Meaning; The Hero’s Journey Explained

Every hero story ever told follows the same five steps.

Please Watch The Hero’s Journey  and follow along below;

“Hi, I’m Dr. Mike Evans and I’ll start today’s visual lecture with a question; Did you know one-third of the world’s children never reached their full potential?”

“I’ll talk about the science behind this, but before I do, I just want you to imagine for a moment: what if we could unlock this potential? What if we could literally save brains? You see, we used to see brain development as a fixed process, where a genetic blueprint simply unfolds, but now we see a bigger picture where genes are certainly important, but your brain actually physically and functionally changes with your experiences. We call this brain plasticity, and though it begins prenatally and continues to death, it has become clear that the first thousand days where the brain is in rapid growth mode is the most potent window to improve brains. Understanding this developmental window is a bit like looking at the stock market and saying to yourself, man, if I just invested a little money in that company 20 years ago. It turns out that supply and a few key elements at the beginning of a kid’s life, when the genes are really listening reaps massive rewards downstream.” 

“Their brains become richer and more networked and unique to the brain. This has a ripple effect by improving a person’s academic performance, economic opportunity, health, resiliency, their capacity to navigate life and avoid some of life’s more negative incidents and pitfalls. I will come to the positive things we can do to help young brains, but before I do, I think we have to consider the reverse when negative things happen to brains early in life. So let’s define negative. When we look at stress, I think of three categories. Firstly, it’s a kind of positive stress experience we want for our kids where stress happens in the context of buffering, stable and supportive relationships, and where the kids actually build healthy responses to adversity. Even when they “fail,” hopefully, their social network, and I mean that in the old sense of the word, helps them fail well, which in turn leads to resilience.” 

“Next is when kids are exposed to extraordinary stress such as the unexpected death of a family member, serious illness or injury, a contentious divorce, a natural disaster, and so on. We call this tolerable because if the child has these protective relationships, these create a significant opportunity for kids to have a sense of control and adaptive coping. Finally, we have toxic stress, which, by definition, does not have the support system, and it’s more insidious. Now, these would include child abuse, intimate partner, community violence, neglect, sometimes due to maternal depression or parental substance abuse. These children have no buffer. When we measure their physiological stress response, they exhibit strong, frequent, or prolonged activation, which makes it harder for the early brain to prioritize growth and learning. So your next question might be, so what? Well, when American kids with toxic stress were followed by the ‘Adverse Child Experiences’ study, those who scored the worst had a 4 to 12 fold increased risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide attempts; a 2 to 4 fold increase in smoking, poor self-rated health, over 50 sexual intercourse partners and one and a half times increase in physical inactivity and severe obesity.” 

“So I think that’s point number one. Stress and adversity are part of life. And if our children are engaged and supported, they can develop a healthy response regardless of where in the world they live. That’s even protective for those that have extraordinary stress. Children who suffer toxic stress, who are abused or neglected at a very young age can have a much weaker platform from which to launch. This disadvantage can play out in multiple ways as life goes on. And these kids need child protection to prevent or limit the damage. Okay, so now we know what type of stressors that hold back the early brain. What can we do to actually enrich our children’s brains? Well, the answer globally is twofold. Firstly, providing a platform of health and nutrition. And secondly, creating a stronger focus on play-based responsive stimulation. Let’s start in Jamaica with high-risk kids.” 

“Nine months to two years of age that had early growth curves that were considerably lower than normal. Now some kids were just followed; others received extra nutrition in the form of a kilogram of a milk-based supplement. Others had stimulation, and still, others had both stimulation and nutrition for two years. Stimulation here consisted of weekly visits from community health workers and encourage mothers and children to interact in ways through play that developed cognitive and emotional skills. So let me just blow that out a bit. For the average parent, you know this is largely about responsiveness. When a parent responds quickly to a baby in a warm and loving way, the baby learns that their needs will be met. She or he feels secure and loved. When a parent talks or sings to their baby, it encourages curiosity is consciously interactive. They literally enhance their kid’s brain and create a platform for more.” 

“Now to get back to the Jamaican, kids follow up at the two years mark was published in the Lancet. Both the kids that got stimulation and those that received extra nutrition independently improve their child development scores, but the group that got both did significantly better than either alone. In fact, these kids actually caught up to their non-stunted peers, which, which is remarkable. Now, the story gets even more interesting when these kids were followed up at intervals between the ages of 17 and 22. The kids that got extra play were shown to have a better vocabulary and reading scores, less involvement in fights, less serious violent behaviour, and fewer symptoms of depression and social inhibition. In fact, the dropout rates for school at this age were 29% on average. Whereas the kids that were engaged early had half the dropout rate at 15% remember that these were kids that had fallen off their growth curves at the beginning of their lives, and this might seem like a rare problem to you, but in reality, one-third of the world’s children under five falls into this category of being stunted developmentally.” 

“Now, when the researchers wondered whether the intervention could actually break the cycle of poverty down the road, they found those that were stimulated actually generated 25% more income if we go even earlier in the lives of kids. Another type of stimulation is simply skin to skin contact with newborns. This was looked at in babies born prematurely in Colombia. The newborns either went to an incubator, which was the usual care or to the kangaroo mother care program where the premiums were kept in the skin to skin contact around the clock with mum or dad until the infant showed they wanted independence. The babies with skin contact had shorter hospital stays, less death, better growth, and improved cognitive development. Breastfeeding is a great example of this contact where stimulation and nutrition go hand in hand and also evidence that if we can meet basic nutrition needs, we can enhance a child’s opportunity to benefit from stimulation.” 

“So I think this is message number two, making some early investments in nutrition and stimulation to children can lead to less impoverished brains and hopefully break the complex cascades lead to impoverished communities. This may require some courage from policymakers as a return on investment tends to be farther down the road when they have left office. I painted a picture here from the research, but the reality is that there are lots we don’t know. We certainly haven’t mapped all the nuances of brain development and we, we know more about the extremes, so the effect of vulnerable families that are incredibly stretched or kids that are neglected rather than low-risk kids. This, this tends to happen in research as we can see outcomes with more definition and higher-risk populations. But on the other hand, I do think we have a powerful signal to build on.” 

“This isn’t complex, and I think it’s intuitive for parents. Food and play re-imagine how to provide the right mix of nutrition, stimulation and protection, and most fundamentally, human love needed to save brains seems a grand challenge. Now I focused on the early window of development, but it’s also important to keep in mind that it’s never too late. Starting an earlier combo of play in an early childhood education as well as responding, engaging, nurturing the children, teenagers and adults in our lives can change brains for the better. Right across the lifespan. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. So I think saving brains is about timely investment in resources, but I think it’s also about resourcefulness, especially when it comes to us as parents or friends or researchers or communities. Saving brains. Something to think about.”

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