Are We Nothing More Than Our Brains?

In the current National Geographic Magazine, there is an article on teenage brains (note–this link will only be accurate until the Nov. 2011 issue comes out). It created a physical reaction in me when I saw it because I already suspected what it would say. And I was right.

Essentially, the article places the cause of all kinds of behaviours we see in teens today on their brains, with all kinds of backup on that, claiming it is evolutionary, these problems have been around for millennia, etc. I always have a problem with this thinking. We have centuries of teens NOT widely engaging in the various behaviours mentioned. You read books like Little House on the Prairie or Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography and Dickens… The behaviours we see today do not have their match in the history of the past few centuries. Which means, to me, that these behaviours are not because that is how teens are inherently wired–and that more likely, their wiring is the result of their behaviours and the culture around them.

What bothers me most about articles such as this one, other than the fact that it seems to want to let teens off the hook a bit, is the wide acceptance that we behave how we behave because of how our brains are. Depressed? Oh, it’s because of a chemical imbalance in your brain. Speeding at 140mph as a teen? Oh, it’s because you are wired to be a risk-taker at that age. Bossy, controlling or other negative quality? “That’s just how I am!” It makes our thoughts and behaviours seem like nothing more than the result of who we physically are. It makes us seem like we are nothing more than a physical being at the mercy of our brains.

We are all so much more than that.

Teens are capable of behaving differently. You can’t tell me that an underprivileged teen in a very poor area of Africa, taking care of his/her family because the parents are too poor, sick or dead, is going to have to succumb to some supposedly innate need to take risks and go on a wild ride or some other irresponsible behaviour–just because he/she is a teen. You can’t tell me that if we find ourselves depressed, the only way out is to take a medicine and that purposefully changing our thoughts is pointless. You can’t tell me that we are who we are just because of how our brains are wired–and that there’s nothing we can do about it.

On the one hand, we have people claiming that our brains have created various problems. On the other, we have therapy, counselling, that suggests that if we deal with things and determine our thoughts, we can change and get beyond our problems. If our brains can’t change, then counselling is useless.

We have so much power to determine who we are and will be. As long as we are going to believe that we are the result of our brain–and not that our brains are at least partially determined by how we choose to think and behave–we will have no power to make ourselves better and in turn, no power to make our world better.

Which empowers you more: the thought that you can do nothing about who you are or the thought that you can, and that you can be more than you are right now?

What Do We Really Want?

My 13-year old daughter declared to me yesterday that she knows what I should do when she and her brother are grown and gone: be a child psychologist. It is something a 17-year old student I tutor said to me last year. It was something I had thought of becoming when I was 13.

My daughter said I would be really good at it. As I sit here outside taking some time for myself, I am thinking of her comments and what they mean, if they mean something in the greater scheme of things. Yes, I might be good at being a child psychologist. But I think I could be good at a lot of things–being good at something isn’t the only criterium for deciding what to do as a profession. Is it? For me, the overriding question is: Would I be happy day after day counselling children? I’m not sure I would. Maybe something part-time with only a couple of cases. That’s something I could see myself doing. Except… I don’t know that I want to.

The 17-year old said to me yesterday that he really didn’t know what he wanted to do after this year–he’d found a goal and it was to graduate, to do better this year than ever before. He reflected on a motivational video he saw on success but said the problem was he didn’t know what he really wanted. I told him I didn’t know what I wanted to do next year either. I think that helped him. “We’re in the same boat!” Yes, we are. I have changes coming next year that are out of my control and I will have to make a decision about what to do financially after that. Child psychology is definitely out for now, although I haven’t ruled out providing some online counselling or mentoring for teens or adults. So much motivational material urges you to do what you really want to do. Somehow or other, he and I are going to have to find a way to figure out what it is we really want.

Why is this so hard? Figuring out what we really want? Do we get disconnected? Do we hide it for fear that others will think it’s silly? Maybe a bit of both?

I’ll be spending some time the next while figuring out what I really want. How about you?

Say No Without Guilt

Success depends on getting good at saying no without feeling guilty.
You cannot get ahead with your own goals if you are always saying yes to someone else’s projects.
You can only get ahead with your desired lifestyle if you are focused on the things that will produce that lifestyle.

Jack Canfield

Reconnect With Your Goals

I’m finding lately that I’m not doing as much to reach goals I wanted as I was doing a few weeks ago. It has reminded me that if we don’t reconnect with our goals, we can end up not working on them at all. It’s not enough to say, “I have this goal.” It won’t carry us through the long-term process. Life happens and it is easy to be distracted. I’ve read of more than one “top” guy taking time at least each week to reconnect with goals. I haven’t done this in weeks. I am doing it today; I even have my notebook, with all the details of my goals, beside me. I need a reminder of what I’m aiming for.

One goal revisited was sharing from “Reality Therapy in Action” (aka Counseling with Choice Theory). I’ve had to look at reality a bit and have come to the conclusion that as much as I love this book and think so many would learn so much from it, it’s not realistic for me to go through the book, at least not at this time. It’s quite complicated to decide what to share from what is mostly a collection of dialogues, with additional background information… It is a fantastic book, but there’s so much to it, I won’t be sharing more from it at this time.

This happens with goals. We get new information that makes us re-evaluate. Sometimes the re-evaluation actually spurs us to do more, to be more focused. Other times, it lets us let go of a goal. There’s nothing wrong with letting go of a goal when it doesn’t fit with your priorities. But you’t know if you don’t take the time to reconnect!

I’m taking the time to reconnect with my goals today. How about you?

I Don’t Believe In Coincidences

I have had it happen many times in my life that something so amazingly “coincidental” happens that I’ve come to no longer believe in coincidences. I have many different stories I could share, but I’d like to share my most recent one. You could say this is a story of the Law of Attraction, you get what you focus on, or whatever you want to call it.

About a week and a half ago, I learned of a restaurant with vegan and vegetarian options. I found their website online last Saturday, noticed more than one yummy-looking item, and asked someone I know if she’d ever been as she, too, was interested in vegetarian and dairy-free food. She said no. I thought that too bad, because I wanted to know if their vegan chocolate cake was any good.

I then became almost fixated on that vegan chocolate cake. I really wanted to try it, but did not see how I was going to be able to go there in the foreseeable future. I started to wonder if they had a take-out option and I could just stop in for the piece of cake. I hadn’t figured anything out this week about it, but the thoughts were still there that I wanted to try the cake.

Tuesday, my husband got a text from a former coworker who is in town this week and wanted to meet with him and another coworker for lunch. Guess where? At this particular restaurant, one he’d never heard of. Coincidence? Let me say that I live in a large city with I don’t know how many restaurants. There are probably close to ten on the street this particular restaurant is on. I do not believe in coincidences. But I did tell my husband I was jealous. He thought I was jealous because he was going out for lunch and I wasn’t. I said no, I just want the cake.

Guess what he brought back for me yesterday? Yes, a piece of vegan chocolate cake! And it was delicious!

Despite watching The Secret repeatedly lately as part of my self-training to focus on what I want to be, do and have, it did not click right away that I had just brought into my life something I had wanted, and had done so rather quickly. Once it clicked, it was exciting! Still is. I believe even more now that some things I’d like to bring in my life will come. And maybe in unexpected ways.

This small example clearly shows this: We bring into our lives what we focus on. There are no coincidences. So, be careful what you focus on!

Fear Creates What We Fear–So Do the Opposite!

I find myself dismayed, almost annoyed, about the financial crisis being created by people at the moment. Yes, that’s right, people are creating the supposed impending recession. They are so busy being fearful of losing money because of a potential recession that they are selling low–thereby creating the recession! They are creating the very thing they fear!

Being dismayed and annoyed is not going to help the situation any, so I need to change my thoughts on that, but living in fear truly does make the situation worse. I shake my head that we are going through this yet again, so soon, and all because a bunch of people have become frightened at losing money.

There are so many wonderful quotes out there on this topic, like “Thoughts become things.” If we think doom, guess what? We create doom. If we think recession–and power that with the negative feeling of fear–guess what? We create recession.

Me, I’m going to take the same stance I took the last time, and one that many of my fellow Canadians took, which led us to not being greatly affected by the recession: Ah well, that’s okay. Perhaps we tend to be rather laid-back people, just taking things as they come, knowing we will get through this, too. We didn’t freak out about it last time, the government did a few things to supposedly help it, but all-in-all, I don’t think the government can take credit. I know people who lost nest eggs or children’s education funds due to the last crash. But they didn’t get all panicky about it. Their reaction was certainly disappointment. But they picked themselves up and kept moving forward. I don’t know a single person who spent their time complaining about the recession, fearing what was supposedly going to happen. We all just took the attitude of, “We’ll take it as it comes.”

So, don’t fear recession. Know that you have within you what you need to keep moving forward despite any setbacks. Take charge of your thoughts so that you create what you want!

Focusing On the Wrong Thing

This is it! Some more from Counseling with Choice Theory!

I’m still in chapter 1 here, with Jerry, whom we met in an earlier entry. Jerry, like many of Dr. Glasser’s patients, starts focusing on his apparent problems–and wants Dr. Glasser to focus on them–before he even enters the room. After entering the room, he has to straighten the pictures, won’t step on lines in the carpet, won’t sit on the comfy chair–because there is a pattern on the chair and he doesn’t sit in patterned chairs.

What is a good response for somebody who is so clearly focusing on the maladaptive coping? Dr. Glasser makes no mention of the behaviours at all. He says,

If I acknowledged his obviously compulsive behavior, I would be giving it more important than I think it’s worth and tacitly promising that I could do something about it.

This is a beautiful response and really something we can do with any number of people in our lives. Something we can do when looking at our own behaviour, too. Stop being focused on the results! Focusing on these maladaptive results only furthers our unhappiness, encourages us to continue in such behaviour. It’s the same thing with certain behavioural issues with our children. If you keep focusing and commenting on a certain undesired behaviour, guess what? It’s going to continue!

Dr. Glasser starts talking with Jerry, which actually makes Jerry mad. Why? Because Dr. Glasser asks Jerry to tell him why he’s called. Jerry flips–it should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Again, Jerry is focusing on the behaviours. Dr. Glasser is smart enough to know that there is an issue in Jerry’s life that he is coping with by engaging in these behaviours. Dr. Glasser adeptly directs the conversation away from the behaviours Jerry’s just exhibited, and Jerry brings the conversation back to the behaviours and how “crazy” they are. Dr. Glasser directs the conversation specifically to what has happened recently that has brought Jerry there. Jerry starts to get into what’s happened–and then brings it all back to all the crazy stuff he does.

See what this does? How is he getting anywhere by focusing on these crazy behaviours? There’s no magic word to make them stop. He somehow has in his mind that Dr. Glasser will help him stop the behaviours, like the behaviours just happen for no reason. But that’s not Dr. Glasser’s philosophy.

It actually takes over 3 pages of conversation–not including anything Dr. Glasser might have left out–for Jerry to finally start talking about what really brought him to Dr. Glasser’s office! He’s had these behaviours for years and Dr. Glasser just wanted to know what has happened that now he wants help with them.

Turns out it’s because of a girl.🙂

There are some other great things in the chapter, including Jerry not needing to use his own silverware at Starbucks for the entire time he was there with this woman. Isn’t this a huge hint? It ought to be. He didn’t use his own silverware because his brain chemistry made him. He used it–and stopped using it–because of something else within him causing him to choose differently.

Finally, we find out that he is desperately afraid that as he gets closer to this new woman, Carol, that he’ll do what he’s done in the past: get crazier, she won’t be able to handle it, and she’ll leave him. Dr. Glasser then sees that there is something seriously wrong with the man.

More interesting dialogue and follow-up ensues. Dr. Glasser eventually calls Jerry on his need to impress the doctor with his crazy behaviours. “All of you (his patients) are trying to keep me away from focusing on the real problem, which is always a present relationship.”

And this is the heart of it: unhappy with a relationship in their lives (or the simple lack of a happy relationship), people can make themselves do crazy things. Oh, they don’t see that they’re doing crazy things necessarily, or don’t make the connection that they do the crazy things because of how they’re feeling about the relationship. It’s almost too painful to focus on the real problem. But our minds have a way of being creative, of making sure we’re aware that something’s wrong. But the crazy behaviours are just the symptoms, not the problem itself.

To prove his point a bit, Dr. Glasser asks Jerry if he’ll participate in a little experiment. He asks Jerry if he could choose to get up from the plain (uncomfortable) chair he’s in and move to the other one.

Jerry, convinced that he is obsessive-compulsive and can’t help himself, fights the idea. “Why? I like this one.” The excuses start. A bit of back-and-forth. Jerry says he can’t help it. Dr. Glasser challenges him again: “Could you choose to move to that chair?”

It’s not really that hard of a question, is it? And yet, it’s such an important one for all of us if we find ourselves or someone close to us trapped in a maladaptive way of being. “Could you choose to do something different?” The more we find ourselves feeling disempowered, the more we feel that life is just happening and we have to go along, the less we are going to focus on the truth of the matter:

We have a choice.

Like so many people who go, “But I have to!” or “I can’t help it!”, Jerry fights this idea. “What do you mean, ‘choose’? Why do you keep saying ‘choose’?” Dr. Glasser lays it on thick and tells him he’s choosing all of his crazy behaviours. This is met with excuses again: “I don’t choose it. What are you talking about? I’m sick. I’ve got obsessive-compulsive disease. I can’t help myself. Two doctors have told me that.”

This makes me sad. This is still the common way of looking at all kinds of issues today: we’re mentally ill and can’t help it. We can’t help being stressed, depressed, manic, what have you. Well, we might not be able to turn off a whole host of habitual thoughts and behaviours overnight and not have them come back, but for the most part, we can help it. It’s our own thoughts and behaviours that get us into these kinds of messes. “I can’t help it” is nothing more than an excuse to allow us to not have to change ourselves, to not have to change what we do. It can be hard to change–but when needed, that’s where true happiness will come from. By choosing better behaviours, we live better and live happier.

Some more interesting dialogue between the two of them to see how Dr. Glasser gets to the heart of the counselling. I won’t get into that here. I will bring up this part: Jerry ends up asking why he is the way he is. Dr. Glasser has already told him it’s how he deals with tension, but Jerry wants to know why. Dr. Glasser essentially says it doesn’t matter. It could be rooted in his childhood, and if so, his childhood is long gone and it doesn’t matter. Yes, this is contrary to many counsellors who want to dredge up the past and have you deal with it. It can take serious time to get everything out and come to terms with it all when really, these people need to start changing things now, and knowing about the root of it has nothing to do with choosing to do something different now.

And this is exactly the realization that Dr. Glasser has Jerry focus on as the chapter closes. His “assignment” is for Jerry to say to himself whenever he notices he’s doing his crazy things, “Jerry, I’m choosing to do this, whatever it may be,” and to ask his girlfriend to remind him it’s a choice when she sees him do things.

Knowing that we have a choice can be scary, but when we accept it, it can be so empowering. Focusing on that and not on the symptoms and apparent troubles will make a huge change in our lives for the better.

Notes from the Universe

I was watching The Secret today and decided as a follow-up to look up some of the people in The Secret. I ended up at Mike Dooley’s website, and eventually to this part of the website. I wish I could figure out how to get this blog to post the random notes, but NOTHING is working! Here’s a sample:

 

Always listen to your doubts.
Not just because they might teach
you of your fears, but because,
sometimes, they might teach you
of your wisdom.

Lovin’ it all,
The Universe

Deeper than most will get, huh?

 

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If anybody can tell me if it’s even possible for WordPress to publish this or how to get it to work, I’d be very appreciative!