Years ago I was walking through a barn when I saw the word “Duck” written on a beam. As I walked to the far end of the barn my mind thought about Muscovy Ducks which at that time were used around livestock as a natural fly control. Then I thought about Mallard Ducks and how unbelievably remarkable the iridescent blues and teals of their feathers are, when BAM, I was on my knees clutching the top of my head in agony. “Duck” in this case was not a noun but a verb. It was meant to tell me to duck my head!

Ah, the well-worn thought patterns of our brains and how they can get us into trouble! I thought of this a couple of days ago when I woke up totally and completely annoyed with everything about the world, and truth-be-told, everything about myself. Those well-worn thought patterns were about to become much more well-worn, and in the process, make me much more miserable, except that I knew they were taking me towards a figurative bash on my head…and I stopped. Here’s how I did it. This is a tried and true method developed by South African, Leslie Temple-Thurston. It’s called “Lists”.

  1. Down the left side the paper I wrote (it’s important to do it on paper) in point form, double-spaced, all that was wrong with the world, all that was wrong with me, how things were never going to change…(you get the idea). If you are doing this be certain to wallow as much as you like. You won’t get stuck there, I promise.
  2. Once I felt I had everything possible written down I went through the list, only this time I wrote the opposite word or phrase on the right hand side. (For some negative words I had two or more opposites.)
  3. Once I finished, I read through the list slowly, being certain to notice how different the words on the right felt.
  4. Then I offered the whole mess up to “The Intelligence” – whatever that force is that makes the Mallards return to this miserable brown landscape, or what made an embryo develop into the unique and marvellous you that you are! Whatever you want to call that force, that’s what I offered it up to, knowing in that moment I had done all I could do to untangle my thoughts and feelings.
  5. Then I said simply, “Thank you.” And I tell you, I felt a whole lot better.
  6. Sometimes at this point I rip up the papers, so as to not hurt the feelings of anyone who might happen to look at what I have written.

Want to know some of the science behind this? In order to understand the brain you have to look at it in a lot of different ways. It’s a little like when you go to the doctor. They will check your weight, take your temperature and blood pressure, then listen to your heart and lungs. These are all different ways of looking at the same thing, which is your body.

Physically – When we are looking at the physical nature of the brain we could be looking at the overall development of the human brain as I talked about earlier (1st, 2nd and 3rd parts), the function of the two sides (hemispheres), the different parts (pituitary, hypothalamus etc.) and/or the tiny little brain cells (neurons). So you can see this part could get quite complex. At this point let’s just stick with a super simple explanation that comes from Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist, way back in the 70’s and that’s that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. The more I think something, the more entrenched that becomes. If the thought, “My elbow hurts” routinely leads to “I shouldn’t have done x, y, z” to “I’m an idiot” to “I’m so mad at myself”, well that becomes more entrenched till I drive myself either mad, or out of that groove with an exercise like the one I mentioned.

Chemically – The cells of our body (including our brain cells) change according to the environment that is provided for them. If there is a predominance of fight-or-flight chemicals including adrenaline over long periods of time, then the receptors on the cells respond one of two ways: they either create more receptor sites on each cell over time (up-regulation) and the body needs a constant fix at the cellular level to keep things in chemical continuity, or the cells become over-stimulated and desensitized (down-regulation) and they no longer work properly. Neither option is good.

Electrically – Our brains are electrical! Some even say help for our brains resides more in what we do with them electrically, than what we do with them chemically. If I had measured the frequency patterns of my brain when I was ruminating there would have been an excess of 15 -18 hertz (low beta) activity. Stuck in that state I had little access to creative problem solving;  that is until I got it all written down. That allowed for more 8 – 14 hz activity which is associated with feelings of peacefulness and safety.


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