Be in Charge of Your Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors.
Are you ready to be brain-smart? You ask, “Oh! What’s brain-smart?” I define brain-smart as the ability to self-regulate our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We are able to respond responsibly and not to react irrationally. It means that we are in a state that allows us to self-regulate, create, learn, act respectfully, be helpful, empathetic and patient. Brain-smart occurs when the heart and the brain are working in a coherent, cooperative way. The heart actually sends more information to the brain rather than the other way around, and we can learn to make the most of our brain when we take time listen to our heart through heart-focused breathing.
When we become conscious of how brain-smart we can be, then we can model positive behaviors to others and especially to our children. For now, pause whatever you are doing (yes, reading this) and take a deep breath, knowing that your heart and brain are divinely designed work together to your greatest advantage. Practicing heart-focused breathing (as I teach in HeartMathTM Resilience sessions) is as simple as intentionally breathing with 5 seconds in and 5 seconds out while focusing on your heart. Yes, it could be 4 in and 7 out. It could even be 4 in, 4 hold, 4 out. Feel how good it feels with any of these, as you focus on your heart. Don’t get hung up on the count. Relax when you do this. Heart-focused breathing will bring you to a composed state of coherence, and it will set the stage for being brain-smart. Give it a try!
Speaking of children, I feel certain that parents would appreciate their children being brain-smart also. To have children who are good learners, creative, respectful, responsible for their household tasks and succeed in activities, etc. is empowering and satisfying to both the children and their parents. There is an opportunity for this when adults learn about brain function, practice using the frontal lobes of their brain, and then model positive behaviors. Consider explaining this science to your family, so all are intending the same outcome – being brain-smart. It’s a powerful experience when you feel and know that you really can control your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Adults can raise their own bar for self-regulation, and at the same time, set the bar for their children. Being brain-smart ensures one’s ability to handle life’s challenges, find workable solutions, feel empathy, learn organization and structure and have self-control. All of this brain-smart activity results in growing up to be a responsible, loving, happy person. Are you ready?
Let’s look to the brain! The brain has three distinct activity areas. Each area responds to stimuli differently. The three areas each ask a different question when faced with life. We want to be aware of what area of our brain is active and how we are responding to the life’s stimuli. Our goal is to move from the base brain to the higher level in the frontal lobes of brain, so that we can be our highest and best self.
1.) Survival State: The brain asks, “Am I safe?”
Survival State is located at the lower area at the back of the brain and connects to the spinal cord. It causes us to react physically because we are fearful, feel unsafe, are overly tired or hungry, facing conflict, feeling left out or upset. There is a flight or fight reaction to what is happening at the time. There can be total overwhelm with a strong physical resistance to another’s request or statement. This area is known as the reptilian brain and it regulates automatic systems for survival in the body. This area of the brain will hijack intelligence. There is NO learning here. Learning has been turned off automatically. The person’s physical reactions to life experiences are not only unintelligent; they are hurtful to others. Living in an insecure or threatening environment lowers the ability to learn.
2.) Emotional State: The brain asks, “Am I loved?”
Emotional State is located in the mid-brain, the limbic area. It reacts emotionally. This part of the brain expresses strong feelings that lead to emotional responses: speaking with extreme emotion, crying, blaming, shaming, name calling, punishing, swearing. All of these are unintelligent, and in this state there is no learning, but rather verbal expression. We may find ourselves "twitter"-ing negative emotions at this level. It is important that we recognize and honor feelings, and choose how to best be with them and to express them.
3.) Executive State: The brain asks, “What can I learn from this?”
Executive State is located in the frontal lobe area of the brain near the forehead. Here we speak and act intelligently. It allows one to be smart, to set and achieve goals, to be helpful, kind, calm, curious/questioning and to be a problem solver. This part of the brain is innovative, creative and connects with other people in a meaningful way. We can take a time-out, or at least pause, and breathe deeply in order to make wise choices. This is an expression of intelligence. It takes safety and love to reach this point. Learning happens here. The pause causes us to think before we speak or act. We respond rather than react. There is a positive pay-off for everyone when we respond from this part of our higher intelligence. The brain must be exercised by consciously using our Executive State. We can practice being calm, pausing, not throwing or hitting, stopping our words until we are heart focused. If we know these facts, we can consciously choose to move to our Executive State in any situation.
I invite you to pay attention to your words, actions, feelings and behaviors to determine when you are functioning from your Executive State and when you are functioning from either of the other two areas of the brain. Only then can you change to a higher level. Become conscious of what brain state you are in, exercise your frontal lobes and connect with our heart on a regular basis. Do this just as you would exercise any muscle in the body to gain control and strength. If you want to be brain-smart then you will want to exercise these steps with frequency and consistency over time.
When we are informed, we have the ultimate freedom to choose how we wish to function in life. It is my intention to live, love, learn, give and grow in amazing ways by applying this information!
I enjoy sharing with you and always look forward to your sharing your thoughts in return.
Together we learn best.
Thanks to Karen Diehl, editor
For further information on this brain science topic for practical everyday living, see the work of HeartMath, Dr. Joe Dispenza, Dr. Becky Baily at Conscious Discipline, Dr. Jane Nelson at Positive Discipline and Jai Institute for parent training.