The Connection Between Brain Function, Behavior, And Your Emotions

There are three parts of the human brain, referred to as the "triune brain." Paul D.MacLean, an early research director for the National Institute of Mental Health, postulated the Triune Brain Theory. It states that the human brain is a product of three stages of evolution and is actually three separate brains that have evolved into one brain over long periods of time.

Three Parts

The first section [the lowest portion of the brain] is comprised of the top part of the spinal cord, the medulla oblongata, the pons, and the cerebellum. MacClean calls this “the reptilian brain.” As he stated, “at its base [the human brain] was a variation in the elaboration of the reptilian brain."

The limbic system [located in the mid-portion of the brain] states MacClean, "was an elaboration of the new mammalian brain from the Jurassic period". He termed it the "mid-brain" or the neo-mammalian brain (new mammal).

The upper most and largest part of the human brain, the cerebral cortex, encompasses our logic centers, our "intellect." MacClean termed this portion "the neo-cortex" (new cortex).

Fundamental Behavior

The Reptilian or "vegetable brain" [recall the autonomic nervous system functions], is fundamentally concerned with homeostasis, which is involved in regulating all of the body functions that allow each of us to be human, get up every day, and live our lives. If you do not have a well-functioning lower brain, if you have a tumor, if you have a trauma, if you’re in an accident, if something happens to your brainstem, you may no longer have the capacity to control the day to day homeostatic functions to maintain your life.

Interpreting Information

Embedded inside the Limbic System is a structure identified as the Reticular Activating System, which has pathways as well as neurons traveling throughout the lower brain, up through the medulla oblongata, across the Limbic System, and into the Neo-Cortex or the "thinking brain".

The Limbic System and Reticular Activating System interpret sensory motor messages that are "incoming" from the person's environment. It is in this portion of the brain that we not only interpret the "incoming stimuli and information," but we also select methods for survival and adaptation.

Here is where it gets exciting to put the anatomy and physiology of brain function and the psychology of personality together!

Putting It All Together To Survive

We know the neo-cortex is our thinking, intellectual brain – our "smart brain" – and most of us know individuals who are brilliant academically or intellectually yet they are emotionally dysfunctional in the extreme. Our thinking brain would presume that being "smart" or intellectually capable would exercise dominion over one's emotions, however, the missing piece of information here is that our emotions actually are a survival adaptation mechanism that each of us individually develops as we process our early environment and social conditioning. Nothing is more powerful in the human being than its drive to survive! Hence, our emotions win the day in the battle between thinking and feeling.

It is critically important for each of us to understand that our emotions represent how we learned to adapt in our surroundings and environment, especially during the first 0-5 years of our development. Our familial "input" taught us, as did Pavlov with his dogs, how to respond to the stimuli we received as infants and toddlers.

Your Brain And Relationships

This embedded neurological conditioning is not overcome by the thought process, as the thought process for humans is the "newest" component to our primordial brain. It is in the adaptive portion of our brain where we form our "personality" and where we become conditioned to create and interact within relationships.

When we understand the possibility that the interpersonal issues that frustrate us may come not from "being difficult" or having "bad intent" but rather from our drive to survive and our interpretation of the stimulation and environment we were conditioned by, then we can begin to be "kinder and gentler" towards ourselves and others.

In summary, our emotions are the way we learn to live and survive in our world. We cannot "think them" into changing, but we can step back and appreciate the service and challenge they offer us in our daily lives.

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
888-354-4325 Take charge of your health!

Mastering New Beginnings

"Happy New Year" is a greeting that fills us with anticipation, excitement and hope. The anticipation is for the new beginning we feel as the ball drops and we say good-bye to the past and look forward to the future. Our excitement is for the many possibilities that may lay ahead in the coming year and the hope is for a better twelve months than those that came before.

What are some simple, positive and productive actions we can take in this New Year that will support our optimistic January resolutions?

Clean The Slate

Cleaning and organizing your home space is one of the most positive ways to start the New Year. It has been shown in numerous studies that a clean, organized environment provides a sense of relaxation and calm and also helps us to be more productive because we are more organized. This results in a more efficient work or study outcome.

Spend Less

Commit to spending less and saving what you don't spend. Setting a goal of saving a realistic amount of money each month and achieving that goal by spending that much less is an empowering and satisfying way to take more control over your finances. It also reinforces the idea that you can transform your saving/spending patterns without much stress and strain.

Eat Better

Eat less processed foods and more living foods – this is not only a healthy resolution but also a cost saving one as well. We as Americans enjoy an abundant lifestyle and have the highest obesity rate in the world to prove it. By focusing on life-giving, plant-based foods, we nourish our bodies. And, we save a lot of money by not buying high priced processed and often non-nourishing "foods."

Give Back

Identify an organization, charity or cause that you can either provide a small but heartfelt donation or voluteer time to. Participating in meaningful assistance to others is rewarding on many levels and is good for our health as well as our sense of contribution.

Each New Year is an opportunity for a new beginning…and life, it is often said, is a series of new beginnings.

 

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.
888-354-4325 Take charge of your health!

The Value Of Truly Listening

Listening to another person lets them know that you value what they have to say and what they think or feel. All people want to be listened to, and sometimes it is the only thing they really want from us. The most precious gift we can give to another person is our full attention – looking at them and sincerely listening to what they have to say. 

The Joy Of Being Heard

We have all had the experience of being listened to by others. The more sincerely and attentively they have listened, the more valued we feel. This is an essential human need to be listened to and to know that our contributions are valued by others.

When Problems Arise

Not being listened to and not being valued in this essential way is the cause of many problems in relationships of all kinds. From couples, to work, to family and children, we see that when people do not take the time to nurture their relationships with mindful, present listening – the relationship declines.

A prime example of this is when we first begin a romantic relationship and we listen to every word our beloved is saying. You can see the same couple out at dinner 5-10 years later, sitting across the table from each other with nothing left to say. This is because the essential communication between the two of them has been damaged.

An Easy Solution: Listen Closely

We damage these relationship communications when we stop listening to the other person but rather think about what we want to say next or what matters to us rather than providing quality attention to them. As a relationship professional, I can share with you that if you want to make just one change in your relationships to truly improve and enhance them, start by listening to the other person. Look them in the eyes and let them know you are there, being present to what they have to say.

FREE Whole Health Consultations available.

888-354-4325 Take charge of your health!

Is Social Media Damaging Your Work Environment?

pexels-photo-218536

When most of us think of an unhealthy work environment, we visualize “sick building syndrome,” difficult staff members, or the classic “boss from hell.”

After attending a conference populated by a number of staffing agency directors, I recently received an insight into the latest unhealthy work issue that is getting the attention of a lot of organizations: obsessive social media use while on the clock.

Resulting Social Issues

It is becoming such a concern that more and more companies are having their computer networks re-tooled to block Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites on office computers.

How much of a problem is it that a significant number of younger-generation workers, who were raised on personal electronics, cannot stop checking their Facebook and text messages while they are on the job and being paid to spend their time attending to the tasks at hand?

That employees are noticing and becoming concerned that this trend is affecting their productivity and even their bottom line. This says something important about the current immediate communication impulse and what is being called “the narcissistic tendency” we are developing as a culture.

Staying Focused On The Job

The focus and integrity to attend to the job we are expected to be doing and the ability or willingness to not pay attention to ourselves when we are getting paid to be working seems to be lacking today more than ever before.

Cellphones, emails, text messages, social networking and other electronic forms of communication have begun to hold our attention prisoner–even when we are on the job. Not only is this unfair to the individual or organization paying our salary, but it also sends up a red flag. We are growing more and more self-absorbed.

Can someone be healthy when overly concerned about the moment-to-moment activities of life? There are (most commonly in humor columns) reported Facebook posts by individuals who record practically every minor act and event of their day, posting them publicly for all their friends and fans to read.

Infalated Narcissism

Is it true that we are becoming a narcissistic society, so unable to pull ourselves away from the details of our lives that we no longer put in an honest day’s work?

Health is made up of many things. Being productive, making a contribution, working hard and enjoying what you do are all part of a healthy lifestyle. If social networking and electronic communication are pulling you further away from a balanced and healthy work life, it may be time to unplug and unlink.

Finding fulfillment and feeling commited to what we do in our work as well as how we do the work are important parts of being a productive, contributory, healthy, happy individual. Not only is excessive electronic communication often overly self-centered, but it can also distract from other essential aspects of a balanced life. That’s something to consider.

For a free download of the bestselling, award-winning book Changing Behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.

Dealing with Difficult Relationships During the Holidays

anger-clipart
The December Holidays are just around the corner. Some say “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Or is it? For many of us, the holiday visits back home to family members is something to be dreaded. While we look forward to the pleasure of celebrating these festive times, there is also the memory of past conflicts and the very real possibility of new confrontations that we find ourselves anxious to avoid. We can tell ourselves that this is the year we will not get stressed out or upset with visits to or from our families. This is what we strive for yet, most often, not how things turn out.

In is common, according to Dr. Jeffrey Fine, Ph.D., Director of the American Foundation for Conscious Parenting that our families can be “a breeding ground for repressed resentments and hostilities left over from childhood.” (Link 1) We might anticipate that once we have grown up and moved away to create our own lives and families that these feeling would diminish but, as many of us experience, unfortunately they do not.      

One potential solution to transforming the holidays from stressful to joyful is the application of identified communication skills that have been researched and shown to facilitate changing difficult relationships. Behavioral Engagement is a 12-step set of communication skills that has been the subject of hospital pilot studies over a 32 year period. (Link 2)

The outcomes of these pilots showed the participants experienced a significant improvement in their relational outlook and attitude after interacting with the communication skills model. (Link 2)  Originally developed to enhance relationships between doctors, nurses and patients, the model was also applied and studied with business and family relationships.

 James Prochaska, PhD, renowned researcher on behavior change and author of “Change for Good – the Six Stages of Transtheoretical Change” says of Behavioral Engagement that “The process of Behavioral Engagement has the potential to transform relationships that are suffering or struggling to ones that are thriving!”

Generally, one of the most recommended approaches to staving off holiday conflicts is to “try and accept family members or friends as they are”. (Link 3) Unfortunately, this good intention can be easily side-lined without specific communications skills that can help keep us on track. 

The 12-Step Model of Behavioral Engagement that Dr. Prochaska endorses offers specific, easy to learn, communication skills that have been proven effective in changing conflicted relationships into compatible relationships based on the understanding that we all want to be valued, respected and listened to.

The steps are based on physical, psychological, hormonal and neurological aspects of human relationships and communication. They start with the understanding that while we cannot change others behavior we can change our own behavior in how we relate to others, which can result in a transformative outcome for all participants. 

We can do so by using specific, simple communication skills and following the steps that have been shown to be effective in creating greater receptivity and generating more positive emotions in relationships that have previously been conflicted or stressful.

If you have experienced or are anticipating challenging relationships during the holidays, you may wish to apply these easy steps and see if they can assist you in having happier and even healthier holidays.

Step One – Be physically comfortable when communicating. This removes discomfort that can distract providing your full attention to the person you are speaking with. Distractions reduce your focus on the person you are speaking with which decreases receptivity which sends the message that you may not be listening to them, which can flame the fire of resentment.

Step Two –Understanding what you want. Our intentions are powerful behavior motivators. By understanding what we want from an exchange with another can assist us in communicating more clearly our thoughts and feeling, inviting greater understanding and intimacy. Example – “I really want to understand what you are unset about.”

Step Three – Centered Body Posture. Uncross arms and legs, present open, receptive body language. To send the message that you are respecting the conversation and giving the other person your fully attention, do not play with your watch, glasses, hair or continually look away from the person you are speaking with. Committing to being focused is an important element in communication and sends the message that you value your time with the other person. We can all feel when someone values being with or speaking to us.

Step Four – Sustained, Soft Eye Contact has been scientifically proven to stimulate oxytocin which opens emotional centers of the brain and enhances trust (Link 4) and feelings of love and intimacy.

Step Five – Respectful Inquiry. Asking rather than telling or directing, and using “I” statements rather than “you” statements, creates a safe, non-judgmental environment for the other person to communicate openly.

Step Six – Responsiveness. By using appropriate responses, such as facial expressions, smiling, head nodding and so forth, indicates you are responding to and understanding what the other is saying without interrupting or interjecting. This acknowledges the value you have for their communication.  

Step Seven – Pauses between responses, allowing for silence between statements. Instead of immediately speaking as soon as the other person is finished, allowing for appropriate silence when someone has shared a thought or feeling with you is an important part of the experience of being respectfully listened to. It is also a component of being truly present to them. 

Step Eight – Non-Judgment. By not allowing your unspoken mental and emotional judgments to invade your attention, you eliminate the unconscious communication that is sent through subtle and gross body language. Unconscious, non-verbal body language is something most of us pick up immediately. They can make or break your communication and relationships.

Step Nine – Leave the ego at the door. Eliminate the push-pull or power struggle of previous relationship interactions by letting go of taking control of the communication and allow for equity between you and the other individual.

Step Ten – Re-Centering when you start to lose focus. Mentally repeating simple words you identify as prompts to get you back to the focus of the conversation is a quick and effective way to get yourself re-centered in the exchange. Example: “back to focus” or “get-centered”.

Step Eleven – Collaborative mindset. Working towards having a win-win outcome eliminates conflict and improves the quality of the relationship in both the short term and for the long term.

Step Twelve – Sacredness of Relationship – Sacredness means “worthy of respect”. When we are aware of appropriate verbal and behavioral boundaries within our communications, we hold the other person in high esteem and create fulfilling, lasting relationships.

When dealing with family holiday conflicts it can be helpful for us to try these simple, proven communications skills, but also to reflect on the wisdom of the question – “would you rather be loved than be right?” Often times when we elect love over being in control or being right then our relationships shift for the better. You can download a free excerpt of the book on Behavioral Engagement by visiting www.changingbehavior.org

Link 1 http://www.leecountytimes.com/why-families-fight-during-the-holidays/

Link 2 http://www.wholehealtheducation.com/news/pdfs/PubMed_ImproveDelivery_2005Mar.pdfep 1   Link 2 http://www.wholehealtheducation.com/lemuel-shattuck-hospital

Link 3 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/stress/MH00030

Link 4: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17888410    
              http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20047458  
              http://www.news-medical.net/news/2008/02/11/35124.aspx

Better Health and Optimism from a Cookie?

When was the last time you cracked open a fortune cookie?  Those little slips of paper, filled with uplifting, motivational messages, always seem to brighten our days.  Snippets of inspiration such as “you will be sharing great news with all those you love”, “be patient – success is near” or “happiness awaits you” get posted on our bulletin boards as a reminder of possibilities yet to come.  These little harbingers of imagined visions or destiny spur us on and make us think, “what if it really could happen?”

By taking that one minute out of your day to pause and reflect on the fortune cookie’s positive message, you might suddenly stop and realize – this may be the first affirmative message you’ve received all day!  Amidst the hustle and bustle of looming deadlines, grid-locked traffic and disgruntled coworkers, somewhere from the vastness of space and time, this little paper has provided a ray of light and a reminder of those filed-away visions and dreams.

But this seemingly random and well-meaning message invites an even deeper question:  What are we getting from these little fortune cookies that we are not getting in our day to day encounters that may be essential to our spirit, our sense of well-being and even our health?  When was the last time you got this kind of a message from your friend, or from your partner?  Positive reinforcement can relay a possibility of hopeful outcomes or imagined dreams being fulfilled.

Optimism has been shown to be an important part of good health and wellness. Without such sparks of inspiration or encouragement we can tend to forget that life can be more than just the daily grind of work and responsibility. We can lose our optimism, our wide-eyed wonder at things which inspire us, lift our spirit or open our hearts.

There is something significant to this power of suggestion and optimism. Reasonable optimism has been scientifically proven to impact nearly every aspect of our lives – from living longer to doing well on a test, to enjoying success in our work.  Likewise, pessimism has been shown to contribute to feelings of depression, illness and withdrawal from the world.1

We can all become someone’s fortune cookie message by bringing hopeful messages to those around us. We can offer words of encouragement to a coworker struggling with a tough project.  We can give our spouse-partner a shoulder rub and tell them how much we appreciate having them in your life.  We can share moments with each of our children and let them know how great their latest efforts in school are or how much you enjoyed the dinner they prepared, or how well they did at soccer practice.

We can choose to be a person who communicates just how special and valued others are in our life, and reinforce their deeply-held hopes that good things will come soon.  By sharing meaningful communication and hopeful affirmation with those we love, our words become a soothing balm that makes the bitter stings of the bad news and turmoil in our everyday lives not so disappointing.

  1. http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/03/05/us-optimist-health-idUSTRE5247NO20090305     Optimists live Longer Happier Lives

Handling Conflict in Relationships

Conflict in relationships is inevitable, but the way we handle and respond to it is not. Some of us try to avoid dealing with conflict, while others want to immediately resolve things head on. Instead of trying to avoid the conflict, it can be constructive to objectively write down our thoughts and feelings and share them with the other person in a way that expresses how we feel, and in a style that makes us comfortable, such as possibly in a letter, a greeting card or by e-mail.

For those of us who tackle conflict “head on”, it can be helpful to take a step back and discern if this issue is something that must be resolved immediately, or can we give ourselves time to process what has occurred and see the conflict from the other person perspective.

Respecting your partner’s or friend’s experience of a particular conflict doesn’t mean you “go along to get along” or that you should not express your own experience or feelings about it. It does mean that you respect and consider the other individual’s unique experience of what has occurred and that they want to be seen, heard and valued just as much as you do.

By being open to accepting what the other person is feeling and what they have experienced, you send the message that you sincerely care about their feelings. And, while you may not agree with their feelings, you bring integrity to the relationship that allows them to be who they are and express how they feel in a safe and non-hostile environment.

Would You Rather Be Right or Be Loved?  An important question to ask ourselves when we are dealing with conflict in a significant relationship is would we rather be right or be loved. This is a simple litmus test that can help us to find a balance and a win-win situation for both the parties in a conflict, and also allows us to reflect on what is important in both our life and in our relationships.

Communication is a key to successful relationships and to solving relational conflicts. For a free chapter download to better understand why others behave as they do (and why we behave as we do) as well as for well-researched information about how to improve your relationship communications, visit www.changingbehavior.org.

 

Genes and Physical Attraction

During the summer my apple trees, with their sweet droppings all about the orchard, produce an enormous population of fruit flies. Apart from being occasionally annoying and making a bit of noise, they would not be a topic to capture one's attention. At least I never thought so, until I read a fascinating study about fruit flies that indicated our gender may be largely connected to our genes.

Geneticist Barry Dickson and graduate student Ebru Demir, of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, Austria made a small change to a genetically altered gene that they engineered into female fruit flies. This very specific gene alteration that was integrated into the female flies would always produce male fruit fly protein.

The genetically altered female fruit flies behaved like amorous male flies – perusing other female fruit flies and wooing them with the species elaborate courtship display. This gene altering and its subsequent behavioral results were reported in the scientific professional journal Cell.

The engineered females rejected males that tried to mate with them and began to imitate the multi-step male courting dance which is truly fascinating but a bit too racy to describe in this article – I am not kidding! The two scientists hypothesize that the altered genes set into motion a cascade of genetic changes to re-program the female fruit flies sexual behavior.

One of the most spell binding books I have ever read about behavior and genetics is Melvin Konner's brilliant and stunning book, The Tangled Wing. His book is about humans and not fruit flies. So, if you are fascinated by how our amazing hormones and genetics create and effect our thoughts, behaviors and even sexual preferences, this book is a must read.

It is also an amazing book to read to better understand the wide range of “masculinity” and “feminine” behavior that exits in men and women. When we explore the science of how our brains function through our biochemistry and how this biochemistry is in control of the actions and behaviors it helps us to be more understanding and compassionate about ourselves and others.

The renowned behaviorist, B.F. Skinner, stated many decades ago that our hormones were the most powerful movers of how we lived our lives. More recently, Candyce Pert, PhD, author of Molecules of Emotions, has done the research that demonstrates exactly how the brain’s neuropeptides achieve our behavior outcomes.

For those interested in the subject of behavior and brain function, Melvin Konner’s and Candyce Pert’s work is highly recommended. For a free download of the bestselling, award winning behavior change book, Changing Behavior, visit www.changingbehavior.org.

 

What Happens to Relationships When We Don’t Feel Understood


When couples are asked what it is in their relationship that makes them feel fulfilled, the answer is inevitably that they feel “understood and cared about”. Contrary to what many of us believe, having misunderstandings is not the problem in our relationships. It is not having a misunderstanding that is what creates bad feelings and unhappiness in relationships, but rather not feeling that the person we are most intimate with and care most deeply about doesn’t understand who we are and what we are feeling.

In order to feel loved we must first experience that others understand us and regard us as good and valuable human beings. If our significant others do not understand or get who we are and how we feel, that leaves us with a feeling of being misunderstood. It can also lead to our feeling alone because only someone who truly knows us, rather than just thinking they know us, can truly love us for who we actually are.

When we are in a relationship we do not want to continually explain ourselves to another person, or justify our values, beliefs or the choices we make in our lives. If after a time, that person cannot be really present to us, listening to what we have to share and sharing their own thoughts and feelings, the relationship quickly deteriorates. This is why one of the important focal points in good couples counseling is learning what is called “active listening.”

The main purpose of active listening is to let your partner know that you are truly listening to them and that you are really “present” to them as well – that means they have our full attention.  And by giving them our full attention, we can more authentically understand how they feel and what their point of view and opinions are about the important discussions that make up all relationships.

A key component of active listening is when we reflect back to the other person what we understand they were communicating to us so that we can be sure that we understand and not mis-interpret their communication. When we do this, we ask questions to clarify, such as “Are you saying that you were upset that I did not go to your aunt’s house for dinner on Sunday, even though you had said it didn’t matter if I went or not?

By working together so that the listening partner and the speaking partner both understand that clarifying their understanding of what is being communicated and also participating in active communication as well as active listening, the relationship can take on a greater depth, intimacy and fulfillment. Effective communication is always the key to any good relationship. For a free chapter download from the award winning, Changing Behavior, visit changingbehavior.org.

Being Happy with Who We Are


With such a strong emphasis on achievement, accumulation and recognition in our society, it can become easy to be discouraged or disappointed with who or what we perceive ourselves to be, especially in how we stack up in the “pecking order” with those around us.

Being happy with ourselves is a choice that each of us can make every day by taking simple, practical steps to develop habits of happiness. It starts with creating an environment for us to work and live in that reduces our stress and work load, and brings order and ease, making our work and our living easier.

This uplifting environment can also provide us the experience of soothing tranquility rather than focusing us on the disorder and chaos that often becomes the working and living environments we find ourselves in.

Cleaning out desk drawers, closets, discarding excess and re-defining what is important to keep and what feels good to get rid of is a first step to creating a peaceful and happy living or working space. Creating an environment that truly resonates with our values is like building an oasis in the desert. By eliminating the need to accumulate more and more “things” around us, we can unburden ourselves, have a more orderly, relaxing and peaceful space to live and work in.

This is also true with friends and acquaintances. Just like with material things, we can also accumulate unnecessary or unwanted relationships that can make demands on our time and energy and often insert negativity or sap our physical or financial resources. Clearing out the toxic or unhealthy relationships we may have can bring personal renewal and further our sense of happiness and contentment.

Take the time to appreciate family. For most of us there are few individuals who have done more for us than our family members. This includes anyone and everyone in our family who support us, are there when we need them and provide a “safe harbor” throughout our lives.

Losing loving family members can be devastating but no more so than when we fail to appreciate them as they are helping us along life’s bumpy road. By taking time to give back and express our gratitude to those who care and nurture us will not only bring them pleasure and a sense of being appreciated, but will give us a reminder of how loved and cared for we are, allows us to feel more content and happy with being who we are.

For more information about this topic you can access a free excerpt from the bestselling book Changing Behavior: Immediately Transform Your Relationships with Easy to Learn Proven Communication Skills by visiting www.changingbehavior.org.