Monday, April 18, 2011

Making a Good Brain Great

" The mind is it's own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
-John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)

 I love all of Daniel G. Amen's books, and this one is no exception.  I am fascinated with the human brain.  Our entire experience of life is only what we use our minds to interpret it to be.  In other words, it (life) really is all in your head.  In order to live my happiest, fullest life, I want my brain to be working at it's maximum potential, and this book is a fantastic guide for that.

One of the principles in this book is: Very few people have perfect brains.  We all need a little help.  He goes on to say, A quick look at some of the statistics on mental illness will put to rest anyone's notion that the vast majority of people are without pain....49% of the U.S. population at some point in their lives will suffer from a psychiatric (brain) illness, most commonly anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.  29% will have 2 psychiatric illnesses, and 17% will have three.  Millions of people suffer, yet many think that others have it better.  Most people have no idea how lucky they really are.  It is normal to have struggles, and it is better to count your blessings than to feel messed up....we now believe that normal is a myth and healthy brains are actually rare.  There are very few healthy brains among us.  We all need a little help.  This idea is actually comforting to me.  It lessens judgment, because it is hard to say "I am better than you." It helps us see that brain health is fragile and must be taken seriously.  And as a society, we need to make brain health a priority. 

 That being said, here are a few of the things I took away from this book that really can be applied to my life:

-Brain Gym.  This is a series of exercises designed to help overall brain functioning. You can find out more about about it at, and Amen's book has a few examples of the exercises.

-Therapy for thoughts helps improve brain function.  Change your thoughts, change your brain.

-Improving your relationships can change your brain.

-Changing your behavior also changes your brain.

Here are 5 steps he gives to help improve your brain and life:

1. Do not believe every first thought you have.  just because you had a thought about something, it doesn't make it true.  Question your thoughts (To learn how to do this well, try Bryon Katie's book Loving What Is) Believe it or not, we are not always right.  Change your perception, change your brain.

2.Realize that your thoughts are extraordinarily powerful.  Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals.  Good thoughts produce chemicals that help you have better functioning, and make you feel good.  Bad thoughts do the opposite.  Learn to be positive.

3.Recognize that thoughts lie, are easily distorted, and can rob you of joy.  Amen recommends writing down your thought when you feel sad, mad, or nervous.  Writing them down takes away their power, and allows you to replace them with more helpful thoughts.

4.Use the Placebo Effect.  As we believe, so it becomes.

5. Tell your brain what you want, and match your behavior to get it.  "Since your mind takes what it sees and makes it happen, it is crucial to visualize what you want and then match your behavior over time to get it.  Too many people are are thrown around by the whims of the day, rather than using their prefrontal cortex to plan their lives and follow through on their goals."

Probably my favorite thing form this book was the author's advice to try new things.  Try new sports, perfumes, classes, books, anything new is good. 

Amen also gives an 11 step (uh..why not 12?) plan to de-stressing your life, and I think this is all just great advice.

1. Recognize that too much stress can make you sick and hurt your brain.

2. It's okay to say no and renegotiate you commitments.

3. Get enough sleep.

4.Regular exercise is one of the best stress-busters on the planet.

5. Use regular prayer and/or meditation

6. Practice self-hypnosis to calm the brain.

7.Become your own biofeedback machine.

8. Avoid substances that stress the brain.

9.Consider stress-busting supplements.

10. See a psychotherapist if you're chronically stressed 

11.Get more laughter into your life. 

Maybe number 12 should be "read this book".  He goes into detail with each of these steps.  There is so much more great information in "Making a Good Brain Great", what can I tell you except, read it.  Chances are,you'll be glad you did.  This book is just amazing!


~Dana said...

I couldn't agree more! Excellent advice!

Megan said...

Totally gotta borrow one of these books from you. Would LOVE them.