Your Brain – Mental Health and Balance

This is a talk I to Grade 10 and 11 students given on October 18, 2017.

This was a talk about mental health, balance and how to achieve your best. I am not an expert but have studied Psychology and Neuroscience. I have run for 30-years, have run marathons and ultramarathons. I was passing along advice, tips and my personal experiences to help students relax and be at their best.

“To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.” – Confucius (Confucius was a Chinese teacher and philosopher)

What the talk is about

I was once a high school student and was in the military – so very familiar with attending events and doing things I have been ordered to. You are here I believe because you have to be, some may be interested – others maybe not. That’s ok.

Take away from this what you want. If I reach only one person today – help them, thats worth it to me.


I want to give you information and tips on how to be more balanced, mentally healthy and set yourself up to be your best in school, sport or whatever you want to do. To achieve your best, you have to be at your best.

There are shows about tweeking and playing around with cars to get them to go faster, perform better. There are videos and TV shows about how to get fitter, leaner, a 6-pack – others about how to renovate homes.

We will spend hours researching something we have a passion for – what are hidden secrets for a new online/video game, spend hours watching youtube videos – maybe even studying something for an exam or test.

BUT – we seldom really talk or focus on tweeking, or taking care of that thing that controls every aspect of our lives – our brain. This will be part of what I talk about.


The Brain

“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”Stephen Hawking

Like the internet and many programs now – we have an ability to adapt.
The brain adapts to three basic types of change. Essentially, it: (I) strengthens current behaviors; (II) expands or modifies existing behavior patterns; and (III) accommodates completely new behaviors.


We want to take this plasticity, this ability for the brain to adapt – to strengthen good thought processes, teach it new ways to work and reinforce them – and give them good input to help us.

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Life can be like driving a car if you can imagine this. You all have brand new models with the most up to date gadgets and Bluetooth gadgets and air conditioning. I have the 1990s model with a cassette deck and roll-down windows.

You are all learning to drive and everything is new. I have been driving for a while and have some more experience. My car needs more maintenance but still gets me from A to B.

So whats the balance part?

You can drive your car fast, you can push it to see how well it will perform, but you also need to do maintenance, let it rest and fuel it up to keep going and performing well.

Another example is for athletes. You cannot continually push your body as hard as it can go every day to be at your best for a competition or to peak for a race. Great athletes know that the body needs time to rest, that recovering and down time as important as pushing boundaries, sweating and building muscle.

Sometimes at the start line of a race, with two athletes who may equally, trained, equally fit – the one who is mentally prepared, more relaxed and has a clear mind will cross the finish line first.

Video of Usain Bolt running 

(Watch how relaxed, how positive and confident he appears before he starts.)

In 2015 I turned 40-years old—yes ancient compared to you guys. I wanted to mark the milestone with something. I like to run, I like challenges. I decided to run from Kingston to Ottawa during my birthday weekend. 258-kilometres in 2.5 days.

I ran with a friend and we covered 100km each day. The physical feat was one thing but you quickly find that it is your mind that drives you along. Without being in the right frame of mind, relaxed and having help I would never have made it to the end.

A video about balance in life (5:56)



Experiencing life

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”Einstein

The talk of crazy running adventures brings me to the point of experiencing life. My point here is that studying and learning will get you good marks and probably into university or further learning –but it is your experiences;

What you see

Who you meet

Life itself that will give you ideas, take you beyond those words in books or online.

Sometimes stepping out of yourself comfort zone is a way to learn about yourself.


A run across the Grand Canyon, going to a new city, having fun with friends, dong something new – experiencing life can be as important as good marks.

A video (The Rock – depression, learning from life experiences and thinking positive)

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.”Hillary Clinton



Mental health

“We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘to do’ list.”Michelle Obama

I am not a doctor or psychologist but have studied psychology and how the brain works. I have also battled depression and like many people been in stressful situations that made me anxious and were not a lot of fun.

I made it through military basic training where they yell and push all your buttons when you are already struggling with new tasks in a new environment.


I have gone through air traffic control training where I was pushed to learn more and more every day – where I had to memorize what to say to live aircraft – know every word, where the commas were – and know it could mean life or death in real life.

I learned to relax at the end of a day, that I could only study for so long and that getting sleep was important as cramming. I learned that I could only control so much and worrying did not help me.

  • Worry
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Many of us deal with a variety of these – our brain gets stressed out and sometimes it gets into a habit of thinking, it gets caught in a loop.

If something is affecting your life, your school work or worries you – that’s important.
This is where you need to stop and talk with someone you can turn to – parents, teachers, and counselors.

Your brain is not a magical thing – it is a big mass of neurons and mushy stuff in your head. Its affected by your mood, things around you and your physical health.




“Knowing yourself is one the greatest skills you can attain.” – Noel Paine

This is not as simple as it sounds.

  • But get to know yourself.
  • We usually listen when our body says it is hungry
  • We usually get sleep when we are tired
  • We will ask our parents for money when we want something

BUT – most of us have a hard time knowing when to take it easy on our brains. Realize that like our bodies, our brains work better when they get breaks and are rested.




Stress and not being relaxed and rested for any event in your life affects your performance.

How to tweek the engine inside your skull?

This is where knowing your brain is part of your body is important – it needs rest too

This is where remembering to keep things balanced comes into play

This is where allowing your brain to experience new things can spark new thoughts and ideas

  • This is where making sure your brain/engine is running properly
  • This is where knowing when to ask for help – comes into play
  • Do these things to have that brain that is ready to go for anything you throw at it.


So what do I do?


  • Keep Balance in your life
  • Remember mental health is as important and physical health
  • Recognize when you don’t feel well or stressed out
  • Know that you need to be ready mentally and physically to be your best
  • Never hesitate to ask for help

Things you can do:

Plan ahead and prepare to avoid getting into situations where you have to cram or are pressed for time

Avoid worry – its normal but you have two choices, do something about the worry or realize you cannot control everything

  • Find a way to relax or give your brain a break
  • Go for a walk
  • Go for a run
  • Make sure its gets sleep
  • Laugh and smile – it helps
  • Think positive

Doesn’t sound hard? In a sense it is not. But when we get stressed or find ourselves panicking we revert to what we usually do – the pattern we have created in our brain – the DEFAULT behavior.

Create a healthy, helpful brain pattern, and treat your brain well to perform at your best.

Research article PA: Simple psychological interventions can reduce stress and improve academic performance:

Brain plasticity:

3 Types of Change Your Brain Adapts: Reinforcing Behaviors:

10 Relaxation techniques:

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

The Mental Health Helpline (Ontario) 1-866-531-2600

Teen Health and Wellness telephone hotlines



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