Truthfully, the human brain is built for change. It thrives on the constant stream of input pouring into it on a moment by moment basis. Each bit of data is a bite of food that nourishes and sparks growth and development. The ever changing environment and ongoing interpretation of our world provide a necessary stream of conscious and subconscious information that makes change both unstoppable and healthy.
But there are parts of the human brain that make it difficult to create change on our terms. It often leaves us feeling swept away in the tidal wave of change that can't be held back. One major part of the brain responsible for this action is a small structure tucked deep inside the core of the brain called the Amygdala.
The amygdala's role in our world is to color our memories with the paintbrush of emotion. Whenever you notice a feeling of warmth and love around the memory of a grandparent or a sense of fear and anxiety around a spider in your home, you're getting a glimpse of the Amygdala at work. And really, we're glad for this activity. It serves as a protective mechanism helping us recall dangerous situations and urging us to avoid them further.
"The Amygdala serves us by protecting us from potential danger. But it can sometimes hold us back."
Yet there are times when this emotional memory can act as a hindrance. During those times when you attempt to create positive change in some aspect of your life but are struck with fear, doubt, confusion, and anxiety it is most likely the amygdala stirring this response. Each movement towards something new and different sparks a cascade of memories about similar experiences from your past. Each one is met with the activation of the amygdala relaying a detailed emotional recall of how you felt before, during, and after those changes. If previous attempts towards change have been met with failure, disappointment, guilt, and shame (you can tell my personal favorites), stepping out to achieve that change can be extremely difficult while the amygdala is chattering endless warnings in your ear.
Consider this example. You want to lose weight. Another New Year's is coming and with it a fresh batch of resolutions. Most likely among them is the desire to drop a few pounds. You've read some books, created your grocery list, and are ready to go. But as the day approaches you feel apprehension amidst the excitement. You begin to worry that this year will be like all those before with initial gains outweighed by eventual demise. The sheer emotional frustration of it all has you unsure of how you'll succeed this time. What will be different? And what will happen to your confidence if you fail again? Maybe it isn't worth it. Maybe you should just learn to be happy where you are. Maybe everyone else is right and living "just ain't worth it" if you can't have your cake and actually eat it too.
All of these thoughts are messages from the amygdala. It questions and consults previous experiences and then portrays possible outcomes. Unfortunately, most of them are protective and negative. It's not very often that it shows us the upside of stepping outside our comfort zone. So what do you do?
Follow the ABCs. 1. Awareness 2. Breathe 3. Confront and Create.
With awareness you notice where in your body the memory or thoughts are coming from. Does it cause a tightness in your throat or knotting in your gut? Are you writing a story that seeks out all the potential hazards and things that might go wrong? Just notice. Once you do, move to Breathing.
Breathe with your belly. Inhale with the belly pushing out and exhale sucking the belly back in. Doing this immediately shifts the physiology from stressed to relaxed. It provides the brain and every other cell with high levels of oxygen that allow for clear thought and better decision making. Do 10 breaths in this manner and then move to part three.
Confront and Create. Confront the feelings or thoughts by determining if they're real or just a series of mind chatter. Then create the feelings and thoughts that provide the change and outcome you desire. Take the time to really feel the happiness, joy, and pride of your achieved goal in the very cells and tissues of the body. This creates a new circuitry for the amygdala to support and the body to achieve.
Your body and brain are built for change. Use the power of the mind and human form to step into a life that brings healing and harmony to you and your world.
Ever been stuck on a problem that you couldn't find an answer to? Maybe a problem at work evading a solution? Or can't figure out how to finish a project at home? We all face them at some point and they can leave us in that pulling-your-hair-out mode of frustration.
But there's actually some evidence that the best way to find the solution is completely opposite of what you might think. Instead of banging your head on the wall hoping a flash of genius floods your neurons, the best way to find a solution might be to not think about the problem at all.
Here's how it works. The unconscious part of your brain is constantly working on trillions of pieces of information. It sees, hears, feels, and catches the most minute things. Of course, you're only consciously aware of the smallest fraction. When you get stuck and force your brain to find answers it just bumps up against its own limits. And you get nowhere.
When you put the work away, something strange happens. Your unconscious mind continues hashing out the problem. While you enjoy a book, go for a walk, or clean the house your mind is still silently filtering through all the data like the programs that run behind the scenes on your computer. Doing another task and occupying your conscious mind gets the road block out of the way.
Suddenly, VOILA! Brilliance strikes and the answer is suddenly revealed. For me, mowing the lawn turns out to be where I do some of my best "thinking." In the end, what I'm doing is putting my conscious mind to work on something else and letting my unconscious brain consider way more possibilities and present potential solutions I couldn't see when I just kept thinking about it.
Ironically, the best way to find a solution to a "thinking" problem, is to stop thinking about the problem and try something else. You can always come back to it with a fresh look. Or just maybe inspiration will come and the answer will suddenly appear. It's not magic, it's science!
I once read that 2014 was called the Year of Mindfulness. The idea that we are able to find greater levels of health, vitality, peace, and joy by staying mindful of each moment is a popular one. But it is possible? No, really. On a brain level is present time consciousness possible?
At the outset, it's easy to say no. Consider any number of scenarios where are minds are almost anywhere else but "here." Sit with your family at the dinner table and see where you thoughts go. Drive to work and where does your mind wander? Heck, try meditating (an actual practice in presence and mindfulness) and you'll find that you're even more prone to scattered thoughts about to-do lists and such than you ever imagined. At least that was my experience.
But our great spiritual teachers all preach present time consciousness(PTC). Honestly, it can seem beyond elusive and feel more like an impossibility. My experience has been that the more I try to reach true PTC the further away I seem to get. And that's kind of the trick!
See, the act of trying means you've already put the present into the future. If you're trying to reach something, you're putting it outside of your current position. If it's outside of your "current" position than it can NOT be present! Which is why the harder I tried the more I failed....and became angry, frustrated, confused, upset, sad, and so on.
In the brain, PTC is measured in the form of focus. What aspects of the here and now are you giving your attention to and to what degree are you able to maintain that attention? Looking within your neurology this is found in a region called your anterior cingulate gyrus. When the anterior cingulate is active, it helps to maintain high levels of focus and attention. Pair that with a region called the Reticular Activating System and the combined effect boosts not only your attention, but motivation as well.
Speaking brain-wise, PTC can be achieved when the anterior cingulate and the RAS system are clicking and firing at their best. But how do we help them along? How can we get these 2 regions active within our own brains on a regular basis? And will that lead to more energy, peace, joy and love?
In my experience, the #1 thing any of us can do for our own PTC is a deep, slow, belly breath. One breath where you focus on the inhale and exhale for even moments, microseconds, builds the strength and plasticity of those brain regions. Repeat it 10 times, and they get stronger. This is why something like meditation can be so hard at first. You sit thinking you're about to enter into some super awesome spiritual realm and instead 20 minutes of total distraction trudges by. This process is what Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith calls "putting in your miles on the mat." Essentially, practice makes perfect...or at least improvement.
My own time putting in miles of meditation sitting in my home or elsewhere has led me to understand more how PTC works. With regular practice, continued openness, and significant patience, more moments of PTC start flooding in. And you'll know when they do.
Is Present Time Consciousness Possible? In every moment. But capturing it requires great attention. And in my experience great practice and patience. But I can also assure you that finding it in the smallest moments (my daughter's laugh, kissing my wife, a sip of wine, the feel of sunshine) leads to profound levels of what we all search for: happiness and love.
The brain is awesome. Filled with a dizzying labyrinth of cells and connections, it takes in huge our world and turns into something we can understand. But as amazing as it is, the brain likes to play little tricks on you too. Here are 6 tricks you might not have known your brain was pulling right between your very own ears.
1. You See Everything - 11 Trillion bits bombard your system every second. How many do you consciously recognize? 50. That's it. Which means all that you see, hear, taste, smell, and feel is just the beginning of what's out there. You are consciously aware of a staggeringly little amount.
2. You do See Everything....sort of - The remainder of those 11 Trillion bits outside of your conscious awareness don't go to waste. You respond to them through other ways. Ever notice your jaw clenched without realizing you were upset?
3. It Fills in the Gaps - How many of each animal did Moses put on the Ark? 2 right? Nope. Read the question again. Look at the name. If you missed it don't worry. So did I. The brain takes familiar information and fills in gaps. For example, it sees "animal" with "ark" and assumes you're talking about Noah.
4. Just Read This - I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.
5. You Think You Know - Ever knew something that you KNEW you KNEW only to realize you were wrong later on? Like mixing information together in #3, we group data in our brains in certain ways. Sometimes the "wires get crossed" and what we thought was right was a incorrect grouping of similar information.
6. Finds Middle Ground - Go the store and look at coffee. Of all the brands, you're most likely to choose the one priced in the middle. Not the highest (you're not a Rockafeller). Not the lowest (you do want some quality). You almost always pick right in the middle. Study after Study prove it.
Can you trust your brain? Yes, to a degree. Just remember that for everything you see - there's more to discover.
Growing up I can remember my mom had a collection of rose bushes on the side of the house. In full bloom they were beautiful and fragrant adding vibrant reds and whites to the landscape. But I also remember when she decided they needed to be pulled up. That meant my brother and I had to deal with the "other" side of the roses....the thorns.
It's a common saying that "every rose has its thorns." My question for you is whether you focus more on the thorns in life than the roses. Do you give attention to all the things that hurt you? Do you see the world working against you, bask in loneliness, and feel constant stress? Or do you see the beauty and majesty of life, even through the tough times, finding possibility and plenty to be grateful for?
As always, it is a choice. It may seem that we are hard-wired within our daily lives to focus on everything that's going wrong. But it doesn't have to be that way.Shifting our mindset from a negative bias to a positive outlook impacts everything in your life including relationships, business, and health. Here's how to make the switch.
Start by becoming aware of your negative thoughts. Check in numerous times during the day to see if you're anxious, angry, sad, or fearful. See if you're frustrated and angry on the drive to work or feeling depressed sitting in your home. Just this one singular act can begin to change everything.
Ask yourself what the outcome of that feeling will be. Vernon Howard calls it "counting the cost." Does anxiety and fear stop you from being open with people? Does anger make you rude and bitter?
Lastly, make the conscious decision to see the positive outcome. Focus on the rose and not the thorns. Find one thing to be grateful for.... and then another. Repeat this day after day and experience the awesome change a simple shift in focus can provide.
That summer pulling up roses was filled with scraped hands and bloody arms. I realize today during that time I only focused on the thorns. But I learned how to work with them and not them distract me from my goal. Look at the rosebushes in your life and see where your attention is drawn. Do you see a thicket of harmful thorns or the beauty of colorful roses?
If you go almost straight back from the spot right between your eyes you run into a small but enormously powerful brain center called the Hypothalamus. As a connector between the nervous system and the endocrine (hormone) system, it's already got a lot to do. But when you consider how this region works to transfer our thoughts and feelings into physical structures, it can reshape your entire understanding of our world.
Here's how the hypothalamus does this. It is a constant monitor of what's happening in the body. Taking in data related to hormone levels in the blood and neural circuitry it identifies and balances the physical environment by stimulating the release and development of hormones. Its most closely related structure in doing this is the pituitary gland.
As the hypothalamus picks up data, say the need for more thyroid hormone, it sends a hormone to the pituitary gland which instructs it to wake up the thyroid and make more thyroid hormone. When the hypothalamus gets information saying that the thyroid has indeed balanced itself back out, the hypothalamus tells everyone to chill out.
With our thoughts, we get a very similar scenario. Under fear, anger, or stress we send information to the hypothalamus that will then create a physical (in the sense of hormones) based on that condition. Those hormones then literally build the body based on that bit of data....fear, anger, or stress. Your thoughts have now become "things" in physical form.
Why is this important? Well, do you want a body built of fear, anger, or stress? Or would you rather build a physical form out of love, peace, and joy? I bet the choice is easy. And that's the best part of all, it's a choice!!!
Looking at brain function these two people most likely use different sides of the brain as a general rule. The Scientist thinks with his left brain searching for logical explanations that fit neatly into organized classifications. The Artist will be mostly right brain with a focus on creativity, beauty, and the feelings that come from his or her work.
In society, they often seem directly opposed. The “intellectual” left brain finds no legitimate purpose for feelings. It wants to know the “how” of it all. Having a tendency to focus heavily on left brain function myself, it often revealed itself as thinking that an art show was cool but pointless. When I heard an artist talk about their inspiration, I rolled my eyes and searched for the nearest exit.
Flip that and the “creative/emotional” right brain sees no purpose to understanding how something works without knowing what feelings it creates. It wants to know the “why” of life. As a teacher and chiropractor I see the look in those right brain leaning people’s eyes when I begin my explanation of how our body works. They might think it’s cool. But what they really want to know is how the global outcome and purpose.
Working from a differing point of view it’s easy to cast aside the other as someone who “just doesn’t get it.” Left brain make decisions and arguments based on rationale, observation, and measurement. Right brain people are living from gut instinct and intuition. The Scientist looks at the Artist and says, “it’s the processes of life that make you live.” The Artist regards the Scientist by responding, “it’s life and living that drive and give purpose to the processes.” Opposition ensues and so does misunderstanding.
Obviously I’m making a grand generalization here. Yet, I’ve been witness to many conversations that have had similar scenarios played out just like the one I described. Sometimes they’ve taken place in my own head. Some have resulted in heated arguments and stubborn retreats. Others have seen a beautiful merging between the ideas and found deeper insight on both sides of the brain.
What it takes for that to happen is a personal willingness to almost literally, see the topic from the other side. Commonly known as seeing someone else’s point of view. This requires engaging the other side of your brain, whichever that may be for you personally, and sending signals through the corpus callosum to integrate both logical thoughts AND gut feelings.
Here’s what I find really fascinating about this. While we may put scientists and artists in different brain categories (a very left brain practice!), they both use the other functional aspects of their brains more than they probably realize.
A scientist has to be extremely creative in the design, implication, and understanding of their experiments. They have to find ways to study aspects of nature that have never been studied. If no one’s ever done it, how do you know what to do? You don’t. So you have to create it which takes right brain approaches to left brain understanding.
Artists usually have the global picture of their art and its end result clearly in their mind before they ever put a brush to canvas. But now all across the United States people are taking one evening classes where other artists are walking them through a logical sequence of creating the overall masterpiece in three or four hours. They are breaking down the whole to recognize the progressive steps. Right brain merging with left brain.
We do this all the time. Yes, some people are going to be more directed one way or the other. My friend, Jay Wright, is a brilliant entrepreneur. He sees the big picture months or years down the road from a single, small project just getting off the ground. He quickly accesses and moves with his right brain to see the global idea and end result. Using a deep sense of awareness that he has cultivated through years of reading and self-examination, he has become incredibly efficient at seeing that big picture move through its progressive parts (more left brain). Now his business has a specific end goal that Jay already knows, plus a blueprint for how it’s going to get there. He’s followed this path with many businesses and has been incredibly successful.
So how are you going to work both sides of your brain? Will you find a way to be creative while analyzing something at work? Perhaps you can find a way to organize some abstract thoughts. Either way, by connecting and utilizing both sides of your brain, you'll gain more data and insight that will propel you ahead in work and in life.
Picture Credit: Gwydion M. Williams
Do you sometimes feel like your just make the same mistakes over and over again? Does it seem like all your good intentions for change are swept away into nothingness after a few hours, days, or weeks? Why is that and why do we get stuck in these ruts? Most importantly, how do we get out of it?
One of the reasons this happens on such a repeated basis is because of the brain circuitry we've set up to this point. Your brain is built on experiences. Whatever you experience or think about the brain uses to build its network. After doing something for years, you develop a well-grooved neural pathway. We usually refer to these things as habits. You may recognize them in that you tend to do certain things without giving it much thought....you just seem to do it.
This helps us in many ways. It helps us learn to walk, talk, read, and write. Our ability to seemingly never forget how to ride a bike is due to the depth of brain circuits built around bike riding. In order to ride a bike we had to engage areas of the brain for balance, coordination, vision, pedaling, steering, etc. It took a lot of effort when we were just learning. And all that effort is rewarded in our ability to "never forget."
But when we want to change something, these circuits make it tough. Trying to get out of a habit of eating a super-sugary snack before bed is tough if your brain is wired for it. Self-sabotaging actions, thoughts, and feelings can arise and block our progress. Even after stating a true desire for change, it takes just a moment for the old circuitry to kick in and leave us once again....making the same mistake.
"You can't create real change by just avoiding old habits."
How do we get out of it? Use the bike example. Engage as many parts of you as possible in experiencing the "new" trait you wish to have. We remember how to ride a bike (even if we're wobbly) because of all the areas engaged. Do this with a new desired trait and you build deeper wiring in the brain to support it.
Do this by following some basic principles like the four Rs: Recognize, Release, Re-frame, Re-train. Notice the habit you wish to change, then walk yourself through the steps. Engage more of your mind and body by feeling the success. Create a blueprint for your brain to work from as it moves towards that new circuitry. This is one of the big problems with most programs, they simply try to avoid old habits. You will automatically go back to your old ways without establishing something new for your brain to grab hold of. If you can get a sense of what your success would feel, taste, smell, look, and sound like then you give your brain a new image of possibility.
And from there you build a network to support your new ideals, and stop making the same mistake.
Every one of us has parts of our lives that we feel stuck in. It might be our career, finances, health concerns, or weight loss. There's one factor that I consistently find myself and my clients struggling with and repeating this same mistake makes it almost impossible to move ahead. That mistake is hiding from and pushing away the emotions and feelings that make us uncomfortable.
Of course, this makes sense. No one likes to feel sad, embarrassed, afraid, anxious, or angry. Instead we often hide ourselves from them masking these unpleasant feelings with distractions of our favorite choosing. We may eat to fill a void, tune out to the television, or scroll endlessly through facebook. But by doing so, we miss a precious opportunity to become UNstuck.
In those unwanted and hard to accept emotions is medicine. It is the solution to our problems. When we can identify with them and understand the lesson they provide we are given a powerful tool for moving forward. They become a platform for growth instead of a ceiling keeping us pinned down. Letting yourself experience and understand these feelings is an important part of true growth and the ONLY way we can actually make sustained progress.
Consider this example that I see in my practice almost every day. A person has a headache 4-5 times a week so bad they have to leave work early and can barely take care of duties at home. Their kids feel abandoned, their spouse alone, and their career suffers. They mask their pain each day with a steady dose of pain killers but the headaches keep progressively getting worse. But they don't feel they have the time or energy to really take care of the pain that holds them back.
Then they enter into my office and in less than a week they feel tremendously better. Suddenly, they wonder more why it took them so long to get out of their agony instead of doing something real for it and facing the problem head on.
I'm willing to bet you do this in some way. I know I do....and I'm constantly working to become more aware of it and handle it appropriately.
Become aware of when you hide or mask your negative talk. What do you hide behind as your fallback feel-good mechanism? Until you become aware of this you cannot create a change in the neural circuits of your brain. Yes, positive thinking works. But my experience is that true change only happens when we're brave enough to handle the "stuff" that makes us feel weak.
Get unstuck today by noticing one time when you cover your unhappy thoughts and feelings. Identify the choices that you make to avoid them. Then honor those feelings even by saying something like, "I know this is a lesson in some way even though I don't understand it." It's okay to not know the solution. Answers will come with acknowledgement leading the way. Now you can begin creating something new to grow from and build a brain to experience true joy and freedom