Emotional Intelligence and the power of commitment

Anyone can dabble, but once you’ve made that commitment, your blood has that particular thing in it, and it’s very hard for people to stop you.”      Bill Cosby.


saying yes


The wonderful thing about emotional intelligence is that it can be learned. Whilst you are not going to be a master overnight, it actually isn’t that hard and can even be fun  – as long as you are motivated. Like any other skill you might want to acquire, it requires motivation. Even excellent teaching will only yield mediocre results without that vital, powerful ingredient: commitment.

The minute you commit, in this case developing your emotional intelligence skills, something powerful happens inside of you. Your intent and your neurons line up. You are focused and willing to put in the energy required to learn a new skill. You know that you have to water the plant, the seedling, to reap the juicy benefits of emotional freedom and satisfying relationships. You don’t give up, you see setbacks or challenges as opportunities to learn from. But all this doesn’t happen, if you don’t say yes.

Richard Hill, a neuro-psychologist from Sydney, has stated that different neurological pathways are activated when you say yes as opposed to saying no. By saying yes, those areas in your brain are activated that support your success. Do not underestimate the power of saying yes.

By the way, saying yes to yourself or to learning a new skill can also entail saying no to someone or something else as part of the process of saying yes to you. Commitment lines up your intent with your action. Synchronicity kicks in. Things line up in your outer world, your environment as well.

Commitment means that you are prepared to put in the energy and effort to obtain your goal. Success awaits.

Commitment is required if you want to become emotionally competent, and it is also one of the range of skills that make up one’s emotional intelligence.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

Emotional Intelligence and Perception

“The great discovery of any generation is that human beings

can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds”


Albert Schweitzer




Emotional Intelligence skills are closely linked to perception. How you perceive the world, an experience, a person, your job, what labels you use in your head to describe what you see determines your experience. These thoughts may appear random, but they are under your control, or you can learn to control and guide the direction of your thoughts. This is very powerful and will change your life if you practice observing and directing your thoughts.


Thoughts – perception – emotions – behaviour/action


Your emotions determine your behaviour. At work. In your relationships. With your hobbies. Your health.


I suggest one yardstick that you can use in life to bring about thriving, success and well-being:


Instead of labelling experiences and people as right or wrong


ask yourself:


Does this thought/action/interaction/experience support or hinder my wellbeing?


This is so much more important than determining that someone else is wrong, and then acting in a way that is detrimental to you, because you feel justified in having been wronged.

Certainly, in being present with yourself, you feel whatever emotion arises as a result of having been wronged, I’m certainly not suggesting to suppress that emotion, but don’t let this determine how you behave. YOUR wellbeing is at stake here.

Choose wisely.


Emotional intelligence encompasses many different skills. It is not one skill, but many different skills, and the way these different skills interact with one another. You may be very good at listening to others, but have some way to go in managing your own emotions. Or you may be skilled at observing your thoughts/emotions, but are not a good listener.

If you start to observe what thoughts precede your emotions, what you were thinking when you got angry for example, you will learn to steer your thoughts in another direction before the anger arises. Or if you observe your thoughts drifting whilst you are engaged in conversation and meant to be paying attention to what the other person is saying you can learn to focus on listening and to become more mindful to what the other person is saying.

Start today to strengthen that emotional intelligence muscle by asking yourself: does this thought/action improve or hinder my wellbeing (and by extension that of others). This is truly taking care of yourself. It’s like learning to ride the bike. Every day that you practice you become more accomplished, and it requires less and less of your conscious attention to learn to cycle. The good news is that emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned. It is up to your motivation how far and how fast you improve.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change


Emotional Intelligence and Mirror Neurons

Emotional intelligence has two sides to it:

  • being able to observe and understand your own emotions
  • being able to perceive, observe and read the emotions of others.

We humans have the amazing ability to perceive the emotions of others. This unique ability, that characterises us as humans, is called empathy. There is an actual neurological basis in our brain that underlies this ability to be emphatic. It is still a fairly recent discovery in neuroscience. It is called Mirror Neurons.

We have so-called mirror neurons in our brain that cause us to feel what other people are feeling. Either if these people are near us, or on the screen such as in movies. Have you ever wept at a movie? Been stirred by a passionate kiss? Been scared whilst watching a horror movie? Whatever emotion that you are feeling while observing someone else, on or off the screen, is purely activated by observing someone else. This is significant and profound.

We have one hundred billion neurons in our brain. And they all interact with each other constantly. When you pick up a spoon, the neurons in your brain that correspond to that hand movement begin to fire. However, there is a subset of neurons that fire if you observe someone else picking up a spoon, without lifting a finger yourself. So your brain fires as though you picked up that spoon yourself.

These mirror neurons are action neurons, and according to neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilayanur_S._Ramachandran) they played a vital role in aiding our evolution by allowing us to imitate others, such as our parents and teachers, and allowed us to quickly pick up skills through imitation and observation.

Then there is another type of mirror neurons. These are emphatic mirror neurons. This means they cause us to experience the emotions felt by others simply by observing them. Our brain cannot tell the difference between feeling our own feelings and having our feelings activated by observing others.



Richard Hill, speaker, author and psychotherapist, says that our brains – we – are hardwired to be emphatic. (www.richardhill.com.au). We perceive what others are feeling. This is one of the reasons why sports are so popular. You just have to watch people watching a sports game, the level of passion that gets aroused just sitting in an armchair. These are our mirror neurons at work.

We cannot turn our mirror neurons on an off. We have no control over them, as they are hardwired. They function all the time and cause us to feel what others are feeling, whether you want to or not. Now this is important information. For example, we know that stress is bad for us. It activates our flight or fight mode with all the negative consequences that entails. Now, our fight or flight mode can be activated by observing another in the stress mode, and picking up their emotional signature. You may want to change your actions in accord with that knowledge. Is it beneficial for you to watch sensational news reports for extended periods of time? Do you want to spend lengthy periods of time in the company of someone who is angry?

Mirror neurons function all the time. Being emotionally intelligent means we are aware of this and know that some of the feelings we are feeling are actually activated by our mirror neurons. We can then act accordingly. Either avoid or minimise situations that trigger our stress mode or realise that tension within us may not be our own.

Of course there are many situations in life where we cannot avoid feeling the emotions and pain of others. My biggest hurdle in recovering from the loss of my husband was to overcome the memories that were stored in my body and mind from having witnessed Mark in extreme pain for over four months continually. Whenever I entered the hospital room and saw and heard Mark in agonising pain, I felt his pain. And after Mark passed away, I was still overcome by the extreme level of suffering he had experienced. Because we automatically feel what others are feeling and experiencing, especially a beloved husband, we experience their pain.

We also experience our loved ones joy. It works both ways. Have you ever felt happy and uplifted in the company of someone who is genuinely happy and joyful? That’s because our emotions are contagious. Surrounding yourself with content people will rub off.

If you want to build your emotional intelligence and awareness, then knowing about and being aware of our mirror neurons is important.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal and Reflection

Making sense of change

Why does Emotional Intelligence Matter?

It is quite possible to have a high IQ and low emotional intelligence(EQ). Intelligence and EQ are completely separate skills. Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand and evaluate emotions and to act accordingly. And although it comes easier to some people than others, everyone can learn emotional competence and improve their understanding of their own and others’ emotions.

Why does emotional intelligence matter so much? Because everything we do, every thought, decision and goal is underpinned by our emotions. We are biologically hardwired to be emotional beings. You cannot switch off your emotions. But you can learn to observe them and to control your attention. We do not work like clockwork. Thankfully. Our emotions make us human and unique.


lacking emotions

We have so-called mirror neurons which cause us to feel what others are feeling. I’ll explain more about our mirror neurons in the next post. For now I want to highlight that we cannot turn our mirror neurons off. That is to say we are always feeling what others in our immediate environment are feeling, whether we are aware of it or not. This is one of the reasons why it feels so good to be in the company of a happy, content person. It rubs off!

Have you ever cried at a movie? That’s your mirror neurons at work. You empathise with the character, you feel what they are feeling on screen. Or have you experienced your stomach tightening whilst watching an angry person in the news? In view of the fact that we cannot turn off this in-built and ongoing behind the scenes ‘feelomether’ it is very important to be able to read the emotions of others and yourself.

Let’s say you are in a meeting and your boss is having an off day. This is not the time to ask for a pay-rise no matter how much you’ve set your mind to do it today, or to bring up your new ideas for the project you are working on. Wait for another time when your boss is feeling not angry or frustrated. Of course his or her anger could be not work-related, but it is not possible to separate us into the work-self and the private-self. We can fulfill separate roles, and we can temporarily put our attention on work and put our home worries on the back-burner enough to concentrate on work. However, this depends on the level of non-work stress. There is a tipping point whereby the stress is too intense for us to be able to focus on something else. But sooner or later all stress will make itself known. This is why you have to be able to read your own emotions, so that you can learn to observe your emotions rather than to suppress them and turn them into a time-bomb.

Also, if you have stress at work, you can’t just switch this off completely at home, your partner will feel your tenseness the minute you walk through the door. We emit our feelings into our environment like a radio station broadcasting their waves. It is impossible to switch off our personal broadcast!


 Broadcasting emotions



This happens whether you are aware of your emotions, or those of others, or not. The difference with emotional intelligence is that you can observe and recognise emotions and act accordingly. Choose the time wisely when you want to discuss something important to you with someone else, your partner, your boss, your colleague, your child or friend – if they are feeling upset or angry or frustrated, that means their fight or flight mode is activated and they are not able to listen properly and give you their full attention.

The key to happiness, contentment and fulfilling your potential is emotional intelligence. You cannot bypass your emotions on route to good health and success.


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

How to engage in Stress Relief

How often do you engage in stress relief?  How often do you experience stress? At work, at home, health-related, painful memories, old hurts, traffic-congestion, thoughtlessness, … the list goes on and on. If you are like most people, you experience stress on a regular – mostly daily – basis. I would like to emphasis again that stress puts a huge drain on your body, and of course your mood and happiness.

If you are committed to your own happiness and wellbeing, stress relief becomes imperative.

They type of stress relief that suits your personality and lifestyle most depends on different factors. But let’s take a look at the causes of stress. There are two types of stress factors:

  1. Stress that depends on internal factors, that is the way you view the stressful situation.
  2. Stress that is caused by external factors such as pollution, traffic jams, weather conditions


As I said, it is important to balance all stress with stress relief. Meditation is the most effective, fast and reliable way to relieve stress. When you meditate, you spend some time in a neutral state, focused on the present moment. Time out from distress and rushing. The benefits of meditation go way beyond stress relief. Meditation will increase your personal sense of power. Your ability to become clear about what it is you want out of your life. And it can give you the sense of personal power, inspiration and motivation that is required to bring your desires to fruition.

There are avoidable and unavoidable stress factors. Some stress factors are avoidable in that they are based on our perspective on things. If you change your perspective, your thoughts, you will change your emotional reaction.

Changing your perspective requires you to reflect and to contemplate. Changing your perspective is based on an act of will. It doesn’t happen by accident. When we repeat the same type of thoughts over a long period of time, we always cause the same type of emotional reaction. So this combination of thought – or thinking about a specific memory – combined with the emotional reaction(s) establishes neural pathways in your brain.

Now you need to make changes in the very make-up of your body if you want to stop experiencing the same emotions. You need to re-wire your brain, your neural pathways, so that the old emotional responses will no longer be triggered by the same thoughts. Whew.

Your thoughts bring about feelings in you. The thought ‘I was hard done by my dad. He always favoured my older brother and didn’t have the time of day for me’ will bring about feelings of anger, helplessness, resentment and perhaps apathy. Every time you think about your dad your resentment gets triggered. Until you change your perspective on what happened to you, the same emotional response will be triggered. It can’t be any other way. Your thoughts, repeated over and over, have created very well established neural pathways. They exist in your brain.

Feeling angry and helpless causes your stress response and as such is detrimental if triggered time and time again. If you don’t want to feel stressed about your childhood memories you need to rewire your brain, those old hurtful memories that are stored in your body.

Now, it’s all good and well to have the intention to let go. But those old memories really, really hurt. How then do you change your thoughts, your perspective?

One very effective method of reflection and contemplating an experience from different perspectives is writing. So-called free-flow writing is extremely effective. Writing is a bridge to our subconscious mind – or more precisely it is the metaphors and symbolic language that we use in writing that form this bridge.

We cannot reach our subconscious mind through conscious intent, but we can reach it through personal writing, especially free-flow writing. Personal writing is not about grammar or being polished, but simply about flowing onto the page. One word of caution though – it is very important to have a safe space when you undertake free-flow writing. Because none of us know what’s stored in our subconscious mind, we also don’t know what might come to light. You don’t want your son to walk in on you when you are in the middle of an emotional memory. However, let me stress that any short-term discomfort will be far outweighed by long-term stress relief and health improvements.

If you engage in personal writing in a safe environment – a workshop with a skilled facilitator is a good place as it is a safe, caring emphatic environment – you are able to re-wire your brain, those old painful memories that have very established neural pathways, in a way that no longer causes painful reactions.

It takes a lot of energy to suppress painful memories and emotions, and when you relieve the stress that’s caused by keeping things under wraps, you will not only feel better, but also free up loads of energy that is no longer tight up in stuffing unwelcome memories down the bottom of the barrel. Changing your perspective, your way of thinking, in a way that supports your happiness and inner peace, is a powerful way to relieve stress! It has the potential for long-term and permanent stress relief.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change


How to Achieve Stress Relief




I’ve talked in the previous posts about the vital importance of engaging in stress relief. According to Joe Dispenza, most people spend most of their time in what he calls survival mode. That is, we are reactive to our environment and we experience stress with adrenalin and cortisol pumping through our veins. This is a state of being that is detrimental to wellbeing and good health. Most significantly, in this state cell renewal and body maintenance do not take place – and these are essential to vibrant health and longevity.

The desirable state of being, the one that is supportive of good health and thriving in life, is what Joe calls the creative state. This state is optimal for cell renewal and wellbeing. In this state we are not reactive, that is to say we don’t simply plot along until some external factor such as a partner, teenager, colleague, traffic jam or missed appointment causes us to react with a negative emotion and stress response. We are in a creative state, we purposefully engage our attention (better still after having planned and/or organised our project – as well as our long-term goals – in our minds beforehand.

A creative state itself does not require planning. For example if you are engrossed in and focused on the chosen task – may it be writing, painting, singing, organising a work project – your attention is fully on the task. A tell-tale sign when you are in a creative state is when time seems to disappear. You might have been engaged in something for a couple of hours and it seems like 15 minutes. Even external factors such as a noisy truck outside your window or a cold air-conditioner are not registered by your brain. In other words, your brain – more specifically your highly evolved frontal lobe – has the power to tune out all unrelated external stimuli that have nothing to do with the task at hand. That’s very cool, isn’t it. You feel engaged, joyful, content, alive. You are literally outside of time and space when you are 100 % focused.

Now, focused attention is a skill that we can learn. Just like playing tennis or driving a car. Meditation is a way of training the mind and the body to concentrate on one thought alone. Meditation is the antidote to stress like antivenom is to snake venom. Science has now come on board and confirmed what eastern mystics have known for eons: meditation quiets the mind and stops stress in its tracks.

Now, the thought of meditation scares many people. Sitting still and doing nothing is not taught in our schools. Our society praises action, action and more action. Many people fear what thoughts might come up when they sit still. Others simply don’t think they can sit still even for a short period of time such as 10 minutes.

I believe that everyone who is motivated to learn how to meditate can do so. Because it is a skill, a learned skill. If you decide to put your full attention on something that is important enough to you because you realise the benefits to your life you will learn it. You might not attain mastery, after all people who learn to ride the bike don’t become Tour de France riders overnight. Like every other skill, meditation also requires practice. But just as you get from A to B when you first manage to ride a bike, even if it is wobbly and you might feel a little unnerved, when you start to meditate you will reap immediate benefits.

Also, it is good to remember that there are many different forms of meditation: going into nature is a form of meditation. A bushwalk, a stroll along the river or the beach usually quietens the mind. That is, as long as you actually focus on the nature around you and don’t think about your bills or other worries. As long as you stay focused and don’t let your mind wander off. If you focus your attention on your surroundings – the trees, flowers, mountains or water – you will relieve stress and help your body to return to homeostasis or balance (at least until the next stress factor comes along).

I would like to inspire you to start to learn the skill of focused attention. It will bring you incredible benefits such as joyfulness, contentment and peace. Start small. Take time out on your next walk to really look closely at a flower and become engaged in the wondrousness of nature.


Allow all of your attention to be focused on the flower. It does not matter what you choose to put your attention on – water, the sand under your naked feet, trees, the blue sky – as long as you are 100 % focused. If your thoughts wander, no worries, don’t chastise yourself, simply stop and decide to put your attention back onto whatever you were engaged in.


The skill of focused attention is like a muscle that needs strengthening and building. Once it is build up, it only needs to be maintained. There are so many ways in our life where the ability to deliberately and purposefully focus our attention will reward us with gifts such as inner peace and joy. The biggest benefit of all is wellbeing and stress relief.


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change





Why Stress Relief is crucial to your Wellbeing



Stress has become a fact of life in our busy modern technology and consumption driven world. Unless you retreat to a remote mountaintop you will inevitably be exposed to stress. There are many different forms of stress: physical stress, chemical stress through pollution and hormonal imbalances and emotional stress. Even a physical stressor such as an accident will lead to psychological stress, such as for example if you are out of work as a result of the accident.

All these stressors have one thing in common: they put your body into the fight or flight mode. What distinguishes us humans from the animal kingdom is this: humans alone can trigger the fight or flight response simply by thought alone!!

I’ve just come back from a farm and watched a mustering of cattle. The cattle are aware straight away that the approaching 4 WDs mean trouble. Their eyes dart nervously from side to side, nostrils flare and their skin twitches all over their backs. And they run. A typical flight response. And that’s how it used to be with us humans as well:  cave man needed to react to approaching predators in order to survive.

Now that we’ve moved from the cave into brick houses, furry predators aren’t any longer the issue. But our internal self-talk is. Worry about the future, about bills, partners, bosses, the environment all trigger the fight or flight response. Human beings are the only beings capable of chronic stress. Animals react to a threat, and when the threat is over, the body returns its normal physiological state, which is a balanced state that is most supportive of wellbeing. The heart beat slows down to normal, the blood is no longer prioritised around the limbs and returns to the vital organs, digestion resumes etc.

In chronic stress, the body does not return to the state of homeostasis. [i] In the long term, this will lead to illness. The body cannot maintain prolonged stress levels without detrimental consequences.

What actually is stress? Stress is a reaction to the external world and is triggered by an older part of the brain, the mid-brain or limbic brain. The stress response was designed as an emergency response, not as a chronic state of being.

According to Dr. Joe Dispenza, stress is the No 1 cause that creates disruption in the body. Dr. Dispenza has a degree in biochemistry and specialises in neuroscience and brain function. He states that 74 to 90 % of all people in the western world who attend a health clinic do so as a result of a stress related disease.

When we realise that we experience stress in our life, stress relief becomes our responsibility to ourselves. It is an indispensable component of self-care. There is no two ways about it: prolonged or recurring stress will cause you suffering and illness.

If we accept that our lives are filled with a certain amount of stress, the next step is to accept that stress relief is absolutely vital to our wellbeing. Stress relief requires input from you in some shape or form. Different stressors call for various methods of stress relief.

I will be writing about different forms of stress relief in the coming blog posts. However, here is a video by Dr. Joe Dispenza about the importance of changing your perspective, or – as he calls it – changing your mind: literally that is, neurologically speaking.  If you don’t change your thinking, the resultant emotional state will remain the same and so will your experience:



In summary then, stress relief is not an option but a necessity for your long-term wellbeing. What type of stress relief you choose is up to you. I urge you not to underestimate the importance of stress relief. What can you do today to alleviate your stress?


[i] Human homeostasis is derived from the Greek, homeo or “same”, and stasis or “stable” and means remaining stable or remaining the same.The human body manages a multitude of highly complex interactions to maintain balance or return systems to functioning within a normal range. These interactions within the body facilitate compensatory changes supportive of physical and psychological functioning. This process is essential to the survival of the person and to our species. The liver, the kidneys, and the brain (hypothalamus, the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system) help maintain homeostasis. An inability to maintain homeostasis may lead to death or a disease, a condition known as homeostatic imbalance.




Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change


Can’t get used to losing you…..

30 December 2012. This was my husband’s birthday.  After all these years I still have this sense of disbelief at the way Mark died.

One cat scan, one simple, fast and easily accessible cat scan would have saved Mark’s life. And not only his life,  it would have stopped Mark’s unrelenting months and months of continuous, excruciating, inhumane suffering. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

The GP made the deliberate choice not to order a cat scan although Mark presented with 7 days of sudden, uncharacteristic, continuous, severe and debilitating headaches. Instead she made a definitive diagnosis of tension headaches, although conceding that Mark was not stressed. She explained to Mark that the term ‘tension headache’ was a misnomer and occurs without stress. This diagnosis was made despite the fact that the definition of tension headaches includes only mild to medium headaches. Mark’s severe headaches were certainly outside that scale. Mark had so-called red flag symptoms, such as the severity of his headaches and the fact that they woke him up at night from his sleep. The judge thought that the GP had made an outstanding consultation, not just an acceptable one, no, a commendable examination. He didn’t comment on the fact that tension headaches were a misdiagnosis, seeing that it fell outside the parameters of tension headaches and that in medical opinion, a diagnosis of tension headaches can only be made via excluding more sinister symptoms – namely by use of a cat scan. That is to say you cannot really diagnose tension headaches as such, as there is no test for it; you can only exclude all other possibilities through the use of diagnostic tools: such as a cat scan.

This reminds me of a German saying: Surgery a success – patient dead….

I know that the vast majority of GPs would have ordered a cat scan… But that was not what happened to Mark. He walked straight into the consulting room of the one GP who didn’t. Our movie took a completely different turn. Eight months of the most intense emotional roller coaster imaginable. Actually, the imagination does not stretch that far. You know when they say life is stranger than fiction. Yes, that’s what happened to us. If anyone tried to write a novel with that much suffering, and that many turns for the worst against the odds, then no-one would read it, it would be unbelievable. But that’s exactly what it is: unbelievable, but true.

Now I find myself in the situation that should never have happened – but did happen.

How do you deal with the knowing that one cat scan, one single cat scan, would have averted death and unfathomable suffering? Ironically Mark had many cat scans, MRI’s and not to mention countless brain surgeries. And the expert witness at the medical trial gave his expert (paid) opinion that one cat scan would have been a taxpayers’ waste of money, that it would have been unconscionable for the GP to waste tax dollars. He made that statement in the face of all that followed.  I’d imagine that his income for that expert opinion would have been higher than the cost of a cat scan. How about that. But the taxpayer didn’t have to pay for that, I did. I payed for this statement that said Australia could not afford to save my husband.

I’m digressing. The point that I’m making here is this: I found myself in this situation where I have to accept that it did happen – or slowly choke on my own bitterness at the injustice of it all. Right now I do have a choice: to accept or to resist.

I say this with the passing of eight years behind me. Engulfed as I was in the pain of having witnessed such extreme suffering, it did not feel like a choice in the beginning, the first few years. It was quite out of reach for me to accept this decision not to order a cat scan. How do you accept the unacceptable??

I do have a choice now. And I choose to accept what happened.

Perhaps you might finish off the old year with accepting what has come your way. . .

I will say that this did not come easy; it was at times a seemingly insurmountable mountain. For a long time I did not think that I would make it to the top. Because to accept feels like condoning ‘the wrong’. Condoning injustice. Yet it is not. It just feels that way.

I do personally believe that the GP should have ordered a cat scan. I also accept that this is what happened.

The movie had all sorts of incredible turns in it, such as me becoming a palliative care spokesperson and sharing my story in front of an international palliative care conference with 1300 delegates from 28 countries. I believe, no I know, that by sharing my story I have made a difference to others. Even if I helped just one other person not to suffer the way Mark did because of a lack of adequate pain management, then it has been worth it to keep wading through the depth of my pain by retelling what happened. And I went on to do a Masters, to share my story and to delve deeply into recovery from bereavement. What an amazing journey that has been. It has given me a deep level of contentment.

I’d like to finish off today by remembering Mark, his special smile, the way he threw back his head when he laughed, underlined by little snorts and sparkling green eyes, his ever present sense of humour. Our love has not died; it has survived and lives on. I am grateful for 20 wonderful years I spent with Mark. Here are The Beats for you, with memories of travelling from Melbourne to Queensland in our old HR:




Don’t leave it till later – do it now.

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

Emotional health and the integration of our experiences



Whilst kayaking on the river the other day I was really taking note of the movement of the water. I was about half a kilometre off shore and observed the large body of water that surrounded me. There were picture book conditions: a bright blue luminous sky coupled with a still surface. Yet there were constant small movements of this enormous amount of water I was hovering on. Suddenly waves came seemingly out of no-where. Surprised I looked around for the source of the waves, yet to my astonishment I could not see any boat, jet ski or the like. During the rest of my paddling this happened again a couple times. Intrigued I started to think about the flow of water. What happens at one end of any body of water, even a large one, effects other parts even if they are so far away that they are out of sight.

This was a visual reminder for me how our entire body system is connected to and affected by our emotions.

Emotions have always been likened to water. And our bodies are made up of about 70 % of water. Watching the flow of water in a river or the ocean is a good reminder of how everything in our bodies flows as well – our entire internal body communication system relies on the flow of energy.

Speaking of flow, our brain is also the flow of energy. It flows whether you like it or not. There are basically two states of flow:

–       an integrated flow

–       a disintegrated flow

Our emotional health – and our physical wellbeing – is dependent on an integrated flow.

An integrated flow goes hand in hand with positive emotion.

Negative emotion is a signpost for a disintegrated flow.

Many physiological processes happen on autopilot; whether they are integrated or disintegrated, they will go unnoticed by the conscious mind.

Now, a mindset is a process that regulates the flow of energy and information. This means that the way you look at something, your perspective, influences whether the flow is integrated or disintegrated.

Neurobiofeedback is the capacity of the brain to take a thinking process and to change the body.

Your thoughts literally change your body.

We all have disintegrated brain sequences, based on our life-long experiences. But here is the good news:

Our brains are plastic!

This means that our brains can change, in particular the neural pathways can change and new pathways can be created. Our brain is not set in stone. It can be altered.

There are 100 billion neurons in the brain. The brain has the capacity to create new neural pathways quickly. It does this on the basis of experience and repetition. The more a thought is repeated, the stronger the neural pathway becomes.

This also works the other way: if you don’t use your neural pathway, you lose it. That is to say if a particular skill or way of thinking benefits you, or you simply like it, it will wither away if you neglect it. The neural pathway will shrink.

Because our brains are plastic, disintegrated experiences and brain sequences can be re-integrated.

Our emotional health depends upon this integration.

You cannot pretend an emotion into oblivion. It affects not only your awareness and mood, but also your physical health and the functioning of your entire body system, including digestion, blood flow to your organs, including your brain and therefore your ability to reason, etc.

You cannot resist an emotion away. But you can allow it to be – in other words to feel it – and it will dissipate.

Kayaking is a visual example of this. When I first got onto my kayak, which isn’t stable in choppy waters (it glides smoothly and fast through calm waters though), even small waves really rocked my boat. Head-on waves were alright, but when they come from the side – a bit like emotions coming out of left field taking us by surprise – they are very challenging. Initially I got worried. It was an unpleasant feeling. Then I learned to loosen the hips and to allow the kayak to go with the flow of the waves. To let myself be rocked from side to side. Voila, the waves were no longer scary, no longer a threat of toppling me over. (I’m going kayaking on the river, although a tidal river, not to be compared with ocean waves). Sure, the waves slow me down; in fact, if they are strong I need to stop until they have disappeared. But I have recently developed an attitude whereby I enjoy whatever comes my way during kayaking. Mostly anyway. The other day I got a bit frustrated with all the waves made by skiboats, especially if the boats come pretty close. However, shortly afterwards I was rewarded with some magic: three dolphins surfaced very close to me. Two of them proceeded to dive right under my kayak. Wow.

Kayaking is a good reminder to go with the flow. You cannot stop the flow anyway, in the same way that you can’t stop waves, but you can have a mindset that allows the flow to integrate, thereby supporting contentment and a thriving life. Equally you can stop the flow from integrating, thereby harming your emotional and physical wellbeing. You cannot control everything, but you can develop a mindset that supports your wellbeing, that allows your emotions to be, to come and go like the waves instead of locking them into your cells through suppression.

May you develop this new muscle of going with the flow – it’s like riding a bike, you won’t enter the Tour de France overnight, but hey, you are getting better and better with practice. Perhaps 2013 could be the year of going with the flow.


Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change

Dare To Say Yes

Daring to say yes is very powerful on many different levels: psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and – few people are aware of this fact – neurologically.

Robert Hill is a psychologist who specialises in neurobiology. Robert is a member of an international research group as well as an international trainer. He is engaged in the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology – IPBN. In one of his seminars on IPBN he highlights the power and the importance of saying yes.

According to Robert Hill, saying YES opens up an entire neurophysiological state of being that is very different from saying No:

Daring to say yes is like turning the light-switch on:  the current flows, paving the way for relaxation, good digestion, smooth functioning of the various body systems

*  Saying yes actives the beneficial part of the nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS)  – its main job is relaxation and digestion, in other words: the antidote to stress

*  Saying yes actives our social engagement system

Our social engagement system is biologically hardwired – that means it is a fundamental, quintessential part of being human. We are biologically and neurologically meant to relate to others. More on that in later posts.


By contrast, saying no:

*  Activates the sympathetic nervous system. Its main job is to set off our fight or flight response, which has also been called the     acute stress response.

*  This stress response entails a whole range of negative effects on the human body such as physiological responses:

–       acceleration of the heart beat

–       Inhibition of stomach action to the point where digestion stops

–       Constriction of the blood supply to the major organs

–       Loss of hearing or peripheral vision (tunnel vision) to name but a few


        Emotional and mental responses to acute stress such as

–       aggression

–       anger

–       withdrawal

–       substance abuse and

–       addictions

Robert Hill points out that saying no actually sounds rigid, it indicates stopping and opposing. It actually has physical effects in the body of the listener. Take note next time someone says a vehement NO. Observe your reaction – you might find that your shoulders are hunched or your stomach tightened. This means emotional healing and wellbeing cannot take place when you are stressed.

The Mind Science Institute 

In prehistoric times, the fight or flight response served as an important strategy for survival. Nowadays, a wide range of triggers set off the fight or flight response with dire consequences for our physical and internal wellbeing. The fight or flight response was not designed for the stresses of modern times.


It is clear then that learning to say yes is an important life skill and state of mind.  

So what am I asking you to say yes to? Your wellbeing. Thriving in life. Emotional freedom. I’m suggesting that you might dare to say yes to YOU. I believe that it is crucial in life to be authentic. Society teaches us that selfishness is bad. And what is considered as ‘selfish’ ranges from not sharing lollies to refusing to act out of obligation. There is a large grey area regarding what is selfish and what is not.

I am, however,  talking about SELF-CARE. Because that is what saying yes to you, to a life filled with contentment and joy, is all about. It is caring for your self. And from this place of caring for and about yourself you also open the gateway for others to do the same: to care for themselves. Self-care feels good and does not harm others in any way. Classical ‘selfishness’ does not feel good.

And here we are right back at our emotions: your emotions will definitely be able to tell you unwaveringly if you are caring for the self: because it feels good! It gives you juice. You are inspired. Time flies by.

By contrast, being selfish might make you feel guilty and angry with yourself. It doesn’t foster self-esteem. Or if you acted out of mere obligation you’ll end up feeling bad for abandoning your self.


We have a lot of no’s in our world. We need more ‘yes’ in our lives and in our world.

What might you dare to say yes to?

Katrin Den Elzen

Recovery, Renewal & Reflection

Making sense of change