Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Conscious living is required in brain training techniques

Stress for Success

June 26, 2012

Thanks for indulging me while I’ve raved over recent weeks about the fascinating book, “Buddha’s Brain,” by Rick Hanson, PH.D and contributing author, Richard Mendius, MD (past articles at http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com). Their brain re-wiring techniques give hope that we can all create greater emotional, thus behavioral, balance and control for ourselves.

Now it’s time to understand the importance of living consciously, or their skills won’t work.

The authors present their four stages of learning.

1. Unconscious incompetence: e.g., you reacted defensively (impatient or irritated, etc.) in a situation but weren’t aware of it;

2. Conscious incompetence: you reacted defensively and knew it;

3. Conscious competence: you could have reacted defensively, but chose not to;

4. Unconscious competence: your historic defensive reaction didn’t come up in the situation in which you’ve practiced re-wiring your brain. Your preferred way of reacting gradually becomes automatic;

To make desired changes you must “choose” more appropriate responses - consciously. You must be aware of:

• Your undesirable reaction;

• The discomfort it causes you;

For example, you want to stop over-eating to lose ten pounds by August 1. To succeed you must first become consciously aware of when you’re overeating, what you’re overeating, what triggers you to overeat, and the distress this causes you. Once consciously aware of these things, you’ve arrived at stage two above. To graduate to stage 3 you must consciously choose to not over-eat. Eventually, this conscious decision-making becomes unconscious, and you’ve arrived at stage 4.

Use brain training skills to help reach your goal. Start with this technique.
• You’re beginning to become consciously aware when you overeat. Now, identify the emotion you feel when you’re compelled to gorge, e.g., sadness.

• When you’re upset (e.g., sad) find a quiet setting and rate your level of upset from 1 (mild) to 10 (severe);

• Let go of what triggered the upset (it’s probably unconscious so you may not know what to let go of; continue anyway);

• In its place, imagine anything you find pleasant like a vacation spot or a fond relationship memory. Imagine this in detail for five minutes. Be specific with who, what and where.

• Rate your upset again from 1 – 10.

If you’re less upset it proves that imagining pleasant things alters your inner emotional landscape. Is it enough to deter you from over-eating? If not, keep practicing this technique. Invent a different pleasant memory. Spend more minutes imagining it more deeply until it works.

To facilitate brain training, also relax your body:
• Relax your jaws, eyes, tongue;

• Feel the tension draining away from your body and into the earth;

• Run warm water over your hands;

• Touch your lips;

• Breathe in and exhale to equal counts;

• Scan your body for tension and consciously release it;

I’d love to write 100 more articles on this book. Since that’s unreasonable, go out and buy it. It’s an easy read for non-scientists.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

More brain training techniques to calm emotions
Stress for Success

June 19, 2012

Emotions can bugger things up, can’t they? Accepting that most are triggered by “childhood hangovers,” and have less to do with your present situation than you assume, allows you to practice modern science techniques to train your brain to react differently.

In recent weeks I’ve shared ideas from “Buddha’s Brain,” by Rick Hanson, PH.D (past articles at http://stressforsuccess.blogspot.com.) Here are additional ideas to put you more in charge of your emotional life.

Accept these emotional truisms:

1. Automatic emotional reactions to stressors come from the primitive part of your brain. To minimize them you must re-wire your brain, requiring on-going practice.
2. No one else can make you feel any emotion. You choose, albeit often unconsciously, how to respond largely based on how your brain was wired early on and your ongoing beliefs.

For example, you respond to a co-worker with impatience, but why? Your answer indicates the belief that drives your emotional reaction. “I’m impatient because she’s an incompetent moron!” But her behavior doesn’t upset you. It’s your “moron” label that triggers your emotions.

To change your emotions change your answer to “why?” by using Alternative Explanations. What else could explain her behavior: she’s not trained well enough or she’s dealing with a huge stressor and isn’t thinking clearly. Identify at least three alternative explanations, which don’t have to be accurate, and notice how each influences your emotions. This proves that her actions don’t cause your upset. Your story explaining why she acted as she did does.

Here’s another technique to change your emotional reaction (e.g., impatience) to how you’d prefer to respond (e.g., with patience). Recall for several minutes an experience from your life when you were very patient. How did your body feel? Imagine this when you’re feeling impatient and notice your annoyance diminish and gradually move patience to the forefront of your mind and impatience to the background.

A variation on this skill is to imagine the same impatient situation but respond with another emotion, like sadness. The point again is to prove what you focus on changes your inner emotional landscape.

Calming yourself is always helpful. Create distance between yourself and your difficult emotions by practicing equanimity. This doesn’t mean being apathetic or indifferent but rather being engaged just not troubled. Imagine the contents of your brain coming and going in a vast open space and accept:

• Feelings are just feelings;

• People are just being people;

• Thoughts are just thoughts;

• Boundless space surrounds them, dwarfing them;

Increasing equanimity helps engage your brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which:
• Integrates your thoughts and feelings;

• Gathers information for problem-solving;

• Is the primary over-seer of your intentions, guiding your intentions and your actions;

So, in situations that trigger unwelcome emotions, consciously state your positive intent repeatedly. Before you’re with the person who triggers your impatience say to yourself, “I’m patient with her and listening to her.”

Brain training becomes easier the more you practice it. Gradually, those in-your-face emotions won’t surface so immediately.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach. Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html. Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.