Do you remember the first book that you read that had a lasting impact on you?

In my senior year of high school, I read a book called Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. I remember walking away from the book pondering the concept of the “high road” and the “low road.” In essence, the “low road” is what we take in and respond to automatically with our senses, and the “high road” is what we take when we give it to our prefrontal cortex to mull over, evaluate, and synthesize it into an appropriate response. This realization was the first time that I considered the perspective that we could consciously choose to take the “high road” instead of automatically reacting to the external stimuli that constantly plays ping-pong with our thoughts and emotions. This concept was an awareness breakthrough for me and sparked a lifelong fascination with how we perceive, understand, and interpret our world and the experiences that we go through.

Opening the Awareness of Our Brains 

Developing awareness is like going swimming. First, we have to take the swimming lessons, learn the correct strokes and breathing techniques, and take time to practice. Once you learn how to swim, you will always know how to swim. However, different conditions require us to use different strokes. We might start with the awareness for how to swim in a pool but we would need a new skillset to swim in the ocean with oncoming waves, and yet another set of skills for swimming upstream against the swift current. The key to keeping afloat is to keep swimming and remain open to the lessons that flow your way.

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.” J.P. Morgan

What if you want to make a change, a big change like social change, or a small change like not taking things so personally, but you are not sure if you have the strategies, resources or even the tools to start? In Jeffrey M. Hiatt’s book ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community, he states the following:

“The first step to enable a change is to create awareness of the need for change.” 

The ADKAR Model is broken down into the following five categories: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. According to the ADKAR Model of Individual Change, awareness is the first baby step of a twisting and turning journey, but yet also the optional journey. From there, as Hiatt further explains, you get to build upon the desire for the change, the knowledge for how to change, the ability to change and the reinforcements for making the change. Change for change sake is not sustainable but if it’s part of something bigger than itself, then the change is always worth the pain of re-evaluating, re-learning, and implementing. The ADKAR Model focuses on each individual separately, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to navigating change within individuals and ourselves.

  • What could you do today to identify a change that you want to make?
  • What desire do you have to tap into, to bridge the gap between awareness and knowledge?
  • How much does that change mean to you?
  • Do you frequently and deliberately tend to the thoughts of your brain?

Tending the Gardens of Our Brains

In Rick Hanson’s book Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, he compares our minds to a symbolic garden.

“Imagine that your mind is a garden. You can tend to it in three ways: observe it, pull weeds, and plant flowers. “ Rick Hanson

Observe It

  • Do you appreciate what is nice and good within yourself?
  • Are you aware of your moods and onset of moods?
  • Are you aware of the thoughts and self-talk?
  • Is there a way that you can become more aware of the repeated thoughts and patterns in your mind?

Pull Weeds

  • If a thought is not one that you want to hold on to, do you let it go to make space for other thoughts? I like to use the analogy of letting it go on a balloon into the air. Or place it on a ship that you set off to sea.
  • Do you actively search for the weeds that prevent the light from coming in to grow the new seeds?
  • Some weeds need to be carefully removed because they might have grown alongside a flower. Removing the weeds may also impact the flowers if it’s not done carefully.
  • Are there any irrational thoughts that need to be weeded out of your thinking?

Plant Flowers

  • What things bring you joy and happiness?
  • Do you actively replace the weeds with flowers?
  • Planting seeds in other peoples’ gardens is a great way to double the effect of the action.
  • Is there someone else’s garden that you can plant a seed in today?

A wall, or some type of protective fencing, usually surrounds old and established gardens. If everything was allowed to enter and set their roots, then there wouldn’t be space for what you really want to grow. In Amy Jo Martin’s Inspiring Podcast “Why Not Now,” she shares a little piece of advice that her aunt gave her in episode 23 with Gabrielle Reece:

“Don’t let anything rent space in your head for free. That’s valuable real estate.”

Your brain is invaluable real estate and you have to protect what you allow to enter and remove what is damaging, especially if the damage is coming from your own thinking patterns. On Lewis Howes’s Podcast The School of Greatness, his guest, Marisa Peer, explained that your thoughts have the power to heal you or kill you. Peer encourages the listener to repeat the following phrase often:

“I am enough.”

It sounds simple but this little phrase helps to plant flowers instead of feeding the weeds of negative self-talk. Once you start to really listen to your thoughts, you can identify patterns and passions that have been hidden, just beneath the soil, waiting for the right season to grow.

It’s easy to distinguish a seasoned gardener by how well their garden thrives in various conditions. External conditions may impact it from year to year, and day-to-day, such as extreme droughts, fires or hurricane winds, but healthy gardens are always able to rebound, year after year. Healthy gardens can even rebound from the surprise of the occasional early winter frost.

What type of brain gardener do you classify yourself as? Outsourced gardener? Novice gardener? Hobby gardener? Seasonal gardener? Cultivating gardener?

Watering the Garden with Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is now common language in today’s workforce and hiring criteria, but it’s not fixed like Cognitive Intelligence (IQ). Training and life experiences can strengthen different areas of Emotional Intelligence enabling a person to continue to grow. In the book The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success by Steven Stein and Howard Book, they discuss Emotional Intelligence in relation to 5 main composites: self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision making, and stress management. Each of these five composites has three sub-sections that support each main composite, like a three-legged stool. At the foundational level is the self-perception, because our thoughts, values, and beliefs are what drive the inner workings of our internal worlds.

If we go back to Hanson’s analogy about our minds being like gardens that need to be observed, weeded and planted, then developing awareness in our internal world is a great place to begin.

Our thoughts pass through our consciousness like layers of clouds moving across the sky. Sometimes the low ones move fast while the higher ones, in the upper altitude, seem to stand still. We have the ability to be the force behind the wind in our minds to either invite thoughts in to linger or to push them right on through.

What thought clouds do you want to hold on to?

What thought clouds do you want to push on through to make room for a new stream of consciousness?


Pull the weeds.

Plant the flowers.

Observe the low road.

Strive to take the high road.