Is Anyone In There? Waking Up The Brain

March 3, 2020

Are you tired of being on auto-pilot? Are you at that point in your life where you are craving more? Are you feeling short-changed worried that this is it? Whatever your reason it may be time to shake it up a bit and wake up your brain. Now, I’m going to start this show with a huge disclaimer, I AM NOT A BRAIN EXPERT or a Dr of any kind. I haven’t suffered and been healed from a traumatic brain injury or can even claim to have lost and or found my mind….at least not technically. But I do want more. I’m craving a challenge and control over my life. I believe we have the power to affect change in ourselves and others if we take action. The only way to do that is to break down where you are, make a plan for what you want, do the homework, and take action!

Is anyone in there? Do you feel like you are just going through the motions of life being led around by one demand after another? Hoping to get off this crazy merry-go-round but then what is the alternative? Guess I will just keep drudging forward letting life dictate what happens next. You work your whole life and then at some point you get a chance and rest and do nothing. Doesn’t that sound great? Doing nothing? 

NO THANK YOU - “knock-knock” is anyone in there? You are in control of your own destiny, wake up and grab the wheel! Oh boy, if your brain has gone to sleep and handed over the controls to fate then it’s time to hit the off switch instead of snooze over and over. 

For me, it’s more of channeling my energy in another direction. My brain is definitely awake and always conjuring up new ideas for myself and everyone else I meet. Sometimes I would like to just switch it off for a bit which is why I’ve become rather fond of cooking and baking competitions HA. It’s not necessarily to learn something new although I do have a better idea of what makes a good sponge or when a bearnaise sauce is appropriate but really, it’s to distract my mind. 


So how can we continually challenge our brains? I for one am not going down without a fight! It sounds like to me brain exercise is just as, if not more, important than physical exercise and eating healthy. I’m going to think of it as a trifecta for health and wellness. 

What about a mind that is spinning out of control - instead of autopilot, it’s been hijacked by doom and gloom, shame, guilt, and anxiety. How do you put a stick in the spoke and regain control? Because I’m a visual-learning who relies on storytelling and pictures to get my point across - AND because I’ve already confessed to my lack of neurological credentials, I’m going to refer to the brain as a series of rooms. 

I have used the Life Model over and over to explain the regions of the brain. 

Level 1 – The coal room

Our personal reality and attachment are created on the ground floor of the control center. Our brains pick who and what is important to us through structures including the thalamus and basal ganglion. One part of this network, called the nucleus accumbens, is the brain’s pleasure and pain center. This nucleus contributes strongly to addictions, sexuality and most importantly, our attachment to those we love.  The attachment level is sometimes called the “deep limbic system” and lights up when we want to bond with others. If we do not receive a response in return we feel pained, rejected, unloved, abandoned, jilted, dumped, alone or unwanted. The attachment level probably inspires more songs, stories, movies, relationships, and crimes than any other structure.

Level 2 – The Basement

Once something or someone has gotten the attention of level one, the information is passed along to the guard shack at level two for a security screening. This level, called the amygdala, has three opinions: good, bad or scary. These opinions are entirely subjective and permanent once they are formed. This level soon has opinions about chocolate, loud noises, elevators, airplanes, angry faces, dogs and almost all of life. Anyone who has tried to battle the opinions by level two about heights, airplanes or cocaine knows how unchanging these views actually are in spite of all evidence and persuasion.

Level 3 – The Den

This structure, on the third floor of the brain, provides us with our mutual-mind experiences with other people. Because we can share something of what others experience, we can become human, form relationships, interact predictably, synchronize our internal rhythms with life around us, and understand what it means to be ourselves. The cingulate cortex is the first level of the control center to have a will and conscious experience. As a result of being cortex, the cingulate can learn how to adapt to others. Because it has a curved shape something like a banana, we have begun to call it the “mental banana.” Training level three to have mutual-mind experiences with others that are accurate and still cover a full range of feelings is what helps us become fully alive and human. 

Level 4 – The Foyer

The right orbital prefrontal cortex (PFC) on the top floor of the control center has executive control over the rest of the brain when properly developed. This PFC spot thinks of itself as “me” and runs the brain when under stress. When trained, it has the capacity to quiet the basement, direct our moral choices, be creative, think flexibly and even influence such delicate functions as our immune system. When the person is strong enough, and the three floors below them have sufficient capacity, the mind can resist becoming traumatized when things go badly and maintain a strong, positive and determined identity. 

A perfect mix of technical and imagery. I use these levels to work with people in recovery as a way to understand why sometimes they make rash decisions and have problems with obsessing and ruminating. It’s easy for them to get stuck on a hamster wheel in the basement of the brain.  When you are there it’s hard for you to see the silver lining, be open to new ideas and suggestions, put yourself in other’s shoes, and to see a brighter outcome. Through mindfulness and experiencing joy, they can start climbing the stairs to the other regions of the brain. When they reach the foyer, they can start rationalizing good from bad, what consequences they and those they love might suffer, new opportunities to be had, and a better outcome. 

Here are some of the strategies we use to stop obsessing:

  • Finding your happy place - through journaling, recall 1-3 happy memories where you felt powerful, loved, in control, productive, respected, validated, or honored. Add detail to your story such as what the day was like, how you felt, who else participated etc. The more details the better because when you are in the basement, reaching your happy place will take strong visualization. With practice, you can train yourself to reach this place often when needed.
  • Visualizing the person you want to be - It’s helpful to do a current and future and to separate the two.  You can name them differently or just refer to them as HE/SHE and give them an identity. How do you feel about them? Verbalize your disappointment and call out characteristics that you aren’t proud of. Then visualize YOU in the future - what do you look like, what are you doing, how do you feel. You might even notice bright colors or feel the warmth of acceptance. It can be very powerful.
  • STOP Method to reduce anxiety - this involves stopping what you are doing, taking in a big breath and waiting 5 seconds, noticing how you are feeling in the situation, and then making a plan for your next move. This gives you time to respond instead of just reacting to a challenging situation. When you are in the basement of the brain it’s easy to rely on knee-jerk reactions instead of an educated and rational decision. Giving yourself space in everything you do will give you time for self-care. 

Getting control of your thinking means waking up all the regions so you can be transported back to the present and harness your control over critical thinking and problem-solving. Waking up the brain means we aren’t leaving things to chance and we aren’t going to accept the same thoughts day after day. You want to change your circumstances, then change your way of thinking. 

Get a great idea and then your internal monologue takes over? "That will never work!" "Why do you think you are smart enough to try that?" "You better be happy with what you have and stop looking for more!" STOP! 

Ben Martin, Psy.D. a clinical psychologist wrote an article on challenging self-talk for Psych Central.

You can test, challenge and change your self-talk. You can change some of the negative aspects of your thinking by challenging the irrational parts and replacing them with more reasonable thoughts.

There are four main types of challenging questions to ask yourself:

  1. Reality testing
  • What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
  • Are my thoughts factual, or are they just my interpretations?
  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  • How can I find out if my thoughts are actually true?
  1. Look for alternative explanations
  • Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?
  • What else could this mean?
  • If I were being positive, how would I perceive this situation?
  1. Putting it in perspective
  • Is this situation as bad as I am making out to be?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Is there anything good about this situation?
  • Will this matter in five years’ time?
  • When you feel anxious, depressed or stressed-out your self-talk is likely to become extreme, you’ll be more likely to expect the worst and focus on the most negative aspects of your situation. So, it’s helpful to try and put things into their proper perspective.
  1. Using goal-directed thinking
  • Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?
  • What can I do that will help me solve the problem?
  • Is there something I can learn from this situation, to help me do it better next time?

You can conquer your negative self-talk today by challenging yourself with these questions every time you catch yourself thinking something negative to yourself.

Ready for a wake-up call?

CHALLENGE: Wake up your brain with new ideas and challenging activities that help you connect with others, share your experiences, and grow in your love for life. 


I Know YOU Can Do It!



Gustavo Razzetti from The Adaptive Mind,When we live on autopilot, it feels like someone else is driving, not us.”
Victoria Woollaston, there may be a scientific answer to why we can never remember people’s names.
Harvard Health Publishing offers 6 simple steps to keep your mind sharp at any age.
Life Model explaining the regions of the brain. 
Ben Martin, Psy.D. a clinical psychologist challenging self-talk for Psych Central.




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