5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1

5 ways to train your brain: Exercise 1


It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children that was a little more serious. Read the whole story here.

In the lead up to this I had been practising 5 strategies to train my brain for when the sh*t hits the fan, because at some point it definitely will… and it did!

Below is one of these exercises. I encourage you to read the purpose of these exercises and how to practice them effectively by reading the introduction to this series prior to getting into the exercise.

Exercise 1: Breathe

By this I don’t mean “take a breath, dude!”.

I mean breathe intentionally.

Take deep, conscious, deliberate belly breaths that you can feel going into your nose, raising your belly (not your chest), and exiting out of your nose or mouth.

This will do several things, but the following are two of the most important ones:


When we are stressed we take shorter breaths into the chest. This activates our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which sends messages to the brain to suggest we are in danger. Our fight, flight or freeze response then kicks in, which can lead to, or increase, feelings of anxiety and panic.

Deep diaphragmatic (abdominal belly) breaths will activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) which does the opposite; it relaxes you and calms your body and mind = CHILL.



Breathing consciously and deliberately means we can’t help but be in the here and now. When we are truly present we can’t focus on our stress or anxiety. In fact, the present-moment-master Eckhart Tolle says it is impossible to be present and stressed at the same time.

Being present gives us the opportunity to become mindful of our current situation and react consciously, rather than act on reflex. Mindfulness literally changes the brain. And scientific studies have shown it works (for a review see Hofmann et al., 2010).


Try this quick practice as often as you can to slow your breathing, move your breath into your belly and become present.

Sit upright in a comfortable chair and place both feet on the ground. Close your eyes and place both hands on your belly. Consciously feel your breath going in your nose.
How it does feel on your nostrils?
Is the air warm or cold?
How does the breath inflate your belly?
How does the air feel going out of your nose/mouth?
Count the breaths if you like. Your aim is to do about 10.

If your mind wanders, as soon as you notice it congratulate yourself on being human, and focus back on your breath.

Practicing deep breathing regularly will have profound effects on your current stress and anxiety levels. However, it will also train your brain for when the sh*t hits the fan.

Doing this exercise regularly (FYI it is a marvellous way to start the day!) literally changes your brain. It activates neural pathways that will reduce your baseline levels of stress, and change your brain’s neurochemistry. This means that you will naturally live with a lower level of day-to-day stress.

And when the sh*t hits the fan?

You will not only know how to immediately reduce stress by doing your belly breathing, but you will also be much less stressed than you once would have been, because you have trained your brain.




This is exercise 1 of 5. I will share each exercise one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement it, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When the Sh*t Hits The Fan

5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When the Sh*t Hits The Fan

It is a fact that, if you are human, at some point in your life the sh*t will hit the fan. If you’re a parent the odds are even higher. And if you’re a mother, let’s be honest, sometimes the shit will hit the fan more than once a day. #truth

While the sh*t hits the fan in our house quite regularly (I have 3 young kids after all!), something happened a few weeks ago that involved one of my children, that was a little more serious.

It caught me completely off-guard. Mama Bear came out in full-force. But first I had a cry, put on my pink fluffy dressing gown over my clothes (it was a cold day but I was feeling particularly cold after the news) and opened a can of condensed milk. 

When the sh*t hits the fan, a situation suddenly causes a lot of trouble

(sorry about that!)

Cambridge Dictionary

I sat there spooning the condensed milk into my mouth (it was the only sweet we had in the house ?) and felt all the feelings.

After a short while I realised I had two choices:

  1. I could shovel the whole can of condensed milk into my mouth (NB: I have done this once before and DO NOT recommend it. You have been warned!)
  2. I could utilise the brain training techniques I know, to navigate myself through this sh*t.

In case you have never heard of me or ToughMothers, our whole work is dedicated to supporting women during the transition into motherhood and beyond (or matrescence, as it is officially known). We teach mothers about their own brain and mind, and help them create strategies they can use to change their own brain and wiring, to create a fulfilling life.

At Tough Mothers neuroscience and psychology meet philosophy and spirituality (in the true sense of the word) to support mothers holistically during matrescence.

I have a PhD in Medicine (Neuroscience and Pharmacology) and a degree in Psychotherapy, but most of all I am a mum. 

I was feeling lost and unfulfilled in motherhood. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my kids and my husband, but I didn’t particularly like my life, or the person I became during my transition into motherhood. I was stressed and anxious all the time. I had lost my sense of self, and I was scared that life would just be like this forever: challenging, exhausting, relentless and unfulfilling.

Unsatisfied with this, I used my 25 years of brain and mind research knowledge and set off to learn more and change my own brain.

It worked!

It sounds so much more sciencey and nutty than it actually it is. It is simply understanding your brain-mind-body-life connection and getting them to work for you rather than against you ?

You may have heard of the term neuroplasticity?
It’s the amazing ability of the brain to change itself and its wiring.
For example, how you can train yourself, i.e. your brain, to ride a bike.

Similarly, you can train your brain in other aspects of your life. For example, to change your thinking and reactions to certain situations. This is exactly what we do at Tough Mothers.

But I digress. Back to my can of condensed milk.

I had to dig deep that day (pun intended), but I used strategies I had previously been practising to change the situation. Don’t get me wrong, the news I received hadn’t changed, just my reaction and subsequent actions changed. It was a massive win!

So, I posted about it on Facebook (as you do, of course!) and ended it with:

“When the shit hits the fan make sure your neural (brain) foundation is stronger than ALL the shit. #TrainYourBrain”

You can read the whole post in our private Facebook group The Tough Mothers Village

I had so many enquiries from our wonderful members about what training your brain involved, that I decided to share 5 strategies I used in this instance, in a free series called 5 Ways To Train Your Brain For When The Sh*t Hits The Fan.

Because when the sh*t hits the fan, the best thing you can do is make sure your brain is prepared.


Train your brain.

You have to think of your brain as being like a muscle. Your muscle has to be strong in order to be ready to lift. You wouldn’t walk into a gym without having lifted weights, and pick up a 40kg dumbbell, would you?

Instead you would start with a much lighter weight and increase it as you get stronger and stronger, until you feel you can lift a 40kg weight without trouble. It is the same for the brain.

The 5 simple exercises I outlined in this series are small steps to start growing and strengthening your brain. By practising these techniques you will create and strengthen neural pathways that are imperative in remaining cool, calm and collected during times of stress.

With enough repetition, over time, you will literally change your brain. So, when the time comes and the sh*t hits the fan your reaction will be noticeably different compared to if you hadn’t trained your brain.

When I say noticeably, I mean you will literally notice that your reaction is different to how it used to be, or how you would have expected it to be.

Over the next few weeks, I will share each of the 5 strategies in this blog, so be sure to check back in regularly or sign up below to get the exercises straight to your Inbox.

Please do them. They have the potential to change your life!




PS. I’d love to hear about your experience, so please comment below.


I will share each strategy one at a time, so you have plenty of time to implement each one, and start training your brain. So, be sure to check my blog regularly, or sign up to get priority access.

Why you must ask for help…

Why you must ask for help…

I won’t bore you with the back story. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll know that I was lucky enough to spend 10 glorious days in the Austrian alps with my family in January.

We had blue skies every day, wonderful snow and minimal people sharing the slopes with us.

It was divine!

What was not so divine was my snowboarding. While I started snowboarding about 25 years ago,  I had big breaks in between. Once even for 7 years!!! (the things we sacrifice for our kids). And most recently I hadn’t been on a board for 18 months. Needless to say, I was rusty. Rrrrrrrrusty!


In the first couple of days there may even have been some tears. Which luckily were 100% ego-related and not due to injury.

So, after 2 days of unenjoyable snowboarding, my husband suggested I get a lesson.

WHAT!?!?! *my mouth agape in disgust* How dare he. It was ok for me to say I was rusty but for him…. Well, I never….!

And off my egoic mind went: I am old now. I know how to do this. I am not going to have some kid teacher tell me what to do. I will figure it out. I have been doing this for 25 years. How embarrassing to take a lesson at my age… blah blah blah, so on and so forth.

My ego was egoing in hyperdrive, but not solving anything. Needless to say, day 3 on the snow was sub-par too.


I took the kids down the mountain that afternoon to give Hubs some alone time to enjoy his snowboarding, which was (as usual!) very good.

This gave me about 2 hours of thinking time, and for me to have a serious chat with my ego.

What’s the worst that could happen if I take a lesson?

I could fall and make a fool of myself and/or be embarrassed.

That is all that I could come up with. YAWN!

What’s the best that could happen?

I might learn something new and improve, I could have fun, I could enjoy some time on the mountain on my own (read: without the kids), I could enjoy the rest of the days we have here because I wouldn’t be as rusty anymore… the list went on.


My ego stared at me puzzled. Even it couldn’t disagree that the pro list was a lot longer (and more convincing!) than the con list. So, I took a deep breath, grabbed the kids and marched into the snowboard school.


By the time Hubs came down I was booked in for a lesson the following morning.


My teacher was a kid. In fact, he could have honestly been my child. And all I could think about was the ONE big and suddenly very convincing item on my con list.


As soon as we took off I caught an edge and fell – I had made a fool of myself. In front of the kid. And I was embarrassed.

Ok so the worst had come true. What now?

I pushed myself up and uncertainly followed my teacher….

He turned out to be a great kid. An awesome snowboarder and great communicator. He watched me and gave me some tips which just clicked and honestly within about 30 minutes I was really enjoying myself. I gained so much confidence and by the end my teacher was high-fiving me like I was one of his mates.


I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face when I caught up with Hubs and the kids afterwards (see video below for proof – it looks black but it is truly amazing. Ha ha ha!). I was literally beaming. And to think I was going to struggle through this amazing snow holiday, rather than ask for help.


Here is what happens when you receive beneficial* help: Pathways in your brain are changed!

These pathways consist of neurons that send signals to each other. As you receive help these signals get stronger and faster, which means your neural pathways are getting stronger and faster. You are learning something!


As you learn the new way (or in my case, the better way), these pathways get stronger and stronger. The pathways I had previously strengthened by doing my snowboarding style differently (laboriously!) were weakening because I was no longer using them.

When you use neural pathways over and over again they eventually become so strong that you don’t have to think about the specificities of the task anymore. Such a riding a bike, or driving a manual car. Or Snowboarding. Ha ha ha! I’m not quite there yet. But I am working on it 🙂

I always say:  

The brain is like a muscle; use it or lose it!

The pathways you use get stronger; the ones you don’t use weaken. Simple!

You can use this to your advantage, and literally change your own brain by consciously choosing what actions, thoughts and behaviours you want to reinforce, and which ones you want to leave behind.


My Tough Mothers programs centre around this phenomenon of self-directed neuroplasticity (changing your own brain), so to once again experience it myself, but this time on the snow, is just absolutely awesome for me.

All I had to do was ask for a little help to guide me in the right direction.

Jen xx

Ask yourself, in what area of your life can you ask for beneficial* help to kick-start the strengthening of new or dormant neural pathways?

I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note HERE 

But first, please enjoy my post-lesson celebration dance below #MumDancing (just click the Play symbol in the back square) 


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And don’t forget to forward this to a friend you think may benefit from it.


*I say beneficial because sometimes help is more well-meaning than actually helpful. Make sure you remain discerning.

Why you must step out of your comfort zone…

Why you must step out of your comfort zone…

Hi there! Remember me?

I’m the one that took a quick break to re-brand her business…….

I’ve come to realise nothing is ever quick with children in tow (except maybe their nap time. Ha ha ha!). So, it has taken the better part of 2019, but the re-branding of my business is complete. The Dr Jennifer Hacker Pearson website is live and the Tough Mothers programs are here!

This is just the beginning of the change that is coming to support women during pregnancy and motherhood. And I am excited!

Actually, excited is an understatement.

But, it wasn’t all rainbows and fairy floss. There were (and still are) times when I am absolutely terrified. My mind goes into overdrive – what have I possibly done wrong, what might I do wrong and what if this is all wrong…

It’s often quite stressful. But then most things outside our comfort zone are, aren’t they?

Did you know that the feelings of excitement and the feelings of fear originate in the same region of the brain, the limbic system?

In particular the hypothalamus, which controls the body’s stress response.

More on that fascinating topic in an upcoming blog.

The stress felt when we are outside our comfort zone is usually in the form of eustress.

Eustress is beneficial stress, that is either psychological, physical or biochemical in nature. It causes a chemical response that gives the brain the ability to create new connections. These will wire your brain in new places, strengthen your brain in new areas and even grow it (by increasing grey matter)!

The brain is like a muscle, it works on the same “use it or lose it” principle. That means, if you do the same things you already know, and feel comfortable with, you are only using the same areas of the brain that are already “strong” and neuronally well-connected. It’s like only doing a right arm bicep curl as your workout, every time…

Now that scientist have found the brain has the ability to change itself (this is called neuroplasticity), we literally have the capacity to change our brain on purpose. We just need to exercise different areas of it. An easy way of doing this is by stepping outside our comfort zone.

It is outside your comfort zone where true growth occurs. Not just neuronally but in all areas of life. So, it’s important to step outside our comfort zone often. It might be scary at the time but the reward is so worth it. Not only are you changing up your brain, but the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine will leave you energised and feeling great, as well as give you a feeling of achievement and bliss. New neurons are now wired together and will propel you to achieve again, creating a wonderful feel-good loop.

So, I’m just going to hang out here for a bit longer and enjoy the eustress. I hope you can join me on this journey by stepping outside your comfort zone too. Your brain will thank you for it, and I bet you will be delighted with the benefits too.


Jen xx


PLEASE NOTE: It is important to not create debilitating stress (i.e. distress). This can make us very sick. So, don’t step outside your comfort zone too far.

Think eustress as creating butterflies in your tummy. Cute, little, beautiful butterflies. You don’t want vultures in your tummy! They’re bad news and will activate your fight, flight or freeze response leading to distress and anxiety.


PS. Want similar information and tips straight to your inbox? Simply pop your details here.

And don’t forget to forward this to a friend you think may benefit from it.