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Episode 3: Intellectual Wellness with Dr. David Blanchard

Updated: 4 days ago

David Blanchard
Dr. David Blanchard

Welcome to the Wellness in Every Season of Motherhood podcast where we explore what it means to achieve total wellness. I am your host, Autumn Carter. This podcast is geared more towards mothers, but we try to be inclusive of all here as we learn together to get us out of survival mode and into thriving during life transitions.

This is episode 3. Welcome Wellness Wanderers. Today we are going to be discussing intellectual wellness with Dr. David Blanchard. We will discuss why he thinks intellectual health is important, how his intellectual health has positively affected his perspective, his career, and his life choices. We will discuss how it ties into other areas of wellness, the signs of neglecting intellectual health, and what he does as a checkup for his intellectual wellness. How often he can strengthen and prevent a deficit in this area, among other things, so stay tuned.

Hello everybody, our guest today is Dr. David Blanchard. He is a friend of our family's and he is a program manager in the National Health Mission Area

at the Johns Hopkins University here in Maryland in the Applied Physics Lab.

He earned his PhD in medical chemistry at Oregon State University while working at the Center for Infectious Disease. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Blanchard.

Thank you.

You are going to be talking to us today about intellectual health. Why do you think it is important?

I think for me, intellectual health really is the desire to remain curious about the

world around us. I think there are a lot of ways to practice intellectual wellness, and these can be through the development of new personal hobbies or artistic pursuits or community involvement, or even more formal educational endeavors. But to me, the important thing is to stay curious about what interests us and then to find ways to learn more about those interests. I've definitely seen you do that over the years.

He is, for those who don't know, he is working on his second Masters currently.

Thank you. I'd like to think of myself as a lifelong learner. Back to your original question, why do I think intellectual health is so important? Actually, I think you really captured it well in your previous episode. Improvement in one dimension of health typically leads to improvements in other dimensions of health. And of course, the flip side of that coin is also true. When a dimension of health is neglected or marginalized, it can have a detrimental effect on the other dimensions of health. So of the eight that you listed, physical, social, occupational, environmental, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and financial,

to me, intellectual health is a dimension that seems to be neglected by people as we get busy, whether it's the result of stress at work

or the demands of a family or financial limitations or whatever. I think when people start to get busy, they find less time to read or they stop practicing the things that they do in their hobbies. And then it's just really downhill from there.

So maintaining intellectual health, I think is really important

because of the interplay with all of those other aspects.

I agree. How has your intellectual health positively affected your perspective,

your career and then your life choices? You can just kind of bundle all of that together if that works for you or do it individually.

Okay. Well, for me, I think that intellectual health

should really come naturally. When I look at all the dimensions of health,

intellectual and physical wellness should really be the ones that are the most fun. These are the things that we do when we have free time. So as an example, when I was a kid, I was outside all summer and was always learning about whatever was in my world. I learned how to ride a bike, learned how to fish, learned how to skip rocks and how to play baseball. And these are all things that are both physical and intellectual activities. Where I grew up it was really cold in the winter and my brother and I played with Legos, tinker toys and erector sets all winter. And these are really great activities, but they're purely intellectual activities. And so I think that some people hear intellectual wellness and they think homework or some other kind of school-based activity. But to me, it's really about being curious and doing the things that are fun. Play and intellectual health go hand in hand for me. Well, how this has influenced my career, I've been curious about a lot of different things over the course of my career, and it's benefited me greatly. I've had the opportunity to work on projects

that were chemistry-based and other projects that were biology-based, physics-based, engineering-based, and it's been incredibly rewarding to have been able

to work on all these different kinds of things. Simultaneously, I've met some truly brilliant people over the years who have changed the way that I see the world. There's a really great quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that says, "The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions."

And that's been my experience. It's really been the way that I've viewed my career and it's made my life and work that much more meaningful.

I really like that. How do you think it ties into the other areas of wellness?

You kind of already hit on this a little bit.

That's a great question. And I think that all of the dimensions of wellness

are interrelated, but I think that intellectual wellness can probably have the greatest effect on social, occupational, and financial wellness. I find for myself that in social settings, I'm instantly drawn to people who have interesting things

to say, things that are different from my own way of thinking, and people who have taken time to become well-read. So if you want to be more interesting in social situations, you need to put some time into your intellectual health. I already mentioned that for me, intellectual wellness has really paid tremendous dividends to me in my career. And I think that that's true for most people who actively work on intellectual wellness. I think another direct result of that

can be financial success. And so while intellectual wellness can influence

all the dimensions of health, I think that it has the greatest influence

on social, occupational, and the financial dimensions of health.

Well, I almost interviewed you for occupational wellness. So yes. (laughs)

What do you think the signs are that you are neglecting your intellectual health?

I think for me, that is, I first start to see the signs that I'm neglecting my intellectual health when I stop having interesting things to say to my family

and friends in social circles. If I hear colleagues or friends or family members

talking about something new or interesting and I don't know what they're talking about, then that's an indication to me that I'm neglecting my intellectual wellbeing. A couple of months ago, I heard a bunch of coworkers talking about chat GPT and it's this cool new artificial intelligence that can do your homework for you. And they were talking about all these amazing things that could do, and I felt really left out because I hadn't heard about it yet. I hadn't had a chance to play with it yet. And so I immediately went online and tried to get smart on it so that I could participate in these discussions. That's a good indication for me is that I'm behind my friends and coworkers and family when they're talking about interesting things. And I think the cool thing about the world that we live in today is that it's really easy to stay informed. There are books on audio, there's instructional YouTube videos, there are podcasts. There are just so many ways to learn new things and stay up to date on current events. It just really is a matter of making it a priority and no cat videos don't count.

I was just gonna say you can use chatbot to learn more, right?

Yes, that's right.

I definitely found that to be true when I went back to school.

I found that I could keep up with you in conversations for one thing. a little bit more. And I had a lot more to talk about within my marriage. It just, it exploded the amount of conversations that I could have. So I definitely agree with that.

Yeah, whenever I learned something interesting, I'm immediately excited to go home and share it with my wife or tell my brother or somebody that that I know is interested in that thing. And, and when you don't have that, again, I think that that's the indicator that you're, you're starting to neglect that aspect.

Yeah, for sure. And my husband and I, every time we leave having a conversation with you and your wife, we're always like, "Wow, we didn't expect it

to turn out that way. We always learn something new." So it's always fun.

What do you think it is for others when they're neglecting this area?

Oh, for others, it's likely to be somewhat different or maybe in a different context, but I still think that the clue is the feeling that you're being left out of a discussion or that somehow there's something that everybody else knows that you don't know, or maybe it's a feeling that others are doing interesting things

and you just recognize that you don't have that in your own life. I think that that's the indication for others that they might be neglecting their intellectual health.

I think about this a lot. It feels like people as they're aging

that it just comes to a certain point where all of a sudden they just seem to have dementia or to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And it makes me wonder a lot, especially in my degree, learning about how this area could help

prevent these types of things. It just seems like a switch where one day they just

don't have it as much anymore. That this could be a really good way to capture that, to keep from going down that path of where your brain is atrophying, where your brain is no longer that active muscle. What I learned about is that it's never too late, which I think is amazing. I went back to school older as a mom

and you're going back for your master's, younger, I'll call you younger. So it's just amazing. You have your PhD and you want to learn and you're going back for a master's.

Yeah, in a new area, something else I wanted to learn.


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What have you done or routinely do to check up on your intellectual wellness?

I think this is tricky. For physical wellness, it's easy to know when I'm getting out of shape. My pants don't fit. I'm out of breath when I go up the stairs.

emotional wellness, again, I think that there's some good indicators, I feel I can just feel when I'm falling short. And moreover, my family lets me know.

The joys of having kids.

Yes. Yeah, they tell you when you're grumpy, dad, stop being unhappy. Yeah. And I think that for financial wellness, there were some other really well defined metrics that let you know when you're falling short in those areas. But for

intellectual wellness, I think it's harder to know when you need some preventative measures. I know that the National Wellness Institute

uses an assessment on a scale of one to five, but for me, I really rate myself on a scale of one to three, which is really more of a scale of good, bad, or neutral.

Once I make an assessment, if I'm good, then I try to keep doing what I'm doing.

If I'm neutral, then maybe I try to add to the things that I'm doing, and if I feel that I'm doing really poorly in that area, then I know that I need to make some real changes. And the strategy that I use is, the strategy that I use for a checkup

is really goal setting. And I find that goal setting for myself is, in this area is the most important method for preventing lapses in intellectual health.

Typically I make goals sometime during the first week of January, and I'm really careful to write these out. I then keep track of my progress on these throughout the year. And so as an example, for this year, I have some specific goals for some songs that I want to learn on the piano. I take piano lessons and there's some songs that I want to learn this year. I also have a goal for the progress that I want to make on my master's degree this year that you mentioned. And then there are four books that I want to read. And so they're also on my list. And so I have this very specific, I know how many books I've read so far. I know how many of the songs I've made so far. I know which courses I've finished in my master's. And so being able to measure that progress against specific goals is important. And then besides just setting the goals, I also use semi-annual check-ins with myself to make sure that I'm making good progress and where I need to make adjustments. So it sounds funny, but these are meetings that I have with myself to really take inventory about the progress that I'm making. It's funny, I use the beginning of daylight saving time and the end of daylight saving time as reminders to see where I am. Those are nice 'cause they're six months apart

and they fit in at the three and the nine month period of the year, more or less.

although it seemed for a while they were changing when we would do day like saving time a lot. But there were good reminders for me to see where I am.

And I would go back and I would review that, that handwritten list and see where I was making progress and where I needed to make adjustments.

And I think that it's okay to start out ambitious and then scale down if necessary.

For me, I think that making some progress is better than making none. And I find that for myself, I usually bite off more than I can chew in January,

but also find that in December that I've usually accomplished more than if I hadn't set any specific goals.

For me, the routine checkup is looking back at the end of the year, what did I get accomplished and then setting new goals based on that in January. And then again, having those daylight saving time check-ins to see where I am.

I like the daylight savings part. And I also want to point out that my husband and I are taking piano lessons because you do. That's awesome. When we found out, oh, someone as an adult is taking them. I can too. I didn't miss the boat, you know, so to speak. It's amazing how it uses your whole brain. Like I can feel my whole brain being stimulated, not just one side or the other, depending on the activity I'm doing. I love it. Highly recommend piano for that reason. Or an instrument in general.

I think my piano teacher, a third of her students are adults.

That's amazing! What can others do to strengthen this area if they are in a deficit?

I think the first part is being mindful that intellectual wellness is important. We mentioned that all the aspects of wellbeing are important and the interplay of one to another, but recognizing intellectual wellness in particular is hard because again, I mentioned that the metrics for that are not always as obvious as they are for physical fitness or financial wellbeing or emotional wellbeing. Again, I think it's just harder to keep track. And so I mentioned earlier that I use specific goals and routine check-ins to gauge my progress and make necessary adjustments. And I think that that's a strategy that would work well for others.

But you have to take it seriously. The goals that you set need to really be like contracts with yourself. And the check-ins need to be real serious meetings, like performance reviews that you'd have at your job and where you sit down and have to be honest with yourself about how well you're doing in that particular area. But I think anyone who follows that template would be able to maintain good intellectual health. And whatever it is, I think it needs to just be a strategy

that you're willing to pursue for the whole year and be honest with yourself about the progress that you're making and then make adjustments as necessary.

Yeah, I think it's also important to realize where you're at in life and your capacity. If you are doing too much, maybe scale it down, make sure that it's something that really feels good for you.

And one thing that was really driven home during my career is smart goals.

And we will dive into that a little bit later. Basically, you are saying, I will,

and you are setting a measurement and you're setting a date that it will be

done by and you are totally visualizing. It's amazing to be able to do this.

So for me, I set them at the beginning of the year and I check in with myself every week and we do that as a whole family meeting where we're checking in with each of the kids, husband, family goals, couple goals, stuff like that. And it's been really nice. So that's also when we do what meals they are craving, what's going on for the week. So it's like a whole thing that we do as our family. And I find that it's very helpful. Another thing that I thought of is going back to some of the videos that I watched and some of the content that I read regarding this during my degree is that it's never too late to learn something new. And they were showing people who were maybe in their 80s that were playing chess

and that they were learning chess and playing it in the park and the whole video is around this and how we can mentally stimulate ourselves.

Okay, so we know how to strengthen it if we're in a deficit. What can we do to be preventative? I've seen several things that you're doing in your life to be preventative.

I think, again for me, the goal setting is probably the biggest thing that I do, but as you were talking it reminded me of my parents. I think that they have been great examples to me in intellectual wellness and that aspect of health. My mother is an example. She belongs to a literary club and she belongs to a quilt guild and she belongs to a drama club. And these are social events but they're also very intellectual. They read these books together, they get together, they discuss them. They enter the drama club, they get together and they pick plays and then act them out for each other. And the quilt guild, they're always learning

new skills, how to bind different quilts together, or how to do different kinds of stitches and new techniques for quilting. And so my mom was a great example to me of that. My dad was another great example. He was good at everything and had mastered so many different things by the time I was an adult. He was an expert in scuba diving and even taught scuba diving for a while. His career was as an electronic engineer, but he really got into jewelry making for a while and did lost wax casting, which is kind of a cool technique for casting gold and silver.

He was into remote control airplanes and built and flew all of his own airplanes. In his 80s, he got into 3D printing and he was just one of these guys that was again a lifelong learner and had all these different interests and when he got to the point where he was really good at it at something or felt that he had mastered it then he moved on to something else and I just think that that was one of the things like you mentioned before there's all this great research that's being done that shows if you keep your mind engaged that you're much more likely to to be able to stave off Alzheimer's or dementia or all of these other neurological disorders to much later in life.

My dad was very sharp and quick-witted up till the day he died into his 80s

and was continuing to do new things all the time. And I attribute that thirst for learning as part of what kept him so vibrant in life.

I can see that both your parents had an influence on you going to school and especially knowing some of the stories of where you started out career-wise and

where you are now, it's amazing to hear. Do you have any last thoughts on this area?

No, other than just to say that I truly believe in this and I believe what the things that we've talked about, I try to practice them to the best that I can in my own life and really do believe that it's made a difference in my personal life and in my career. And I just like to say thank you for having me as a guest. I really enjoyed myself and I hope that my comments were helpful.

They were, and thank you for your example and for sharing it with everybody on the podcast.

The National Wellness Institute uses the following self-assessment for intellectual wellness, as do other colleges.

It says, "Considering where you are at in your life right now, indicate your level of agreement with each statement listed below. One is almost never, two is rarely, three is sometimes, four is often, five is almost always.

I am inspired to explore a variety of stimulating, innovative, and creative activities. My agreement score, that's one - five.

I regularly engage in interesting and stimulating learning opportunities. My agreement score.

I willingly acknowledge my own errors and see them as opportunities to learn and grow. My agreement score.

I use trusted resources to stay informed about local, regional, national, and world events. My agreement score.

I regularly immerse myself in intellectual pursuits with energy, focus, and genuine interest. My agreement score.

I take regular breaks and am committed to relaxation as a way to recharge my brain. My agreement score.

On a scale of 1, low, and 10 high, how would you write your overall satisfaction with where you are in this dimension?

Here is a coaching question that I really like that goes along with this.

If you continue in this present state of health, what will your health look like and how will you feel 5 years down the road?

How about 10 years?

I hope this helps give you an idea of questions that you can ask yourself to really get an idea of how you're doing in this area, as well as listening to Dr. Blanchard's really great insight about intellectual health.

To summarize, I had the opportunity to discuss intellectual wellness with Dr. David Blanchard. During our conversation, he shared why he believed intellectual health was essential and how it positively influenced his perspective, career, and life choices.

We explored how intellectual wellness was interconnected with other areas of wellness, he highlighted the signs of neglecting this crucial aspect of our lives.

Dr. Blanchard also discussed the measures he took to maintain his intellectual wellness and how others could strengthen their intellectual health while preventing undersupply in this area.

Our discussion provided valuable insights into the significance of intellectual wellness and how it can impact our lives in various ways.

Next week we'll have another special guest so please subscribe to know when the latest episode drops.Thank you!

Thank you for joining our wellness discussion this week with Autumn Carter.

If you liked what you heard, follow me on Instagram @momswellnessineveryseason to keep up with the latest wellness tips for moms.

Please share the podcast love with others by sharing, subscribing, and leaving a review wherever you listen to podcasts. If you want a topic covered in more detail or a free coaching consultation, please DM me on Instagram or send an email through my website, I look forward to connecting with you. Please join the discussion next week.

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