Jumping for Joy

“…the signature expression of joy: a full-body jumping gesture, arms stretched overhead, chest open, and gaze lifted, as if you had just thrown confetti into the air.”

Image 7-20-21 at 2.00 PM

 “The Joy of Movement” by Kelly  McGoniga was  a good read, helping me better understand why I (Peggy) love to hike, dance and row.  Here are some of my main insights:

Exercise increases the number of receptors for endocanniboids*.  (Yes, you guessed it, endocanniboids are your very own internal “cannabis factory”.)

A natural high, runners high is the most well talked about but you don’t have to be a runner to get a release of endocanniboids.  All you need to do is persist at movement that is moderately difficult to release endocanniboids and create  a “persistence high” which also:

  • Makes you more social
  • Decreases anxiety and stress
  • Increases pain tolerance. 

Persisting at movement that is moderately difficult worked so well that research participants who suffered from panic attacks were not able to induce a panic attack in situations that would usually do so.

Music & Movement

Your brain responds to music you like by increasing dopamine, adrenaline and endorphins.  These brain transmitters serve to give you more energy and decrease pain. Throughout history music, songs or chants have been used to make work less taxing.  Think of medieval rowers who chanted in unison as do modern kayak racers.  When singing/chanting/listening to music the release of endorphins makes movement easier as well as helps create a bond with fellow participants. Combine “music” with movement and you get a double power “high”.

McGonigal calls songs used by some athletes to energize them “power” songs.   Power songs usually have a tempo of 120-140 beats per minute, and also have strong associations to positive emotions, often from the lyrics or culture or personal  associations (think of the theme from Rocky).

Music lyrics aren’t just for athletes as they can help all of us work harder, even reduce pain and fatigue.   Popular workout songs actually have lyrics that are about perseverance and determination (like Eminems “”Till I Collapse”).

Kelly McGonigal,


Kelly McGonigal “The Joy of Movement”

*The endogenous cannabinoid system—named for the plant that led to its discovery—is one of the most important physiologic systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. With its complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and virtually all of the body’s organs, the endocannabinoids are literally a bridge between body and mind. By understanding this system, we begin to see a mechanism that could connect brain activity and states of physical health and diseasehttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997295/

4 “Shortcuts” to getting more FEEL-GOOD oxytocin

Oxytocin rocks!  It’s the neurotransmitter most often associated with reward and bonding.  (when it doesn’t rock it can create addictions . . . but that’s another story)

 We’re sharing Loretta Breuning’s* short-cuts to oxytoxin, the feel-good drug, you don’t have to buy, smuggle or steal. 

NOTE:  This post focuses on just some short-cuts and is NOT Breuning’s main point in her book. She emphasizes that taking shortcuts instead of developing trusted relationships with people is not good for the long run.  Short-cuts are short-lived, often addictive, sometimes negative and do not sustain us in the healthiest way.  Read her book:

14 Days to Sustainable Happiness, A workbook for every brain”.



Research shows when we are involved and connected to others – family, friends, social networks, business partners, team sports – our oxytocin is increased.   Deep connection to others often takes time and/or energy to build and maintain. However there are oxytocin shortcuts  everywhere.

We enjoy a large “herd” because we evolved to seek safety in numbers.  That’s  why we  seek “herds” to feel bonded with hundreds or thousands of people for our oxytocin “fix”:

  • Attend a sports game and root for a common team
  • Attend a concert and cheer for an entertainer
  • Affiliate with a political party or politician
  • Become involved in charity work
  • Volunteer to work in a non-profit organization
  • Join a synagogue, church, temple
  • Play on a sports team, and feel a bond with thousands of people.

These shortcuts to oxytocin are real but temporary and often leaving us wanting more of that good stuff.  The best way to bond is with people who are permanent or constant in our life.  With trusted family and friends we are assured of getting the connections and support that are meaningful and loving.  No need to spend money on tickets!


petelf copy

Pets are another popular shortcut. Research shows pets stimulate oxytocin, lower our blood pressure and theirs too.   Animals have a unique connection to us but do have their limitations.  Don’t  give up on humans for your extra dose of oxytocin and support.


Another popular oxytocin shortcut is bonding with politics or politicians because it meets our mammalian need for support.  Politics focuses on common enemies, which builds instant oxytocin bonding among everyone on “our side.”  It’s not necessarily a good loop because to keep the neurotransmitters flowing we have to continually fear our antagonists.   

The benefits of oxytocin from “belonging” has to be weighed against the release of stress cortisol when focus is on a perceived “enemy”.


IMG_2891 (1)

Spending money is another well-known oxytocin shortcut – money goes out, and oxytocin flows in.  That’s why we can become addicted to shopping, whether it’s in a store or on-line.

An interesting research finding is we actually get a better dopamine boost when we gift others than when we purchase for ourself. 

  • Contribute to charities.
  • Tithe to religious institutions and causes
  • Buy small gifts for friends
  • Drop money in Santa Claus’ bucket
  • Purchase from free trade sites
  • Support National Public Radio and TV stations
  • Buy from industries that promote reducing our carbon footprint



*Loretta Breuning, PhD, “14 Days to Sustainable Happiness, A workbook for every brain”.



You don’t have a male or female brain

We must admit, we have prided ourselves in being comfortable asking for directions, deriding violence and being emotional. The conclusion reached by neuroscientists’ analysis of 30 years of research on human brain sex differences is a bit unsettling.  To protect our sterling reputation for being “relatively” unbiased  we share this in its entirety:

“Everyone knows the difference between male and female brains. One is chatty and a little nervous, but never forgets and takes good care of others. The other is calmer, albeit more impulsive, but can tune out gossip to get the job done.”

These are stereotypes, of course, but they hold surprising sway over the way actual brain science is designed and interpreted. Since the dawn of MRI, neuroscientists have worked ceaselessly to find differences between men’s and women’s brains. This research attracts lots of attention because it’s just so easy to try to link any particular brain finding to some gender difference in behavior”

“But as a neuroscientist long experienced in the field, I recently completed a painstaking analysis of 30 years of research on human brain sex differences. And what I found, with the help of excellent collaborators, is that virtually none of these claims has proven reliable.”

Meowie brain:lifting circle

“Except for the simple difference in size, there are no meaningful differences between men’s and women’s brain structure or activity that hold up across diverse populations. Nor do any of the alleged brain differences actually explain the familiar but modest differences in personality and abilities between men and women.”

More alike than not My colleagues and I titled our study “Dump the Dimorphism” to debunk the idea that human brains are “sexually dimorphic.” That’s a very science-y term biologists use to describe a structure that comes in two distinct forms in males and females, such as antlers on deer or the genitalia of men and women.”

“When it comes to the brain, some animals do indeed exhibit sexual dimorphism, such as certain birds whose brains contain a song-control nucleus that is six times larger in males and is responsible for male-only courtship singing. But as we demonstrate in our exhaustive survey, nothing in human brains comes remotely close to this.”

Early bird pets worm

The Early Bird Pets the Worm

“Yes, men’s overall brain size is about 11% bigger than women’s, but unlike some songbirds, no specific brain areas are disproportionately larger in men or women. Brain size is proportional to body size, and the brain difference between sexes is actually smaller than other internal organs, such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, which range from 17% to 25% larger in men”

“When overall size is properly controlled, no individual brain region varies by more than about 1% between men and women, and even these tiny differences are not found consistently across geographically or ethnically diverse populations.”

“Other highly touted brain sex differences are also a product of size, not sex. These include the ratio of gray matter to white matter and the ratio of connections between, versus within, the two hemispheres of the brain. Both of these ratios are larger in people with smaller brains, whether male or female”

“What’s more, recent research has utterly rejected the idea that the tiny difference in connectivity between left and right hemispheres actually explains any behavioral difference between men and women.”

“Still, “sexual dimorphism” won’t die. It’s a zombie concept, with the latest revival using artificial intelligence to predict whether a given brain scan comes from a man or woman.”

“Computers can do this with 80% to 90% accuracy except, once again, this accuracy falls to 60% (or not much better than a coin flip) when you properly control for head size. More troublesome is that these algorithms don’t translate across populations, such as European versus Chinese. Such inconsistency shows there are no universal features that discriminate male and female brains in humans – unlike those deer antlers.”

“Neuroscientists have long held out hope that bigger studies and better methods would finally uncover the “real” or species-wide sex differences in the brain. But the truth is, as studies have gotten bigger, the sex effects have gotten smaller.”

“This collapse is a telltale sign of a problem known as publication bias. Small, early studies which found a significant sex difference were likelier to get published than research finding no male-female brain difference.”

“We must be doing something right, because our challenge to the dogma of brain sex has received pushback from both ends of the academic spectrum. Some have labeled us as science “deniers” and deride us for political correctness. On the other extreme, we are dismissed by women’s health advocates, who believe research has overlooked women’s brains – and that neuroscientists should intensify our search for sex differences to better treat female-dominant disorders, such as depression and Alzheimer’s disease.”


“But there’s no denying the decades of actual data, which show that brain sex differences are tiny and swamped by the much greater variance in individuals’ brain measures across the population. And the same is true for most behavioral measures.”

“About a decade ago, teachers were urged to separate boys and girls for math and English classes based on the sexes’ alleged learning differences. Fortunately, many refused, arguing the range of ability is always much greater among boys or among girls than between each gender as a group.”

“In other words, sex is a very imprecise indicator of what kind of brain a person will have. Another way to think about it is every individual brain is a mosaic of circuits that control the many dimensions of masculinity and femininity, such as emotional expressiveness, interpersonal style, verbal and analytic reasoning, sexuality and gender identity itself.” Or, to use a computer analogy, gendered behavior comes from running different software on the same basic hardware.”

“The absence of binary brain sex features also resonates with the increasing numbers of people who identify as nonbinary, queer, nonconforming or transgender. Whatever influence biological sex exerts directly on human brain circuitry is clearly not sufficient to explain the multidimensional behaviors we lump under the complex phenomenon of gender.”

“Rather than “dimorphic,” the human brain is a sexually monomorphic organ – much more like the heart, kidneys and lungs. As you may have noticed, these can be transplanted between women and men with great success.”

 Lise Eliot, Professor of Neuroscience, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science April 22, 2021

The neuroscience of hate

“Scientists in recent years have begun to establish the neural coordinates for complex emotional concepts such as “hate.” Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is giving researchers an understanding of the way these intense emotions begin to emerge in the brain.”

“In 2008, Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at University College London’s Laboratory of Neurobiology, conducted a study last year that performed fMRIs on 17 adults as they looked at images of people whom they hated. Certain areas in the right putamen, medial frontal gyrus, medial insula, and the premotor cortex were activated.”


“The scientists noted that components of this “hate circuit” are also involved in commencing aggressive behavior, However, hatred exhibits different brain patterns than do the feelings of aggression itself, as well as fear, anger, and danger. The researchers postulated that activity in these areas indicate that the brain is primed for violence.”

“Hate can come from positive emotions, such as romantic love, as in the case of a jilted lover. Not surprisingly, love appears to deactivate areas associated with judgment, whereas hatred activates areas in the frontal cortex that are thought to be involved in evaluating another person and anticipate his or her behavior.”

“According to the authors of the study, there are striking similarities between love and hate. The regions of the putamen and insula that are “switched on” by hate are also the same as those for romantic love. “This linkage may account for why love and hate are so closely linked to each other in life.”’

“Psychologically speaking, hatred and violence against another classification of people is an extension and distortion of our natural human tendency to classify “us” from “them.”

From an evolutionary standpoint, group membership or “tribalism” was necessary for human survival.

‘“In-group/out-group” categorizations are made within milliseconds in the brain, and, when coupled with negative stereotypes, can result in feelings of fear, revulsion, and dehumanization.”

“Scientific studies have demonstrated that viewing pictures of people from a different race or culture activates the amygdala, which is an area of the brain linked with creating fear. Seeing or thinking about an out-group like the homeless or people who use drugs can also attenuate activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with social cognition and empathy. This decreased activity gives rise to feelings of dehumanization. In other words, seeing the other group as less than human, which creates an increased risk for violence.”

“Rebecca Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience, and associate department head at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, stated that violence between groups can occur when resources are considered to be limited. In those scenarios, protecting one’s own group and its resources at the expense of another group, even through the use of physical force, is deemed imperative. Even when the resources at stake are not commodities but “existential ideals and fundamental values,” feelings of hate for the opposing group can develop.”‘

“In a lecture given at Harvard in 2019, Saxe said: “If we think that the survival, autonomy, and dignity of our ideals is a scarce resource in a zero-sum conflict with the survival, autonomy, and dignity of another group, then it could be my obligation to destroy the other group.”’

“Saxe further stated: “Hate is a mixing of both intense dislike with moral contempt and disgust. The moral motive of extreme violence in which the other must be destroyed [is] to make a better, more just world for that which I hold most dear.” She has concluded that hate and violence are not caused by sociopathic tendencies but “the extreme culmination of perceiving an existential threat to one’s in-group.”

“Listening to hate speech can increase prejudice toward an out-group and even prime the brain for violent actions. According to Arizona State University psychologist Arthur Glenberg, “Words themselves are enough to trigger simulations in motor, perceptual and emotional neural systems. Your brain creates a sense of being there: The motor system is primed for action and the emotional system motivates those actions.”’

“How is it possible to control hate if the drive to hate is located in a primitive and unconscious part of the brain? The higher-order brain structures, like the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), among others, allow us to choose anger and hatred or to let it go.”


Charles Betzler/Last Updated February 15, 2021

5 steps to make good habits

All of you, like us, couldn’t possibly have any bad habits . . .  just in case you want to help “a friend” change their habits here’s what Alex Korb, a neuroscientist has to say:

Your brain does not separate good habit and bad habits. All habits are helpful, even if just for a short time. Habits are a way of making something automatic and easy to do, and habits are familiar and comfortable. The distinction between “good & bad” is identifying habits which are beneficial in the long run, not just the short run.

There are many kinds of habits: behaviors, thought patterns, acting on emotional responses . . . “Bad habits” can range from eating too many sweets, to always discounting your own problems because others have it worse, or getting angry when feeling hurt.

Want to know how to fix bad habits? Here are Dr. Korb’s key steps:

Step 1: Acknowledge your habits. (The first step to ALL change is AWARENESS)

Step 2: Be compassionate to yourself (or at least go back to step 1 and acknowledge your habit of self-criticism)

Step 3: Since all habits are triggered by something, figure out what triggers your specific habit and alter or eliminate it. (Imagine if you had some malicious software on your computer, if you don’t click on it,  your computer won’t be compromised. If your habit is eating too many sweets,  don’t walk down the cookie aisle in the market. It’s easier to AVOID temptation than it is to resist it.)

Step 4: Make it easier to do good habits by making a specific, easily-achievable, action plan. (When you have a sweet craving: eat fruit, change your surroundings and go for a walk, set a reminder, and involve other people.)

Step 5. Reward yourself for creating good habits.  (just like training a puppy, punishment will just make it get scared and pee on the rug. And NO, not cookie rewards!)  


Two things to watch for:

 1.  When you are stressed, your ability to think things out is reduced, and reverting to old habits becomes more likely.   Breathing exercises is one of the easiest, quickest ways to bring the stress response down.

2.  Korb also notes that if you think about positive qualities you possess, it will be easier to change those bad habits.  Ask yourself what others appreciate about yourself – qualities and behaviors you do not want to change. Write them down so you can quickly remind yourself of your positive traits.

If there’s something that has helped you (or your friend) create a “good habit” let us know.

Alex Korb, neuroscientist, author of “The Upward Spiral”

For more, see https://alexkorbphd.com/

Spiritual feelings trigger a reward circuit in your brain

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Peggy (my co-blogger) are so fascinated by neuroscience we have an entire blog MaxyourMIND devoted to brain research and how it impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being.  My other fascination, and may I say “devotion”, is spirituality and sometimes neuroscience and spirituality intersect.  A study* shows through functional MRI scans that such religious and spiritual experiences can be rewarding to your brain.

Religious and spiritual experiences activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs. 

“Billions of people make important decisions in life based on spiritual and religious feelings and experiences. It’s one of the most powerful influences on our social behavior,” he said. “Yet we know so little about what actually happens in the brain during these experiences. It’s just a critical question that needs more study.”

The Study:  Mulling over Mormon MRIs

For the study, 19 devout young adult Mormons had their brains scanned in fMRI machines while they completed various tasks.

The tasks included:

  • Resting for six minutes
  • Watching a six-minute church announcement about membership and financial reports
  • Reading quotations from religious leaders for eight minutes
  • Engaging in prayer for six minutes
  • Reading scripture for eight minutes
  • Watching videos of religious speeches, renderings of biblical scenes and church member testimonials.

During the tasks, participants were asked to indicate when they were experiencing spiritual feelings.

As the researchers analyzed the fMRI scans taken of the participants, they took a close look at the degree of spiritual feelings each person reported and then which brain regions were simultaneously activated.

The researchers found that certain brain regions consistently lit up when the participants reported spiritual feelings.

“The brain regions included:

  • the nucleus accumbens, which is associated with reward
  • frontal attentional, which is associated with focused attention
  • ventromedial prefrontal cortical loci, associated with moral reasoning

“I appreciated how they went about trying to ascertain the degree of spiritual experience that a person has. Of course, there is always a subjective component to it, but they seemed to capture it relatively well,” said Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologian and professor of emergency medicine and radiology at Thomas Jefferson Universitywho was not involved in the study.”

“He added that the new study further supports previous research that has associated spiritual and religious experiences with complex neural networks.”

“Since the study results were seen only in Mormons, more research is needed to determine whether similar findings could be replicated in people of other faiths, such as Catholics, Muslims Protestants, Bahai’s, and Christian Evangelicals.

“These are areas of the brain that seem like they should be involved in religious and spiritual experience. But yet, religious neuroscience is such a young field — and there are very few studies — and ours was the first study that showed activation of the nucleus accumbens, an area of the brain that processes reward,” said Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, a neuroradiologist at the University of Utah and lead author of the study.

“It is also interesting to see the changes occurring in the frontal attentional areas and the nucleus accumbens. These are actually areas we have hypothesized to be involved in religious practices and experiences over 10 years ago,” Dr Andrew Newberg said.

“It also corroborates our prior studies of various prayer and meditation practices that found changes in the attentional areas of the brain and also the striatum,” a part of the brain associated with the reward system.

*Social Neuroscience Journal Courtesy of the University of Utah Health Sciences


This post originally appeared on The HeART of Spirituality Click here for more

7 (and a half) myths about your brain

“In the 19th Century, serious physicists believed that the Universe was filled with an imaginary substance called luminiferous ether.”

“Doctors believed that illnesses were caused by smelly vapours called miasmas. Both of these scientific myths survived for over one hundred years until, eventually, they were vanquished by evidence.”

“The field of neuroscience likewise has a stable full of myths about the brain that have slowly been eroded by accumulating data. Some survive today, mainly in the media and some popular science books and articles. Neuroscientist David Linden refers to them as “neurobullsh*t.” They are maintained not by evidence, but by repetition and belief.


Here are a few favorites:”

Myth #1: You have a lizard in your head

“Have you ever heard that your smouldering passions lie deep in ancient parts of your brain, which you supposedly inherited from prehistoric reptiles? Or that your “rational brain”, which sits atop your “lizard brain”, tries to cage your desires to keep them in check? This intuitive story of your inner reptile, safely wrapped in a cloak of rationality, seemingly explains what it means to be a moral, healthy person. It is also one of the most successful errors in all of science. To quote the neuroscientist Barbara Finlay, “Your brain is not a lizard in drag.”’

“The idea that your mind is a battleground between passion and reason goes all the way back to Ancient Greece. It became a popular lens for charting brain evolution in the mid-20th Century, as scientists tried to understand brain function by comparing human brains to other animal brains by eye. More recent neuroscience clearly shows, however, that brains don’t evolve in layers like adding icing to an already-baked cake. Instead, the brains of all mammals, and possibly all vertebrates, follow a single manufacturing plan. The only animal with a lizard brain is a lizard.”


Myth #2: The left side of your brain is logical and the right side is creative

“In general, no part of your brain is exclusively dedicated to artistic endeavours, mathematical reasoning, or any other psychological function. Pretty much every action you take and every experience you have is computed by neurons distributed across your whole brain.”

“One part of your brain — the cerebral cortex — indeed consists of two halves or hemispheres, but both are intricately connected to many subcortical bits that make up the rest of your brain. So it’s simply not the case that some neurons in the left hemisphere create a computer engineer and some on the right create a poet. A few functions seem to take place mostly in one hemisphere, such as language ability on the left, but this lateralisation develops gradually and in most, but not every, individual.”

Myth #3: Cortisol is a stress hormone, and serotonin is a happiness hormone

“It’s a common belief that your brain screams “ I’m stressed ” by having cortisol gush through your arteries, and neurons shower serotonin on each other to create a joyful, happy feeling. In reality, no hormone has just one specific psychological purpose (that we know of), and all the chemicals that help to create your mind work in concert.

“Cortisol, for example, boosts the amount of glucose in your bloodstream to provide a quick burst of energy for your cells when your brain predicts the need, whether you feel stressed or not. Your brain tells your adrenal glands to let loose some cortisol right before you exercise or awaken in the morning to drag yourself out of bed. Cortisol may be released during stress but it is not a “stress hormone.”’

“Likewise, serotonin is not a “happiness hormone.” It has many functions. In your body, for example, serotonin regulates how much fat is made. In your brain, serotonin helps keep track of the energy you spend and gain. It allows you to spend energy even if there’s no immediate reward for doing so, which enables you to explore, forage, and be curious. Serotonin also helps other neurons pass information back and forth as they create your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and actions.”

Myth #4: Your eyes see, your ears hear, and your skin feels

“Think about the last time you washed your face. Your skin felt the soothing, warm water. Or did it? Your skin actually has no sensors for wetness. So what’s happening here? Your brain is secretly combining several sources of information, including touch, temperature, and your knowledge from past experience, to construct a feeling of being wet.”

“All of your sensations, in fact, are computed in your brain, not simply detected in the world by your sense organs. You don’t see with your eyes — you see with your brain, based on a combination of what’s in your head and the sense data coming from your retinas.”

“Likewise, you hear with your brain as it constructs sounds based only in part on the sense data from your ears. Your experiences of smell, taste, and touch are similarly constructions. So is the feeling of your heart beating in your chest when you run up the stairs and your lungs expanding as you take a deep breath.”

Myth #5: Your brain reacts to events in the world

“As you go through your day, it may seem like your brain is constantly reacting to events around you. You see a cute puppy and you smile. A friend makes an embarrassing remark and you blush. You’re pricked by a vaccine needle and you feel a twinge of pain. But under the hood, your brain’s neurons do not sit idle until the world turns them on, like some cartoonish chain reaction.”

“Instead, your brain is constantly guessing what might happen in the next moment, and comparing its guesses to the sense data that it receives from the outside world and inside your body. These guesses are the seeds that give rise to your actions and your experiences.”

“In fact, your brain begins to conjure your actions and experience before receiving sense data from your eyes, ears, nose and so on. Your brain is not reacting to the world — it is forever predicting, like a fortune teller, imagining what your world will be like, how you will act, and who you will be. The information streaming in from your senses can confirm those predictions; or it can adjust them, a process you might know as “learning.” You can’t feel this predictive drama happening. It’s so quick and effortless that you feel like you’re reacting.

Myth #6: Mirror neurons are special cells that create empathy

“Several decades ago, some scientists observed neurons that seemed to have a particular kind of symmetry. They increase their activity when you take a particular action, such as waving your hand, and also when you watch others performing a similar action. These neurons were dubbed “mirror neurons” for this seemingly unique behaviour. But in reality, they are just everyday neurons engaged in ordinary, miraculous prediction.”

“In every moment, your brain’s predictions begin as silent commands to move parts of your body, like adjusting your heart rate, contracting your intestines, gushing some hormones, or raising your arm. Copies of these commands are sent to your sensory systems to become predictions of what you’ll see, hear, and feel if you move.”

“These commands are sometimes executed and sometimes not, but they turn out to be a critical part of your ability to perceive anything at all, including the actions of other people. So, the same neurons that help you wave hello to a friend enable you to see someone else wiggle their fingers in their air and to understand it as a greeting. It’s not “mirroring,” it’s a normal part of your brain’s predictive process.”

Myth #7: Your brain stores memories

“A brain doesn’t store memories like a computer stores files, to be retrieved whole when needed. Your brain reconstructs your memories on demand with electricity and swirling chemicals. We call this process “remembering” but it’s really more like “assembling.” And each time a memory is assembled, it might be built with some different neurons. It’s also influenced by your current situation, so each occurrence may differ in its details.”

“This is one reason why eyewitness testimony in legal trials can be unreliable. Memories are highly vulnerable to reshaping. In one study of convictions that were later overturned by DNA evidence, 70 per cent of the accused were convicted based on eyewitness testimony.”


Myth #7½: You can’t grow new brain cells

“This myth is partly true (so it’s just half a myth). Most areas of the human brain cannot grow new brain cells, but some parts can. One such part is the hippocampus, which is important for learning, remembering, regulating how much you eat, and other biological functions.”

“Interestingly, many other animals can regrow neurons throughout much of their brains. Why can’t we? Some scientists wonder if it’s a price we pay for living long lives. A long life requires a dependable memory. Your brain needs a way to reassemble past experiences not just from days or weeks ago, but across the span of years. New neurons, like the ones that sprout in your hippocampus, may be for learning new things and making new memories, rather than remembering (reassembling) the past. In a sense, new neurons enable your brain to cultivate your past as a way of charting your future.”

Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett, Picador Publishing.

Training My Puppy Dog Brain

My brain likes to chew on things.  And like a hard bone it particularly favors gnawing long and hard on problems.  Years past I had a “guy problem.”  It was an important relationship and needing to figure everything out  I went over and over and over and over the same thoughts trying to solve it like a puzzle.  I got nowhere, and made myself miserable as an added bonus.   Coincidently,  I read an article – Rumination and the Brain.  Ruminating!  That was what I had been doing.  No matter how much I thought about my “guy problem” I made no progress, found no solutions.

Thinking is good but ruminating wasn’t helpful. So I set out to figure out how to stop “chewing”.


Tired of being miserable I wanted to stop ruminating about my “guy problem” . . . JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT I told myself.  My puppy dog brain had other ideas.   It was like taking a puppy for a walk: The puppy wants to sniff, I want to walk; The puppy wants to run, I want to walk; The puppy wants to chase lizards, I want to walk.   Each time my brain wandered back to my “guy problem”  I had to pull on a leash and focus on something else.  Sometimes when my thoughts wandered I instantly noticed.  Other times my brain had been ruminating for a while before I was aware of it.  I had to refocus on anything other than my “guy problem” over and over.  Slowly, very slowly, I ruminated less and less.

It took a lot of determination to retrain my brain and stop it from ruminating. What helped the most was that I stopped thinking I was “working on” a problem and reminded myself I was spinning my wheels, wasting time and not solving anything.  I had already thought of all my available possibilities, and had already done what I could. 


Take a look at the article that helped me begin training my puppy dog brain

Rumination and the Brain

The brains of people with major depression ruminate differently

“Rumination: We’ve all done it before. It’s that pattern of recurring thinking where you focus on your negative mood as well as the causes and consequences of it.”

“For people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), rumination is often a big player in their disease. Rumination has been shown to prolong episodes of depression and to increase peoples’ risk of developing new depressive episodes.”

“Because of this link between rumination and depression, scientists have been very interested in how the brains of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) operate when they ruminate and how this compares to the brains of people without a depression diagnosis. The hope is that by understanding the neural correlates of rumination, we can arm clinicians with the best tools to diagnose and treat depression. We might also learn something about rumination and the brain in general.”

“Researchers at Stanford University invited people diagnosed with MDD and people who were free of any clinical diagnosis (control participants) to have their brains scanned using fMRI while they performed a number of tasks designed to induce rumination. Unlike some cognitive process (e.g., moving your attention from one side of a computer screen to another), rumination is not easily observed or assessed, so the scientists had to be a bit creative in how they got people to ruminate.”

“While in the fMRI scanner, people were asked to do several different tasks. The first was designed to induce rumination. People were asked to “think about what people notice about your personality.” Two other tasks served as control tasks, so that the scientists could pit brain activation during rumination against these tasks to see differences in neural activation between ruminative thinking and other types of thinking. In these control tasks, sometimes folks were asked to “think about what contributes to team spirit” and, other times, to “think about a row of shampoo bottles on display.” The researchers reasoned that these latter two thought tasks would capture the types of abstract and concrete thinking that occur during rumination, but would be relatively free of rumination itself.”

“When the researchers peered inside everyone’s heads to see how people’s brains operated during these thinking tasks, they found some pretty interesting differences between the MDD individuals and their control counterparts. Specifically, the MDDs had greater activation than controls during the rumination task in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. Thought to be involved in mood regulation, the anterior cingulate cortex may be infusing more emotion into the depressed individuals’ ruminations than controls. Depressed individuals also had greater activation in the amygdala, that almond shaped region deep in the brain that is a major player in negative emotional reactions. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, MDDs showed greater activation in the prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) . . .  . our working memory (a.k.a., cognitive horsepower) is housed.
If depressed individuals spend a lot more of this neural real estate trying to regulate their thinking, they may have less brainpower left over to do other important thinking and reasoning tasks. This may explain the cognitive deficits depressed individuals sometimes show.”

“It’s no secret that depressed individuals report greater ruminative tendencies than their non-depressed counterparts. But, rumination isn’t limited to those diagnosed with depression. That’s why, understanding differences in how MDDs and non-depressed individuals’ brains operate during rumination may be a key to helping stave off the negative consequences of a major depressive disorder. When they ruminate, people diagnosed with MDD tend to recruit, more so than non-depressed individuals, emotion centers of the brain and also important parts of prefrontal cortex that we need to think and function at our best. Armed with knowledge about how rumination in seeded in brain, the hope is that we can moving closer to alleviating it.”

Sian Beilock Ph.D., in Psychology Today


Your brain is shrinking

Bad news about your brain: A college degree can do wonders for your career, but it won’t help prevent your brain from shrinking with age.

Good news: You can fight the brain’s aging process. A study involved 2,000 European adults ranging from 26 to 91. The researchers used MRI scans to examine brain tissue volume to find out if there is a correlation between higher education and a healthier brain during old age, along with seeing how genetic and environmental lifelong factors change the brain over time.

What the study found

The findings, in Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, “suggest that education does not seem to have any causal protective impact in how the brain changes with age,”*

Researchers found an insufficient amount of evidence, disproving that there is a connection between higher education and greater brain tissue volume size after examining the cortex and the hippocampus, two areas that often reduce in size as people age.

But for many neuroscientists, there is still a widely held belief that higher degrees can contribute to a healthier brain (even if it does shrink). A degree could help form a “cognitive reserve,” meaning you can retain more mental activity as you age, and help you weather the effects of aging, but this will not outright prevent dementia.

More Good News: Dementia is on the decline

In the past, many researchers suggested that higher education can fight against our aging brains. Over the years, as higher education rates have been rising, dementia rates have been on the decline, but the connection between higher education and a stronger brain may not be the reason. 

Younger individuals perform better on the cognitive test as well, studies show, but it is still a mystery what causes this underlying increase in performance.

Dementia rates could be falling—almost 15% every decade—due to healthier lifestyles and better cardiovascular health. The decline of smoking cigarettes is a big factor in this.

“We know that recent decades have seen a radical decline in smoking rates for men. While many people may have been persuaded to stop smoking due to an increased risk of cancer or heart disease, it is also a key risk factor for dementia.”

What you can do to fight dementia

Dementia is hard to prevent, but for those who have dementia caused by a stroke, living a healthier lifestyle—and therefore doing their part to prevent heart disease or another stroke—is the best course of action. Eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise, and not smoking all contribute to a healthier and happier life. 

While dementia is still a mysterious beast, it is reassuring to know that living a healthier lifestyle is proven to help in fighting against dementia. So, rather than hitting those books, it might be time to go hit theto go hit the walking trail.


* Anders Fjell, a professor at the University of Oslo in Norway. 

Did you know, Natural Flavor is not always Healthier than Artificial?

Depending on my mood I  always have two books available to read  – one that’s scientific and the other a  mystery.  My science book was “The Dorrito Effect”.  Its main focus is how both artificial and NATURAL food flavors fool us into thinking we are getting certain nutrients that are NOT there. (Peggy)

Here’s a taste of what I gleaned from the book. (puns intended).

Flavor and nutrients have gone hand in hand (maybe hand in mouth?) since the beginning of time.  Both humans and animals developed  an amazing ability, through flavor, to know what to eat to get the nutrients bodies need.  A simple example is when we need potassium, bananas which are high in potassium look more appealing  or when depleted of iron we might crave red meat.  Dorritos are an example in the book as they were one of the first to heavily use artificial flavors.

Natural foods, have a lot of what is called secondary compounds and minerals.   With processed food we get more water and carbs and fewer minerals. What the flavor industry does is mimic flavor, say strawberry, without using strawberries.    Strawberry ice cream is tasty but most doesn’t contain the secondary compounds and minerals found in real strawberries.  Orange flavor might contain not only orange extract, but also extracts from bark and grass.

“Pick up any packaged, processed food, and there’s a decent chance that one of its listed ingredients will be “natural flavor.”  Anything labeled “natural” sounds good, particularly in contrast to “artificial flavor” but what exactly does “natural flavor” mean? 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines “natural flavor” as oils, resins or other extracts derived from natural sources like plants, meat or seafood. Processes like heating or fermentation are used to extract the flavor. The function of these products is flavoring, not adding any nutritional content.

Experts say that ultimately, natural and artificial flavors are not that different. While chemists make natural flavors by extracting chemicals from natural ingredients, artificial flavors are made by creating the same chemicals synthetically.

“The reason companies bother to label “natural” flavors rather than artificial flavors is simple: marketing.”

“Consumers may believe products with natural flavors are healthier, though they’re nutritionally no different from those with artificial flavors.”

“Nor are ingredients extracted from nature necessarily safer than something artificially made.” *

  • Many deadly toxins are produced in nature.

  • In some cases, natural flavors may have more detrimental environmental consequences than artificial flavors.  (Because natural flavors must come from resources in nature, they may involve more forest clear-cutting and carbon emissions from transport than flavors created from scratch in the lab.)

“If you like something, and it gives you the flavoring you want, you should buy it.  Don’t buy it because it says ‘natural flavor.’ Buy it because you like it.”*

*Gary Reineccius of the University of Minnesota. 




Sitting Possibly Makes My Brain (Yours too) Thinner?

(BUT I’m relieved that the pea is getting younger as my body grows older!)

Judy recuperating by Peggy

“A team of researchers from UCLA and the University of Adelaide studied 35 non-demented adults who were from 45 to 75 years old. They gave each study participant the International Physical Activity Questionnaire to determine how many hours on average they spent sitting and how much physical activity they got each day. Each study participant also underwent a high-resolution MRI scans of his or her brain.”

The researchers found that the more hours the subjects sat the thinner the medial temporal lobes of their brains tended to be. (Each hour of additional sitting correlated with a medial temporal lobe that’s 2% thinner.) This was regardless of how much physical activity they engaged in when not sitting.

 Some of the possibilities of how sitting impacts your brain include:

  • Your blood may not be circulating as much throughout your body and therefore your brain. This could mean that your brain is not getting as much oxygen or the waste products in your brain aren’t being cleared out as effectively.
  • You don’t burn as many calories, which could lead to weight issues, which then alter a wide variety of mechanisms in your body.
  • Your body’s metabolic machinery and hormones may be impacted so that your brain is not getting as many nutrients or is being exposed to other conditions such as higher blood sugar.

More recuperation by Peggy

Correlations and associations do not mean cause-and-effect.

A study with only 35 people has many limitations and does not prove that sitting will make part of your brain thinner. “Maybe in this study, the people who were more likely to sit more each day also were more likely to be less active socially, have less stimulating jobs, or have other circumstances that could be affecting their brains. Alternatively, could thinning medial temporal lobes somehow be affecting their behaviors so that they sat more?  More studies are needed to figure out what is actually happening.”

*The medial temporal lobe is part of the brain responsible for forming longer term memories. It tends to thin as you age to begin with!

“Nonetheless, this study does add to the concern that “sitting is the new smoking”, which by the way nothing to do with “cigarette butts.” Other studies have associated regularly sitting for lengthy periods of time with increased risks of obesitydiabetesmuscle and back problemscancer, and other health problems.”


To learn how Googling can help your brain, read this:

 Google On! My brain grows younger while my body grows old.

the thinner the medial temporal lobes of their brains tended to be. Each hour of additional sitting correlated with a medial temporal lobe that’s 2% thinner.

Why women mature faster than men or Sometimes men take a bit more time to “act their age.”

(Apologies in advance to our male readers* – we don’t want to alienate you . . .  . . . with the truth.)

“There may never be an acceptable excuse for why men typically find more humor in their own passing of gas and burping than women, but the science points to a difference in the way our brains develop.”

(Turns out that “being mature” IS all in your head.)

A 2013 study published in Cerebral Cortex offers a scientific explanation behind the common notion that men take longer to “act their age” than women do. According to the study, it’s rooted in the fact that the female brain establishes connections and “prunes” itself faster than the male brain.

“It seems that the process starts a few years after birth and continues to occur until around 40 years old (when everything else starts deteriorating – coincidence?  I think not)  “

The human brain undergoes major changes anatomically and functionally as we age, and these changes make the connections in our brain more efficient. Notably, research found that this process tends to happen at an earlier age for women than men, which may explain why some (SOME?) women seem to mature faster than men.

For the first few years of life, there’s an “initial overabundance of neurons, connections, folding of the brain surface.  After that, a ‘pruning’ process occurs for refinement, to make the brain network more economic and efficient.” (It’s unfair that my body expands  and my brain condenses . . .  even if it helps to explain this particular maturation effect.)

The Study:  “The researchers recruited 121 people between the ages of 4 and 40 and used an imaging tool to estimate how different regions of the brain might be communicating, specifically looking at fiber tracts that connect brain cells to one another. As the fiber tracts get reorganized, the brain gets rid of some of the tracts between cells that are already close to each other, but keeps the ones that connect brain-cells that are far away.”

The science: “At birth, men and women have about the same number of brain fibers. These fibers create a network that helps us to learn and develop. As we get older, the brain finds a faster way to communicate messages from one region to another. Think of it like having a face-to-face conversation with someone instead of shouting to them across a loud and crowded room. Instead of potentially losing your message in a noisy room, your message is more likely to be received correctly, in a more direct message. When the amount of fibers gets streamlined, they are relaying more focused information directly to the region of the brain they need to target.”

“This selective pruning process, which is called preferential detachment, ( I prefer to selectively prune celulite and wrinkles) preserves core properties of the brain network that are crucial for information processing and cognitive development.” 

“This process seems to occur earlier in females than in males and could explain why cognitively, women tend to be ahead of the curve in terms of maturity. The brains of females are further along in the reorganization process and, for at least a few years ( a FEW years?), may be working more efficiently than a male’s.”

So how different are men and women? Maturity is in the brain of the beholder — but because female brains get pruned faster than males ones, it takes a little longer to show up in men.

“Understanding how our brain wires itself is key to understanding how mental illnesses and conditions develop. By uncovering our brain’s pruning system, this study takes us a bit closer to that goal. It also adds to the growing body of research that looks into gender differences when it comes to the brain. Since everything in the body is connected in some way, the next step would be for scientists to connect this difference to other effects around the body. (like cellulite and wrinkles)



Are You a Highly Sensitive Person? You might have ADRA2b like me.

Goggle “emotional sensitivity” and you’ll find tons (well maybe not tons, but a lot) of articles, books, survival guides on how to overcome “being so sensitive”.   

About 1 in 5  fit the HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) profile.  I currently rate a 12 1/2 out of 16 traits below.  When I was younger it was 16 out of 16.  (Interestingly, artists and therapists seem to fit this profile in larger numbers than the general population . . . hmmm)

Fragile Fleur by judy

It’s baaaaaaaad:  I cry at dog food commercials and can’t tolerate anything that has a hint of violence.

My husband prefers “blow’em up – shoot ’em dead – stab ’em hard” for his watching pleasure.  He reminds me that it’s “not real” as I lock him in his room so I can’t see or hear what he’s watching.  I watch HGTV House Hunters International, preferring my suspense and intrigue to trying to guess which house the couple will buy.

However, rather than label myself as a “Highly Sensitive Person”, I prefer to think of myself as a fragile flower . . . so much more feminine.    


Here are 16 HSP traits.  If you want to read more about each click here

  1. They feel more deeply.
  2. They’re more emotionally reactive.
  3. They’re probably used to hearing, “Don’t take things so personally” and “Why are you so sensitive?”
  4. They prefer to exercise solo.
  5. It takes longer for them to make decisions.
  6. They are more upset if they make a “bad” or “wrong” decision.
  7. They notice details.
  8. Not all highly sensitive people are introverts.
  9. They work well in team environments.
  10. They’re more prone to anxiety or depression (but only if they’ve had a lot of past negative experiences).
  11. That annoying sound is probably significantly more annoying to a highly sensitive person.
  12. Violent movies are the worst.
  13. They cry more easily.
  14. They have above-average manners.
  15. The effects of criticism are especially amplified in highly sensitive people.
  16. They prefer solo work environments.


The good news! I no longer have to read up on how to overcome, minimize, explain or justify my emotional sensitivity because I must have a ADRA2b gene.

(Now I can blame my mother for my sensitivity – aren’t mothers always the ones who get the credit for how we turn out . . .  or the blame?)

Genes might explain differences in how we experience emotions

“Your genes may influence how sensitive you are to emotional information, according to new research by a UBC neuroscientist. The study, recently published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that carriers of a certain genetic variation perceived positive and negative images more vividly, and had heightened activity in certain brain regions.”

“People really do see the world differently,” says lead author Rebecca Todd, a professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology. “For people with this gene variation, the emotionally relevant things in the world stand out much more.”

“The gene in question is ADRA2b, which influences the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Previous research by Todd found that carriers of a deletion variant of this gene showed greater attention to negative words. Her latest research is the first to use brain imaging to find out how the gene affects how vividly people perceive the world around them, and the results were startling.”

“Fragile flower?  HSP? . . . I think she’s just plain melodramatic. . “

Originally posted on 

cropped curious


The REAL reasons you procrastinate may not be what you think

I mastered in the art of procrastination. I began to perfect how to procrastinate in the 5th grade when I took violin lessons.  I HATED to practice.  The teacher only gave fingering exercises to do  – it wasn’t “music”, no melody, and I HATED doing it over and over and over.  Instead of being well-practiced in violin playing I became well practiced in procrastination.  I remember feeling very guilty knowing my parents were paying for lessons they could ill afford.  Guilt however, did not stop the procrastination.

According to traditional thinking procrastinators have a time management problem. With better scheduling and a better grip on time, so the logic goes, we will stop procrastinating and get on with the task at hand. Ha! Judy


“Increasingly, however, psychologists are realizing this is wrong. Experts like Tim Pychyl at Carleton University in Canada and his collaborator Fuschia Sirois at the University of Sheffield in the UK have proposed that procrastination is an issue with managing our emotions, not our time.”

Why procrastination is about managing emotions, not time.*

“The task we’re putting off is making us feel bad – perhaps it’s boring, too difficult or we’re worried about failing – and to make ourselves feel better in the moment, we start doing something else, anything else.”

Chronic procrastination is linked with mental and physical health costs, from depression and anxiety to cardiovascular disease

“This fresh perspective on procrastination is beginning to open up exciting new approaches to reducing the habit; it could even help you improve your own approach to work. “Self-change of any of sort is not a simple thing, and it typically follows the old adage of two steps forward and one step back,” says Pychyl. “All of this said, I am confident that anyone can learn to stop procrastinating.”

The Research

One of the first investigations to inspire the emotional view of procrastination was published in the early 2000s by researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. They first prompted people to feel bad (by asking them to read sad stories) and showed that this increased their inclination to procrastinate by doing puzzles or playing video games instead of preparing for the intelligence test they knew was coming. Subsequent studies by the same team showed low mood only increases procrastination if enjoyable activities are available as a distraction, and only if people believe they can change their moods. 

The emotional regulation theory of procrastination makes intuitive sense.

Short-term mood lifters

Procrastination – while effectively distracting in the short-term – can lead to guilt, which ultimately compounds the initial stress.

“The emotional regulation view of procrastination also helps explain some strange modern phenomena, like the fad for watching online cat videos which have attracted billions of views on YouTube. A survey of thousands of people by Jessica Myrick at the Media School at Indiana University confirmed procrastination as a common motive for viewing the cat videos and that watching them led to a boost in positive mood. It’s not that people hadn’t adequately scheduled time for watching the videos; often they were only watching the clips to make themselves feel better when they should be doing something else less fun.”

“Myrick’s research also highlighted another emotional aspect to procrastination. Many of those surveyed felt guilty after watching the cat videos. This speaks to how procrastination is a misguided emotional regulation strategy. While it might bring short-term relief, it only stores up problems for later. (In my own case, decades later, I still remember by delaying my violin practice I ended up feeling even more stressed, not to mention the  guilt and frustration.)”

It’s perhaps little wonder that research by Fuschia Sirois has shown chronic procrastination – that is, being inclined to procrastinate on a regular, long-term basis – is associated with a host of adverse mental and physical health consequences, including anxiety and depression, poor health such as colds and flu, and even more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease.

Researchers say procrastinating helps us feel better when certain tasks fill us with negative emotions – if they are too difficult or boring,

Sirois believes procrastination has these adverse consequences through two routes –

  • First, it’s stressful to keep putting off important tasks and failing to fulfill your goals.
  • Second, the procrastination can involve delaying important health behaviors, such as taking up exercise or visiting the doctor.
  • Over time high stress and poor health behaviors are well known to have a synergistic and cumulative effect on health that can increase risk for a number of serious and chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer,” she says.

All of this means that overcoming procrastination could have a major positive impact on your life. Sirois says her research suggests that “decreasing a tendency to chronically procrastinate by one point [on a five-point procrastination scale] would also potentially mean that your risk for having poor heart health would reduce by 63%”.

‘Just get started’  ACT

“On a positive note, if procrastination is an emotional regulation issue, this offers important clues for how to address it most effectively. An approach based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or ‘ACT’, an off-shoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, seems especially apt.”

“ACT teaches the benefits of ‘psychological flexibility’ – that is, being able to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, staying in the present moment in spite of them, and prioritising choices and actions that help you get closer to what you most value in life.”

“Relevant here is cutting edge research that’s shown students who procrastinate more tend to score higher on psychological inflexibility. That is, they’re dominated by their psychological reactions, like frustration and worry, at the expense of their life values; high scorers agree with statements like ‘I’m afraid of my feelings’ and ‘My painful experiences and memories make it difficult for me to live a life that I would value’. Those who procrastinate more also score lower on ‘committed action’, which describes how much a person persists with actions and behaviours in pursuit of their goals. Low scorers tend to agree with statements like ‘If I feel distressed or discouraged, I let my commitments slide’.”

“Research shows that once the first step is made towards a task, following through becomes easier”
“ACT trains people both to increase their psychological flexibility (for example, through mindfulness) and their committed action (for example, by finding creative ways to pursue goals that serve their values – what matters most to them in life), and preliminary research involving students has been promising, with ACT proving more effective than CBT in one trial over the longer-term.”

“Of course, most of us probably won’t have the option of signing up to an ACT course any time soon – and in any case we’re bound to keep putting off looking for one – so how can we go about applying these principles today? “When someone finally recognises that procrastination isn’t a time management problem but is instead an emotion regulation problem, then they are ready to embrace my favourite tip,” says Pychyl.”

‘What’s the next action – IF – a simple next step –

“The next time you’re tempted to procrastinate, “make your focus as simple as: ‘What’s the next action I would take on this task if I were to get started on it now?’”.

“Doing this, he says, takes your mind off your feelings and onto easily achievable action. “Our research and lived experience show very clearly that once we get started, we’re typically able to keep going. Getting started is everything.”’

If only I had known all this in the 5th grade I would have been a violin concert virtuoso instead of a blogger. judy


*Dr Christian Jarrettis a senior editor at Aeon magazine.

For better & faster learning get things wrong.

Want to get your brain to learn more easily?

When we are young our brains are primed for quick and easy learning.  After about age 25 this declines, and learning takes more effort. However, at all ages there are things you can do to learn more easily.

Everyone thought that once you were an adult, your brain pretty much stayed the same. Research has now shown that the brain remains “plastic” and able to change throughout life. (It is just less plastic than it was when you were a kid!)


Certain behaviors turn on the neurochemical cocktail of epinephrine, acetylcholine and dopamine which alert your nervous system, increase neuroplasticity and make it easier for your brain to learn.

FIRST, you need to get things wrong!   

Try something new or something that has frustrated you.  We often give up, when we get things wrong and give up.  Based on the neurochemistry for learning when we stick with it, those very errors help us learn. Turns out that if you like  making mistakes, you are optimizing learning and neuroplasticity.

Making mistakes triggers 3 neurochemicals  for your brain to pay attention and figure out what change is needed to get things right.  

3 neurochemicals for optimal learning:

Epinephrine for alertness

Failure signals  what you are doing did not work and gets the brain to produce epinephrine.

Acetylcholine for focus 

Acetylcholine is produced to give you focus to help solve and remedy the mistake

Dopamine for motivation and reward

As you keep trying to solve the errors and make progress “feel good” dopamine is released  to reward you.  

Try any  NEW skill – motor, mental, emotional.  Remember the object is to make mistakes, stumble and fail, not succeed .  Focus on this anywhere from 7 to 30 minutes,  and you will have an hour or so to learn something you want to learn while your brain is in this “plastic” state”.

SECOND, switch to learning something else where you want to succeed faster.

After making errors on the first task  your brain will stay plastic for a while so you will have an easier time learning another skill like speaking a second language, baking bread , playing an instrument, or memorizing a speech.  If you are over 25 years old you will need to do shorter bouts – about 90 minutes – of learning (one reason young people can learn relatively faster is that they have a LOT of new things to learn).

Learn to attach dopamine to process of making errors

Try to subjectively associate the experience  of making errors with something good. Make failing repetitively a positive by telling yourself making errors revs up your brain’s plasticity.  Make frustration the source of what is ultimately good  for fast learning.


To summarize the steps to better, faster learning:

  1. Try a new learning experience where you will make a lot of errors for 7 to 30 minutes. Do not deliberately make mistakes as you need to learn by having to adjust and make corrections . (Motor learning is a good place to start because motor skills, like hitting a tennis ball or trying new dance steps, are observable and quantifiable.)
  2. During the next hour you will have increased brain plasticity to learn something you want to learn quickly and easily. I t does not have to be a motor skill, it can be learning anything, even making emotional connections.
  3. Keep your second learning bouts short, no longer than 90 minutes, whether once a day or 3 times a day.
  4. Know your own cycle and use the time of day when your focus and energy are naturally at their best. (To learn about your cycle, Click here for Mood Chart and Mood Tracker to download with instructions). Being calm and alert is optimal.
  5. Remind yourself why making errors is important!

    Try it out and tell us how it works for you.

Andrew Huberman  from Stanford explains the brain’s optimal state for learning: Below is link tor Huberman’s podcast #7 on You Tube


Do you have “sleep creep” too? Tips to set your wake-sleep cycle

I have “sleep creep”. My body wants to stay up longer than my intended bedtime. My brain wants to sleep in longer than my intended wake-up time. When I give into my brain & body, go to bed and get up when I feel like it, pretty soon I am staying up late and getting up late.

I particularly don’t like my sleep creep because I love to be outside in the morning – especially in the California sunshine.  (I grew up in Arizona where sunshine can be brutal.)  I wondered why I can make myself stay awake but can’t MAKE myself fall asleep?  I listened to a few podcasts on sleep that gave me more answers and tips to regulate my wake-sleep cycle and avoid “sleep creep”.   Peggy

What makes us get sleepy? There are 2 main forces:

Sleep force 1 – Adenosine

The chemical adenosine is a molecule which creates a “desire” to sleep. Levels of it are very low when sleeping and build during the day – the longer we are awake the higher the adenosine levels and the sleepier we become.

Why Caffeine creates alertness

Caffeine acts like an adenosine antagonist—it binds to the adenosine receptor, so you get less adenosine  and our “sleepy” signal is temporarily blocked.  When caffeine wears off adenosine quickly binds to its receptors and we become sleepy.

Sleep force 2 – Circadian Rhythm

When morning comes we get an increase in energy, no matter how long we’ve slept or adenosine levels. This is because of the second force that governs wakefulness is our circadian clock.  Our brain is “programmed” to wake up when the sun rises and adenosine is low. At this time a  pulse of cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) are released which increases heart rate and muscle tension to make us feel awake.

To help set this cycle our brain neurons need light.  Neurons respond best to sunrise light when the solar angle is low and the contrast between blue and yellow is highest.

Special retinal ganglion cells in the eye (not the cells we see with) register this type of light and communicates to our brain’s “clock” (the  superchiasmatic nucleus) which connects to every body cell.

This clock sets our circadian rhythm, which times the release of cortisol and epinephrine in the morning, and sets a cellular timer for melatonin to be released  later to help us fall asleep. If the circadian rhythm is not set early enough there can be negative effects for the cardiovascular system, metabolic system, mood, and learning . 

Resetting Sleep Creep with Morning Light

  •  Get outside early, within an hour or two of sunrise to optimally time the cortisol pulse. Once the sun is overhead the opportunity to time your morning cortisol is gone.
  • Don’t wear sunglasses to block the rays
  • Even on a cloudy day, outside you will get 10,000 to 50,000 lux outside (inside it is only about 500), so this is why being outside is important.
  • You need 2 to 10 minutes outside to set your internal clock, but as little as one minute may work if the light is bright.

Resetting Sleep Creep with Evening light 

The sunset effect: 

Early sun sets our clock and keeps it set but sunset also plays a part. When you view the sunset, melatonin signals your clock that it is the end of the day.  Being outside within an hour or so of sunset prevents some of the negative effects of light later in the day  so go outside for 2-10 minutes just before sunset.

The peak output of wakefulness and suppression of sleep happens late in day – about an hour before your bedtime you are most awake (some experience this as anxiety). The desire to be active in the evening lasts about 45 minutes.  (If you are around children who are very active just before bedtime, don’t worry . . . for at least 45 minutes).

How to Use light to deliberately shift sleep cycle:

Our upper visual field  contain the cells are that detect sunlight. At night it’s best to avoid exposing light to those cells.

  • Place lights low.  For example, use table lamps rather than overhead lighting.
  • Keep the lights dim.
  • The longer awake, the more light sensitive we are. Artificial or screen light can disrupt sleep-wake cycles so get as little light as possible after 8 pm.
  • Light between 11 pm and 4 am will suppresses the release of dopamine which impacts mood and focus.

Sleep Lab

Does how long you sleep matter?

A recent finding that is both exciting and interesting comes from the Harvard Medical School lab of  Dr. Robert Stickgold. His research shows that consistency of sleep duration is as important- possibly more important – as total sleep time for many forms of learning. (For example, it is better to get 5 hours every night, then sleeping 5 hours one night, 7 hours, 10 hours, 6 hours the next nights.)


Here’s one of the podcasts I listened to:

The game that can give you 10 extra years of life


and add 7.5 minutes to your life today>

watch video here

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to explain My Baha’i spiritual belief that life here on earth IS about learning and growing from difficulties and adversity.  Pleasure, happiness breed stagnation since we want to hold onto the status quo.  Pain, suffering, fear lead to spiritual, emotional AND even scientific growth.

This video is not just how to find a more satisfying life BUT the story of how Jane McGonigal’s physical and emotional pain led to a fascinating approach to health and healing.   Post Traumatic GROWTH!  Love it!

“When game designer Jane McGonigal found herself bedridden and suicidal following a severe concussion, she had a fascinating idea for how to get better. She dove into the scientific research and created the healing game, SuperBetter.”

Happy gaming 

“A traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. Instead, we can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives”, Jane McGonigal

….and you can tap the same mechanisms without experience being trauma

Jane McGonigal has written a book on the video topic ,SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully”, 


P.S. Her twin sister is psychologist Kelly McGonigal who wrote “The Upside of Stress” and “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works and What You Can Do to Get More of It”

Super Simple Self-Hypnosis

Super Simple Self-Hypnosis

At the bottom of this post is a link to a free PDF “Super Simple Self-Hypnosis, which includes a worksheet.

I promise! You won’t squawk like a chicken, forget your name or act like you’ve been on a drunken binge. I promise! The worst that happens is you will feel wonderfully relaxed. And you might even have a reduction of pain. Hypnosis has been the one thing that can do all of the above. But let’s remove two of the most common misconceptions first.

  1. Will I lose Control? You are fully in control and cannot, will not, do anything that you don’t choose to do. As a matter of fact the aim is to give you more control over your physical being. More control with stress levels, more control with pain levels.
  2. Can I be hypnotized? No secrets here. You already know all about being hypnotized.       When’s the last time you “spaced” out watching TV, reading a book, listening to your partner, friend, child (heaven’s never!) or driving (yikes)? Your brain constantly tunes into the natural state of hypnosis. Some people are more easily hypnotized while others have what is called “low hypnotizability” (that’s a mouthful). But with increased practice everyone is capable of entering some level of “Trance”.


How does it work? If I knew I’d be a very rich woman. No one really knows exactly how the brain works consciously or unconsciously. Research using SPECT, PET scans and fMRI indicate that hypnosis involves different brain wave patterns and different parts of the brain than during normal conscious awareness. But so far no one really has been able to definitively identify what happens. What we do know is hypnosis is not sleep.

During hypnosis the unconscious is more receptive to positive suggestion and affirmation. Under hypnosis the unconscious mind can let go of old unwanted feelings, patterns. Hypnosis can lower blood pressure, decrease stress, strengthen your immune system, ease pain. People have used it to erase headaches, remove traumatic memory, improve self-confidence and self esteem.

Essentially hypnosis is a concentrated state of focused awareness. In the hypnotic state the mind is more receptive to positive suggestion. All hypnosis is really self-hypnosis. So I’m going to describe to you some easy ways for you to hypnotize yourself and then we’ll mix it up a bit with some imagery.

1. Choose your issue concern or problem

Pick something you’d like to work on. To begin pick a small appetizer, not the whole meal. You want to build success and practice. Don’t tackle losing 100 pounds in 2 months or always being happy. Focus on the quality or attribute you need to take the small steps to your goal. You get the picture.  Focus on something about you – something under your control, something concrete. Make this very specific.

2. Create a positive statement or affirmation

Step 3: Write down what you want your unconscious to hear.

  • Keep it simple – the fewer words the better.
  • Keep it sweet – make a positive statement.
  • Keep it personal – Begin with “I” not “you”

For example:

To lose weight, statement could be ” I am confident I make the right choice”.

To have energy,   “I feel energetic or I have enough energy to do what I need to do”.

3. Identify negative thoughts

Now identify the negative thoughts you’ve been telling yourself or hearing from others that are getting in the way of your goal:

Example:  “I feel bad, I’m tired, It won’t work, It never works, I’m a ditz!”

4. Find a quiet place

Find a comfortable place to sit. I recommend sitting, not lying down. The goal is to hypnotize yourself and give yourself positive suggestions, not to fall asleep. You can use hypnosis to relax into sleep but practice sitting up so you can use it for things besides snoozing.

5. The induction

An induction is a way of helping you change your focus from your “outside” world to your inner world. It’s a way of telling your brain that “It’s time!”. Here is my favorite:

Signal Breath:  

  • You can close your eyes or keep them open.  If you choose to keep your eyes open focus on an object directly in front of you a few feet away.
  • Take a long deep breath through your nose, expanding your abdomen.
  • Hold the breath for just a few seconds.
  • Release it through your nose very slowly, very gently, contracting (deflating) your abdomen.  
  • As you exhale deepen your sense of relaxation in the way that’s right for you.  
  • Do this two more times, each time relaxing into the breath.


  • In your mind’s eye, picture yourself going down a stairway, elevator, escalator, path, spiral – whatever feels comfortable for you.  
  • As you picture yourself “going down” count backwards from 10 to 1.  
  • Take a breath between, or on, each count, letting yourself relax more and more with each count.

6. Use imagery

  1. In your mind’s eye imagine an image of a “safe” or comfortable place. a serene, or beautiful location. It can be indoors or outside, real or imaginary.  
  2. Notice what creates the sense of serenity, beauty or safety:  colors, sounds, time of day or evening, the temperature?  
  3. Stay with your special place for as long as you want. 
  4. Take it all in and let yourself relax even more.
  5. Imagine all your negative thoughts or beliefs vanishing. 

7. Affirmation

Repeat your affirmation silently, over and over, while imagining how you would look, act, what you would wear, how you would feel etc. all the qualities & attributes’, which match the affirmation, you’ve picked. Stay in your relaxed hypnotic state as long as you choose.  You can change the order of the steps, repeat steps or create your own steps . . . make it right for you, Open your eyes when your timer rings or you decide to stop.

Practice makes Perfect

Repetition helps solidify what you want your unconscious mind to learn.

Practicing for only 10 – 15 minutes a day is all you need to do.  You might even be surprised at how quickly you can relax and go inward.

In the end, what matters is how we consciously behave. So not only do you have to practice self-hypnosis to become good at it, you have to practice doing behaviors that support what you want to happen in your life.

Consumer alert!

Do NOT do self-hypnosis while driving any vehicle, climbing ladders, preparing your income tax, mowing the lawn or doing anything where you need your full conscious attention to be safe. Self-hypnotize only when you do not have to be fully aware and conscious!

Behaviors to Achieve My Goal

Examples: I will eat more vegetables & less sweets; I will go to bed earlier; I will think before I speak;

What I will DO this coming week to reinforce my hypnotic affirmation.

I will___________________________________________________________

I will___________________________________________________________

I will___________________________________________________________

For a worksheet and a bit more about self hypnosis, download our FREE PDF by clicking below:

  Super Simple Self Hypnosis PDF copy

My dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is lazy . . . not me.

A while back, I had a creative block. I read everything I could find on how to break my creative block and stop procrastinating. Almost everything I read about procrastination indicates that we procrastinate when we don’t want to do something that is not enjoyable.   Being a master procrastinator I also procrastinate with things that bring me enjoyment.

For inspiration, I read blogs of people who write, read or draw daily – all things which bring me enjoyment.  I feel badly I’m not like them  which leads me to read articles on procrastination and meeting goals (I know how to set them, just not meet them).

Finally the article below has liberated me! I know what to blame:

My dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is lazy . . . not me.

Bird, brain

Creative block? Here’s neuroscience how to fix it.

by Elizabeth Shockman

“What is it exactly that helps us be creative? What fuels us when we get into an especially productive work flow? What makes the hours disappear when our brains focus on a task?”

“What, in other words, is happening in our brains when we’re being creative?”

“Cognitive neuroscientist Heather Berlin at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says we know a little bit about what’s going on. Berlin studies the neuroscience of imagination, creativity and improvisation. And for those people who might be facing writer’s block? “There’s really no prescribed medication,” Berlin says. “There is no real magic pill.”’

Instead, she says, creativity depends on which part of the brain you might be using.

“When [people] are improvising, there tends to be a pattern of activation where they have decreased activation in a part of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,” Berlin says. “And that part of the brain has to do with your sense of self, your sort of inner critic, making sure that your behavior conforms to social norms.”

“Translation? When you’re at your most creative, “basically you lose your sense of self,” Berlin says. “You kind of release your inhibition. The second you become too self-aware that comes back online and you lose that flow state.”’

“In addition to losing inhibitions, people who are in a creative state have increased activation in a part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, which has to do with the internal generation of ideas. In other words, the ideas are coming from within.”

“Some people, when they’re in the flow state … a lot of people say ‘It feels like it’s flowing through me. It’s coming from someplace else,’ you know, ‘It’s coming so naturally I don’t even have to think about it,’” Berlin says. “It’s called liberation without attention. You can only keep a certain number of variables in mind when you’re thinking about something consciously. But if you let it go, you actually can come to a greater understanding because the unconscious can do much more complex processing.”

“For those suffering from creative block, Berlin has some practical advice:”

“You have to take in all the information and then go for a walk,” Berlin says. “Go out, do something else. Because those people who sit there and just obsess over thinking about it too much, using your prefrontal cortex you’re actually limiting yourself. So letting it go can actually help you get over, let’s say a writer’s block or a creative block.”


If you get a dog, you have to go for a walk-so do dogs make you more creative?

This post first appeared on Curious to the Max

How to get the most from a hot soak

A while back, we posted about how hot baths can help with brain trauma, dementia and blood pressure-here is a guide to getting the best results:

See below for link to post about how baths help.

 “A hot bath is the original hydrotherapy — water treatment — and still the best. Immersion, buoyancy, heat, and vibration (if you’ve got jets) all have useful biological and sensory effects, many of which are useful to people with injuries, pain, anxiety, depression, and more”.

Hot baths can also relieve pain.

blue bath
1. Don’t make it too hot. Hot baths are a soothing escape, but too much heat will stimulate the nervous system. While you may feel tired ,you are not as relaxed and  may not be able to sleep for a while.
2. Cool your head–or feet. Sticking your feet out of the bath lets off some excess heat, while keeping the benefits of a raised body temperature. You can also pour cool water on yourself . This will help you to feel better after the bath.
3. Do some self massage in the bath.  
4. Stretch in the bath. The warmth decreases muscle tone, flexibility is increased and the buoyancy makes me stretches easier. 
5. Drink water-you will sweat in a hot bath (which helps eliminate waste from the body). Drink before and after. Being dehydrated can make you grumpy.
6. Baths are a great treatment for muscle soreness. The heat gets in much deeper than using a heating pad/pack. They are especially good for low back pain. Most low back pain is muscular, especially “knots” in muscles, which a hot bath can ease.
7. Try deep breathing-it may increase your relaxation. Not slow breathing but deep and strong.

Source: https://www.painscience.com/articles/bathing.php

Click here for the research on lowering blood pressure, helping dementia and brain trauma with hot baths


This post first appeared on Curious to the Max

Moooooo……dy No More

It always “cracks me up” (figuratively speaking) when I see those signs for Chick Fil A.  NOW here’s even better news . . .  whether you are a cow OR a chicken .  Listen to this Nutrition Facts short video on improving depression and anxiety through what you eat:



And for those of my blog readers who are too busy (or too depressed) to listen to the video here’s the conclusion:

Vegetarians are significantly less depressed, anxious and stressed than even healthy meat eaters.…” and  “The complete restriction of flesh foods significantly reduced mood variability in omnivores…. Our results suggest that a vegetarian diet can reduce mood variability in omnivores. Perhaps eating less meat can help protect mood in omnivores, particularly important in those susceptible to mood disorders.

Originally posted on Curious to the Max

Having trouble concentrating during the COVID-19 pandemic? Neuroscience explains why

I’m not a good barometer of what is considered “good” concentration since I have always “multi-tasked” my whole life.  (I call it multi-tasking, others might refer to it as attention deficit disorder.  I suppose I could split the difference and call it multi-tasking disorder.)

I read about people, young to old, having trouble concentrating during this pandemic. Some lack motivation, and those who need to concentrate and complete tasks that require sustained intellectual engagement because of studies or jobs are having trouble.

Can science explain this? 

FIRST: Emotions CAN take over our minds – A question of the amygdala

Emotions can warn us and activate our bodies system for defense. The amygdala responds rapidly to anything that may be threatening. It responds to possible threats, so we are ready to act-to run or to fight, if the threat is real. It is faster than our prefrontal cortex, which can analyze if the threat is real or just looks like a threat.

Think of seeing a coiled shape on the ground. The amygdala immediately responds and starts to set in motion your systems to run or fight. A bit slower, the prefrontal cortex looks closely-is it a snake? Or just a coiled rope? The prefrontal cortex can shut down the emergency response that the amygdala has started if it is safe. But if it isn’t safe, if it was a snake, your body is already preparing, This helps you cope with danger and survive.

In people, the amygdala responds to social cues. People are very sensitive to the emotional charge of situations and people they encounter. Neuroscience shows we are unable to ignore the emotional charge we sense.

SECOND: Attention/focus/concentration are limited resources. 

The cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner in 2002, was among the first to propose that attention is a limited cognitive resource and that some cognitive processes require more attention than others. This is particularly the case for activities that require conscious control, like reading or writing. 
These activities use working memory, which is limited. The brain circuits for working memory are in the prefrontal cortex.

Researchers have thought that the emotions being processed in the amygdala do not affect the attention resources of working memory. But new evidence indicates the circuits that connect the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are important in determining what is relevant and what is not for whatever activity is currently being undertaken. 

THIRD: Emotional stimuli interfere with tasks that require working memory.

For tasks that need a lot of cognitive resources, there is more interference. The more someone needs to concentrate, the more easily they are distracted. Research by Michael Eysenck supports this idea. He and his colleagues showed that people who are anxious prefer to focus on the perceived threat, rather than the task they are performing. This can include internal thoughts or external images. This is also true of worry. Both anxiety and worry use up attention and cognitive resources that are needed for working memory. This decreases performance, especially if a task is complicated.


FOURTH: Mental fatigue tells us that our mental resources are depleted.

It is also mentally draining to do a task while trying not to attend to other demands. Mental fatigue tells us that our mental resources are depleted. So even if we try to avoid attending to something other than the task at hand, this in itself depletes our attention. This explains why it is so difficult and tiring to work and focus when there is an emotional situation such as Covid 19 that concerns us.

In the context of messages of danger about the virus, people find it difficult to focus fully.

FINALLY!  An excuse I can use.  I just wish my excuse wasn’t connected to a viral killer. judy


Originally posted on Curious to the Max

How to avoid getting upset around angry, mean, “toxic” people – Quick tip

The answer is sitting in your imagination (and in your kitchen) right now.

This was the topic in a group of patients who had been discharged from our hospital psychiatric unit.  That’s not me you’re thinking.  BUT you, too, have undoubtedly been confronted with “toxic” people.  

If not “toxic”, all of us, at one time or another, have wanted protection from otherwise unpleasant people .  Most of us don’t have the money or the wherewithal to move away or “divorce” ourselves from family or colleagues.  

The BIG question  

How do you protect yourself from the negative energy of people when they are standing right in front of you?   Listen to what this incredibly imaginative group of people came up with!

ELEVEN Uses for Press ‘n Seal

Imagine using “Press N Seal” to separate yourself from the person who is making you feel anxious, fearful, sad or just plain downright uncomfortable! 



While the “toxic” person is right there in front of you, in your imagination, rip off a huge piece of Press N Seal and put it between yourself and the offending party, then “seal” it with your finger.

Imagining “press ‘n sealing” puts mental space between you and them – you stay calm and better able to cope with what they are saying or doing. It may even make you laugh, but consider the consequences of doing that . . . probably better to imagine yourself smiling while you wrap them tightly in another ripped off piece of Press ‘n Seal.


How to teach an old dog new tricks – Cognitive Science of Habits

Research shows our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please and despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.  

Here are excerpts from the article:

On the Mind: How Habits Work and How to Make Them

“Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun.

“Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient.”


“In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning.”


“When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.”

“Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.”

Key Takeaways

1.  Make a Plan for 2 months . . . or longer!

Figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.

“To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards,” which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”

2.  Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.

“ . . .   it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.”

“That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible . . .  to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish.”

3.  Reward Yourself

“If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.”

Read entire article: Habits and How to Make Them

How to teach an old dog new tricks – Cognitive Science of Habits

Research shows our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please and despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.  

Here are excerpts from the article:

On the Mind: How Habits Work and How to Make Them

“Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun.

“Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient.”


“In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning.

“When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.”

“Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.”

Key Takeaways

1.  Make a Plan for 2 months . . . or longer!

Figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.

“To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards,” which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. “During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.”

2.  Be Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.

“ . . .   it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.”

“That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible . . .  to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish.”

3.  Reward Yourself

“If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.”

Read entire article: Habits and How to Make Them



Snack Your Way to Mental Clarity

This caught my eye, or more like it my appetite.  I’m always on the look-out for how I can eat more, feel better and not gain weight . . . These recommendations by *Mike Dow, Ph.D.,author of The Brain Fix are now on my menu.

“You can actually snack your way to mental clarity. . . . Dow says to opt for foods that enhance overall cognitive function and promote positive mood. 


“Kick-start your day with Greek yogurt topped with walnuts and berries. . . . a yogurt fix “ significantly reduces anxiety, thanks to the probiotics that produce feel-good and stress-relieving neurotransmitters.”  Walnuts also support a positive mood, while the fibrous berries are “chock-full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that… make their way through the blood-brain barrier.”’


“For an afternoon pick-me-up, snack on broccoli and red bell peppers with hummus. Unlike processed snacks that lead to poorer memory and cognitive function (we’re looking at you, chips and crackers), you’ll feel sharper and more level-headed. This is because the vitamin C keeps your cortisol levels steady, which will also reduce stress levels while the healthy fats will provide you with more conservable energy.”


“If you still have some work to finish up in the evening and feel hungry, eat a banana with pistachios while sipping on chamomile tea. “The bananas and pistachios both contain vitamin B6,” Dow says. “This is a stress-relieving powerhouse that fights the frantic feeling of scatterbrain.” Also, the amino acids will help your brain produce more melatonin so you get a good night sleep.”

PS-We tried to post this last Saturday but ran across a glitch so published today.

How to Snack Your Way to Mental Clarity

This caught my eye, or more like it my appetite.  I’m always on the look-out for how I can eat more, feel better and not gain weight . . . These recommendations by *Mike Dow, Ph.D.,author of The Brain Fix are now on my menu.

“You can actually snack your way to mental clarity. . . . Dow says to opt for foods that enhance overall cognitive function and promote positive mood. 


“Kick-start your day with Greek yogurt topped with walnuts and berries. . . . a yogurt fix “ significantly reduces anxiety, thanks to the probiotics that produce feel-good and stress-relieving neurotransmitters.”  Walnuts also support a positive mood, while the fibrous berries are “chock-full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that… make their way through the blood-brain barrier.”’


“For an afternoon pick-me-up, snack on broccoli and red bell peppers with hummus. Unlike processed snacks that lead to poorer memory and cognitive function (we’re looking at you, chips and crackers), you’ll feel sharper and more level-headed. This is because the vitamin C keeps your cortisol levels steady, which will also reduce stress levels while the healthy fats will provide you with more conservable energy.”


“If you still have some work to finish up in the evening and feel hungry, eat a banana with pistachios while sipping on chamomile tea. “The bananas and pistachios both contain vitamin B6,” Dow says. “This is a stress-relieving powerhouse that fights the frantic feeling of scatterbrain.” Also, the amino acids will help your brain produce more melatonin so you get a good night sleep.”



Neuroscience Just Gave Me a Free Pass to be Lazy

My earliest memory was my mother waking me up.  It was dark outside and chilly inside.  I don’t remember how many times she came into my room to get me out of bed.  I do remember pulling the covers over my head and refusing to get up in the dark and cold to get ready for pre-school . . .  

Mom was the first to give up in our morning battle and I started kindergarten with “learning deficits”.  Decades later I continue to not want to greet the new day until it is DAYtime. Morning and me ain’t buddies.

Furthermore, people, like my husband, who bound out of bed alert and cheerful are jarring at best and obnoxious at worst.  

I take umbrage at being labeled “lazy” by you early-morning-worshipers who think those of us who understand that moving any extremity in increments larger than a few inches is not natural before 10 am.  

NOW!  FINALLY I’m vindicated!!!  Read this excerpt!

“As anyone who struggles to get out of bed in the morning knows, fighting laziness is a losing battle. From beneath the covers, the world outside seems colder; the commute to work seems longer; the number of e-mails to answer unbearably high. Authority figures may chalk our lethargy to lack of self-discipline, but . . . 

. . . new research suggests that we’re just being our true selves: Choosing the path of least resistance, scientists argue, is hard-wired into our brains.” (What a relief.  I thought my wiring was simply “lose”)

“Outlining the results of their work in a new paper in eLife, the researchers conclude that human brains seem to be wired for laziness. “Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest,” said lead author Nobuhiro Hagura, Ph.D.,. . . ”

“When we make decisions to act (or not), the brain thinks like an economist and runs a cost-benefit analysis. If the “cost to act,” as the researchers call it, is too high, it can bias our decision-making process, making us less likely to do things. Applied cleverly, their findings can help us do things that we should be doing — and those that we should be avoiding. For example, going to the gym in the morning could seem more effortless if you sleep in your sweats, just as stashing your booze on a hard-to-reach shelf might make drinking it seem like more effort than its worth. There’s no guarantee that these hacks will work, but . . . “

“. . . if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that we’ll always take the easy route when it’s available — and becoming less lazy may simply come down to avoiding that option altogether.”

If you don’t believe me read the article: Neuroscientists Just Gave Lazy Humans a Free Pass

Four ways that OTHER PEOPLE can warp your memory, if not your identity . . .

Who knew?  . . . Your past is not your own. Through simple nudges, your friends, colleagues and strangers can change your recollections in ways you will never realise.

“When we think of our memories, it’s natural to imagine a kind of personal library, where we have stored the most precious events of our lives. Along the shelves, you can pull out that fifth birthday when you dressed up as Superman, or that family picnic when you found a worm in your sandwich.”

“Good and bad, these events define who we are; it’s the reason that amnesia is so scary. We certainly wouldn’t want anyone else interfering with those intimate recollections, or we would risk losing a vital part of our selves.”

“Except it turns out that your friends, family and colleagues are already ransacking your memory palace. They are rearranging the books on the shelves; they are tearing out pages and scattering them on the floor, or they are scribbling over our most precious volumes. “Our memories are constantly being reshaped by social interactions,” says William Hirst at the New School for Social Research in New York. “People can implant memories, people can induce you to forget or they can reinforce other memories.”’

Every time you have a conversation, you are inviting someone to ghost-write bits of your autobiography

“These are not rare events. Every time you have a conversation, you are inviting someone to ghost-write bits of your autobiography. It sounds troubling and it may cause you to rethink everything you thought you knew about your past – yet you may be relieved to discover that there are also some unexpected benefits.”

“It takes only a second’s thought to realise that memory is rarely a solitary activity. During a day at work, for instance, we will deliberately recall events to tell our partner in the evening; we may even rehearse and refine the story on the train journey home. We will also recall and reminisce for the sake of nostalgia alone – even if the events are long in the past and familiar to everyone concerned. “I don’t know of any other species that does that,” says Hirst. “You can think of bees conveying where the pollen is, but it is very limited – there’s no intention behind it and they are only conveying new information.”’

“When Hirst first began this research more than a decade ago, he was among just a handful of people examining the ways those interactions change our memories. But times have changed, and it is now becoming clear that social networks can mould and sculpt our minds in profound ways.”

1. Collaborative inhibition

“Imagine that you and your friends John and Jane attended a football match, where you see a fight break out between the two sides. Afterwards, the three of you get together to discuss the event. You may expect that you will each trigger each other’s recall, helping each person to get a better understanding of the event. Although the group as a whole may record more than any single person, each individual will find that their own memory has been slightly impaired by the discussion.”

“It’s all down to the subtle dynamics of the conversation. If John is particularly talkative, for instance, everyone will be paying attention to his point of view, leading their memories down one avenue while distracting them from their own path. Jane might have been more likely to think about different players from a different team, for instance, or she might have noticed an unusual disturbance in the crowd – but John’s reminders have caused her to lose that train of thought. “John is essentially inhibiting Jane’s ability to remember with full potential,” says Hirst. For this reason, you would gather more details of the event if each person had sat down quietly and recorded all that they had known, before sharing notes afterwards.”

2. Shared forgetting

Importantly, the effects of our conversations can linger into our long-term memory. Hirst’s own research has focussed on a phenomenon known as “socially-shared retrieval-induced forgetting”. Through subtleties in the way he talks about an event, John can encourage Jane to forget something over time.

The “silence” has altered the memory trace, so that Jane will find it harder to retrieve details in the future

“It hinges on the fact that whenever we reactivate a memory, it becomes fragile and malleable. Suppose John is talking about a wedding he attended with Jane. He might mention his speech – reinforcing the memory – but he might neglect to mention a fight on the dance floor. Through association, this memory may still have been activated at the cellular level (rendering it vulnerable) but Jane may have suppressed that thought to concentrate on the rest of John’s anecdote. As a result, that “silence” has altered the brain’s memory trace, so that Jane will find it harder to retrieve details in the future.”

“So if you want someone to forget something, the trick is to pick a subject that will activate the memory, while then distracting the person from the crucial detail you would prefer to ignore. Over time, it may then fade.”

“Hirst has investigated the phenomenon extensively and it appears to be remarkably persistent. In one experiment, for instance, Hirst and his colleague Alin Coman asked pairs of participants to discuss 9/11. The participants did not know each other previously, but they still found that the conversation could still subtly nudge people to forget certain details.”

“If John forgot to mention the time of day, for instance, Jane would also be less likely to bring up the fact from her own story at a later point. Again, this probably works through activation through association, and suppression. John has triggered the memory in Jane’s mind, and by inhibiting that detail, she later forgets it.”

“Hirst says that people are often surprised by his work. Surely people would realise that certain details are being neglected, and fight against it? In reality, it rarely happens. “I think it requires a great deal of effort – you have to be really motivated to go beyond what people are talking about,” says Hirst.”

3. Infectious thoughts

To understand a third way your friends may be manipulating your memories, consider the eye-witness testimonies following the murder of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh in 2003, who was stabbed to death in a department store. Many of the witnesses agreed that the perpetrator had worn a baggy green army jacket; yet the CCTV footage later showed that he had been wearing a grey sweater.

How could they have got it so wrong? It turned out that the police had allowed the eyewitnesses to sit in the same room as they waited to be interviewed. As they discussed the event, a false memory had spread from witness to witness.

Following the pioneering research of Elizabeth Loftus, we already know that it is alarmingly easy to plant false information in someone’s memory. One time, for instance, she hired some subjects who had all visited Disneyland as a child. Beforehand, some of them saw a fake advert for Disneyland featuring Bugs Bunny. Around 30% of these subjects subsequently “remembered” having met the cartoon rabbit at the resort – despite the fact he was a Warner Bros character and would never appear alongside Mickey and friends.

Starting in the early 2000s, Michelle Meade at Montana State University has shown that false memories are contagiousand can easily spread from one person to another. She would ask pairs of participants to view a household scene; they were then allowed to discuss what they had seen before they took a test. If one of the pair happened to drop in a few false details, they would stick in the other’s mind, so that they would swear they had seen it themselves.

Again, the effect is remarkably persistent. Even explicit warnings – explaining the flaws in their partners’ recall – failed to reduce the errors entirely. “The flipside to that is that sometimes the explicit warnings also reduce correct recall – they think that person is unreliable I should cut off everything they say,” explains Meade.

Meade is currently investigating the phenomenon in education, to see if one students’ mistakes may contaminate another’s understanding, but it’s easy to see how it could also have important implications for the courtroom, as the case of Anna Lindh’s murder shows.

4. Planting doubts

Besides seeding a false memory that we believe to be true, our acquaintances can also sow a grain of doubt about the memories we thought we could trust. Robert Nash, a psychologist at Aston University in the UK, knows this only too well. Looking back at his sister’s graduation, he could clearly recall that the British newsreader Trevor McDonald had attended the event. “I was absolutely convinced,” he says. But when, before his own graduation, he mentioned the event to his parents, he found them laughing in disbelief. A bit of research online only left him with more doubts. “And the more I thought about it, the more I knew that it wasn’t plausible.”

Despite his suspicions, the memory hasn’t disintegrated under the scrutiny, though. “I can still picture it.” This is an example of a “non-believed memory” and it shows the fourth way our social interactions influence our recollections – by questioning them and forcing us to confront our own failings.

Nash thinks non-believed memories are probably very common, pointing to a recent study showing that at least a quarter of participants could describe at least one questionable recollection. “But that survey asked if they could think of one on the spot – my guess is that everyone has a non-believed memory at one point.” And in many cases, it’s another person who first seeded the disbelief.

To understand the characteristics of these experiences, Nash and his colleagues recently explored surveys from hundreds of participants, finding three distinct flavours of non-believed memories. The “classic non-believed memories” might be similar to the kind Nash described: you have a vivid recollection, but you now strongly suspect that it is false; with others, there’s a grain of doubt – you have the sense it’s not true but you might still defend it. The third kind are weak non-believed memories. They are vaguer; you might feel confident that you remember something but you aren’t clear about the details, and you now doubt its very occurrence.

Nash has also investigated the ways we test the truth of our memories. Previous research had shown that our feelings of authenticity may depend on the assumption that our memories are accurate – so you might expect that people would put in a lot of effort to verify the facts. So along with his collaborators, he asked participants to imagine that someone had challenged a cherished memory, and asked them to describe how they would test whether it was true or not. They also had to rate how much effort it would take. In almost every situation – whether the memories were important or trivial, from the distant past or more recent – he found that participants would opt to use quicker but less reliable options. These might include asking a friend or family member who may be unreliable themselves instead of more difficult, but more accurate, attempts to get to the truth, such as checking the hard evidence of medical records or looking through old diaries.

The ‘principle of least effort’ was true even if they asked the participants to imagine that they would need to verify the memory for the police

This ‘principle of least effort’ was true even if they asked the participants to imagine that they would need to verify the memory for the police – a situation with serious consequences. “They still chose the ‘cheap’ strategy over the reliable strategy,” he says. We may think we value the truth, but “people don’t question their memories enough to think it’s worth putting in the effort”. (Truman Capote was strongly in this camp; when writing his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, he claimed never to have used a tape recorder for his interviews, instead relying purely on his own recall.)

“Even after all his research, Nash still finds it hard to shake that belief. “I’m acutely aware of the fact that my memories aren’t reliable and I have just as many false memories as everyone else – but it’s still hard to budge the idea that I can trust my memory. We [psychologists] are not more immune than anyone else.” He does, however, try to remain open-minded if someone does question his memory. “I remind myself to entertain the idea that I might be wrong – that it’s all we can ever do.”’

The extended mind

“No mind is an island, after all – and despite the errors that other people may bring, our memories benefit from their input. This ties into the concept of ‘the extended mind’ – the increasing recognition that our environment plays a crucial role in our thoughts. “We tend to think of the mind as something that’s beneath the surface of skin but really so much of our actions are scaffolded by external artefacts and practices,”’ says Hirst.”

“Consider a recent study by Nicole Iannone at Purdue University in the USA, which examined the relationships between friends. She was interested in their “transactive memories” – a shared system of storing and recalling information. You may often lean on your friend for recipes for instance, while he may ask you for advice on holiday destinations, or you may turn to them to help you recall events from your past.”

The longest, strongest and most trusting friendships seemed to be built around these shared, interconnected memory systems

“To study that system, Iannone asked subjects to rate statements such as “my best friend and I can remind each other of things we know” and questioned them about the quality of the friendship. Sure enough, she found that the longest, strongest and most trusting friendships seemed to be built around these shared, interconnected memory systems. Iannone suspects that we may choose to build our memory around our friendship; if you know your friend is around for restaurant recommendations, you may opt never to read good food guides yourself. “Is it possible that you don’t develop knowledge in an area your best friend has a lot of knowledge in?”’

“Even the aspects of social influence that may at first seem like a disadvantage – such as the retrieval-induced forgetting and the contagious false memories – may provide some unexpected benefits, by sculpting our recollections so that we all remember the same details. “For me, one of the things that promotes sociality is common understanding of the past,” says Hirst. “All memories shape our identity, and collective memories may shape our collective identities.” We are not the sole authors of our autobiography – and we may all be stronger for that fact.”



Anxiety and the size of your frontal cortex – yes, you have a frontal cortex!

We were ahead of the curve and  we’re happy to say that the current and extensive research in the neurochemistry of emotion is reshaping psychotherapy.  In addition to neurochemistry researchers are also finding  that the very structure of the brain is important.   Peggy & Judy

Take a look at this anxiety research !

“Healthy college students who have a relatively small inferior frontal cortex – a brain region behind the temples that helps regulate thoughts and emotions – are more likely than others to suffer from anxiety . .  . They also tend to view neutral or even positive events in a negative light, researchers report.”*

“The researchers evaluated 62 students, collecting brain structural data from neuroimaging scans and using standard questionnaires to determine their level of anxiety and predilection for negative bias.”

“Previous studies of people diagnosed with anxiety have found similar correlations between the size of the IFC and anxiety and negative bias, said U. of I. professor of psychology Sanda Dolcos, who led the study with graduate student Yifan Hu. But the new findings, reported in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, are the first to see these same dynamics in healthy adults, the researchers said.”

“You would expect these brain changes more in clinical populations where anxiety is very serious, but we are seeing differences even in the brains of healthy young adults,” Dolcos said.”

“The study also found that the relationship between the size of the IFC and a student’s negative bias was mediated by their level of anxiety.”

‘”People who have smaller volumes have higher levels of anxiety; people who have larger IFCs tend to have lower levels of anxiety,” Dolcos said. And higher anxiety is associated with more negative bias, she said. “How we see this is that the higher volume of the IFC confers resilience.”‘

“We found that larger IFC volume is protecting against negative bias through lower levels of trait anxiety,” Hu said.

“Anxiety can interfere with many dimensions of life, causing a person to be on high alert for potential problems even under the best of circumstances . . .  Negative bias also can interfere with a person’s commitment to activities that might further their life goals.”

“Understanding the interrelatedness of brain structure, function and personality traits such as anxiety and their behavioral effects such as negative bias will help scientists develop interventions to target specific brain regions in healthy populations.”

“We hope to be able to train the brain to function better,” she said. “That way, we might prevent these at-risk people from moving on to more severe anxiety.”



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