might question that that's enough. But it really is. I mean, you and I both have evidence of that, that those tiny little habits being intentional build on itself in the same way that tiny little bad habits and I use the word bad, I mean, counterproductive to where you wanna go also add up.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Or maladaptive habits. Something that worked when you were 13 and you were embarrassed by a boyfriend, you created this story and habit around it that you've practiced throughout your first marriage.
Cheri Honeycutt: Right. Don't need that anymore.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. We can't see those for ourselves. But these little things start to open up our perspective because one of the things that happen when we're stressed is our perspective narrows and we don't see beyond our stories. These little steps add up to opening up the door. And yes, it's awesome if you can do a little bit more than one breath as you go through the doorway. If you can promise that you're going to listen to a five-minute meditation once a day or you're going to close your office door for five minutes and not look at technology or put on one song or watch a funny YouTube.
I think there's a fear for those of us who have been living in 15th gear that—I’ll personally reveal, I'm very ADD. There's a fear that I'm going to lose my focus and that I'm going to lose my drive if I take that five-minute break. The reality is exactly the opposite. They did a study years ago where they took kids who were exam taking and took them on a 20 minute walk. They scored higher. We have the proof. It's just we need to change our story.
Cheri Honeycutt: Right, we need to change our story. For folks listening to this, I know that I had to hear this over and over again because I was trained, if you will, to think the opposite. Run, run, run, run, run, run, and so now, you get this thing, well, yeah, take a 20-minute break. You'll produce more. What??? That makes no sense, you know?
I just want to kind of highlight because I've got a couple of other questions I want to ask you, but I just want to highlight some of the amazing, amazing gifts you've given us that I'm hearing from you.
First of all, to understand that, I mean, you didn't say this verbatim, but we're all going to have stress. We can't have a life without stress. That some of us are going to handle it differently. It's a spectrum. You may decide or notice that you are on a spectrum where you’re a more sensitive person. You come in, and you may be more susceptible to stress, but the flip of that is you're also wildly gifted in other arenas. If you're coaches and therapists and those kind of folks—
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Or you may have a period of life where you're more susceptible to it and the question is what's going on?
Cheri Honeycutt: Good point.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Why am I more tender or more irritable? What's going on in my life? Digging under that to say I'm kind of going in the wrong direction or this relationship I'm in isn't feeding me. There are times when we're more susceptible. I think it's also important to note that stress itself is not always bad. We need stress or we'd be bored. It's a bell curve. And we need some stress to get to peak performance. We need a challenge to rise to the occasion. When we get to peak performances, we feel like we have the resources to deal with that challenge. Maybe it's just on our edge, and then we get creative. We need it to get going.
Cheri Honeycutt: I have this thing called the 7 Tenets of Living On Purpose and one of those, and I'm still fleshing it out, but I think you've just sort of validated my thought here, is that we need to navigate and even cultivate some level of tension. It's like a drum. There's got to be enough tension so that the sound is really good. Too much and it's pingy. Stress might be actually the thing there that there's got to be enough tension in your life to have you produce. The key is not letting it make you sick.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I think that maybe the update I would say to that is the recovery has to match the tension.
Cheri Honeycutt: Say more.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: You and I can run a workshop and we are on. We need the recovery because when we did them back to back, we found out the hard way (inaudible 33:22). Like what was I saying? Because our brains are expiring. We need the tension to get going, but everything in nature oscillates. Space oscillates. The rhythms in our bodies oscillate from on and off, and on and off. It's the recovery that has to match the on. We can do amazing things if we build in replenishing that energy. All four kinds of energy.
Cheri Honeycutt: I would imagine, so we're coming out of COVID. So COVID, depending on where you were in that, if you're in health care, for example, your recovery from what you've had to show up to do is not going to look like what it did pre-COVID where you could just take a long weekend. So when we're nursing a partner with cancer or we've had to do a big move or we've just lost our job, those kind of recovery has got to match. Is that what you're saying?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. It's different for different people. And that recovery looks different. I mean, there was a lot of trauma with all of this as well, which has a different part to it. I think it's important to say that people who really have PTSD, some of the mindfulness activities can be triggering. That requires help.
If only we had the same thing on our foreheads that we have on our cellphone that tells us our battery level because we take better care of our cell phones than we take care of energy. It would be really lovely if we had ways to quantitate this. It gets really hard. A lot of what I do when I work with clients or in workshops is we kind of do an energy audit. We look at where are you right now with your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy? And then we look at what are the things that deplete it and what are the things that build it up for you?
Some of those things are the same. We all need more rest. But some of those things are really individual. If you're an introvert, you need time away. If you're an extrovert, you need more social time. The different things that replete you, those are individual. Just taking the time to figure that out is so powerful and will bolster your purpose.
Cheri Honeycutt: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm going to make a plug for something and you correct me if I'm wrong here. I think it's inherently challenging for us to see our own stuff. This is why coaches, therapists, best friends, masterminds, a place where you can create a community where somebody can hold up a mirror for you. I'll just speak for myself. I have a hard time and this is my training. I have a hard time seeing my own stuff. So working with a professional or even just coming together with pals is important.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Or putting together a group and having a workshop just to explore. Or your work team because, you know, we need to change the conversations in the workplace. They need to be about what makes you able to do your best work.
Cheri Honeycutt: Absolutely. You know what, that would be a whole different podcast. I have to tell you. I've been thinking about that for the last eight months because, I don't know, I do a lot of work in healthcare, particularly in public health, and I've just been sort of sitting on the sidelines and worrying to death. We may have another whole conversation about that.
So self-compassion, self-awareness, and insight so we can do it. Understanding stress. There's some brain stuff here. These are like wired these ways. That being intentional, being observant, being intentional about how we deal with it, I think that the undercurrent or the over arching umbrella is that self-compassion, trying to have non-judgment of wherever you are in the moment.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And being curious to figure that out. I think curiosity is just amazing. It turns our brains on. It ramps up your frontal lobe. It allows you to start to understand. I mean, your brain’s #1 job is to keep you safe. And it will do that at the expense of every other function it has. We've had a world that has been unsafe. How do we build back trust that makes it okay for our brains to function at their best?
Cheri Honeycutt: Beautiful. Yeah. Big question. I think it's interesting. Almost every podcast I've been recording, the word “curiosity” comes up. And your face just lit up, if you're just listening to this, you need to know that Cindi’s face just lit up and she was talking about curiosity. I got chill bumps just to understand that place because you can't be really judgmental if you're curious. It's just asking the right question. Then so we should all sort of collectively be curious about what's this post-pandemic, if you will, how can we do this differently? Maybe one of the lemonade that comes out of this is we're gonna have more conversations around stress as a society, as a culture.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I hope so. I mean, there's definitely been more conversations about mental health, which is the beginning. I'd like to see it get out of the disease model completely and into the how do we make ourselves mentally and physically whole. Definitely, diseases need to be treated, but we've been a disease model world and it would be nice to see this as what promotes our best well being and how do we create community around that and conversation around that to keep it in our awareness. Because again, repeated attention to our intention is the only thing that's gonna help us change.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah, repeated attention to our intention. Beautiful. I have a couple of things and some of these questions I’ll ask we may have already covered, but I want to know and these are a little bit about you personally, and you can say, “Ehhh! Next question. I don't want to answer it.”
My question is how do you know when you're in the flow and living on purpose? But maybe the question is how do you know when you're in the stress mode or when you're out of flow? What do you know?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I think it’s important to begin to recognize both. We’re so unaware of that. I think sometimes people confuse flow with productivity. Sometimes they overlap, but they're not always the same thing. Flow should have an ease to it. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a lovely book on flow. It is the peak performance mode where there's a lot less effort and there's a clarity to it. You're just doing and going forward. It takes less effort to be there. So you're not as stressed doing it.
I think probably for a lot of us starting to notice those moments. Then also notice the moments where we're really totally out of it. We've all spent a half-an-hour to our computers doing five minutes of work. To start to notice that more, develop an awareness of the whole thing and then get curious. What got me to that state of flow? What got me to that state of the opposite? Wired in and stuck? How can I do more of one and less of the other?
Cheri Honeycutt: So possibly one of the signs and it maybe this is true for you, when you start to feel like you're spinning your wheels or things start to feel like you're having to effort so much more is a sign that oh, maybe need to be curious about what's happened here. When you when you personally, again, whatever you want to share about this, but when you discover that for yourself, what do you do? How do you—
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Discover flow?
Cheri Honeycutt: Lack of flow? How do you get back on purpose? How do you get back into your intentions?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I stop and I do a bit of a quick energy audit. Where am I physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually right now? For me, sometimes I'm really just tired. I have a little bit more of a dashboard and then I have autoimmune issues. I have lots of issues, but autoimmune is one of them. Don't think that professionals don't have issues?
I have autoimmune things that give me more pain indicators. That's something I do in workshops all the time. What is your dashboard? That's the point of backing up and knowing, I'm getting more snippy. I'm getting more judgmental. I'm getting more comparison-oriented. Noticing what yours is. I'm getting a headache. I'm holding my whole butt and pelvis tight. For everybody, it's really different. Just learning to identify yours.
Then just use it as a sign like your cell phone battery. Oh, stop. Roll your shoulders, take a deep breath, get up, walk around, drink some water. Think about what you need to do to shift instead of just banging your head against the wall trying to get your brain to work. Give it what it needs.
Cheri Honeycutt: Right. Beautiful. So I love this concept of the dashboard. I do. I got this visual. That you stop and then it's a bit of self-awareness. Like I'll know when I am in heavy comparison and I start to hear my language and when I start to lose everything or I'm starting to be really clumsy. These are just things that happen over time. “Ah, okay, I'm depleted.”
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Right. Puts your brain in default.
Cheri Honeycutt: Exactly.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Or your brain misfiring. We do get more forgetful. Sure.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah. And then I become just more reactive, less creative. You know? Yeah. My brain gets stuck. So what is the part of your routine that keeps you centered, Cindi?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I do meditate. I have a super busy brain. I, like many people, thought that meditation was like clearing it out. I'm like, well, that's never happening. I learned that that doesn't have to happen. That's not what it is. I listen to a guided-meditation. I love Insight Timer because there are a zillion different things on there for length of time that you want to do it for the purpose of why you want to do it, whether you need to go to sleep or you're in pain. Whatever you need is there. I let somebody else help me.
I get outside. That's another gift of COVID. More people got outside and more articles came out on the power of nature. There was an article, just years ago, about how ADD kid's brain waves got more organized when they were out in nature. It's kind of came and went. It's so critical for us to be outside. That grounds me. I live in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. I have the luxury of getting in trees very easily.
The ocean is one of my go-to places, but nature truly helps connecting with friends. I think that's also an interesting point. When we feel really down and out or stressed out, we tend to withdraw and we actually need the very opposite thing. We need to connect. Humans actually have a social brain, and a social brain is really important to our safety. It's important for me to know that you and I are on the same place to feel safe to have this conversation. That's all wired into us. Connecting to friends, when we are kind of afraid to call and say “I really need you right now. I'm like not doing well.” It's key to have that team. Yeah, it's really key to have that team.
Cheri Honeycutt: That's a great reminder. I have discovered for myself, I don't know if this is true for others, but I've discovered for myself, when I'm in stress, the thing that I'm resisting is typically the very thing I need. You're like, “Ugh! I just can't get out of the house.” And that's the time I need to go for a walk. Or I'm wanting sugar. That's the last thing I need. It's like if I do just sort of the opposite, the George Costanza of stress management. Whatever I want, just do the opposite of that.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Write it down and then go do it.
Cheri Honeycutt: Go do it. Write it down and like, no, that's not. Yeah. What is the thing you don't want to do, that’s what you need to do.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: That's part of identifying, okay, those are signs for you. Love yourself through those signs. That’s self-compassion.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah. Self-compassion.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: And love yourself when you give into them. I have quite a relationship with chocolate. It’s probably one of my stronger relationships in life. (Laughter)
Cheri Honeycutt: It’s let you down the least. Right? Chocolate does not let you down.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Really, occasionally, it's kind of am. But for the most part, it's really there for me. Sometimes I give in. Okay, big deal, it is a fabulous chemical for my brain. But so what? I talked to a friend recently who gained weight after her husband died. Big deal! Big deal, you know? You'll get it off again. But you were hurting? We've got to be kinder and then have curiosity. It's not about toeing the line all the time. It's about recovering.
Cheri Honeycutt: About recovering. So my next question was going to be if you had to reduce down something you really wanted people to know and put it on a bumper sticker? You may have just said it, but what comes to mind? What would you really want people to remember?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: The Velveteen Rabbit— we're trying to be real. Real is really you. You do you and you get curious about what that is so that you have more clarity around it. You learn what really turns you on, not what you were told is important. What you feel from yourselves to your higher thoughts aligns with who you are and what's important. Again, you know, gift of COVID, I think a lot of people got to reflect on their values.
My hope is that there are people like you out there taking time and helping people to capture that. And figure out how to align with it because that's just critical now. As you said earlier, we need help to do that.
You asked me before what keeps me grounded. I need a constant infusion of this stuff to keep out of my old stories. I just got the new Tara Brach book. It's awesome. I need to hear this stuff.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah. So it's the diet we need to eat. We need to take a diet and be connected those people. What I'm hearing is this is how it dovetails with my work is making sure that we're actually creating the life that we really want. Not the one that was set out for us. Not the one that somebody else wanted us to have. When I worked with business women, I would say, you know, you want to make sure that the ladder you're climbing is actually leaning up against the building you actually want to be on top of. The same thing with our life. When that happens, it's not perfect every day. But it is easier when we're in alignment.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: It's easier in the long run. I have a thing, the Mindset of the C’s – Calm, Curious, which we talked about, Compassionate, Clear. Courage is one of them. In the beginning, everybody else has expectations of you. And they probably align with your stories. You've created some of those yourself. Some of them were dealt to you. But it takes courage to say, “I want to move the ladder.”
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah, absolutely. That's often what brings people into coaching with me and some places where they've always said and I like to say “the rock in their shoe got so big, they had to actually stop and take it out.” There's nothing more courageous than saying I want to shift where I'm where I'm going.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Yeah. It's beautiful.
Cheri Honeycutt: Cindi, this is this has been a phenomenal conversation. I have one last question. Speaking of chocolate, is it milk or dark?
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Well, it used to be milk but then I've got a little health conscious so I changed to dark, but I'm really kind of picky now. And you know, I live in a place that has great chocolate. (Laughs)
Cheri Honeycutt: You’ve moved over to the dark side. Okay. (Laughs)
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: I’ve moved over to the dark side. I did get through medical school on M&M’s. They were always in my pocket.
Cheri Honeycutt: Yeah, well, we do what we have to do, right? Yeah, Cindi, I can't thank you enough. Oh my God, you are so freakin’ frackin’ smart.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: You're so much fun.
Cheri Honeycutt: No, you're so smart and your passion is palatable and you're a gift to the world and thank you so much for gifting us your time.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Oh, you’re so sweet. You are just a gift.
Cheri Honeycutt: I love you, girlfriend. Thank you for your time.
Dr. Cindi Ackrill: Thank you. I love you.