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Brain Health

Driving Your Brain

Driving Your BrainHave you ever noticed how your brain runs on autopilot?

It’s chattering away pretty much all of your waking hours. It’s describing everything going on around you. And you may have noticed it’s describing things in the past and future as well as places far and wide.

Busy brain!

But there’s a problem with this. If you aren’t noticing these thoughts, they can take you places you don’t want to go.

For example, if you are thinking of someone who hurt you in the past, you set off a cascade of survival hormones. The result is tension, anger, frustration and other negative emotions. You’ll probably find yourself having an internal conversation with the person. This will trigger other negative consequences in your body.

Survival responses like these are great for moments of actual survival. But when they go on daily, your immune system gets weaker. Your energy is shunted from useful, productive and healing activities into tension, distraction and negative emotions.

Your brain is one of the most powerful vehicles for change on the planet. But unlike your car, you mostly don’t get training in how to drive it well.

Here’s an example of how this works. Recently, a patient of mine came to me and mentioned that she spent a lot of time worrying about things. These included unfairness at her job, unhappiness at her life situation, loneliness and other unpleasant thoughts.

As she talked about these, I remembered back decades ago when I had a brief stint as a driving instructor (don’t ask). One of the basic principles we learned to teach new drivers was that where they look, they’ll tend to go.

You’ve had practical experience with this when driving. If you look at something to the left or right, you will tend to turn the steering wheel in that direction. Usually this isn’t an aid to getting where you want. And it can be downright dangerous.

It struck me that your brain is exactly like this. Where you place your attention you tend to go. So if you are having automatic thoughts about all the things that are wrong, or that were wrong in the past, or that might be wrong in the future… guess what? You are focusing on wrongness. And since what you focus on tends to increase, your level of stress increases along with it. And over time, that has those negative consequences I listed above.

So I mentioned this to my patient. And I suggested that whenever she found herself tense, she should notice what she was thinking about. And whenever she noticed negative thoughts about things she doesn’t want, she could say to herself, “I don’t want that.” And then she could say to herself, “What I want is…” and fill in the blank.

A week later we met again. The change in her was remarkable. She seemed much more relaxed. She smiled more easily. And she didn’t spend nearly as much time talking about how lousy her week had been.

“What’s different?” I asked.

She told me she’d been practicing being aware of her thoughts. And when she found herself going somewhere she didn’t want to go in her thinking, she just changed it. She said she’d been happier this past week than she had been in a long time.

That’s really powerful! And it came from just a small shift in her awareness.

Of course even something this powerful can be amplified. And we spent time talking about other ways to increase the benefits of this new-found ability to drive her brain more effectively.

These techniques are easy, effective and when practiced regularly, can dramatically increase your effectiveness and joy of living. I invite you to contact me if you want to learn more about how you can apply these in your life.

All the best for your health and happiness,

Dr. Bruce Eichelberger