Keep Your Brain Forever Young

As we age physically, we also age mentally. Many things can expedite that process, like chemotherapy, emotional trauma, injury, medications, or other treatments. The one we all deal with, though, is time. At a certain point, we have to be a little more intentional about “working out” the brain as if it were a muscle in the body.

What Happens in the Brain, Changes the Brain

There are a lot of factors at play in the brain as we age. While we develop new neurons throughout our lives and reach our peak brain size in our 20s, the brain eventually experiences a decline in volume and decrease in blood flow. The miraculous thing about the brain, though, is that studies have shown it can regrow and is capable of learning and retaining new information. In other words, it is capable of neural reorganization.

When the brain changes, we tend to change. Mental tasks become a little more difficult, as do forming new long-term memories and performing certain mental operations. Our cognitive function becomes more of a challenge. Other parts of who we are, like our confidence, social life, or work life may also suffer.

That’s why, to help maintain the brain’s plasticity—its ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections—we have to put in more effort by creating our own mental stimulation and treatment. There are several ways you can do this.

Active Body, Active Brain

Woman CyclingWhen you work out your body, you work out your brain. While I don’t recommend going crazy and starting P90X or other high-intensity training, I do recommend some physical activity. Studies have shown that physical activity is a promising strategy that influences the brain to enhance cognitive function and emotional function, particularly in late adulthood. Exercising regularly is great for refreshing the immune system, which can improve cognitive function and information processing by increasing volume of the hippocampus(the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system). So, go for a “fast walk” or purchase a stationary exercise bike so you can “Netflix and cycle.”

Eat, Sleep, Think

By eating right, you’re doing your brain a favor. For years, scientists have suspected that the intake of specific nutrients can impact cognitive processes and emotions. A primary nutrient? Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be obtained from dietary fish. This nutrient can improve synaptic and cognitive functioning “by providing plasma membrane fluidity at synaptic regions.”

Also, give yourself a rest. Circulation and the brain is imperative to the proper nutrients and oxygen reaching the brain cells. To maintain that proper circulation and brain energy metabolism, we must receive the right amount of sleep. Think of it like this: it’s a great excuse to sleep in. But really, make your sleep a priority. Your brain will thank you 5 to 10 years from now. (And when the alarm goes off.)

Multi-Task

Autumn CandlesOkay, that’s a little misleading. Rather, let your senses multi-task. Some studies over time have shown that, if you can’t give your full attention to both activities, you’ll experience a deficit in cognitive function. But, if you allow your senses to multitask, you could be doing some wonders for your brain. (It’s fun, too.) Perform two sensory tasks at the same time, such as watching the rain and listening to jazz. Or, listening to jazz and smelling the Fresh Autumn candle you just lit. Stimulate to form new connections.

Get Artsy

Tap into the passionate part of you that has a soft spot for the arts. That could be music, visual art, drawing, painting, playing an instrument, reading. There are so many options, and they all stimulate the mind in unique, creative ways that help with abstract thinking. One in particular that has become incredibly popular in the last 5 years: coloring books for grown-ups.

Music, whether listening or learning to play it, is always a great choice, as it is complex and multisensory and has a positive influence on neuroplasticity in several regions of the brain. It’s the integration of audiovisual information as well as appreciation of abstract rules that has been shown to improve cognitive skills of attention, control, motor function, visual scanning, and executive functioning.

Change is Good

Making small adjustments or changes to your regular routine can stimulate your brain to create some new thinking pathways, new connections. That could mean just taking a new route to work, eating something new for lunch, changing your computer background, anything simple like that.

Stay Positive

Don’t let the ageist stereotypes about memory decline keep you from being hopeful about your brain’s future functioning. Confidence is hard to craft, but treat yourself kindly, take the measures needed to be healthy all around, and understand that the more positive you are about your memory, the more likely you are to improve it.

Lastly, Use Science

To scientifically assess and improve neuroplasticity and performance, you can always involve professionals and utilize neuromodulation, which can come in the form of neurofeedback, Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (pEMF), Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), and Transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS). These stimulating neuro techniques use technology in a non-invasive way to increase blood flow and functional connectivity in the brain. In other words, our brains have taught us how to improve our brains.

This blog was previously posted in Prime Women magazine here.

Brain Health: The Things You Can Do to Make it Stronger

Getting older is something we all struggle with, from the thought of our increased age to the aging of our bodies. Some feel it in their joints and bones, while others notice their minds starting to slow. Aging causes many differences in not just our bodies but also in our brain. Fear not, there are some exercises that can help you stay sharp for many years to come.

As we get older, our cognitive abilities gradually deteriorate. A certain amount of cognitive decline is a normal part of ageing. When getting into your 50’s you can start to see your reasoning skills slow. According to research in the British Medical Journal, middle aged patients saw a 3.6 percent decline in reasoning skills over the past 10 years.

Woman Playing SudokuThere are things you can do to strengthen your cognitive abilities. Playing games that require logic, process of elimination, and reasoning skills such as Clue and Sudoku, can help strengthen those abilities by using parts of your brain that you may not use as much on a daily basis. Challenge your brain in your daily life. Try brushing your teeth with your non dominant hand. By doing this, you’ll be using the other side of your brain to perform the task which expands the part of the cortex that controls tactile information from the hand.

Though everyone is different, in a normal healthy brain, the major thing that happens as we get older is our neurons slow down a bit. According to the Journal of Nutritional Science, people whose diets consisted of fried foods didn’t score well on tests that measured brain function, memory, and learning. Researchers believed that having a poor diet of fried foods contributed to inflammation and a small brain size. Switching out battered and fried foods for grilled and baked items can help reduce this risk.

Other items bad for your brain’s health are high amounts of sugars and trans fats. Research has found that a high intake of trans fats, found in processed foods, like cakes and cookies, can increase your risk of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s. This is due to the possible cause of plaque build up in your brain. To prevent this, ditch the processed sweets for dark chocolate and/or fruit. Brain health, just like your overall health, is greatly affected by sugar!

As you age, your brain will shrink. It’s unavoidable. According to researchers at the University of California, Davis, there are four factors that can speed up the decline in brain volume.

      • high blood pressure
      • diabetes
      • cigarette smoking
      • being overweight or obese

 

Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis can help to avoid this. Quitting smoking can always help with a healthier lifestyle and a healthier brain.

Though we have talked a lot about the effects of an aging brain, you might be confused where the line is between normal aging and a need for serious concern. Here are a few examples to ease your mind. Finding yourself searching for words is likely normal compared to using the wrong words, for example using the word stove when referring to your table. Driving a little slower than your used to is a normal thing among aging drivers, but if you start to react very slowly behind the wheel, or often miss stop signs and red lights, these could be signs of a bigger problem.

No matter how you age, the most important thing is to continue to live your best life. Here are a few things that can not only keep you active, but keep your brain active as well. Keep Learning! Instead of doing the same old thing, think outside the box and try something new. New experiences will build new pathways in your brain, keeping your mind healthy as you get older. You can also spend more time with friends and family. Being social can help keep your mind sharp as you age. The key to an active happy life and brain health is an active happy brain.

This blog was previously posted in Prime Women magazine here.

What To Remember About Memory Loss

Forgetting is Normal

We all forget things, and with time, we’ll start relying more on lists, note apps, and social cues to recall. The good thing though? It’s natural, and it’s okay. Here’s what you should know about memory loss and how to cope with it, whether it’s you or someone you love.

What Is Memory Loss?

Memory loss is characterized as “unusual forgetfulness.” That means, remembering new events or recalling one or more memories from the past becomes more difficult or impossible. Memory loss and other cognitive declines can result from normal aging, but it can be due to other health problems or injuries such as concussion or cancer treatment. Some of these can be treatable, and there are ways you can cope.  

Coping with Memory Loss

Memory loss, even simply from aging, can be frustrating and sometimes scary for a person. If you know you struggle with remembering things, take precautions:

  • Try to stick to a daily routine.
  • Rely on calendars, lists, post-it notes, or daily planners.
  • Designate spots for important items, and if need be, label the spot.
  • Don’t leave a room with water running or the stove on.
  • Take things slow. If you can’t remember a word, describe it, and do so calmly. Sometimes, the panic of not immediately remembering a word can nix all efforts of recalling it.
  • Use associations for recall.
  • Sleep well and routinely.
  • For important documents, print them out and keep a file in case you can’t find where you stored them on your computer or you accidentally deleted them.
  • Practice repetition. It’s been proven that repetition can make things easier to remember. For example, when meeting someone, repeat their name out loud.

Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Nothing makes memory loss an even more upsetting predicament than distracting thoughts resulting from panicky frustration.

Memory Loss & Communication

When someone you love is dealing with more than normal memory loss, it can be hard to communicate like you used to. Understanding what they’re saying and vice versa becomes more difficult. Patience, empathy, and open communication are key here.

Be patient while they try to remember a word or if they don’t remember something you’re referring to. Empathize when they forget something because it upsets them more than you. And communicate when you think it’s getting more serious, but do so kindly and in a soothing environment.

Choose simpler words and minimize other distractions in the environment during a conversation. Aid them however you can, and when talking to them about their impairment, do so respectfully, without speaking to them like a baby. Give them time to comprehend your words and come up with a response. More than anything, show that you care.

Maintain a Healthy Brain, Especially As You Age

No matter what age you are, taking steps to keep your brain healthy can impact your cognitive performance and help with memory loss. Practicing these habits can put some control back in your hands. Not to mention, they can impact other aspects of health as well. Other options are open as well, such as Neurofeedback, a proven method to increase neuronal communication in the brain.

Brain Awareness Week: Maintain A Healthy Brain

Next week is Brain Awareness Week, an appropriate time for a quick refresher on how to keep your brain healthy and functioning at its best. It’s also a time to really appreciate what our brains do for us. The brain is, in a sense, the nucleus of all of our decision-making, emotional experiences, physical movements, memory, and much more. As such an integral part of our existence, the brain should be treated as healthily as possible. Here are some ways to do that.

Keep Learning

In other words, exercise your brain. Studies show that mentally stimulating activities help the brain to create new connections between nerve cells, possibly even creating new cells. In turn, this improves “neural plasticity,” which is the brain’s ability to adapt. Examples of mentally stimulating activities include reading, taking school courses, word puzzles, chess, or even more creative tasks, such as painting, drawing, knitting, and other crafts in general.

Exercise

Actual physical exercise has been shown to improve brain health as well, as it increases the number of tiny blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to the part of the brain in charge of thought. Much like mental stimulation, using your body’s muscles helps the brain become more efficient, plastic, and adaptic. It also lowers blood pressure, helps balance blood sugar levels, improves cholesterol levels, and reduces stress. All of these benefit the health of the brain and the body as a whole.

Be Quiet

In today’s world, everything is moving so rapidly, and our schedules are stressing us out. From working out, keeping up with our social lives, maintaining our full time jobs, and having relationships, families, and sometimes even dealing with trauma, there is a lot going on in our heads. In fact, it’s all happening so fast that our brains are sometimes unable to process the information and our environment. At some point, your brain just needs silence–a practice that has been shown to create new cells in the brain and speed up mental processing.    

Have a Healthy Diet

Not only is a healthy diet good for your body, but it also has effects on cognitive processes and emotions. Studies have shown that dietary factors influence neuronal function and brain plasticity, potentially improving cognitive ability. With a decent focus on fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, unsaturated oils, and plant sources of proteins, you have a brain-healthy diet that is less likely to develop cognitive impairment and dementia.

Have a Healthy Social Life

Social connectedness has a lot of benefits, including decreased feelings of depression, living longer, stronger immune system, and even reduced risk of dementia. Studies have shown that those who connect with others tend to perform better on tests of memory and other cognitive skills. This is not to say that anyone should force themselves to be around people constantly, but rather to find people–even a select few–to connect with and confide in. Having that deep connection with others makes life less lonely and more genuine.

Get Some Feedback: Neurofeedback

Sometimes, to maintain a healthy brain, you have to look at the brain itself. Through neurofeedback–a form of biofeedback that relies on brainwave patterns and measures brain wave activity to indicate how a person is functioning–you can learn to improve and strengthen brain waves. In turn, it improves learning, focus, and attentiveness.

Happy Brain Awareness!

Brain Awareness Week, in a sense, is “awareness of awareness.” Your brain gives you the ability to even be aware, so give back to your brain. By doing so, you give back to your entire body and your well-being altogether.

 

SOURCES

Healthy Gut = Healthy Brain

Your gut is the new frontier of neuroscience. That’s right: What’s taking place in your intestines affects not only your brain’s daily functions, but also determines your risk for a number of neurological conditions.  Scientists now understand that bacteria in your gut affects your overall physiology, and they have recently uncovered a connection between that bacteria and your brain. This gut­–brain axis has led to a new concept called psychobiotics — probiotics and prebiotics that can influence your mental well-being.

Our intestinal organisms, or microbiome, participate in a wide variety of bodily systems, including immunity, detoxification, inflammation, neurotransmitter and vitamin production, nutrient absorption, whether you feel hungry or full, and how you utilize carbohydrates and fat. All of these processes factor into whether you experience chronic health problems like allergies, asthma, ADHD, cancer, type 2 diabetes, or dementia.  What you might not know is that your microbiome also affects your mood, your libido, and even your perceptions of the world and the clarity of your thoughts. A dysfunctional microbiome could be at the root of your headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, or even negative outlook on life.

Put simply, nearly everything about our health — how we feel both physically and emotionally —  can hinge on the state of our microbiome. No other system in the body is more sensitive to changes in gut bacteria than the central nervous system. What’s more, researchers have found dramatic turnarounds in brain-related conditions with simple dietary modifications.

How closely are the gut and brain related?

Just as your brain can send butterflies to your stomach, your gut can relay its state of calm or alarm to the brain. Our vagus nerve is the primary channel between millions of nerve cells in our intestinal nervous system and our central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. Bacteria in the gut directly affect the function of the cells along the vagus nerve.  The neurons in the gut are so innumerable that many scientists are now calling them the “second brain.” This second brain not only regulates muscle function, immune cells, and hormones, but also manufactures an estimated 80 to 90 percent of serotonin (the “feel-good” neurotransmitter).

This means the gut’s brain makes more serotonin — the master happiness molecule — than the brain in your head! Many neurologists and psychiatrists are now realizing that dietary changes may be a more effective treatment for depression than antidepressants are. Two other chemicals manufactured in the gut also critical to the nervous system are GABA  and Glutamate. GABA, an amino acid produced by gut bacteria, calms nerve activity by inhibiting transmissions and normalizing brain waves, to a steadier state after it’s been excited by stress.

Glutamate, a neurotransmitter also produced by gut bacteria, is involved in cognition, learning, and memory. It is abundant in a healthy brain. A slew of neurological challenges — including anxiety, behavioral issues, depression, and Alzheimer’s — have been attributed to a lack of GABA and glutamate.

You may have heard about the perils of a leaky gut, where the intestinal lining become compromised. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including pathogenic bacteria,  medications, stress, environmental toxins, elevated blood sugar, and potentially gut-irritating food ingredients like gluten.  Once the intestinal barrier is compromised, undigested food particles leak into the bloodstream, where they elicit an immune response. This can create systemwide inflammation. When your intestinal barrier is compromised, you become susceptible — due to that increased inflammation — to a spectrum of health challenges, including arthritis, eczema, allergies, and even autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

The problems of a leaky gut become even more monumental in light of new science that proves the brain/gut connection. Can a leaky gut lead to a leaky brain?

We’ve long assumed that the brain was insulated from what goes on in the rest of the body. The problems of a leaky gut become even more monumental in light of new science that shows how loss of gut integrity can lead to a “leaky” brain.

It’s now clear that many substances can threaten the brain’s integrity. And once the brain’s barrier is compromised, various molecules that may spell trouble — including proteins, viruses, and bacteria — can get inside it.

So – what can we do about this?   The most significant factor related to the health of the microbiome — and thus, the brain — is the food we eat.  Food matters enormously, trumping other factors in our lives that we may not be entirely able to control. The idea that food is the most important variable in human health is not news. But our new understanding of the connection between what you eat and how it affects your microbiome, and your brain, is exciting.  You can change the state of your microbiome — and the fate of your health — through dietary changes, opening the door for better health in general, and improved brain function.

Something to think about…..

 

 

 

 

Creativity and the “right brain myth”

For years the self-help gurus have been telling us “tap into the right side of your brain to stimulate creativity.” But is it really true?

A new study suggests it’s not necessarily which side of the brain is dominant – it’s how well the two brain hemispheres communicate that sets highly creative people apart.

The study is part of a decade-old field, connectomics, which uses network science to understand the brain. Instead of focusing on specific brain regions in isolation, connectomics researchers use advanced brain imaging techniques to identify and map the rich, dense web of links between them.

The study focused on the network of white matter connections of both sides of the brain. The brain’s white matter lies underneath the outer grey matter. It is composed of bundles of wires, or axons, which connect billions of neurons and carry electrical signals between them.

Researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which allowed them to peer through the skull of a living person and trace the paths of all the axons by following the movement of water along them. Computers then comb through each of the 1-gigabyte scans and convert them to three-dimensional maps — wiring diagrams of the brain.

The team used a combination of tests to assess creativity. The subjects were measured on a type of problem-solving called ‘divergent thinking’ or the ability to come up with many answers to a question. The participants also filled out a questionnaire about their achievements in ten areas, including the visual arts, music, creative writing, dance, cooking and science.

The responses were used to calculate a composite creativity score for each person.

They found no statistical differences in connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. But when they compared people who scored in the top 15 percent on the creativity tests with those in the bottom 15 percent, high-scoring people had significantly more connections between the right and left hemispheres.

This new method – studying the patterns of interconnections in the brain rather than the regions of the brain is a promising development that is being used in other areas of neuroscience. Researchers are now using these statistical methods to uncover early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, to better understand dementia, epilepsy, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury or coma and to find out whether brain connectivity varies with I.Q.

Can’t get that song out of your brain?

Whether you are rocking out to Led Zeppelin in your car or reading with Bach in your bedroom, music has a special ability to pump us up or calm us down.  Scientists are still trying to figure out what’s going on in our brain when we listen to music and how it produces such potent effects on the psyche.

Much research has been done using music to help us better understand brain function in general.  Recent studies explored how the brain responds to music. The quest to dissect exactly what chemical processes occur when we put our headphones on is far from over, but scientists have come across some clues.

Listening to music feels good, but can that translate into physiological benefit?

YES!   In one study, researchers studied patients who were about to undergo surgery. Participants were randomly assigned to either listen to music or take anti-anxiety drugs. Scientists tracked patient’s ratings of their own anxiety, as well as the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The results: The patients who listened to music had less anxiety and lower cortisol than people who took drugs.  This points toward a powerful medicinal use for music.  Music is arguably less expensive than drugs, and it’s easier on the body and it doesn’t have side effects.  There is also evidence that music is associated with immunoglobin A, an antibody linked to immunity, as well as higher counts of cells that fight germs and bacteria.

So music is good for us, but how do we judge what music is pleasurable?

A study published in the journal Science suggests that patterns of brain activity can indicate whether a person likes what he or she is hearing.  Using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, researchers led a study in which participants listened to 60 excerpts of music they had never heard before.  The participants were asked to indicate how much money they would spend on a given song when listening to the excerpts, while also allowing researchers to analyze patterns of brain activity through the fMRI.  Results noted increased activity in the brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which is involved in forming expectations and a key structure of our brain’s reward network. The more activity in the nucleus accumbens, the more money people said they were willing to spend on any particular song. This was an indicator that some sort of reward-related expectations were met or surpassed.

An area of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus is intimately involved in the experience of music, and its connection to the nucleus accumbens is important, she said. The genres of music that a person listens to over a lifetime impact how the superior temporal gyrus is formed.

The superior temporal gyrus alone doesn’t predict whether a person likes a given piece of music, but it’s involved in storing templates from what you’ve heard before. For instance, a person who has heard a lot of jazz before is more likely to appreciate a given piece of jazz music than someone with a lot less experience.

Have you ever met someone who just wasn’t into music?

They may have a condition called specific musical anhedonia, which affects three-to-five per cent of the population. Researchers have discovered that people with this condition showed reduced functional connectivity between cortical regions responsible for processing sound and subcortical regions related to reward.

This means that when we experience music, a lot of other things are going on beyond merely processing sound. By using music as a window into the function of a healthy brain, researchers may gain insights into a slew of neurological and psychiatric problems.  Knowing better how the brain is organized, how it functions, what chemical/electrical  synapses  are occurring and how they’re working will allow us to formulate treatments for people with brain injury, or to combat diseases or disorders as well as psychiatric problems.

Scientific proof that simple lifestyle changes can keep that brain working longer!

None of us want to have troubles with memory or thinking as we age. Mandy Oaklander wrote a fantastic article called Untangling Alzheimer’s in Time Magazine.  It covers the current Alzheimer’s disease scientific landscape and quickly pivots to  why lifestyle changes can be the best way to protect our brain as we age.

Experts still don’t know exactly what causes Alzheimer’s.  Back in 1992 one idea, called the amyloid cascade hypothesis, took hold. It suggested that the excessive buildup of a protein on the brain – amyloid, which clumps together into plaques- is the main driver of Alzheimer’s.  The buildup causes another protein, tau, to twist into tangles and cut off the supply of nutrients to brain cells, ultimately killing them. This hypothesis propelled the search for a pill that could stop these plaques and tangles from forming, or undo them once they’re there.

More recently, scientific studies have found that plaques and tangles are sometimes found in people who don’t have symptoms of dementia.  Other research has suggested that amyloid isn’t enough to explain all- even possibly most- Alzheimer’s cases.  A 2015 article published in the journal Nature Neuroscience made the case for rejecting the entire amyloid hypothesis.

Emerging research finds that other factors such as heart health, sleep quality and physical activity – are emerging as potential ways to help prevent dementia in some people.

In a 2014 article published by The Lancet Neurology, researchers projected that almost a third of Alzheimer’s cases worldwide – 9.6 million of them- could be prevented by things that are within most people’s power to change: hypertension in middle age, diabetes, obesity, physical activity, depression, smoking and low education were all found to play a role.  Of these factors, heart health seems to be the most important.  According to an estimate published in the journal Hypertension, if every middle-aged American with high blood pressure got properly treated for it, about 25% of dementia would be wiped out.

The link between the heart and the brain is logical when you think about it.  The brain is a sea of blood vessels- and because neutrons require a lot of oxygen to fire properly, the brain uses 20% of the blood pumped to the heart. For that reason, anything that affects the blood flow affects the brain.

By taking factors like these more seriously, scientists are forming a whole new Alzheimer’s attack plan: improve the health of the heart and you’ll have a big impact on the brain. Lifestyle changes won’t ever completely eradicate the disease, but they may be the best prevention we know of right now.

These simple lifestyle changes may help protect your brain as you age:

  1. SHORE UP YOUR HEART – Of all the things you could do, reducing the risk of heart disease has the strongest evidence of benefits for the brain. That means treating hypertension, high lipids, cholesterol, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
  2. EMPHASIZE EXERCISE – Physical activity reduces the risk and severity of cognitive decline. Aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of certain brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.
  3. LEARN NEW THINGS – Engaging intellectually with the world across a lifetime through activities like writing letters and reading has been linked in brain autopsies to better cognitive health in old age.
  4. BE SOCIAL – Richer lives are associated with higher levels of cognition. Loneliness, conversely, is connected with poorer brain health.
  5. TREAT DEPRESSION – Depression in middle age – which is when its most prevalent – is linked to twice the risk of cognitive decline, though it’s not clear if that’s a cause or an effect.
  6. SLEEP WELL – Studies have found a relationship between poor sleep and risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Improving poor sleep appears to reduce these risks.

3 Steps to Rewire your Brain to be Happy

happyHas nature hardwired us to hold onto negative experiences over positive ones?

Our brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.   Why?   This built-in negativity bias helps keep us safe.  This means that we readily notice and internalize anything negative that happens to us during the course of a day, while glossing over anything positive because we’re busy solving problems or scanning for something to worry about.

So, if by nature our brain defaults to negative, is it possible to  reshape our brain to hardwire all the positive experiences to ‘take in the good’ that happens in our everyday life?  We can make this happen by consciously turning a positive event into a positive experience.

Take 10, 20 or 30 seconds to savor the positive moment.  There are many of them during the course of a day, but we just don’t notice them.  These brief seconds of paying attention to what has happened and relishing it makes the positive experience sink in so it can develop into a neural structure.  The more we do this, the better we become at balancing our hardwired negativity bias with an ability to take in the good.

To build inner strength into our brain, we need to meet three core needs: safety, satisfaction and connection.  Learning which positive experiences can satisfy these core needs every day goes a long way toward helping us cultivate positive emotions and hardwiring contentment and peace so we can focus on a successful life.

The following three tactics, which help fulfill your core needs, can help you concentrate on the positive.

Practice Being Calm

You can boost your sense of safety by regularly focusing on experiences that make you feel calm.  Calm is an attitude of composure that lets us function at our best in stressful, harried or charged situations.  This means moving away from a crisis-driven mindset.

We often miss opportunities to practice calmness because we’re used to being “on” all the time.  For example, calmness isn’t rushing from one airport gate to another when there’s ample time for making our connecting flight.  It’s taking a real break from your business during the day to have an uninterrupted meal.  It’s waking up an hour earlier so you don’t have to rush through traffic.  It’s giving your child an extra 10 minutes of peaceful attention in the morning.

Create such moments during your day to experience calmness, and intentionally focus on the experience for a few seconds to relish how it feels.  Repeatedly internalizing experiences that bring a sense of calm to your life helps you build that emotional muscle so you’re better able to face situations in your business or personal life without feeling pressured or rattled by them.

Raise Your Satisfaction Awareness

When you’re feeling satisfied, you’re more likely to experience such feelings as gratitude, gladness, accomplishment and contentment.  These are powerful antidotes to the negativity bias in our brain, so it’s important to become more aware of what satisfaction means for you, and then take the time to savor the experience when it happens.

For instance, it may be closing a sale or completing a project ahead of time.  Or it may be as simple as learning something new every day.  You need to be clear about whatever it is that brings you satisfaction so you can create more of these opportunities but, more important, so you can savor them when they do happen.

Value The People In Your Life

You can strengthen your sense of feeling connected by regularly focusing on experiences during the day in which you feel cared about or valued.  You can also focus on experiences that make you feel like a good person, such as when you feel compassion or when you’re doing something kind for others.

As psychologist William James once said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”  Don’t let the daily preoccupations with your life or your business cause you to miss the appreciation you receive from those closest to you.

What motivates bullying behavior?

bullybrainAggressive behavior is associated with a number of psychiatric disorders and is thought to partly result from inappropriate activation of brain reward systems in response to aggressive or violent social stimuli. Previous research has identified the basal forebrain as a potentially important brain reward region for aggression-related behaviors, but there had been limited evidence that the basal forebrain directly controls the rewarding aspects of aggression.

A recent Mount Sinai study focused on how different regions of the brain work to create a motivational or rewarding component for aggressive behavior using a mouse model.

The study is the first to demonstrate that bullying behavior activates a primary brain reward circuit that makes it pleasurable to a subset of individuals. It also showed that manipulating activity in this circuit alters the activity of brain cells and ultimately, aggression behavior.

To study differences in aggressive behavior, researchers exposed adult males to a younger subordinate mouse for three minutes each day for three consecutive days, and found that 70 percent of mice exhibited aggressive behavior (AGGs) while 30 percent of mice show no aggression at all (NONs). They found that AGGs mice bullied/attacked the subordinate mouse and developed a preference for this behavior, suggesting that the aggressive mice found the ability to ‘bully’ another mouse rewarding. Conversely, NONs mice did not bully/attack the intruder mouse and subsequently developed an aversion to aggressive behavior. When exposed to the opportunity to bully another individual, AGGs mice exhibit increased activity of the basal forebrain. Conversely, they found NONs exhibit reduced basal forebrain activation and an increase in lateral habenula neuronal firing, which makes the aggression stimuli aversive.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that are released between nerve cells and transports signals to receptors in neighboring cells, which can change the properties of the neighboring cells. Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), commonly found throughout the brain and produced by neurons is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that binds to GABA receptors, making the neighboring neuron less excitable

Researchers manipulated the activity of GABA between the basal forebrain and the lateral habenula. The habenula is an area of the brain that would normally encode an aversion to aggressive stimuli.

They artificially induced the rapid GABA neuron activation between the basal forebrain and lateral habenula and watched in real time as the aggressive mice became docile and no longer showed bullying behavior. The study is unique in that researchers took information about the basal forebrain and lateral habenula projections and then went back and manipulated these connections within animals to conclusively show that the circuits bi-directionally control aggression behavior.

These findings raise the question, how can neurofeedback be utilized as a treatment modality for aggression related behavior?   Research shows that teaching the brain self regulation  balances the interactions between the inhibitory and the excitatory synaptic potentials allowing for appropriate activation within the different brain reward systems.

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