Mindfullness

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When BrainWise graduates are asked, “Which Wise Way do you find most helpful?” they frequently name  “Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain” and the “Emotions Elevator.” Further questioning reveals why.  Learning about the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain made them aware that they have control of their impulses, something they did not know.  This knowledge helped them understand how they could control their emotions and exit their Emotion Elevators.

WW #1

WW #1

WW #4

WW #4

Some BrainWise graduates give dramatic examples, such as the ex-gang member who backed out of participating in behavior that resulted in the incarceration of his homies, or the parents who said BrainWise skills helped them learn how to not hit their children.  Many BrainWise graduates cite problem situations and pinpoint the techniques they used to control their urge to react. They will proudly describe how they used their Wizard Brain to stop talking, leave the situation, use control self-talk, or find acceptable ways to redirect their emotions. Now that they recognize consequences, they see how controlling their reactions helps prevent problems.

Although techniques to redirect emotions don’t get mentioned as often by graduates of the program, they can be just as important.  For example, Mindfulness, Contemplation, and Meditation (MCM) techniques may be overlooked because they take more time to learn. Program users need to see this as a BIG MISTAKE!  These techniques have been scientifically proved to have significant, long-term benefits for health.

Mantras are a valuable aid that complement and enhance MCM. A word or phrase that you repeat over and over, silently, or aloud, “mantra” comes from a Sanskrit word that has the root, “man,” and means “an instrument of thought.” This definition is a great description for a technique that helps you use Wizard Brain thinking over the Lizard Brain’s impulse to react. How does it work?

Studies show that repeating a word or phrase over and over relieves stress and promotes bodily changes that have physical benefits. Detailed research has been published by neuroscientists Alex Korb, Ph.D. and Aviva Berkovich-Ohana, Ph.D. and her colleagues  The findings add further credibility to using MCM, as they explain the mantra effect and how it is related to controlling Lizard Brain reactions.

Previous posts have discussed the importance of addressing stress in our lives, including the wake-up call that Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) study gave us. Researchers were stunned to find the serious health consequences that stressful life has on our bodies, including earlier death. As a BrainWise user, you understand the importance of replacing Lizard Brain reactions with Wizard Brain skills. You know that using words or statements such as “stay calm,” “control,” and “wizard brain” help you build more neural pathways/brain connections that promote Wizard Brain thinking. Repeating a mantra over and over to build neural connections is one more way to help you use Wizard Brain thinking to control Lizard Brain reactions.

Establishing a mindset to use mantras and other MCM techniques effectively takes practice. It is a mistake to give up if you don’t see immediate results, as the positive benefits are lasting. The following example shows how a family got in the habit of using mantras. Their unorthodox approach shows how a personal twist can promote Wizard Brain behavior.

The public health nurse who worked with the family said its members struggled with multiple problems, including explosive outbursts. When talking about ways to exit the Emotions Elevator, he introduced mantras. When the nurse revisited the family, he learned that the family patriarch had chosen “popcorn” for his mantra, and he repeated the word over and over when things started to escalate. He found that it helped him defuse tense situations as he and his wife and children started laughing when he said “popcorn, popcorn, popcorn.” This novel approach worked, and the family started using humorous as well as serious mantras to lower their emotions.

Homework Stress

Homework Stress

As we learn more about research on the brain and the toxic effects stress has on our bodies, we are finding  ways that we can prevent  and manage problems.  BrainWise teaches coping techniques, and past newsletters have introduced  BrainWise instructors who have infused the 10 Wise Ways into their teaching and counseling,  as well as their mindfulness, contemplation, and meditation (MCM) practices (Link to October 2016 and April 2017 newsletters).

Scientists support the effectiveness of mind and body interventions.  Today, the techniques involved  techniques are embraced by athletes, astronauts, physicians, Fortune 500 CEOs, welfare moms, soccer moms, inmates, celebrities,  and others seeking a stress intervention.  And while MCM may seem like a simple process, it still is difficult for many us to practice it.

The deep breathing, focused attention, and abstract thoughts are not as easy as they sound, and often require expert guidance to learn and retain.  Without help, and even with help, they can be puzzling and

Work Stress

Work Stress

uncomfortable, conditions that make it easy to give up.   Some effort is needed to locate a good instructor, as they vary widely in their training. Finding the right fit takes time and effort, as well as money.  These barriers contribute to reluctance to become serious about learning MCM.

BrainWise helps bridge this gap, a fact that appeals to instructors who also are mindfulness and contemplation masters.  They recognize that using the 10 Wise Ways establishes strong links between body and mind.  The Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain lesson and “building brain connections” activity that follows  each wise way provides a visual reinforcement that helps everyone, even young children and  developmentally disabled adults, understand the connection between their brains and bodies.

Practicing Buddhist and BrainWise instructor Dell Brooks immediately saw the 10 Wise Ways as tools he could use to teach contemplation methods to high-risk teenagers in his classes, many of whom had returned to school after previously dropping out.  He found that students had learned about the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain and about building brain connections  were motivated to learn and practice contemplation.  His students recognized that MCM was a form of control self-talk that helped them lower their emotions elevator.

BrainWise also helps children, teens and adults recognize how a mantra – the repetitive use of word – can help them control their emotions to lower their Emotions Elevator and use Wizard Brain thinking.  In fact,”mantra” is based on a word in Sanskrit that means ”to think.”  People pick a number of simple words and statements such as  “Calm,” “Peaceful,” and “Happy,” or “You can do it!” and “Keep going!”

A BrainWise instructor shared a clever use of mantras that helped some combative parents in her caseload . When asked to pick a word that would help them lower their elevators and calm down, the couple happened to chose words that made them laugh.  When issues started getting tense, they agreed to use a nonsense mantra they had chosen.  For him, it was “Popcorn!”   This funny mantra defused the situation by helping them quickly lower their elevators.

Here are other tips for mantras:

Customize the mantra to fit the situation.  Whether you are giving yourself an emotional boost (“You can do it!”), want to get rid of anxiety (“Stay calm and carry on”) or are trying to go to sleep (“Sleep”), choose a word or phrase that fits the specific  situation.

Make it realistic.  “Breathe.” “Cope.” “Get through this.”

Select a favorite line or phrase from a song, movie, or book.  Pick a word or phrase that brings a smile to your face or makes your feel good.

Personal mantras  affect stress by lowering our cortisol levels, blood pressure, and numerous other reactions triggered by the Lizard Brain.  Placed in the context of control self-talk, individuals quickly understand  that using personal mantras is an effective way to lower their Emotions Elevators.

No Stress

No Stress

The March post shared examples of how BrainWise changes behaviors, and past newsletters presented data that show how BrainWise graduates have improved outcomes on measures of decision making and executive functions.

Dr. Judson Brewer

Dr. Judson Brewer

These successes would not surprise Dr. Judson Brewer.  Dr. Brewer’s research focuses on mindfulness training, a process he describes as teaching us how to focus on what is happening in our minds and bodies from moment to moment. He calls this experience “getting curious,” and says it helps us step out of “old, fear-based, reactive habits.”  His 2016 TED talk, “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit,” has been viewed more than 6 million times.

In BrainWise terms, he is talking about recognizing our Red Flag Warnings and then using Wizard Brain thinking to lower whatever emotions our problems trigger, including craving, anxiety, anger, excitement, and fear.  This awareness, which he calls a “step into being,” helps us manage our urges from moment to moment.  By breaking problems down and making them more manageable, they become easier to change.

He admits that this “might sound too simplistic to affect behavior,” but his lab research shows that “mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking.” He has gone on to successfully apply the approach to a wide range of problem behaviors.

The reception to his work and presentation is exciting!  Likewise, BrainWise users learn how to replace Lizard Brain emotions and reactions with Wizard Brain responses, a similar technique that alters problem behaviors. By using BrainWise CPR (Marty put link to summary of BW CPR here), program graduates learn that Red Flag Warnings prepare them to access their Emotions Elevator.  This process helps them control the impulse to react because it makes them aware that what’s happening in their bodies is connected with their minds and how they react.

Emotions Elevator

Emotions Elevator

In addition, BrainWise graduates learn to make further connections with the prefrontal cortex when they use their support systems, apply strategies that help them lower their emotions elevators, separate facts from opinions, ask the right questions, identify all their choices and the consequences of their choices, and communicate effectively. These additional skills not only provide a simple way to break a bad habit, they also are easy techniques that help us make lasting changes to improve our lives.

So the next time your Red Flag Warnings fly and your emotions shoot up your Emotions Elevator, recognize what is happening, and step back.  Assess the situation by using the 10 Wise Ways.  And as was discussed last month, use BrainWise CPR problem-solving worksheets to practice applying your skills.  It won’t be long before you are making better choices.

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