©Arlene R. Taylor PhD     www.arlenetaylor.org

Thinking is an experimental dealing with small quantities of energy, just as a general moves miniature figures over a map before setting the troops in action.
Sigmund Freud

articles200408Startled, I picked up my mobile phone. The caller ID was blank, but for some reason I decided to let the interruption give me a break from writing.

“I need to speak with you,” the disembodied voice said. “I’ve been asked to write an article about ‘Laws of the Brain.’” We scheduled an appointment.

This is going to be an interesting conversation, I thought. I wonder if it’s just a semantic misunderstanding. I’d soon find out.

Handing me her business card, the young woman introduced herself as Jamymah, a spelling I had not seen before. Her name had a pleasing sound, however, as did her voice. I gestured toward a chair.

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” she began, very businesslike. “This is important. Laws of the Brain? Laws? The brain has no laws!”

I sat quietly, studying her. A glorious mass of dark curly hair (I’d be thrilled with 25 percent of it!) tumbled around her oval face. Wide-set eyes were reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy, although their color was hard to describe—other than, perhaps “liquid amber.” 

In return, she studied me. “Well, are you going to debate this with me or not?” she said at last.

“Debate?” I laughed. “Discuss, maybe, if that is why you are here. Debate? Not even remotely. That’s just two or more brains vehemently certain that each brain’s opinion is right. No two brains ever have exactly the same opinion, no two brains being identical.”

“Maybe I was a bit dogmatic,” she said. “Do you think the brain has laws?”

“What do you know about the Laws of the Universe?” I began. “They operate by natural . . .”

She interrupted, her tone terse. “I’m not interested in so-called Laws of the Universe. I’m only interested in the Laws of the Brain, which as far as I can tell do not exist. There are no such things!”

I was sorely tempted to point out that jumping to conclusions (a JOT behavior, as I term it) is representative of low emotional intelligence [EQ]. But, she is here to talk about laws of the brain—so talk we shall.

“The word ‘laws’ has several definitions or understandings,” I replied, choosing to ignore her interruption. “Think of laws simply as phenomenon that are consistently observed under similar conditions and usually can be predicted. The laws of gravity, germination, and the tides. One of science’s dramatic discoveries has been the awareness that natural laws also govern a person’s internal universe. Your gastrointestinal system, the respiratory and immune systems, are examples of your internal universe. So is your nervous system, which includes the brain. Definitely the brain.”

Pulling an iPad from her handbag and placing it on the desk, she said, briskly,” I want some examples of these so-called Laws of the Brain. And I need more than one, you understand. One might just represent an exception!”

“Okay. How about we start with three,” I suggested.

“How many are there?” she asked, looking a tad more interested.

“I have no idea,” I replied. “I’ve never seen a list, although I’m quite sure there are a good many. Maybe you’d like to do some research and come with a list.” I was rewarded by a very slight smile.  A smile, nevertheless.

Jamymah opened her brief case and took out an iPad. “I’m going to make notes while you talk,” she said.

Let’s begin with mindset,” I began. “Carol Dweck, PhD, talks about two main types of mindset: a fixed mindset that tends to perceive failure and often gives up versus a growth mindset that perceives success and looks for ways to increase both knowledge and skills and gradually improve. Here’s your first law.” I smiled. Jamymah did not smile back.

1. Mindset impacts wellness!

Everything starts in the brain.  And it begins with a mindset: a mental attitude that predetermines your responses or a set of opinions about something that strongly influences your inclinations. The brain and the body, functioning as one unit, communicate with each other via chemical messengers. What happens in the brain affects the body. Every thought you think, every decision you make related to your mindset is a health-related behavior impacting cells throughout your brain and body and gradually moving you either toward illness or wellness.

Peter McWilliams, author of the book You Can’t Afford the Luxury of a Single Negative Thought, states that a negative mindset is the precursor to all life-threatening illnesses. A disempowering mindset filled with hopeless, helpless thoughts or persistent thoughts of anger, fear, or sadness (the three protective emotions) can suppress immune function and increase your risk for illness.

On the other hand, a mindset filled with cheerful, grateful, positive, empowering, can-do thoughts strengthens the immune system and moves you toward wellness.  

As Henry Ford put it, If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

2. Self-talk programs the brain!

Simply put, self-talk--what you tell yourself every waking moment of every day—is learned. The subconscious readily understands positives but processes negatives (the reverse of an idea) much less effectively. The brain can only do what it thinks it can do. It’s your job to tell your brain what it can do. How so? By teaching yourself to speak in an affirming style that tells your brain what it can—and should—do.

The affirmation formula is simple:  speak to yourself in short, positive, present tense, empowering statements. Use your first name and the pronoun you—so the brain knows whom you are talking about—and then speak as if you are already, presently, realizing your goal.

Two examples: Jack says to himself, “Jack, you drink a glass of water before eating.” Jill says to herself, “Jill, you exercise 20 minutes every morning.”

Then Jack and Jill activate their individual willpower to follow through.

Affirmation has been called the programming language of the subconscious. Learning that style is worth the work—for yourself and also for others. Human beings tend to speak to others in the same style they use with themselves, be it negative or positive. Therefore, the likelihood of cooperation is enhanced with an affirming communication style.

3. Use it or lose it!

Although not muscle tissue, neurons (thinking cells) can be compared functionally to muscle cells. Just as muscles can strengthen with regular exercise and atrophy with disuse, so, too, your neurons.

neuron1The drawing on the left shows a neuron that has experienced low levels of mental exercise or stimulation. It resembles a deciduous tree in the fall that has lost many of its leaves.

neuron2The drawing on the right portrays a neuron that has regularly experienced challenging mental exercise. This can stimulate the growth of dendrites (hair-like projections) on the neurons, allowing them to connect more easily with other neurons. It also keeps them stretched out so the synapse (space between neurons) is smaller, allowing for easier transfer of information.

Some types of dementia are linked to lack of mental stimulation, allowing the neurons to shrink and increasing the size of the synapse. Set a goal of at least 30 minutes of challenging and active mental exercise every day. Unfortunately, watching TV is passive—processing what another brain has actively created. Regularly expose your brain to new information, people, sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and environments.

List done. Notes taken. A long moment of silence followed.

In a rather subdued voice, Jamymah said, “Well, I just discovered how much I’ve never learned—at least about the brain. I had absolutely no idea that the brain follows laws! Truth be told, I’ve lived almost every example you mentioned—one way or another.”

“No one is born understanding Laws of the Brain,” I said. “Certainly not by that label.You only know what you know. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, reportedly said: No prescription is more valuable than knowledge. By understanding the Laws of the Brain and utilizing them on a daily basis, you can often avoid metaphorical radar traps set up to sabotage success. Actually, human beings violate brain laws at their own risk. Also to their own detriment, although the severity of the consequences can vary.”

“Thank you,” said Jamymah, gathering up her things. “I really appreciate your time. Now to work on the article.”

“When you are finished, I’d enjoy reading it,” I said, walking her to the door.

Jamymah paused at the open door. “You implied there were more than three laws of the brain,”

I nodded.

“When I finish this article, I’d like to meet with you again. I might even be able to talk the editor into a two-part series.”

“It would be my pleasure,” I replied.

This time Jamymah’s smile was as glorious as her hair. Now there’s a girl who’s going places, I thought. No debate!