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Rewire Your Brain : Think Your Way to a Better Life - John B. Arden

Rewire Your Brain

Think Your Way to a Better Life

Paperback Published: 21st April 2010
ISBN: 9780470487297
Number Of Pages: 256

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How to rewire your brain to improve virtually every aspect of your life-based on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology on neuroplasticity and evidence-based practices. Not long ago, it was thought that the brain you were born with was the brain you would die with, and that the brain cells you had at birth were the most you would ever possess. Your brain was thought to be 'hardwired' to function in predetermined ways.

It turns out that's not true. Your brain is not hardwired, it's 'softwired' by experience. This book shows you how you can rewire parts of the brain to feel more positive about your life, remain calm during stressful times, and improve your social relationships.

Written by a leader in the field of Brain-Based Therapy, it teaches you how to activate the parts of your brain that have been underactivated and calm down those areas that have been hyperactivated so that you feel positive about your life and remain calm during stressful times. You will also learn to improve your memory, boost your mood, have better relationships, and get a good night sleep. This title reveals how cutting-edge developments in neuroscience, and evidence-based practices can be used to improve your everyday life.

Other titles by Dr. Arden include: "Brain-Based Therapy-Adult", "Brain-Based Therapy-Child", "Improving Your Memory For Dummies" and "Heal Your Anxiety Workbook". Dr.

Arden is a leader in integrating the new developments in neuroscience with psychotherapy and Director of Training in Mental Health for Kaiser Permanente for the Northern California Region. Explaining exciting new developments in neuroscience and their applications to daily living, "Rewire Your Brain" will guide you through the process of changing your brain so you can change your life and be free of self-imposed limitations.

Industry Reviews

?At last, a practical book that not only brings us up to date with the latest developments in neuroscience but also gives tools and techniques to help 'rewire the brain' and maximize the brain's potential. A fascinating and inspirational book. ?
?Jane Stephenson, JSA  Seminars Dublin, Ireland

"Dr. Arden paved the way for brain-based therapy and what the brain can do. It?s refreshing, practical and innovative.?
?Kit S. Ng, PhD, Director, Asia Institute of Professional Psychology, Singapore

"In Rewire Your Brain Dr. John Arden goes on an exciting quest for your mind. If you would like to learn more about Mindful Attitudes and Brain-based therapies, you definitely need to read this book.?
?George Dinchev, Owner of http://psychology-bg.com ? the psychology in Bulgaria and SEE Region

"Concomitantly with growing professional recognition of the importance of integrating advancements in neuroscience into clinical practice, books such as Rewire Your Brain make this innovative information accessible to the general public, thereby providing readers with practical guidelines to enhancing their wellbeing. It is a valuable contribution indeed.?
?Avigail Moor Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, Tel Hai College, Israel

?Once I started to read Rewire Your Brain, it was hard to stop. John Arden has a gift for making complicated and advanced scientific findings interesting and easy to understand. I have not been reading much about brain structures, processes, and neurotransmitters since studying first year psychology almost 30 years ago, a time when the knowledge in this field was quite rudimentary. Rewire Your Brain presents ?old? knowledge and concepts together with results of new research in at way that gives you an updated insight in ?how we are wired.? Even more important, it gives hope and practical advice for both therapists and their patients, but also for healthy individuals who want to improve their memory, mood, or bad habits!?
? Per A Straumsheim, Special Advisor, Norwegian Psychological Association

?Dr. Arden tells us all about the brain in an accessible way, he even animates it in some way, in contrast to brain researchers who investigate the brain like an lifeless mechanism. In order to maintain an active and flexible brain, the author shows practical ways of neuropsychologically-competent mastery of brain.  Therefore the book is free of theoretical abstractions, scientific dryness, and haughtiness.?
?Gayane Shaverdian, Ph.D. Chair and Professor of the Department of Applied Psychology, Yerevan State University, Armenia

?This book speaks of a universal language that breaks cultural borders . People from the West will have a better understanding of early Asian therapies and why it is effective; while those from the East will appreciate the contribution of modern Western health perspectives . It gives a scientific explanation of how therapies like meditation, chi-gong, exercise, hypnosis and other non-traditional healing interventions can affect health and longevity. It will certainly rewire the mindsets of many public readers.?
?Isabel Echanis-Melgar, PhD., Chair, Committee on Clinical Psychology, Psychological Association of the Philippines

Chapter One

Firing the Right Cells Together

There is a revolution occurring in brain science. Not long ago it was thought that the brain you were born with was the brain you would die with and that the brain cells you had at birth were the maximum number you would ever possess. The brain was thought to be hardwired to function in predetermined ways. It turns out that this is not true. The brain is not hardwired; it's "soft-wired" by experience.

It has been a common belief that our genes dictate our thoughts, our emotions, and our behavior. Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the press was filled with stories on how genetics predetermine everything we experience. There were also stories about identical twins who were raised apart but who nevertheless had the same mannerisms or favored the same color. Popular culture saw these stories as evidence of the power of genetic hardwiring.

Neuroscientific research is now telling us that the brain is quite plastic. The brain you were born with is actually modified by your experiences throughout your life. Your brain is changing all the time. In fact, new brain cells can be born. Genes lay out potential and vulnerabilities, but they do not dictate your thoughts, your feelings, or your behavior. It turns out that behavior is not rigidly determined. You can even turn genes on or off with your behavior.

Two of my books, Brain-Based Therapy: Adult and Brain-Based Therapy: Child, were written for professionals to help them teach their patients to rewire their brains, and they were based on these new discoveries. Rewire Your Brain explains how this information can be used directly by you. This book tells you how you can make use of the new discoveries in neuroscience. I will define and describe the following areas and explain how they can be relevant to your life:

Neuroplasticity Neurogenesis Social systems, such as mirror neurons Nutritional neuroscience

The new discoveries in neuroscience shed light on how you can maximize your potential and minimize your vulnerabilities. I will describe how to apply these findings to rewire your brain so that you can feel calm and positive. So much hinges on these two abilities: by learning to be calm and positive, you can improve your ability to focus, face challenges, reach your goals, and be happy.

Learning to be calm means feeling less tense, less anxious, and less easily stressed. There are parts of your brain that, when not tamed, tend to overreact and add to needless tension, anxiety, and stress. In this book I'll describe how to get those parts rewired. The bottom line is this: how you train yourself to think, feel, and behave on a regular basis will rewire your brain and allow you to be calm and focused.

Thanks to the new discoveries in neuroscience, we know much more about how the brain works and how you can rewire the parts of the brain that are out of balance with the others, having become either overactivated or underactivated. I'll describe how those specific parts of your brain tend to become overactivated and deregulated when you feel down in the dumps, lose your optimism, and look only at the dark side. Things don't look as bright as they could look, and the glass is half empty when it could just as easily seem half full. I will describe how to activate the parts of your brain that must be regulated and balanced so that you feel positive about your life and see the glass as (at least) half full. You'll learn to calm down in the face of stress and boost your mood when you're down. You'll also learn to improve your memory, have better relationships, and get a good night's sleep, all of which rewire your brain and thus enable you to be calmer and feel more positive.

Nurtured Nature

In order to rewire your brain, the first thing you should do is learn how the brain works. Your brain works in response to and in relation to the world around you. We have moved far away from the old debate on nature versus nurture; now we are able to "nurture nature." Since your brain is not hardwired but is really "soft-wired," your experience plays a major role in how you nurture your nature.

The brain weighs just three pounds, yet it's one of the most advanced organs in the body. It has a hundred billion nerve cells, called neurons, and many more support cells. That's equivalent to the number of stars in our galaxy.

Let's start with the brain's architecture. The neurons are clustered in the parts of the brain that have been called modules: the cortex (the outer layer, which has two hemispheres), the four lobes, and the subcortical (below the cortex) modules.

There has been a lot of hype about the character of the two halves of the brain. "Right-brain" people were said to be more creative, even more spiritual than "left-brain" people. The left-brain people were described as more rigid and picky. That hype, born in the 1970s, still exists, but many people who were instrumental in starting this fad have long since abandoned it. The truth is that the two hemispheres work together in everything you do. The brain contains a band of fibers called the corpus callosum that binds the two hemispheres together. It serves to connect distant neurons that fire together, adding dimension and depth to everything you do and think.

The corpus callosum of a woman is denser than that of a man. This means that the two hemispheres of a woman's brain work more evenly together. The female brain is more symmetrical. The male brain has an asymmetrical torque, which means that the right frontal lobe is larger than the left frontal lobe, and the left occipital (back of the head) lobe is larger than the right occipital lobe.

For both sexes, the right hemisphere processes visual and spatial information, enabling you to grasp the "big picture." The right hemisphere pays more attention to the context or the gist of a situation. The left hemisphere, in contrast, is more adept at details, categories, and linearly arranged information such as language. The right hemisphere is more active when you're learning something new. Once the knowledge becomes routine and overlearned, the left hemisphere comes more into play. This is another reason that language is processed by the left hemisphere.

The right hemisphere makes better connections with the parts of the brain below the cortex, so it is more emotional by nature. In other words, it's better able to pick up the emotional climate of a conversation. Since women's brains have a better connection between the two hemispheres than men's brains do, women are said to be more intuitive. Words often carry more emotional meaning for women than they do for men.

There are four lobes in each hemisphere: the frontal lobe, the parietal (middle) lobe, the temporal (side) lobe, and the occipital lobe. Each has specific talents. For example, when you appreciate a specific object, such as a chair you sat on at your friend's house, the thoughts and feelings you have about the chair are dispersed throughout your brain. You remember the elegant shape of the chair through your right parietal lobe. You remember the words your friend used to describe his trip to Costa Rica through your left temporal lobe, and you process the tone of his voice through your right temporal lobe. You remember looking back at the chair as you were leaving the room and noticing its deep cinnamon color through your occipital lobe.

Women have a greater density of neurons in the temporal lobe, which specializes in language. This verbal advantage begins to appear during the first two years of life, when little girls develop the ability to talk about six months earlier than little boys do. When developing verbal strategies, women activate the left hippocampus (a part of the brain related to memory) more than men do. Men generally have greater visual and spatial skills, because they show greater activity in the right hippocampus than women do.

The most recent addition to our evolutionary development is the frontal lobe, which makes up about 20 percent of the human brain. In comparison, the frontal lobe of a cat occupies about 3.5 percent of its brain. The frontal lobe is the last part of the brain to mature in humans; its development is not complete until sometime in the third decade of life.

At the forefront of the frontal lobe, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) gives us many of our most complex cognitive, behavioral, and emotional capacities. The PFC enables you to develop and act on a moral system, because it allows you to set aside your needs and reflect on the needs of others. The PFC is part of a system that provides you with the capacity for empathy. If your PFC is damaged, you are likely to engage in antisocial and impulsive behaviors or not engage in any purposeful behavior at all.

One of the principal parts of the PFC is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). Dorsal means "fin" or "top," and lateral means "side." The other significant prefrontal area is called the orbital frontal cortex (OFC), because it lies just behind the orbs of the eyes.

The DLPFC is very involved in higher-order thinking, attention, and short-term memory (which is also called working memory because it processes what you are working on at any one time). You can usually hold something you're working on in your mind for twenty to thirty seconds. The DLPFC is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and it is also the earliest to falter during the later years of life. This is what's behind the phenomenon of walking purposely into a room and then forgetting what you intended to do there. The DLPFC is involved with complex problem solving, so it maintains rich connections with the hippocampus, which helps you to remember things for later.

The OFC, in contrast, appears to have a closer relationship with the parts of the brain that process emotions, such as those generated by your amygdala. The OFC develops earlier in life and is closely associated with what is called the social brain. Without your OFC, you would be like the classic case of Phineas Gage. In an accident at work, a steel rod pierced Gage's brain and skewered his OFC but left everything else in his brain intact. Gage retained his cognitive abilities but lost much of his ability to inhibit impulses. He had previously been a supervisor who was widely respected, but now he became unstable (in stark contrast to his previous emotional reserve), erratic, rude, and hard to get along with. Gage was eventually reduced to working in a circus freak show, and he died penniless in San Francisco twenty years after the injury. His skull is on display at Harvard Medical School.

Highly influenced by bonding, the OFC thrives on close relationships. If those relationships are trusting and supportive, the OFC becomes more capable of regulating your emotions. In contrast to the DLPFC, the OFC does not falter much in old age. Older adults remember faces as well as younger adults do.

Finally, there are differences between the left and the right prefrontal cortex. The right PFC helps to develop foresight and to get the gist of what's happening in a given situation. It helps you to make plans, stay on course toward your overall goal, and understand metaphor. If someone says, "Michael Phelps is a fish," it's your right PFC that enables you to understand what this person is really saying about the Olympic swimmer. Your left PFC, in contrast, helps you to focus on the details of individual events, like how many points were scored in the second half of a football game.

Neurons and Their Messengers

Within all these lobes, hemispheres, and modules are a hundred billion neurons waiting to be used. They are highly social; if they weren't used by working with neighboring neurons, they would die. Each neuron is capable of maintaining connections with about ten thousand other neurons. These connections change as you learn things, such as a new tennis swing, a new language, or the layout of a new supermarket.

Neurons function partly on chemistry and partly on the electrical firing of impulses in an on-and-off manner. Neurons communicate with one another by sending chemical messengers called neurotransmitters across a gap called a synapse. This is how one neuron gets another neuron to fire. More than sixty types of neurotransmitters exist in the brain. Some make you excited, and some calm you down. There are many different shapes and sizes of synapses, and the shape and size of a synapse changes as you learn something new.

Two neurotransmitters account for about 80 percent of the signaling in the brain: glutamate, which is excitatory and stirs activity, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is inhibitory and quiets down activity. Glutamate is the workhorse in the brain. When it delivers a signal between two neurons that previously had no connection, it primes the pump for later activation. The more times this connection is activated, the stronger the wiring is between these neurons. GABA, in contrast, helps to calm you down when you need to be calm. It is the target of drugs like Valium and Ativan, which used to be prescribed as a panacea for anxiety. You need optimum GABA activity to keep your anxiety down, but you don't need those drugs, as I'll explain in chapter 6.

Although glutamate and GABA are the principal neurotransmitters, there are scores of others that play important roles in the brain. They account for only a fraction of the activity between the neurons, but they have a powerful influence on those neurons. They are widely researched, and many drugs have been designed to affect them.

The three most researched neurotransmitters are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and they are sometimes called neuromodulators because they alter the sensitivity of receptors, make a neuron more efficient, or instruct a neuron to make more glutamate. They can also help to lower the "noise" in the brain by working to override other signals that are coming into the synapse. Sometimes, however, they intensify those other signals. These three neurotransmitters can either act directly, like glutamate and GABA, or fine-tune the flow of information that is being processed in the synapses.

Serotonin has attracted much publicity because of the widespread use of drugs like Prozac. Serotonin plays a role in emotional tone and in many different emotional responses. Low serotonin levels are correlated with anxiety, depression, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Serotonin is like a traffic cop, because it helps to keep brain activity under control. It's common to hear people who take drugs like Prozac say, "Things don't bother me the way they used to." However, there is also a downside: these drugs generally provide such an even keel that people say, "I know that the beauty of that sunset would've had a bigger effect on me in the past, but now I'm sort of numb to things like that."

Norepinephrine activates attention. It amplifies the signals that influence perception, arousal, and motivation. Like serotonin, norepinephrine has been associated with mood and depression. It has been targeted by antidepressants such as Ludiomil and Vesta.

Dopamine sharpens and focuses attention. It has also been associated with reward, movement, and learning, and it is one of the principal neurotransmitters that code pleasure. When registering pleasure, dopamine activates an area called the nucleus accumbens, sometimes referred to as the pleasure center. Activation of the nucleus accumbens has been associated with drug abuse, gambling, and other types of addictive behaviors. When this area is frequently activated, it becomes hard to stop doing the things that activate it.

Drugs that activate dopamine, like Ritalin, are used to help people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People (usually children and adolescents) who are given Ritalin or similar drugs not only pay attention better but also report feeling calmer.

Cells That Fire Together Wire Together

In the last twenty years, there has been an overwhelming amount of evidence that the synapses are not hardwired but are changing all the time. This is what is meant by synaptic plasticity, or neuroplasticity. The synapses between the neurons are plastic.


Preface vii

1 Firing the Right Cells Together 1

2 Taming Your Amygdala 25

3 Shifting Left 45

4 Cultivating Memory 69

5 Fueling Your Brain 89

6 Healthy Habits: Exercise and Sleep 117

7 Social Medicine 141

8 Resiliency and Wisdom 165

9 The Mindful Attitude 187

References 207

Index 231

ISBN: 9780470487297
ISBN-10: 0470487291
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 256
Published: 21st April 2010
Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 22.86 x 15.24  x 1.83
Weight (kg): 0.32
Edition Number: 1

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John B. Arden

About the Author

John B. Arden, PhD, ABPP, is author of fourteen books, most of which integrate neuroscience with psychotherapy. 

 In July of 2016 Dr. Arden retired from Kaiser Permanente where he served as the Northern California Regional Director of Training where he developed one of the largest mental health training programs in the United States. In this capacity he oversaw more than 150 interns and postdoctoral psychology residents in 24 medical centers. Prior to this he served as Chief Psychologist for KP. 
 He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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