I’m not good enough. I’m going to fail. He doesn’t really like me. There must be something wrong with me.
At one point or another, we have secretly had these kinds of thoughts. Plagued with self-doubt and indecision in those moments, we may have responded with anxiety, depression, unhealthy habits like overeating, throwing back a few drinks or repeatedly over-checking something, like our texts or email. For many of us, this becomes an unending cycle in which habits become more engrained and automatic.
In You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life, Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Rebecca Gladding, M.D., leading UCLA psychiatrists and researchers, combine cutting-edge scientific research with an adaptable 4-step program to help people understand, identify, and free themselves from the deceptive brain messages that hold them back. By learning how to identify deceptive brain messages and channel them through the power of focused attention, those who follow this easy-to-implement program can ultimately lead more fulfilling and empowered lives.
The effectiveness of You Are Not Your Brain lies in empowering readers with the knowledge and skills to help themselves. Schwartz and Gladding lay the groundwork by explaining the science behind deceptive brain messages. In easy-to-understand terms, they clarify how several biological principles combine together to wire habits into the brain – thus making them extremely difficult to change – and why focusing your attention is key to changing your brain. With that background, the authors then teach readers how to assess the meaning and importance of the thoughts and impulses that enter their head so they can make choices that are consistent with the person they want to be (not the one their brain is trying to tell them they are).
For example, what if we have unwittingly learned to pair snacking on pleasurable foods with relieving emotional distress? Although the action seems to work well in the short-run, that momentary relief from snacking often comes at a steep price, in the form of gaining weight, higher cholesterol, high blood pressure and so on. What’s more, due to the powerful brain mechanisms in play, eventually the brain will “learn” to repeatedly (and unconsciously) send out the directive that the way to deal with future stress or negative thoughts is to eat something. As our stressors mount, we may find that we are excessively snacking day and night. Unfortunately, the more we repeat the action, the stronger the pathways in the brain become.
But the opposite is also true. By becoming aware of the messages that trigger our behaviors, we can resist acting upon them and instead refocus our attention on healthy actions. By doing so, we rewire our brains and create a new, positive association between thoughts and actions. As this occurs and our ability to use the Four Steps grows, we begin to act based on our true goals and values in life, not the deceptive brain messages that have been holding us back.
For more information, read this great overview written by reader Sandra Pawula