If you want to change your life, you must change your mind and change your brain. On purpose.Bill Crawford
Malfunction or Dysfunction?
When it comes to changing your brain, the distinction between these two things matters.
Before reading Daniel Amen’s books, I had never thought about it. Dr Amen explains the difference this way:
- A dysfunctional brain has abnormalities or impairments that stop it from functioning properly.
- A malfunctioning brain is one that can function properly but for whatever reason, isn’t currently functioning properly.
Years ago I’d have said my brain was dysfunctional. Now I’m almost certain it was malfunctioning because I had no idea how to care of it.
Although I still sometimes struggle to regulate my mood and sometimes the darkness finds me, the practices I’ve engaged in over the last several years have helped me feel in control of my mood most of the time and have reduced the weight of the darkness when it descends.
The result: I feel better more often and feel more in control of myself and my life.
This blog is summary of the things I have learned to focus on. Although they are simple, the practices required to keep these things in focus take effort, persistence and commitment – so much so that every now and then I find it easier to stay feeling crappy. But that doesn’t usually lead anywhere good, so back to the point:
Building a Healthier Brain
When your brain works right, you work rightDr Daniel Amen, Founder of Brain MD
Toxins cause the most problems in terms of brain health so basically, reduce toxins, improve brain health. For me, this has been the least fun part of feeling better because it involves ditching most of the things I learned to rely on and associate with relaxation and enjoyment. I have a long way to go on this one but ditching alcohol helped.
Weirdly, so did ditching diet drinks and tonic water. It turns out aspartame makes me lose control of my mind! If you drink these things and sometimes feel like you’re possessed, you might be amazed with the results of cutting them out for a while. I certainly had no idea they would make such a difference!
Thoughts and experiences can act as toxins too, unless we learn strategies for detoxifying.
Replacing Toxic Thoughts with Better Feeling Thoughts
You can change your brain just by thinking differently.
Dr Joe Dispenza
According to neuroscientists, 90% of the thoughts we have today are the same thoughts we had yesterday and the day before that. They are habitual – which explains how we can so easily end up locked in negative thought loops that persist for days, weeks or months.
I found that just breaking the cycle of toxic thoughts wasn’t enough. I’d have brief periods of respite, only for something to set them off again and I’d be right back where I started. What I learned to do instead was focus on replacing the toxic cycles with better cycles. Doing this has been (and continues to be) super challening and, every now and then, the negative cycles try and make a come-back. I remind myself that some of my thought patterns had their tracks laid down over 40 years ago so ripping them up and replacing them will take time too. I figure the older and more established the tracks, the more patient I’ll have to be.
Connect the mind and body
Do thoughts create feelings or do feelings create thoughts? It used to irritate me when I was studying Psychology that researchers always seemed to pick sides when answering questions like this. For me, the only answer is it works both ways.
Althought that complicates matters when you’re trying to figure out how messages travel in the mind and body, it doesn’t really matter when your only goal is to feel better. I’ve actually found that it’s easier when you trust the messages to travel in both directions – because then it doesn’t matter where you start. Either way, you end up feeling better.
Some days I don’t feel good enough to move until I’ve connected my mind to something useful. Other days, my mind is scratchy and mean and it works better if I just get moving. As long as I start with one, the other joins in sooner or later and I start feeling better.
Simple. Not Easy.
That’s it really.
Those are the three areas of focus that are gradually changing my life. I find that any activity I do under one of these 3 headings makes a positive difference and the positive differences add up.
I’ve also found it’s easy for these things to become sticks with which to beat myself – when I should be focusing on one of these but all I want to do is tell everyone to sod off while I eat chocolate and T.V.
“Should” doesn’t help. For me, it almost guarantees the start of toxic thought loops so there’s little point entertaining them.
When I notice those thoughts, there’s one more piece to the puzzle.
Sometimes there are bad days. Sometimes I don’t feel like doing the “right” thing.
I used to scramble around in my head, desperate to change something or fix something. Now I know the best thing is just be kind to myself – not with chocolate but with my thoughts. That’s the only way to maintain kindness in my behaviour towards others (which is vital because I need kindness to come back from them too).
I’m only mean to myself and others when I forget that and try to feel something other than what I feel.
Today showed signs of being one such day so I write this as a reminder to myself.
Today is a day for kind thoughts and empathy.
My next post – and the accompanying podcast – is about a practice I call the 60-minute retreat. It is my spin on the morning routine and is one of the methods I use to maintain focus on these areas and improve my mental health.