FLIP365 Newsletter (3). A Week in the Life of a Contrarian Psychiatrist

On Monday 23rd July, I drove to Pretoria to speak to a full house of medical students eager to learn about brain Health. It was part scientific, part personal journey, part lessons learnt along the way.

The interest hook was that I was in their exact positions, over forty years ago. 1977, to be precise.

No death by PowerPoint; no notes; just speaking for an hour from the heart of medical experience and current views on well-being; providing a life map to improve quality of life; of making better decisions; about mitigating risk; and possible strategies to reflect upon.

Med school teaches you how to heal patients; and assumes you will look after yourself. That is a very, weak assumption.

Overall, most medics self-care is meeting basic needs, not optimal health.

Physician, heal thyself, daily, in many ways, throughout your career, so you can best treat your patients.

It was a week that began the big clean up of the seven ponds, and surrounds at Huddle Park; and all the tensions that a project manager endures.

I fell and bumped a couple of times; a double parallel gash to my forehead, and abrasions to wrists and shins. It looks great (that is is the ponds) and is a world class site, ready for launching my shinrin yoku (“forest bathing”) project.

In over thirty years in psychiatry I have never felt so excited, my belief in its value add never deeper, its potential to heal relationships in all four directions, profound and intuitive.

I sourced a major review article published in an international accepted scientific journal about shinrin-yoku.

Confirmation of my reading and experience of how nature calms and restores.

Longitudinal studies are still required as in all decent research – about lifestyle interventions: exercise, food, sleep, relationships, stress reduction, brain challenges.

But the evidence is clear! Go for it! Powerful healing mechanisms released when you deliberately front the natural; consistently, continually. Letting be. Letting go. Letting in.

It is time to launch the Mindfulness-In-Nature project.

When I reflect back on my life, precipitated by so many good questions asked by the varied audience of people I meet at talks, or places I visit (internal and external), there are three interconnected personal themes that combine to make a formidable three ply cord:

– my intense curiosity about the brain, nature and teaching.

Over sixty years worth of contemplation clearly inform my passion, skills, and solving problems. Trying to make the world a better place.

For there is so much negative stress, burnout, suffering, disconnection; all around.

It is time to launch shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), locally. It is about healing relationships through a slow deliberate reconnection with nature: the breath of air; the warmth of the sun; the firmness of the soil; the texture of water.

Nature is just above your lips; fragrance on the tip of your tongue; a smorgasbord of smells in front of your nose; birdsong in your earlobes; the wind touching your skin; your feet standing firmly on the earth.

It is about activating all your senses in hundreds of ways, tech-free. It is about stimulating your embedded DNA resilient genes. It is about you being in control of your destiny. It is about personal responsibility.

It is, seriously, about linking your inner forest to the outer one. It is all concerns relationships. Inwards. Outwards. Upwards. Downwards.

Let me help get you started on the most adventurous journey of yourself!

Dr Jonathan D Moch
Contrarian Psychiatrist
Special Expertise In Optimizing Brain Health

Mindfulness in the Park. Sundays 90 minutes before dusk (July 4:15pm)

Book of the week






(22). Mindfulness in the Park. Your best antidepressant!

A FLIP365 project.

Join us for a Mindfulness in the Park event. Click  on this link in the Category section, alongside this post.

From Harvard Medical School publications.

Question. Sour mood getting you down?

Answer. Get back to nature.

Research suggests that mood disorders can be lifted by spending more time outdoors.

Looking for a simple way to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and maybe even improve your memory?

Take a walk in the woods.

Many men are at higher risk for mood disorders as they age, from dealing with sudden life changes like health issues, the loss of loved ones, and even the new world of retirement,

says Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance.

They may not want to turn to medication or therapy for help, and for many, interacting with nature is one of the best self-improvement tools they can use.

Your brain and nature

Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.

It is not clear exactly why outdoor excursions have such a positive mental effect.

Yet, in a 2015 study, researchers compared the brain activity of healthy people after they walked for 90 minutes in either a natural setting or an urban one.

They found that those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions.

When people are depressed or under high levels of stress, this part of the brain malfunctions, and people experience a continuous loop of negative thoughts, says Dr. Strauss.

Digging a bit deeper, it appears that interacting with natural spaces offers other therapeutic benefits.

For instance, calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the bodys fight-or-flight response.

The visual aspects of nature can also have a soothing effect, according to Dr. Strauss.

Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.

Bringing the outdoors inside.

If you cannot make it outside, listening to nature sounds can have a similar effect, suggests a report published online March 27, 2017, by Scientific Reports.

Researchers used an MRI scanner to measure brain activity in people as they listened to sounds recorded from either natural or artificial environments.

Listening to natural sounds caused the listeners brain connectivity to reflect an outward-directed focus of attention, a process that occurs during wakeful rest periods like daydreaming.

Listening to artificial sounds created an inward-directed focus, which occurs during states of anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.

Even looking at pictures of nature settings, your favorite spot, or a place you want to visit can help.

Find your space

How much time with nature is enough?

Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful, says Dr. Strauss.

The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle.

Your time with nature could be something as simple as a daily walk in a park or a Saturday afternoon on a local trail.

You can even try to combine your nature outings with your regular exercise by power walking or cycling outdoors, says Dr. Strauss.

The type of nature setting does not matter, either.

Focus on places you find the most pleasing,

says Dr. Strauss.

The goal is to get away from stimulating urban settings and surround yourself with a natural environment.

And do not feel you have to go it alone.

A 2014 study found that group nature walks were just as effective as solo treks in terms of lowering depression and stress and improving overall mental outlook.

In fact, the researchers noted that people who had recently experienced stressful life events like a serious illness, death of a loved one, or unemployment had the greatest mental boost from a group nature outing.

Nature can have a powerful effect on our mental state, says Dr. Strauss,

and there are many ways to tap into it.

(18). How to build closer relationships

Solid relationships are core to building Resilience – your ability to bounce back from adversity.

Today’s blog contains seven ideas (short intro plus video) curated by Ted.com

Suggest you write the central point from each idea, and how you can make daily small wins in each thus improving your relationships.

From ideas.ted.com

They are:

1). Accept imperfection

2). Show up

3). Identify whether you are a giver, a taker, a matcher

4). Make space for solitude

5). Share something new

6). Give up old grudges and outdated beliefs.

7). Talk through your differences

How to build closer relationships

(16). Mindfulness in the Park


This Sunday, 1st July, 4:15 pm sharp, at Huddle Park, Club Street, Linksfield, Johannesburg, until dusk. And Sundays thereafter.

Starting point.

Meet at Dog trails parking, by AcroBranch. Can safely park there.

Park at main gate at Huddle Park, at and pay daily walking rate at Golf Shop. About R30. They will give you a ticket or wrist band.
Then drive to meeting point (AcroBranch. Well signed). No extra costs. Ie free from thereon.

Please note that this is a most wonderful way to switch off all screens and experience Stillness, Silence and Mindfulness.

So no cellphones allowed. Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a jersey, as it gets chilly towards dusk.

Bring along a small back pack that you can wear, then arms are free. To keep safely a small sitting cushion, keys, phone, jersey, bottle of water, …

NB. No talking will be allowed from beginning to end.

We do a mixup of slow walking, standing, sitting, listening, looking, being.

You can arrive earlier and do a walking warmup on the blue or green trail.

Ps its sounds easy, but can be very challenging if you are dependent on screens for noise or other distractions. Silence is priceless.

Your guide,

Dr Jonathan D Moch

Seven common sense lifestyles to build a child’s brain.

Imagine you could optimize your brain health as you could to a child’s brain!?

From Sarah McKay.

All children differ in their biological susceptibility to life experiences in a -for better and for worse- manner.

Some kids are particularly sensitive to both highly stressful and highly nurturing environments.

Like orchids, such children bloom if lovingly cultivated, but wilt and wither if neglected.

In contrast, adaptable, resilient children who do not get easily stressed are like little dandelions; they will grow and thrive anywhere.

The seven influential lifestyle choices are.

1). Attachments and relationships

2). Language development

3). Sleep

4). Play

5). Physical movement

6). Nutrition

7). Executive Function skills.

Read more…




(11). Perfecting communication. Easy as ABCD

There are four interdependent stages of perfecting communication in all instances.

Easy to remember.


It is a life long learning process.

A. Audience. Who is your audience? Who listens to your message? A spouse, child, employee, those reading your blog, a patient, student, investors, job interviewees, …. (Knowing their needs. What are their unique problems you are helping to solve?)

B. Brevity. (Aka Brief.) Short is better than long. Attention span is limited in the current age of Distraction.

C. Clarity. (Clear.) Understandable. To the point. Be clear on how you can help them.

D. Delivery. How your point is presented – writing, speaking, body language, physical context, tone, pauses, listening, responding …

Try it.

Would love to know how you practice this in real life situations.

Especially when delivering tough high risk messages.

Ps I am your audience. Keep it brief (less than 100 words), clear message, and deliver it by email.

(Adapted from chapter 4, Communication, in Aristotle’s Way, by Edith Hall.)

Dr Jonathan D Moch
Contrarian Psychiatrist
Special Expertise In Optimizing Brain Health

Online teaching platform.
Building Resilience in the Digital Age


(10). Guess who is coming for dinner?

Thought experiment.

If you could, who would you invite for dinner (dead or alive)?

What questions would you like to ask each guest?

Maximum of four guests.

This my list, a brief bio, and a few questions.

1). Aristotle – the Ancient Greek rock star of moral (virtue) philosophy. How can one best express latent potential; how can we make the world a better place?

2). Moses – the main persona of the Bible. What really happened in the Egyptian slavery era, the forty years wandering in the desert, the plagues, up on the mountain for forty days and nights, your childhood experiences as a prince? What was it like to speak direct to God?

3). My fathers, father mother – what were memories of my father’s father (who just escaped the genocidal pogroms of Lithuania) arrived in South Africa, 32, penniless, but died as CEO of a listed JSE company? Still raised five children, all married, each had three children. Lived for 76 years, with the intact crown of a good name.

4). Tim Noakes – a decent, brave, natural growth mindset scientist severely mobbed by his fixed mindset detractors, when he changed his paradigm on food choices. What are sustainable tasty superfoods that improve brain health, and how to optimize exercise routines? How to speak truth to power (science, politics, business)?

Please send me your list, and short questions you would ask each guest.

Dr Jonathan D Moch
Contrarian Psychiatrist
Special Expertise In Optimizing Brain Health

The failure of the grand romantic gesture

We see grand romantic gestures all the time in film and TV.

The boombox scene in Say Anything. Romeo at Juliets window. Forrest Gump diving into Jennys arms.

More common examples: an extravagant bouquet, an expensive dinner at a fancy restaurant, or a week-long trip to a tropical resort.

While these are indeed grand gestures, our research shows that they are not a quick fix if you are unhappy in your relationship.

You might just end up fighting on the beach or over dinner, and you will not feel closer.

Instead, to reconnect with your partner, start small.

Turn toward your partner, even for the smallest bids.

Tell them how much you appreciate and admire them. Support them in their difficulties and celebrate their successes.

Those small, everyday moments are the most important romantic gestures, and they will build up a wealth of positivity and connection in your relationship.

5 Ways to Make Small Gestures Count in Your Marriage

(9). What is trust? What is vulnerability?

Yesterday I went in search of Aristotle. Although it was unlikely to find him alive, he died age 62, about 2500 years ago in ancient Greece.

More specifically, in search of a book concerning the philosophy and Way of Aristotle – superbly written by Edith Hall, published a month ago.

First bookshop: never heard of it. Second bookshop on order. Third one had a copy. Yes, got it. Held on tight.

What is the point? Let me add context.

Whilst sitting upright at a table reading the introduction (with a steaming decaf americano in a tall takeaway cup, held snugly in my left hand), a middle aged lady sat earnestly opposite me, tapping away on her laptop, scrupling through well worn notes.

Both of us minding our own business. Reading great literature about virtue ethics does sensitize one a bit, and focuses attention. At least, for myself.

Then it happened. The lady stood up suddenly, turned her head towards me,  and politely asked me if I could watch over her laptop, notes and other material objects?

“Sure,” I replied, without blinking.
“How long?”
“About fifteen minutes?” She smiled, benevolently.
“Okay. No problem.”

No contract. No handshake. No witnesses. No photographs. Just a nod of the head. And off she trundled to go wherever she had to go, whatever she had to do.

So the great observation began. Every few seconds I would raise my eyes at the laptop. Still there. No one dared to move the laptop.

Anyone who walked nearby received my brief mental overview of their possible intentions. I should have put on sunglasses and a false mustache. FBI talent!

These were interesting times: reading Aristotle on happiness, maximizing virtues, minimizing vices, and simultaneously watching, guarding, fretting over a complete strangers laptop.

My reflective neuronal networks kicked into my working memory. What is vulnerability? Why did she trust me? How does one do random acts of kindness? And what would be my choice if I had to leave, and she had not returned? Would I be held liable if the laptop was stolen? What is the RIGHT THING TO DO?

Many questions, needing long deliberation. Moral Aristotelian philosophy live, in real time, in a unique circumstance. Would not have happened if either of the previous two bookshops had a copy of Aristotle”s Way.

Mama did return, thanked me profusely, and got stuck in once again to her digital work, eyeballs glued on the screen of the laptop.

Soon, as I also had things to do, places to go, I stood up, nodded in her direction, and looked briefly into her eyes. We locked, for a fraction of a second.

To me, it said, …. even though we are vulnerable – to failure, loss, illness, crime, rejection – we share trust by participating fully in the global human project. Thank you.”

That was a special moment in one day in the year of a contrarian psychiatrist.

Dr Jonathan D Moch
Contrarian Psychiatrist
Special Expertise In Optimizing Brain Health

(8). Ancient Wisdom in the Age of Distraction? Aristotle, Happiness, and Virtues.

Aristotle Virtues?

A moral dilemma. Picture the scene. There you are in a restaurant, out for brunch on a chilly winter morning. You and your beloved partner order your favorite menu choices.

You wait and wait, thirty minutes at least. The waitron then arrives, sheepishly, mumbling that the main item on the chosen dish of your beloved, is not available.

Let’s make this personal, going forward. My wife, patiently, asks for the menu again to order another choice. We wait and wait for another fifteen minutes. No menu.

Nothing happens but we are clearly upset. Then the inexplicable transpires. My choice arrives, and my wife’s as well, sans the missing item (Halloumi cheese, to be exact). Oh dear. Time for major reframing of the situation, and consequences of response.

What should one ought to do? What are the choices of response? What would a moral philosopher suggest?

Afterwards (and I will return to the restaurant scene, shortly), we added another favorite pastime to our lazy Sunday outing by popping into our splendid expansive bookshop.

On entering, under ‘recent releases’, the newly minted book by Edith Hall, a British professor of classics, caught my eye: ARISTOTLE’s Way: How ancient wisdom can change your life.

Now, recollecting the disaster at the restaurant a few hours before, I asked myself: “What would Aristotle have done, in that situation?” Remember that A lived in Ancient Greece, 2500 years ago.

Most ancient and current (moral) philosophers – Bentham, Kant, Hume, Berlin, Mill, – I don’t get. But somehow Aristotle speaks to me. He promotes, primarily, virtue ethics as core to developing an ideal mind-state.

Simply, it is about becoming good – inbuilt habits of gratitude, contribution, kindness, compassion; about becoming the best version of your yourself, about moderation especially mood (yes, there is a time to be angry, to fear, to feel guilt and shame and happiness: not too much, certainly not suppressed as the Stoics suggest).

A thriving life, that includes brief periods of inevitable suffering (loss, illness, rejection, financial stress), he calls eudomonia. Aristotle is really banging on about the inner state of mind, about the power of grit, perseverance, being virtuous, the best of what humanity can dish up.

He pays very little store on externalities: wealth, prestige, social position, career success. (Of course, he agrees that poverty, loneliness, social ostracism are paralyzing to fulfill potential.)

Aristotle understands that all those outer achievements are merely enablers to settle the mind, to access their resources for you to become …. the best version of yourself. And be an asset in relationships, in society, making the right dents in the universe.

{Place Ad here! Aristotle, if alive, I am sure, would sign up for the Building Resilience online program; he was a self-directed learner, a Carol Dweckian growth mind-setter.}

What would Aristotle have done on fathers day when mother did not receive her favorite cheese? How would Aristotle react to those that moved her cheese??

I do not really know, but my wife and I acknowledged the human failure element, and forgave readily. The owner/manager, was called over and he explained there was a major electricity load shedding during the night, and their systems of food preparation were severely disturbed. The fridge defrosted and the cheese was inedible. There were genuine apologies.

We learnt (about not jumping to conclusions); they learnt (to improve communication). There was a smell of dignity all round. We were becoming good. We left with stomachs fulfilled, and settled inner minds. We all ended up slightly better versions of ourselves.

Aristotle, up there, I am sure, smiled down upon us, here.

Dr Jonathan D Moch
Special Expertise In Optimizing Brain Health





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