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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Change Your Brain!"

Have you ever had that experience of driving yourself crazy looking for something that you have misplaced? One time when my mind was overstressed from a lengthy “to do” list, I found myself frantically rushing around the house looking for my keys. As it became clear they were lost, I stopped to retrace my steps and located them in the refrigerator reclined against the bottle of Orange Juice.

Understanding how your brain works can help a wide range of behavioral issues that might not be considered “clinical” but are still annoying and sometimes difficult to manage. “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” by Daniel Amen is a book I highly recommend. It helps to get a handle on how your brain works and is full of self-help ideas for creating a more balanced brain (which translates into less lost keys).

Some folk need the support of therapy and meds to sustain a balanced brain. But for most of the population, folk experience more typical problems without realizing that their brain might be working against them. Most ongoing persistent behavioral problems have roots in a troubled or unbalanced brain. The good news is that this is a non-judgmental approach to self-care and personal growth. Knowing that your brain might be working against you is better news than believing that you are inherently a jerk, flawed or insensitive. Taking meds or supplements and/or learning behaviors that can create better brain balance is like putting on badly needed glasses after squinting your way through life. It is amazing how it can change your view of the world!

My new brain road map has helped me to create a customized toolbox of techniques for clearing my mind of unwanted stress. In previous blogs I have mentioned how tapping, and music can provide great stress relief. Simple changes in routine can also make a big difference. I now place my keys in the same container located in the same place every day when entering the house (almost everyday – I have “routine & structure issues”). That simple intervention has saved a lot of time and stress.

Below is a quick summary of Amen’s Five Different Brain systems.

Amen Brain System Quick Reference

Pre-frontal cortex - "The Supervisor" - guides focus, decision making, and planning. When under-active it can create a state of being restless, inattentive, easily distracted, terribly disorganized, and impulsive.
Self-help: create mental action step templates to create focus and to stay on track.
Better yet - listen to bio-lateral music to create focus when dealing with boring and tedious detail work (see previous blog).

Cingulate System - "The Gear Shifter" - helps in shifting between thoughts and behavior. When the CS is overactive it results in excessive worry, rigidity and over-focused anxiety.
Self Help: use distraction to derail rigidity and oppositional behavior.
Better yet - use the “Serenity Prayer” to acknowledge what you can and cannot control.

Deep Limbic System - "The Bonding Mechanism" - impacts bonding, motivation and mood control. Limbic hyperactivity has many of the symptoms of mild depression, including negativity, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and an overabundance of automatic negative thoughts.
Self Help: identify automatic negative thoughts and talk back to them (Stop It!).
Better yet - go exercise and change your brain chemistry and mood.

Basil Ganglia - "The Idle Regulator" - impacts motor control and idle speed. When the BG is over active it increases anxiety, fear, panic and avoidance of conflict. When under-active it impacts fine motor control and the ability to concentrate and focus.
Self Help: try different relaxation exercises and meditation.
Better yet - get a copy of “Total Relaxation” by Kelly Howell and feel the rapid relaxing effects of alpha brain wave music.

Temporal Lobe - "The Inner Peace Regulator" - governs learning, memory, language and temper control. When the TL is out of balance, it can result in a struggle with memory, temper, irritability, and anxiety.
Self Help: moving, dancing and chanting are great ways to balance the temporal lobe.
Better yet - use the toning technique singing the some of the vowels sounds like “Ah,” “ou,” “ee” and “ay.” “Ee” and “Ay” help to release pain and anger (yes, this has been researched).

In my therapy practice, I give an “Amen Brain System Survey” to help folk map out their unique issues and strengths. For more information about Amen’s work, check out his website at

Sometimes medication is needed through a period of time to create balance when self-help behaviors are not enough. There is no shame in admitting the need for assistance in creating a more balanced brain and fulfilling life.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your article. I loose things often and easily get stressed about it. Both my friends and i find the music to be a big help.

Greg Carpenter said...

Thanks for your response. People are surprised and amazed at the effectiveness of "mp3" therapy.

Yvette said...

I met Dr. Amen at a lecture he gave and then participated in his brain study of injured and uninjured brains. I learned a lot about the damage that can occur even from normal children's bangs to the head - the kind that happen to most kids who engage in sports.

If you are interested in the brain and how it works, I highly recommend reading ""My Stroke of Insight"" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. It's on the NY Times Bestseller list and it's a wonderful book. Dr. Taylor's talk at TED dot com is also AMAZING! Oprah interviewed Dr. Taylor and you can check that out on And Time Magazine named Dr. T one of the 100 Most Influential people in the world. Having read her book, I can see why all the attention.

Dr. Amen's book is brain science and it's great at that. Dr. Taylor is a Harvard Brain Scientist, but what she writes about is the science and much more. She really cracks the code to understand how our brains (right and left hemispheres) work and she explains how we can get into our right brain and be happier and more joyful. Aside from any of the science, My Stroke of Insight is also just a great story.

Greg Carpenter said...

Thanks for the post. I have seen Dr. Taylor's speech on She was excellent. I liked the way she tied spiritual insights into her understanding of left/right brain influences. I have thought about reading her book and your comments will move it up on my priority reading list.