The Brain Always Wins – Dr. John Sullivan


The Brain Always Wins

Hydration. Nutrition. Sleep.

As long as we provide these three essential daily activities to our lives, our brain will always win.

The brain is the ultimate governor of the body. Without it, we wouldn't have strong muscles, healthy emotional wellness, good gut health, and the ability to perform to our highest potential each day.

We've always known that the brain is a powerful organ, but without it, we wouldn't have such an amazing connection with the rest of our body. 

Today on Wellness + Wisdom, Sport Scientist and Clinical Sport Psychologist at Clinical & Sports Consulting Services and co-author of the latest book, The Brain Always Wins, Dr. John P. Sullivan, teaches us how our brain has the powerful ability to help us deeply connect with our emotions, make good decisions, and build relationships within our tribe.

Power Your Life

We work so hard to be perfect, but the brain doesn't want us to be perfect.

Perfection causes anxiety and trauma. What we really need is consistency. The brain craves consistency that is in line with our daily hydration, nutrition, and sleep. Without all three elements, we wouldn't be able to move and perform as well.

Today, Dr. Sullivan will help us answer the ultimate questions, “How do we show up powerfully in our lives? How can we train for both brain performance and brain health?”

How can both a top performing athlete and a busy parent manage and enhance their mental health by focusing on good hydration, nutrition, and sleep?

What do our brain waves, meditation, and emotions all have in common? How does both our brain and gut function to help us thrive and perform each day? Tune in to find out.

Listen to Episode 105 as Dr. Sullivan Uncovers

  • What fascinates Dr. Sullivan about the brain and how his career began.
  • Why Dr. Sullivan placed the following quote by Francis Crick on his website and what it means to him: “There is no scientific study more vital to man than the study of his own brain. Our entire view of the universe depends on it.”
  • Dr. Sullivan explains what he means by calling the brain a “governor” throughout his book, The Brain Always Wins.
  • Why does the brain always win? Why is the brain the leader of our bodies?
  • How come our brains are so much larger than great apes? What is the benefit of this?
  • What is the contrast between athletes and high performers vs busy parents? How can the MUSE headband help?
  • The benefits of meditation to combat not stress, but the trauma we experience in our lives.
  • A look at the 5 major sections of brain waves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.
  • The proper way to nap for brain health plus the difference between napping and sleeping.
  • What's the best amount of time to take a nap? Do you need 10 minutes or longer to get the full benefits from napping?
  • How our brains are able to detoxify while we sleep.
  • When we're stressed, does the brain produce more toxins that need to be washed during a sleep cycle?
  • The importance of water and staying hydrated to keep our nervous system healthy.
  • If we don't have sleep, hydration, or food, we simply cannot move and that's why the first three or so necessary to create a healthy brain.
  • Training for brain performance and training for brain health: How do we do both? What's the correlation between professional athletes who train hard and people in every day life?
  • How can we train or vagus nerve to have a better connection between the gut and the brain? How does the vagus nerve benefit us?
  • Sport Psychology practices that athletes put to use that we can also use: the power of music for our brains, heart, vagus, and more.
  • How can Ketosis help us have a healthy brain?
  • The best way to keep your mind in a consistent state of flow and combat fatigue while traveling between time zones.

Top 3 Takeaways From The Show

  • Our quality of health including muscle, nutrition, and heart function are all in service to our brain. Our brain has a solid part and a place in everything concerning our health and wellness. We can improve our health and keep it in top condition with three factors: hydration, nutrition, and sleep.
  • The brains is the governor of the body and is wired to help us survive. Thanks to our evolution, with our brains we have the ability to hone in on our background environment and  predict at least a minute ahead of time of what will happen next. It's because of our ability to first feel and then think that allows the brain to always win.
  • Unlike great apes, we're able to make emotional connections that allow us to make good decisions. It's because of our emotions that we're able to evaluate friendships and stay connected within our tribe. We're not made to be isolated from other people and our emotions help us to stay balanced.

Power Quotes From Dr. John Sullivan

  • “There is no scientific study more vital to man than the study of his own brain. Our entire view of the universe depends on it.” – Francis Crick 
  • “Heart health, maintaining lean muscle mass, nutrition and a multitude of other factors all serve the brain. They are not in service for isolation; they are in service to our brain. If we don't think about our brain as the vehicle for our personal performance, our quality of life, our ability to give  to others and to give to ourselves, then we're really missing a critical point.” – Dr. John Sullivan on his take on the above Francis Crick quote. 
  • “Excellence is grounded in the billions of neurons between our ears. Arguing this point also comes from the same neurons between our ears.” – Dr. John Sullivan
  • “Human variation starts with the brain and I try to assist people to have a better quality of life or better performance in certain situations. The brain's function is not “cookie cutter”  because it's not the same pattern for everyone. But because we're uniquely wired to survive, everyone has these strengths that they can bring to the table.” – Dr. John Sullivan on his fascination with the brain. 
  • “Central to our life is our brain health. Without our brain health, we don't have health and then we don't have performance.” – Dr. John Sullivan on why the brain is the governor of the body.
  • “The brain always wins because it's a predictive organ. It's always giving us consistent information about our health. It is incredibly efficient in helping us get information, understanding what that information means, and using that information to benefit our health. The brain always wins because it is designed to survive.” – Dr. John Sullivan on why the brain always wins. 
  • “There is no such thing as mental toughness or grit. These are re-packaged terms with very poor science. Everyone's ability to perform on any given day is based upon their health.” – Dr. John Sullivan on what it means to have a strong mind. 
  • “Life is not about stress. If you look at neuroanatomy, life is about trauma and it's either a little “t” or a large “T.” Trauma requires rest and recovery which meditation provides.” – Dr. John Sullivan on how meditation can help us with trauma.
  • “We can all expect stress or some type of challenge, but we have to plan for the recovery so that it all balances out. Only then can we become resilient, evolve, grow, and adapt.” – Dr. John Sullivan on the power of rest and recovery when we're stressed out.
  • “Our culture is all about work, work, work and we've lost the idea that rest is where it all comes together.” – Dr. John Sullivan on the benefits of rest.
  • “Our brain is wired to survive, but we can do certain things day to day to make it more resilient.” – Dr. John Sullivan on how to make our minds stronger. 
  • “You don't have to be perfect. In fact the brain hates perfection because it induces anxiety and it creates more neurological stress. We only really need consistency to have a happy brain. Looking at our ancestors and evolution, if we needed perfection, we wouldn't have been able to survive as a species.” – Dr. John Sullivan on why we're not wired to be perfect.
  • “What we've learned is that we think first and then we feel, but it's actually the other way around. We feel first and then we think. It doesn't work any other way than that because the limbic system was designed for survival.” – Dr. John Sullivan on the purpose of our emotions. 
  • “Any important decision we've ever made in our lives has been made on emotion. The more important the decision, the more emotion is involved. This is why emotion regulation is so key to decision making.” – Dr. John Sullivan on why are emotions are so important to help us make decisions. 
  • “Wellness is having an individualized, thoughtful, and flexible approach to being able to be healthy and meet life's demands.” – Dr. John Sullivan on what wellness means to him.

About Dr. John Sullivan

John P. Sullivan is a Sport Scientist and Clinical Sport Psychologist. He has over twenty years of clinical and scholarly experience, and for the past 16 years he has worked with the same team in the National Football League (NFL) coordinating clinical care and sport science.

Dr. Sullivan’s experience also includes such work within the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, English Premier League, The English Football Association, Premier Rugby League, Australian Football League and Olympic national teams. He is an expert consultant for the military and law enforcement in regards to both welfare and performance needs.

He has established expertise with psychophysiological profiling and developing cognitive abilities (e.g., decision making, complex reaction time, and read-and-react abilities) of elite performers. Dr. Sullivan uses various markers such as, Central Nervous Systems Assessment – DC Potential, Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Electroencephalography (EEG), Accelerometry/GPS, Multiple Object Tracking (MOT), Optic Flow (OF), and biofeedback to determine optimal training loads, recovery interventions, and maintaining as well as enhancing cognitive capabilities in performance environments.

Resources Mentioned by Dr. Sullivan & Josh

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About The Author, Lauren Bryant, Podcast Production

lauren bryant wellness forceLauren Bryant is the Podcasting Assistant and Show Notes Writer for Wellness + Wisdom. She has a BBA in both Marketing and Spanish for Business as well as certificates in Advanced Business Communications and International Business from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.

Lauren’s wellness journey began at a young age when she joined her local YMCA swim team, The Wave, of La Crosse, WI. One of the most profound views on wellness that anyone has said to her was when she was an assistant swim coach for that same YMCA swim team.

One day during a practice, former head swim coach, Jon Brenner, shared with her that the most important thing about coaching the swimmers was that “It doesn’t matter if they become the best athletes in the world. What’s important is that we give them the tools and guidance they need to live a healthy, active lifestyle for the rest of their lives.”

Since hearing those words, she has taken it to heart to not only focus on continuously living her own healthy lifestyle, but to help others pursue their wellness goals as well.

Lauren’s not only an avid swimmer, but a fan of running, yoga, cooking, and doing any activity outside that involves being surrounded by nature. In the Fall of 2014, she completed a long-awaited goal of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

According to Lauren, wellness is about finding gratitude and joy in doing any type of physical or self-care activity that we love. Wellness means providing ourselves with self-love, good nutrition, and the inner peace that our individual minds and bodies need.


About Josh Trent

Josh Trent lives in Austin, Texas with his love Carrie Michelle, son Novah, daughter Nayah + a cat named Cleo. He is the host of the Wellness + Wisdom Podcast and the creator of the BREATHE: Breath + Wellness Program. Josh has spent the past 20+ years as a trainer, researcher + facilitator discovering the physical and emotional intelligence for humans to thrive in our modern world. Helping humans LIBERATE their mental, emotional, physical, spiritual + financial self through podcasts, programs + global community that believe in optimizing our potential to live life well.

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