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An Interview with Melissa Llarena

Aug 3, 2021

If you are curious about how your brain works and how you can enhance its performance then tune into this conversation. You will have a better sense of how you create a model of the world inside of your head and how you can change it so that you can choose from new behaviors. 

This conversation will educate you on some of the ways that have been studied when it comes to enhancing your cognitive control systems as well as how to have the right experiences to pull from so you can get to the new places you wish to go. 

Dr. Thomas Hills is a professor of Psychology at the University of Warwick. His research involves using algorithmic approaches to understanding the human condition through language, wellbeing, memory, and decision making. He is a current fellow of the Alan Turing Institute and the Director of the Bridges-Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre. He also co-directs Warwick's Global Research Priority in Behavioural Science and his works have been published in numerous academic journals.

Share this with a friend who's really interested in how their brain works. This is a great conversation for those who have kids who want to do things differently than their parents or for those curious about how to lower the effort required to change their thoughts and behaviors for the long run.


The brain: We have an internal model of the world in our heads that gives us an understanding of who we are and how we create new possibilities.The executive function works by being in control when you're thinking about something.

Tracking the brain: You can track people as they move around in their head. 90 years ago, people just counted these things. And what if we could reconstruct the map that people use?

Correlation: People who have higher IQ scores, or working memory scores are highly correlated with each other and they tend to stay on the map. 

Cognitive control: The cognitive control part of your head is like this vehicle that you use to travel around inside your head. The other part is the map, and if you have a better map, then you'll have a better understanding of reality. 

Goals: If you have maps that contain the kinds of places you want to go, you'll be more likely to get there.

Positive experiences: Having a good map is more than just trying harder to have good executive control or training effortful cognition. Make sure you have the right experiences on that map.

Raising kids: As parents, we tend to model the map of our parents that we experienced as a child and we can do better than that by experiencing different alternatives of raising children.

Options: Parenting requires multiple different strategies because sometimes things don't work if we're dealing with different kids.

Building your story: Write the story you want to be in your head through journaling or gratitude journaling. You don't just write whatever comes to mind, but you actively build the story you want to have. 

Inspiration: Watching other people’s stories can be valuable for us. They can become part of facilitating a less effortful and more automatic way of dealing with reality.

Dementia: Many people with dementia are taken out of their familiar environment and moved into a new environment that increases the level of the challenges and difficulties.

Better cognition: You can improve your cognitive control by removing your distractions. And if you can create that kind of environment that facilitates better cognitive control and have that for older individuals, then we can facilitate functional behavior for longer.

Environment: We need to build an environment that facilitates the kind of behaviors we want to have and find the things we want to find. 

Cultural enrichment: We have to create different and new stories about the reality we live in so we can find these better parts of ourselves.

Creativity: We each have our own representations of the world in our heads. Keep adding placeholders to your mental map so that you eventually get to the place where you most desire. 

Courage: Michael Jordan decided to become the person who would go to practice early and leave practice late. Change is possible if you have the courage to make a bold commitment.

Curiosity: As you continue to learn from different areas of psychology, it's fair to extrapolate and come up with new hypotheses that should be studied, considered and tested. 

Now, I was personally curious about his expertise because I'm writing a book about how you can rebuild your courage through the use of your imagination. We can harness the power of our imagination to excite us about taking new steps or seeing new words. Imagine making a courageous step forward, and being excited about it instead of petrified by everything that can go wrong. 

Who doesn’t want to make changes in their thinking? Especially when it comes to our useless thoughts, otherwise known as limiting beliefs, that come with doing anything unconventional like producing a podcast or spreading a powerful message around the world or heaven forbid creating any form of artistry and having the audacity to put a price tag on it.

Doing anything where it’s you who is putting yourself out there feels vulnerable. It’s anxiety-provoking. Imposter syndrome is rampant. Procrastination rules even the most defiant of us. Uncertainty feels like crap. And then knowing that your family, friends, or peers are going to be judging your effort makes EVERYTHING harder. 

That’s why I want to share with you some of the courage design tools that have helped me throughout these last 10 years as a solopreneur with three kids, an unquenchable sense of curiosity, an admiration for innovative solutions to hairy challenges, and as someone who is known for behaving defiantly every once in a while.

I want to teach YOU what’s worked for me. I want to show YOU how to make space for your own courage so that you can always easily access it when you need it. 

This is why I created the Courage Makerspace Playbook™. You can request it by emailing me Melissa [at] . In this playbook, you have free access to 7-proven exercises that you can do in the next 7-days to creatively boost your courage muscles for use against your limiting beliefs.  Do not let another day pass by where your fears are squashing your mission! Email me right now before you forget

Links to continue to learn from Dr. Thomas Hills:

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Want to continue the conversation?

Find me on Instagram! You can read my daily mini-blogs centered on the same three topics that my podcast features: creativity, courage, and curiosity. I believe that without all three it would be impossible to solve the challenges we were each uniquely made to solve. Wouldn’t you agree? I’m easy to find on Instagram @melissallarena

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