Dr. Norman Farb

Professional Biography

Dr. Norman Farb received his B.A. from the University of Waterloo, his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and postdoctoral training at the Rotman Research Institute. His research focuses on the cognitive neuroscience of human identity and emotion, with a focus on how cognitive biases shape emotional reactions that determine well-being. His hobbies include yoga, frisbee, sci-fi novels, and reality TV shows about cooking.

See more at www.radlab.zone

Reflection Questions

Take a moment to feel the internal sensations of your body. What might your body need? What is it asking you for?

Have you ever experienced a ‘flow state’? What were you doing and what was it like?

How might flow states be beneficial?

Think about the differences between increasing bodily awareness by inside-out vs. outside-in methods. Which method do you use the most often? How might using more of the other method benefit you?

Which activities make you feel the most alive? Why might this be?

When do you most often notice yourself falling into unhealthy mental habits and/or ignoring your body? How can you begin to shake up these periods?

Thinking back on your day, how often did you listen to your body over your mind? What about your mind over your body? How do you feel about these choices?

Dr. Farb points out that having confidence in listening to our bodies has important consequences for wellbeing. How might you increase your confidence in interpreting your body’s cues?

Further Resources

The Mindspace Podcast #25: Mindfulness to Meaning: Listen to Dr. Farb discuss the hypothesis that the reason why mindfulness is effective is because over the long term it can change the foundational interpretations or meanings that we have about ourselves, the world, and the future.

How to Choose Between Beautiful Stories: Watch Dr. Farb’s talk at Mind & Life’s 2018 International Symposium for Contemplative Research

Farb, N., Daubenmier, J., Price, C. J., Gard, T., Kerr, C., Dunn, B. D., Klein, A. C., Paulus, M. P., & Mehling, W. E. (2015). Interoception, contemplative practice, and health. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 763.

Alexandra Fiodorova & Norman Farb (2022). Brief daily self-care reflection for undergraduate well-being: a randomized control trial of an online intervention, Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 35:2,158-170, DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2021.1949000

Introducing Dr. Norman Farb

Listen to Dr. Farb talk about his role at the University of Toronto.

Learning to Bring Attention to the Body

Dr. Farb talks about the importance of forming new habits by introducing new actions (eg. checking in with our bodies) to break up old habits. This takes time and practice, but building up our awareness from the ‘inside-out’ is a safe route that is available to us at all times. Conversely, we can build awareness from the ‘outside-in,’ which means engaging in experiences that heighten our bodily sensations (eg. trying something new, thrill-seeking, or substance use). This approach is riskier, but can increase bodily awareness when not misused.

What is Interoception?

Dr. Farb defines interoception as awareness of what is happening inside our bodies, as opposed to awareness of the external world through our senses (exteroception). He then gives examples of various ‘interoceivers’ that the body has. By looking closely at how interoception works, we begin to find that interoception and exteroception are not so easy to distinguish. Dr. Farb also points out that good interoception does not necessarily lead to wellbeing – it depends on context and the individual. 

The Value of Intense Sensory Experience

Dr. Farb explains how engaging in an intense experience can help to interfere with our ‘default mode network’ by breaking us out of mental habits. We fall into habits very easily because our brains prioritize efficiency, but this can lead to overthinking and a lack of ‘spaciousness’ in our lives. Intense experiences can have this re-set effect even without further reflection, but we do need to reflect upon our experiences and bring some intentionality to them if we want to use them to learn more about ourselves. Lastly, Dr. Farb discusses how intense sensory experiences can get us into ‘flow states,’ which happen when our expectations align with what we are experiencing. 

Listening to the Body

Dr. Farb discusses some scenarios where our bodies are primary sources of information, such as in interpersonal relationships or new experiences. When our bodily sensations don’t line up with our expectations, this can be very important information. If we constantly override our bodily wisdom with our mental agendas, this can lead to consequences. However, it is not about the body being superior to the mind; it is just about knowing when to listen to each of them. Dr. Farb also discusses some studies that have shown confidence in interpreting bodily cues as the main indicator of wellbeing, more so than accuracy. 

Bringing Energy to the Mind and Body During Class

Dr. Farb emphasizes the importance of balancing your state of arousal so that you are not overly agitated or falling asleep. Adjusting our posture is one simple way to help achieve this balance.