Retraining Your Brain Workshop
Neuroplasticity: You Can Heal Your Own Brain!
We used to think that the brain, once damaged, could not repair itself. Breakthroughs in neuroscience have shown that this is not true. Though individual neurons might be damaged beyond repair, the brain attempts to heal itself when damaged by making new connections or new neural pathways as workarounds for the damage. This is called neuroplasticity, neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability).
Which simply means that your brain is moldable!
My favorite neuroscientist is Daniel J. Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, is one of the world’s leading neurobiologists and psychotherapists. He founded the field of interpersonal neurobiology. He’s brilliant, and he delivers his wisdom in a captivating, poetic style.
Drawing on case studies, Siegel combines cutting-edge Western neuroscience research with insights from psychotherapy and Eastern meditation practices to show how we can observe and shape our own minds — an ability he refers to as “mindsight.”
His book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, along with others…changed how I treat clients!
My 3 favorite Mindsight ideas from Dr. Dan are:
The Seventh Sense
The Hand Model
The Seventh Sense:
We’re all familiar with the five primary senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. There’s also the sixth sense — our intuition, or the gut instincts that you feel with your body. Siegel argues that mindsight is our seventh sense. It’s the ability to pay attention to how our minds are working. Not only can we observe what’s going on in our minds, but we can also shift it.
“Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds,” Siegel writes. “It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in. It lets us ‘name and tame’ the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them.”
Think of mindsight as a lens that will help you focus on your mind’s workings with more clarity than you’ve ever experienced. That clarity will give you more control over your life.
“[Mindsight] allows us to reshape and redirect our inner experiences so that we have more freedom of choice in our everyday actions, more power to create the future, to become the author of our own story,” Siegel explains. “Another way to put it is that mindsight is the basic skill that underlies everything we mean when we speak of having social and emotional intelligence.”
The Hand Model of the Brain:
Make a fist, tucking your thumb inside your other fingers . . .
Palm = brain-stem “reptilian brain” regulates body functions including the immune system, keeps us breathing, reacts automatically to stimuli like light or sound. The brainstem receives input from the body and sends input back down again to regulate basic processes such as the functioning of our heart and lungs. Beyond controlling the energy levels of the body through regulating heart rate and respiration, the brain-stem also shapes the energy levels of the brain areas above it, the limbic and cortical regions.
The brainstem controls our states of arousal, determining, for example, if we are hungry or satiated, driven by sexual desire or relaxed with sexual satisfaction, awake or asleep. Clusters of neurons in the brain-stem also come into play when certain conditions seem to require a rapid mobilization of energy distribution throughout the body and brain. This so-called fight-flight-freeze array of responses is responsible for our survival at times of danger. These responses ideally work in concert with the more logical processes of the limbic and cortical regions.
Thumb = limbic system-center of emotions in the brain differentiates pleasure and pain, tells us what we want and what we fear! This “old
mammalian brain” works closely with the brainstem and the body proper to create not only our basic drives but also our emotions.
These feeling states are filled with a sense of meaning because of the limbic regions evaluate our current situation. “Is this good or is this
bad?” is the most basic question the limbic area addresses. We move toward the good and withdraw from the bad. In this way, the limbic regions help create the “e- motions” that “evoke motion,” that motivates us to act in response to the meaning we assign to whatever
is happening to us at that moment. The limbic area is also crucial for how we form relationships and become emotionally attached to one another. If you’ve ever raised fish, or frogs, or lizards, you know that these nonmammalian creatures lack attachment to you— and to one another. Rats, cats, and dogs, on the other hand, are equipped with a mammalian limbic region. Attachment is just what they— and we— do. We are hardwired to connect with one another thanks to our mammalian heritage.
The limbic area plays an important regulatory role through our endocrine systems involving hormones and influencing sexual organs, the thyroid and adrenal glands which is what moves us to the “high alert” energy position.
So, what happens when you drink, drug or overuse behaviors?
You are essentially training your brain, creating a stronger and stronger response pathway.
In addiction, the pleasure centers of the brain are hijacked by the addiction. Eventually, it is only the addictive behavior that brings the addict any sense of joy or at least freedom from pain. This is not only a biochemical process; drugs themselves affect the brain’s biochemistry, but also a process of habit. The addict’s brain becomes accustomed to the addictive act being the source of pleasure – not family, friends, a good meal, or a job well done. We can retrain the brain and we can rebalance the addict’s biochemistry, BUT, the old neuropathways, the old links between addiction and pleasure are still there. This is why we suggest complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol to addicts. It doesn’t take much to jump-start the old habit.
Fingers = cerebral cortex-“thinking brain”…our mind area which allows us to think about thinking, to imagine, dream and combine facts and experience or develop wisdom. It also can be trained to think too much!
But, the real magic happens here…
Fingertips = prefrontal cortex (PFC)-the area thought to be very important to identity, self-concept, and self-esteem; also an area that can modulate what happens in the limbic system or thinking to control our behaving! Our Mindsight!
Integration: The basis of interpersonal neurobiology…the act of connecting in the “in-betweenness of relationships. Eyes, ears, touch, smell…
Integration means health and wholeness. The brain wants all its disparate parts to work together. It is designed for you to feel whole and happy. In recovery, we help the brain reach that goal with whole health support.
Siegel’s mindset theory is based on three fundamental principles. First, mindsight is not an inherent trait; it’s something we can develop by focusing our attention in specific ways through practices like meditation.
Second, when we cultivate mindsight, we literally change the structure of our brains. This is called -neuroplasticity. With regular exercise, a healthy diet, and ample sleep — brain hygiene basics — we build the foundation for neuroplasticity, Siegel explains.
Finally, mindsight helps the brain achieve and maintain integration. “Integration enables us to be flexible and free; the lack of such connections promotes a life that is either rigid or chaotic, stuck and dull on the one hand, or explosive and unpredictable on the other,” Siegel writes.
“With the connecting freedom of integration comes a sense of vitality and the ease of well-being. Without integration, we can become imprisoned in behavioral ruts — anxiety and depression, greed, obsession, and addiction.”
These three fundamental principles are the essence of Siegel’s book. Let’s take a closer look at what integration is all about.
River of Integration
Like all rivers, Siegel’s river of integration has two banks: On one side lies rigidity and on the other lies chaos. Healthy people need both structure and spontaneity; these people tend to flow between the banks. Unhealthy people get stuck on one side or the other.
When we are cruising between those banks, we have what Siegel calls “FACES” flow. We are flexible, adaptable, coherent, energized, and stable.
“We can say that any healthy complex system has a FACES flow,” he explains. “When the self-organizational movement of the system is maximizing complexity, it attains a harmonious flow that is at once flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable.”
As we cultivate our mindsight, we enhance our flexibility, and focus on our awareness — consciously choosing to explore different areas of our experience rather than getting swept up or stuck in them.
Now it’s time to “SNAG,” or stimulate neuronal activation growth.
When we “snag” our minds, we create new neurons and synapses through processes known as neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. We’re literally rewiring our brains. The point of this rewiring is to achieve the natural human states of health and happiness.
Achieving integration is an ongoing process. Like any change you’re trying to make, it may seem difficult at the beginning, but its benefits make it a worthy pursuit. Here’s how Siegel describes the process:
“It’s like the old physics idea of pushing a ball up a hill to get it rolling down the other side. It takes considerable effort and deliberate attention to move beyond the initial ingrained, nonintegrated state — to push the ball up the hill. This is the intentional work of change. But ultimately the emerging mind takes its natural course toward integration, and the ball flows effortlessly down into the valley of coherence.”
Siegel’s methods don’t offer any quick fixes, but there’s a ton of hope in his work. By taking steps to reflect on our thoughts rather than react to or withdraw from them, we can boost our well-being.
So here’s to the patient, persistent effort required to push our consciousness up the hill so we can watch it roll down into the valley of coherence.
How to begin retraining your brain today!
- Increase your awareness of your negative thoughts!
- Define your “go to thinking style” google distorted thinking-what most people call the critical voice or overthinking
- Develop a “doable” daily practice to create space in your brain for something new to happen:
- Get quiet with yourself (awareness)
- Develop one mantra (thought replacement)
- Find an accountability partner (s) (5-day support post?)
In his book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Dr. David Burns outlines common negative thinking patterns, or cognitive distortions, such as:
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in terms of black or white, or in extremes. You either act in a way that you label as “perfect” or as a “failure.”
- I can’t believe I ate a handful of potato chips. I’ve completely failed at my diet. I’m a complete and utter failure. I may as well eat the entire bag now.
- Overgeneralization: Inaccurately concluding that one unpleasant experience will lead to a negative future filled with many more of them.
- I really thought I had that job. Now I’ll never land one and will be unemployed forever.
- Magnification (or Catastrophizing): Exaggerating negative details of an event and overemphasizing your own imperfections and fears, making things into a much bigger deal than they actually are.
- I fumbled over my words in front of all those people. They must think I am the dumbest person on the planet. My boss is surely going to fire me over this. Then what will I do?
- Emotional Reasoning: Believing that how you feel accurately represents the truth of your reality.
- I have felt so anxious and stressed out lately, which must mean my problems are pretty major and near impossible to overcome.
- Should Statements: Using “should” statements to motivate behavior when they ultimately leave you feeling pressured and frustrated.