Women In Wellness: Ariel Garten of Muse On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Do something for others — When you are in a bad mood or feeling depressed, one great hack to improve your happiness is to do something for others. It can seem like the hardest thing to do at that moment, but when you do, the act takes you out of yourself, your difficulties and your state, and allows you to do something that gives you a sense of mastery and control, not to mention connection and support to the person you are helping. They feel better and so do you. One of my best hacks for a good life is kindness to others.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariel Garten.
Ariel Garten is a Neuroscientist, mom, former psychotherapist, former fashion designer, and the co-founder and visionary of the highly successful wellness and tech startup Muse. Ariel and Muse have been featured in more than a thousand articles in publications such as CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Popular Science, New York Times and many more. Ariel’s mission in life is to help people understand how their brains work and to inspire people to understand that they can accomplish anything they want by understanding their own mind.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Sure! So my background spans arts, science, and business. I was in real estate since I was a kid. At university, I studied neuroscience at the University of Toronto where I had the privilege of working in the labs at Krembil Neuroscience Centre researching Parkinson’s disease and hippocampal neurogenesis. Concurrently, I ran a clothing line that I had previously started in high school. I was always able to move back and forth between art and science quite naturally. After graduating, I continued to work at the research lab while simultaneously opening my own clothing store and expanding my clothing line to small boutiques across North America.
As I sought out ways to understand the self from both a scientific and artistic perspective, I ended up working with brainwaves in Steve Mann’s lab. There, I developed what is now InteraXon. We initially created thought-controlled computing, however, upon realizing the incredible benefits this technology could have on well-being, my co-founders Trevor Colemen, Chris Aimone, and I developed the brain-sensing meditation headband Muse.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I’ve been lucky enough to have many fascinating stories over the last 10 years working in this industry, one of which involves Ashton Kutcher becoming my investor. I was at SXSW in 2012 where I asked a friend of mine from LA if there was anyone there I should be talking to for investment opportunities. She connected me with Troy Carter who managed Lady Gaga at the time. I then set up a meeting, got on the plane to LA, and pitched him. Troy really liked it so again I asked him if there was anyone else I should be asking for investments. This time, I was introduced to a friend who manages investments for Ashton Kutcher.
Somehow I ended up in his office telling him about Muse, how it will help people learn to meditate and the global impact it will have as a result. I left the meeting not knowing what would happen next. They ended up following up to schedule a final call with Ashton where he said he would love to invest in Muse! Ashton was very passionate about bringing meditation more broadly into the world. The biggest takeaway I would share from this experience is to never be afraid to ask questions. I would have never had such an opportunity had I not had the courage to ask.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my career when I was a naive, young entrepreneur trying to figure it out in the business world and how to work with investors and board of directors, I felt the need to always present a rosy picture of things. I believed that by doing so, I would keep people like that engaged and in support. As an engaged business person I learned it is always best to show what’s working and, most importantly, what’s not working, and to be completely transparent with investors and board members in a way that builds collaboration, trust and respect. Engagement is an important step in collaboratively solving problems and gaining the trust and support of your investors and the board.
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
At Muse, I’ve been able to combine my experience in art, technology, neuroscience, and business to provide a unique approach to wellness. Muse is essentially a brain-sensing device that monitors your brain activity like a heart monitor would monitor your heart. It then sends users real-time feedback on what their brain is doing moment to moment. As a clinician, I know a great deal about the power of meditation to make real change, however, I realized that meditation can be incredibly difficult for some. With Muse, I’ve found a way to make meditation easier for people so that they are able to experience the real benefits of the practice.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Sleep can be incredibly underrated especially for an entrepreneur or busy mom but good sleep really improves everything else such as: mood, cognitive function, and the ability to regulate your emotions.
Choose the same time to go to bed each night and the same time to rise each morning–ideally those times are 7–8 hours apart. When you wake up in the morning immediately do something that enables you to feel alert and alive such as standing by the window and taking in the morning light, doing some light stretching, drinking water and even dancing. These things improve mood and readiness for the day but also helps regulate your melatonin levels and your sleep/wake schedule.
- Meditation — We’ve all heard it before but a basic meditation practice really helps manage your stress, improve your focus and change your relationship to your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be hard–it’s as simple as taking 5 mins a day, sitting quietly, focusing your attention on your breath and when your mind wanders away from your breath, notice it’s wandering and instead of following that thought, return your attention to your breath. When you do this, a simple and fundamental transformation happens: instead of being caught up in your negative, wandering thoughts, you learn to let go of your thoughts and be able to come back to something neutral–your breath.
When you do this, you begin to realize you are not your thoughts, and you can actually choose the contents of your own mind. This leads to reduced stress and anxiety, as so many of our thoughts are negative and stressful. This is one of the single best things you can do for your mind and body.
- Gratitude Practice — As cheesy as it sometimes sounds, gratitude practices are key. They teach your mind to look for the positive. They encourage us to find the silver lining in life, even when it seems difficult. This trait is actually part of the definition of being resilient. Gratitude literally changes our neural pathways, making us more likely to find the positive. To do a simple gratitude practice, just look around the room and choose 3 things you’re grateful for at that moment. This can be done at moments of stress or anxiety, or any time. It’s nice to incorporate a formal gratitude practice into your morning or evening routine, as you’re lying in bed about to sleep or wake up.
- Believing things happen for you, and not to you. — This idea was a key transformation to me. In our lives, often things go wrong, and we say “why did this happen TO me?” This makes us feel like a victim of circumstance, like it’s beyond our control.
When you turn the phrase around and say “why did this happen FOR me”, it automatically re-frames difficult or unpleasant events as a gift that can allow us to grow, see new possibilities, and learn from or become stronger from hardships and challenges. Again, this is one of the traits that define resilient people–being able to grow stronger in the face of challenge. This idea puts us back in control of our own lives and narratives and allows us to have a better perspective on how we react to the world around us.
- Do something for others — When you are in a bad mood or feeling depressed, one great hack to improve your happiness is to do something for others. It can seem like the hardest thing to do at that moment, but when you do, the act takes you out of yourself, your difficulties and your state, and allows you to do something that gives you a sense of mastery and control, not to mention connection and support to the person you are helping. They feel better and so do you. One of my best hacks for a good life is kindness to others
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would make a tool that made meditation easier and more accessible around the world. Meditation reduces our scarcity thinking, our aggressions, our propensity to act out on our urges, our selfishness, our us-against-them attitude among other things. If everybody truly had a meditation practice and the self-regulation, insights, and wisdom that comes from it, there wouldn’t be wars and conflict–both inner conflict and interpersonal conflict. I truly believe If only everybody meditated the world would be a much happier place.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- It’s going to be hard. If someone had told me how hard it would be before I started, I would have never started. It was my sunny optimism that got me started on this crazy venture in the first place! I’m glad I learned how hard it was all on my own because if I knew what it would really take, I may not have ever done it to begin with.
- You will hear a lot of “No’s. I must have heard about 49 “No’s” before that first “Yes” for my Series A Round. Pitching a company is like any other sale. You have to find the product-market fit and an investor that suits you. With each pitch, you learn and understand what you need and you evolve, adapt and improve your product each time for the next investor. Through learning and refinement, I got to a “Yes.”
- Negative feedback is a good thing. Negative feedback doesn’t mean there’s something wrong or something bad about you. It’s a part of learning to make you better. I know it’s so hard not to take it personally, but it’s really there to help you learn and grow
- You are never alone. Although sometimes it might feel like you are alone, you are never alone in life or in business. There is a network of mentors, friends, and people who have done it before that are there to support you. You just have to reach out and ask them. When you are doing something good for the planet and the people in it, people want to help you.
- It’s OK not to do everything all at once. Breathe and relax as you go through it. Not only is it better for your mind and body, but it is more effective, efficient and productive to breathe and relax and go on your own timeline. It’s okay to not do and think about everything all at once. You are worthy of this.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Environmental changes. if I had a next start-up, it would be in environmental sustainability. It is ridiculous that this is a political issue at this point. We need to act wisely towards the precious resources we have on this planet if we are going to continue to call it home, in this generation and for many generations to come. We are already seeing the preventable effects of climate change, yet it’s not motivating our actions quickly enough, and we don’t have enough incentive-aligned solutions to make the easy choices make economic sense to people.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!