Rewire Your Brain
Podcast #35 — Aired July 10, 2014

If you want to change your life, you need to change your brain! This week on BetterWorldians Radio, we’ll discuss how to change your thinking to get the most of life. Our guest is Dr. John Arden, author of Rewire Your Brain. Dr. Arden will walk listeners through simple and practical techniques to rewire your brain to improve virtually every aspect of your life. Tune in every week to hear new guests share how they are making the world a better place and to learn how you can become a BetterWorldian!

 

 

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Dr. John Arden
Author, Rewire Your Brain

Dr. John Arden has over 35 years of experience providing psychological services and directing mental health programs. Since 1999 he has served as the Director of Training for Mental Health for the Northern California Region in a world renowned HMO. He has developed one of the largest mental health training programs in the United States, overseeing more than 100 interns and postdoctoral psychology residents in 22 medical centers. Prior to this he served as the Chief Psychologist for his current employer. Dr. Arden’s study of neuropsychology has inspired him to integrate neuroscience and psychotherapy, synthesizing the biological and psychological into a new vision for psychotherapy: Brain-Based Therapy. His work incorporates what is currently known about the brain and its capacities with psychotherapy research, mindfulness, nutritional neuroscience and social intelligence. He conducts seminars on Brain-Based Therapy throughout the United States and abroad.

Episode Transcript

Gregory Hansell
Hi, this is Greg. Im so glad you can all join us here on Better Worldians Radio. Let me first just tell you a bit about my dad, Ray, who you just heard from. Hes a serial entrepreneur who successfully founded and with MarySue, took public a national marketing firm. Giving back has always been really important to Dad who supports many causes, especially disadvantaged children and their families. By the way, were the family team that created the popular social game on Facebook called A Better World. It rewards players for doing good deeds while helping to raise money and awareness for charities. To date, over twenty-two million good deeds have been done in A Better World by more than two and a half million people. In the month of July, were supporting One Simple Wish, a non-profit that is brightening the lives of children in foster care and at risk youth one simple wish at a time. When our players complete 500,000 good deeds within the game, well donate funds to grant wishes for three children in need as they search for their forever families. On this weeks episode of Better Worldians Radio, we are discussing the book Rewire Your Brain with author Dr. John Arden.

Raymond Hansell
Dr. Arden has over thirty-five years of experience providing psychological services and directing mental health programs. Since 1999, he has served as the director of training for mental health for the Northern California region in world renowned HMO. He has also developed one of the largest mental health training programs in the United States, overseeing more than one hundred interns and post-doctoral psychology residents in twenty-two medical centers. Dr. Ardens study of neuropsychology has inspired him to integrate neuroscience and psychotherapy, synthesizing the biological and psychological into a new vision for psychotherapy, brain based therapy. His work incorporates what is currently known about the brain in its capacities including neuroplasticity, neurogenesis, with psychotherapy research, mindfulness, nutritional neuroscience, and social intelligence. He conducts seminars on brain based therapy throughout the United States and abroad. Dr. Arden, its great to have you join us today on Better Worldians Radio.

John Arden
Its a great pleasure to be with you and I really appreciate hearing your introduction as well. Im very impressed with what youre doing, especially for disadvantaged children so its a pleasure to be here.

Raymond Hansell
Youre very, very welcome. Id like to begin our journey with you here today to talk about your book Rewire Your Brain. You wrote this as a technical companion to your other books a less technical companion to your other books based on brained based therapy. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of reaching out to a more general audience?

John Arden
Well you know if you think about the fact that very few of us have any understanding of the most important organ in our body, the organ that provides us with the capacity to be connected with another person, to feel compassion, to do the great things that youre doing with disadvantaged children, to to have empathy for one another, we arent really that familiar with the brain in general as a culture. I thought that the general public ought to have a users manual for the brain, that we in the mental health system have been growing far more familiar with what is going on in the brain with regard to anxiety and depression and how we can help people but the general audience ought to know this as well and need not necessarily go to somebody that is a paid practitioner to help them learn about it. So the book Rewire Your Brain was an attempt to reach the general audience as sort of a users manual so they could feel more positive and connected and engaged in the world.

Raymond Hansell
Now the books title, Rewire Your Brain, can you tell us how you derived that title?

John Arden
Well Rewire Your Brain is a normalized term for the more fancy and jargonish term neuroplasticity. So neuroplasticity is a way of describing how the brain is capable of changing through experience and most people would have a hard time remembering that term, neuroplasticity. Its a mouthful and there are other ways of describing neuroplasticity as well like Hebbian Dynamics and long-term potentiation and all that. Well those are well jargonisitic terms, hard to remember, and again for the general public, why not use a term thats easy to remember? So rewire your brain is a way to kind of bring it all down to earth.

Raymond Hansell
Now for a long time it was believed that the brain is hard wired to function in sort of predetermined ways but youre saying here that the brain is actually soft wired by experience. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

John Arden
Well think about memory for example. Every time you acquire a long-term memory, in other words youre studying lets say how to speak fluently in Spanish. Over a long period of time, youre acquiring these capabilities, the intonation, remembering vocabulary, and how to generally converse. Well long-term memory essentially is rewiring the brain. So memory is brain change. So any kind of memory whether it be something like a language or just how to feel differently is changing the brain. So the brain adapts to our environment. The brain adapts to what we challenge it to adapt to so we can then say that it is soft wired by our interests, by our capability of of pushing ourselves to learn new skills instead of this hardwire concept. For example with a lizard or other reptiles, theyre pretty much hardwired. They dont have a large cortex so they dont adapt. They dont learn. We dont teach them in labs how to go for a lever and all that. Im not saying they are totally incapable of course but with a large cortex, the larger brain, were far more adaptable and we generate our own adaptability. So in other words, we decide how our brain can change instead of were passive recipients of the environment. So we generate changes in the environment and changes in the environment generate changes in our brain so its bi-directional.

Raymond Hansell
I see. You also talk about rewiring the brain to be calm and positive so why is that so important?

John Arden
Well lets say youre a person like me. Ive been a psychologist now for more than forty years and I have seen literally thousands of people with various problems like anxiety and depression but lets take anxiety for example. Many people that have had needless anxiety, meaning they worry about things that they need not worry about or perhaps they had been traumatized by an auto accident or had been abused or whatever. Now they are all geared up. Their brain has adapted to the potential danger occurring again and maybe it isnt occurring in their environment. So in other words, they are hyper vigilant, they are very worried about the next shoe thats going to drop and everything, so now what they need to do and often they attempt to do by coming to one of us, you know, a mental health practitioner, is to help them calm down their brain. There are certain areas of the brain that seem to be amped up. One is called the amygdala and again, the general intent of the book Rewire Your Brain is to bring it all back to Earth. So instead of using the word amygdala, we could say Amy. It is easier to remember the word Amy than amygdala. So Amy is all hyped up, ready to react again and Amy is essentially your smoke alarm, your panic button, and it keeps us safe. Unfortunately what it does also when it gets amped up is it looks for any semblance of danger and now it is over reading danger. So in other words, there are false positives everywhere. So why dont we help people learn to calm down their brain that has been amped up and Amy being hyper vigilant, looking for danger because its nuisance to be anxious. You dont lose rather you dont gain any opportunity to enjoy your life because you are looking for danger all of the time. And why not look for pleasure? Why not look for engagement with other people? And that requires calming Amy down and Amy need not be, unless youre living in Southern Afghanistan or in Iran or Iraq or something like that. You dont need Amy on all the time. You dont need your panic button on. You want to keep it around only when necessary.

Raymond Hansell
I think one of the people you mentioned that this Amy, that youre using this to describe the behavior in the book is Marley. You counseled Marley to use a technique that used the acronym FEED, F, E, E, D. Can you tell us a little bit about Marleys story and how you employed the FEED technique with her?

John Arden
Sure. One of the things about Marley that I guess you could say characterizes many Americans in general is that we want a quick fix. We want to take a pill, make everything all better, and thats why big pharm, the pharmaceutical industry, or sometimes I call them the cartels are so dominant in this field of mental health right now. People want a quick answer. But to change your brain, to rewire your brain, you actually need practice and so there is no quick fix. There is no pill that you can take to calm Amy down but rather you need to stay engaged and do what you dont feel like doing. So Marley was, like many people, a little over reactive, a little irritable. People didnt like to be around her as much because she overreacted and she knew it. She didnt want to be that way but she wanted sort of a quick fix. What really she needed to do was learn how to rewire her brain and so I used a pneumonic. A pneumonic is a brain trick, you know, way of remembering something. So a simple pneumonic can be just letters. In this case were using feed your brain. Well feed your brain is an easy thing to remember so what are the letters and what do they mean? Well F is focus. The first thing you need to do when youre wanting to change your brain is to turn on your brains brain your brains brain. Let me pause for a second just to describe this. Your brains brain is your prefrontal cortex. It is the most evolutionarily advanced part of the brain. No other species on the planet has as large a prefrontal cortex as do we and so it is the commander, the CEO of the brain. So to change your brain, first you need your CEO on. You need your commander. You need the brains brain on so that is focus. First you need to be where you are when youre there. So in other words, to change your brain, you need to be alert to what is going on in the present so that is the F. Next you need to do what you dont feel like doing. Thats effort and why is that so important? Well if you did what you felt like doing, youd do what you always have done. So weve got habits, good habits and bad habits. One of Marleys habits was to overreact, to be irritable, to kind of be cranky and everything else, and she needed to change that habit. She needed to do what she didnt feel like doing and that required first of course turning on the prefrontal cortex so she was there and aware of what she was doing and then she needed to do what she didnt feel like doing. She had to make that effort. Then after a while when you develop a new habit, it becomes effortless meaning it becomes easier. So when youre practicing a tennis swing or, you know, speaking fluently in French or whatever it might be, as you practice more, it becomes easier. It kind of flows out and there is less effort necessary. It becomes effortless so that is the second E. However what we do know is that once you get to that point where it becomes effortless, if you stop doing it, you go back to where you were before. So lets say Marley in this case that were talking about here learned not to be cranky and she paused and thought before she reacted and it became easier for her. So in other words, she went through the focus, she went through the effort, and now it becomes effortless. However, she decides okay, I changed my brain. I dont need to do anything anymore. Im just going to kind of be what I am. She doesnt stay determined to stay in practice so the D is determination. So in other words, if you learn to speak French and you go to France and you travel around and everything and then you come back to the United States and dont speak French for the next seven years and expect to go back to France again with this fluent capability, youre not going to have it. You need to stay in practice so the D is the determination to stay in practice so that is what she needed to do was keep on practicing.

Raymond Hansell
Well that is an amazing story. Were going to take a break right now but I cant wait to talk more with Dr. John Arden, also with our cohost MarySue when we come right back. In the meantime, Id like to offer this challenge to our listeners. If you know someone whose acts no matter how small are making a big difference in the lives of other people, wed love to hear about them. Please send us an email at Radio at Better Worldians dot com. Well be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Youre listening to Better Worldians Radio. Were speaking with Dr. John Arden, the author of Rewire Your Brain. Now lets welcome back John and MarySue.

MarySue Hansell
Hi, John.

John Arden
Hi.

MarySue Hansell
You know, you talk a lot in your book about avoidant behavior and why that is harmful. I know a lot of people when they are afraid of things, they just avoid it. Why do you think thats not good and what should they do about it?

John Arden
Well lets step back and take a look at how the brain is organized and if we do that, the avoidant behavior will become an obvious misstep. So youve got two hemispheres, a right and a left hemisphere, two halves of the brain, and the front part of the brain is called the prefrontal cortex. So the front part of the right side is called the right prefrontal cortex and the front part of the left side is called the left prefrontal cortex. So we now know thanks to twenty, thirty years of research that people with anxiety disorders, people that are overly anxious unnecessarily and depressed seem to be overactive on the right prefrontal cortex and less active on the left prefrontal cortex. Now you might wonder well so what? What is so important about that? Well one way to get the right prefrontal cortex even more over active is to avoid what makes you anxious. So what the right front side does behaviorally is avoid and withdraw and thats really good to do if done selectively but if you do that all the time, then what youre going to do is you make it overactive and make the left side, the left front side underactive. So what is so important about the left side? Well it turns out that the left side generates positive emotions and how do you get the left side activated? Well you need to do what is technically called approach behaviors but basically the bottom line is this in more of a down to Earth way to say it; doing things even though you dont feel like it. So I often say do what you dont feel like doing. Even though you know its a good idea but you dont feel like it, go ahead and do it anyway and that activates your left prefrontal cortex. So in answer to your question, with that all in mind, avoidant behavior essentially over activates the right prefrontal cortex. Now we in the mental health field have known this in general for about fifty years, that people that have avoidant behavior tend to have anxiety disorders. It is counter intuitive in many ways because you would think as you phrased the question, that a person with a sort of an anxious kind of situation in front of them might avoid it and theyd feel relief and thats true. They feel relief for maybe about ten seconds. However, they end up feeling worse and now they feel like they need to avoid more things. So in other words, their avoidant behavior grows and essentially their right prefrontal, their right front side of their brain, gets even more activated and now theyre more anxious in more situations than they were before. You follow what I mean? So in other words, to balance out the activities of the two front sides of the brain, you need to be engaged and sometimes do some things and challenge yourself to do some things that you dont feel like doing when you know it is safe to do it. I wouldnt go have a vacation in Kandahar, Afghanistan right now. Its not safe to go do that. But heck, you know, to go out in your neighborhood hopefully of which youre living in a safe neighborhood, even though you dont feel like it, its a good thing to do.

MarySue Hansell
Ive heard the expression feel the fear but do it anyway so that sounds like what that means.

John Arden
Oh absolutely and in fact lets use some of the nice little jingles that the people in both AA and NA use. They have so many wonderful kind of little sayings that they have adopted and one of them is act as if or you know fake it until you make it, and meaning essentially that you know, I know you dont feel like it right now but go ahead and do it anyway and after a while youre going to get to feel better about doing. In fact, earlier we were talking about feed your brain and so remember the E, E, the two Es?

MarySue Hansell
Yes.

John Arden
Making an effort when you dont feel like it and then it becomes effortless. So basically were talking about the same sort of thing now. Were talking about how okay, you dont feel like doing it right now. You dont feel like exposing yourself to this anxiety provoking situation but you know logically that its safe. Go ahead and do it because you know logically it is safe and gradually youre going to feel like it is actually safe even though you didnt feel like it was safe before.

MarySue Hansell
In the beginning. You know I love the trick also that you mention in your book about acting like youre in a good mood even when youre not. Does that make you more in a good mood because youre doing it?

John Arden
Yeah. Lets take a look at facial expressions for example. Paul Ekman who you already interviewed is a wonderful psychologist that has researched facial expressions for probably fifty years now and he and his many students have taken a look at how when you smile, youre going to end up feeling better. When you frown, youre going to end up feeling down so to speak and there has been a number of different ways of demonstrating this. One of them has been just simply holding a pencil in your mouth. If you hold the pencil in your mouth with your teeth, you simulate a smile. When you hold the pencil in your mouth with your lips, youre simulating a frown. So this experiment done several times in different locations with various people has asked those folks to hold the pencil in their mouth either way for about an hour and then afterwards, they were asked questions about things that have happened in their life. More readily, the people that held the pencil in their mouth with their lips simulating a frown generated sad memories versus the people that simulated a smile, you know, with holding the pencil in their mouth with their teeth, generated positive memories. So there is a bi-directional flow of information. In other words, when you act like youre happy, youll be youll in a sense catch up. Youll start feeling happy instead of you sitting around waiting to feel happy and that relates somewhat to what we were just talking about before because its balancing the two sides of the brain.

MarySue Hansell
Yes it does. Thats really interesting advice. You know, you say in your book too that 90% of people wish their memory was better. I hear that all the time. Can you tell us some of the most impactful suggestions that you have? I think you had nine of them in the book but what do you think are the most important ones here to improve peoples memories?

John Arden
Well to start off with, I would say that you need to have a brain that is working properly before you expect your brain to remember well. So there is another pneumonic that I like to use that actually forms the core of my new book which is called The Brain Bible that just came out just recently and it is, by the way, five factors that are the most important to keep your brain healthy as you age. In other words, if you carry these five factors and practice them on a regular basis throughout the rest of your life, youll get dementia symptoms later, you wont be than other people you wont be depressed or anxious, youre going to be far more happy and everything else and youll be able to remember better. So what are those five factors? Well think about this pneumonic. Planting seeds. So SEEDS is the pneumonic. So the first S is social engagement. Its and I know you want to talk about social engage a little later so let me just highlight the importance of our brain to engage with other people. I mean, we are a social creature, probably more than any other species, and that is why we are so successful. We work together. And if you engage these social brains to network, you activate a whole system of brain networks that keep the brain alive, engaged in the world. So the first S of SEEDS is social. Second is the most powerful thing you could do to keep your brain healthy in the long run and it is called exercise. Its the most powerful antidepressant we have, more powerful than any chemical that you can take, best anti-anxiety agent that you can take without a doubt, and the most powerful brain builder. As a result of aerobic exercise and basically what were talking about is getting your heart pumping and sweating and at least for twenty minutes a day, then you get that aerobic boost and then you can release this wonderful substance, one of the many of what we call neurotropic substances like magic miracle grow that can help you grow new neurons in an area that lays down new memories called the hippocampus. So exercise, second factor. The second E is education. If youre not learning something new on a regular basis, youre not exercising cognitively, your brain. So if youre just a lazy thinker, youre not going to be able to remember much but if youre engaging, youre doing cognitive exercise after the aerobic exercise that is physical, then youre exercising your intellectual capacity so that would enable you to remember more. So what does that do? That develops more connectivity in your brain. Remember neural plasticity or rewiring your brain is connectivity, making new connections. I might talk about that in a little bit and what thats all about. So cognitive exercise, critically important. That is the education and diet. Well if youre not eating properly, in other words if you dont have proper nutrition and you have terrible instead, terrible nutrition, youre really undermining your brain capacity to remember things and in fact youll generate more anxiety, more depression. So the cornucopia of brain chemicals that we have that make the brain function really is acquired through our diet. There is a precursor of amino acids that turn into these neural transmitters and the food that we eat has a lot to do with the structure of our brain and we in this country, the United States, are really treading in extremely dangerous ground right now because the level of obesity and terrible diet is just so alarming. It is heading us towards a capacity for the healthcare industry. Im sorry to go off on this but

MarySue Hansell
No, no. I agree completely.

John Arden
Its critically important that people know that their diet can render them incapable of memory and its going to accelerate the production of all sorts of negative things in their brain including accelerating toward dementia earlier. So diet is critically important and then sleep. People dont understand how important adequate sleep architecture is so if you dont get good sleep architecture, in other words what I mean by architecture is there are stages of sleep and these stages of sleep need to be acquired. And stage three sleep which is deep sleep, slow wave sleep, needs to be acquired every night or youll be more fatigued the next day. Youll catch all of the viruses that are floating around you all of the time and you wont be able to think clearly and your stress hormones will be up. So getting adequate and good quality sleep without any sleep aids because most sleep aids screw up sleep architecture, getting good quality sleep is critically important. So back to your question; what is good for memory? Getting the seed planted on a regular basis.

MarySue Hansell
Thats good. You know, you brought up sleep. I was going to ask you I know you had in your book several suggestions for improving sleep. Can you share a couple of them with the listeners?

John Arden
Sure. Let me start off with one that seems to be an increasing factor for all of us, especially young folks that look at computer screens late at night. So what goes on when you look at a computer screen? Youre looking at light and your retina picks up that light and your retina is actually a part of your brain signals your pineal gland that is positioned right in the center of your brain that its daytime outside. Dont secrete the sleeping circadian rhythm hormone called melatonin. So in other words, looking at the computer screen late at night tricks your brain into thinking that it is daytime, not night time. So actually looking at the computer screen late at night creates some insomnia or light sleep. So that is one factor that you might think about. Another one is body temperature and you want your body to be on the cool side all night long. So if you are over covered, it is easy to go to sleep if youve got a heavy quilt on you and everything. However, around two, three o clock in the morning, you want your body to be really cool. You do not want to have too many covers on you. You dont want to have a stuffy room with not enough fresh air. Rather what you want to do is be on the cool side, not the over covered with quilts and blankets and all that and a closed window. Rather you want to be really cool. Why? Because youll have either at best a shallow sleep or at worst youre going to wake up sweaty and hard to get back to sleep again so keep your body cool at night.

MarySue Hansell
Yeah, I didnt know about that one. You know, I have another question for you too. What positive effects do personal relationships have on our brains?

John Arden
What effect do positive relationships have? Say that again please?

MarySue Hansell
Yes. Personal relationships. What kind of positive effects do personal relationships have on our brain?

John Arden
Oh absolutely fundamental and in fact as we were talking earlier about SEEDS, I noted the first S was social. Again, think about this. From our evolutionary history, we traveled as hunter/gatherers until about eleven thousand years ago. So most of our history as a species was moving around about ten miles a day which by the way has a lot to do with exercise as well. There was no word called exercise until just recently but as we moved ten miles a day, we had to work together. If we hadnt worked together, we wouldnt have survived. In other words, youre kicked out of the band and if youre kicked out of the band, youre eaten by a lion. You dont get access to foodstuffs. Youre dead meat literally. So being connected to other people was part of how we adapted. So there are all of these social brain networks that we have that I described in another book and other authors have as well like mirror neurons and the anterior cingulate and all of these other brain networks and everything that are clearly hungry for social engagement. We know that people that arent socially engaged throughout their life are the ones that get more anxious and more depressed and get dementia symptoms earlier than other people and it even gets down to the chromosomal level. You know, the caps on the end of the chromosomes are called telomeres and loneliness late in life shrinks the telomeres so what does that mean? Well let me bring it all down to Earth. Telomeres are like these little tassels on the end of your chromosomes that protect them and as they shrink, we accelerate aging. So in other words, were now impairing our brains and ourselves through social isolation. Wow, thats amazing. That was really surprising to me when I heard about this some years ago that loneliness and lack of social engagement gets rather contributes to impairment even at the chromosomal level? Thats how important social engagement is.

Raymond Hansell
Well I hate to break it to you but were going to have to break from our social engagement for just a few minutes. So were going to take another break short break. When we come back, well talk more with Dr. John Arden and my cohost Ray. Be right back.

Raymond Hansell
Hi. Were back now with Dr. John Arden, the author of Rewire Your Brain.

Gregory Hansell
Hi, John. Its Greg.

John Arden
Hi, Greg.

Gregory Hansell
There is a chapter I really liked in the book about resiliency and wisdom and I was hoping you could talk about resiliency and how so much of it really seemed to me to boil down to breaking out of your comfort zone.

John Arden
Breaking out of your comfort zone did you say?

Gregory Hansell
Yeah.

John Arden
Yeah, so if you think about some of the things that we were talking about earlier about engagement versus withdrawal and avoidance, that we have a choice. Do we want to be engaged in the world or do we want to avoid and be passive? And it turns out that the more resilient people are more engaged in the world. In other words, theyre challenging themselves more readily. So think about how some people are absolutely frightened by the idea of mountain climbing, sky diving, or doing all of these sorts of extreme sports. Other people find them exhilarating. So its really in the mind of the beholder and some people are so anxious that they dont even want to go outside and interact with the world. Those are the folks that get into the avoidant paradigm and then end up less resilient and have a higher stress level versus the people that are doing so called stressful kinds of things. They find those stressful kinds of things actually enjoyable. So its really the way we frame our existence and it turns out that the more resilient people are the ones that are challenging themselves on a more regular basis.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, I know in some of the research you cite in that chapter on busy and successful executives, you mention three characteristics that they all have in common and help you stay healthy despite those high levels of stress. You call them the three Cs? Could you talk about those?

John Arden
Sure, yeah. They havent actually been talked about for probably about thirty years right now and the two psychologists in the Chicago area that I recall took a look at these very successful CEOs and what what were the factors that made them so successful. The so called three Cs, commitment, control, and challenge seemed to kind of stand out more than the other factors. There were certainly other factors but these were the most dominant factors. So what are they? Well commitment. Lets say then that youre a CEO and if you are a person that feels very, very emotionally involved with your company meaning you feel that your company and lets use your program for example. You feel committed to your program because you know that it is providing very useful information for the general public and sometimes it might be a little stressful because you might have a timeline or you might have to learn about some new subject or something else but you feel so committed to this project, to this radio program that youre engaged in, you feel so committed that the stress that you might feel fades because of your commitment to this overall general goal. In other words, you have so much enthusiasm for the kinds of endeavors that youre involved in in terms of getting out useful information for the general public and also as the group of you know, working with disadvantaged children and other projects, you feel committed to this that any stress seems to kind of, like, water on a ducks back. It just kind of rolls off. So that sense of commitment is critically important. The next one is control. Well I mean, you could be committed but you may be so out on a limb that you have no sense of balance at all so youre not taking care of yourself. Youre sleeping maybe three hours a night and drinking a pot of coffee and not eating enough and everything else and youre not really in control of your effort. Then youll be more likely to be stressed out and less likely to do a good job. On the other hand, if you have good balance, you could even say balance is a good word for control too. In other words, if you have a sense of control over your effort, youre more likely to do a good job and feel good about that job and actually contribute far more. So control, very important. And then challenge. If youre not kind of pushing the envelope a little bit, if youre not going a little bit beyond every time, in other words if youre only doing what youve always done, it becomes old. It becomes sort of stale. So pushing yourself to learn more, pushing yourself to engage in the the program in ways that you hadnt before would make it sort of dead and make you feel dead about it so the challenge factor is an important one too. Why is that so important? Well our prefrontal cortex, remember, our brains brain really thrives on that. So moving ahead and challenging yourself, another very important aspect. So commitment, control, and challenge. Very important factors.

Gregory Hansell
You know, you also had a great final chapter on mindfulness that I really liked. I was hoping you could first set that up by talking about awakening from sleepwalking and breaking out of autopilot.

John Arden
Sure. There was a really nice book with a wonderful title published probably before you were born but I remember it well and it was called Be Here Now.

Gregory Hansell
I know the book. It was written by Ram Dass right?

John Arden
It was written by this guy named Ram Dass who was once named Richard Albert. Wonderful title. You could say that the title says it all. It is really difficult for us to be where we are when were there. Were doing a lot of rumination, daydreaming, projecting ahead, ruminating about the past, and in fact we know that 30% of our waking hours is spent doing just that and in fact, this network of neurons is called a default mode network identified by some neuro scientists about twelve years ago. So 30% of our waking hours is spent where we arent. In other words, we spend a whole lot of time not being where we are when were there and it turns out that being more present not only helps you be more successful because you are utilizing your skills and engagement and all that but actually youre activating your brains brain more readily when you are present. So I know there is a lot of, you know, popular enthusiasm for a term out there called mindfulness which is an aspect of Buddhist thought and you dont have to be a Buddhist. You can be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, whoever, you know, Daoist whatever. But the whole concept of being here now or just mindfulness, being mindfully present engages your brains brain to be where you are when youre there so you can utilize all of the skills that you have to fully immerse yourself in the present. We know that people that are more capable of doing that are less anxious, less depressed, and people actually like the more. Why? Because they are not off in themselves all the time. Theyre engaged with others and they are present in sort of a calm sort of way. So we talked earlier about taming Amy or the amygdala and those people that are more able to be where they are when theyre there, in other words be there now, are less prone to feel anxiety. So there has been a lot of research on long-time meditators.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah, its an interesting thing that you would mention

John Arden
Theyre able to be here now and they are less prone to be anxious, depressed, and in fact they are more engaged and more positive.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah. Its interesting that you should mention Ram Dass actually because when I was reading your book, I was thinking about him. I dont know if you know that at the end of his life, toward the end of his life, he had I think it was a heart attack or a stroke. It was pretty debilitating and a lot of the people that knew him initially thought like oh, he really recovered from this because he was in a negative space but because of that practice that he had, he was able to recover his kind of positive outlook and that way of looking at the world which really brings me to my next question. You know, one of the things I found fascinating in this chapter was this idea. Youve touched on it a bit a moment ago that scattered attention impairs your ability to let go of stress. So just like you talked about with anxiety earlier in the show, its kind of counter intuitive. So tell our listeners why that is the case.

John Arden
Well, you know, its wonderful that we are talking about Ram Dass and yes he did have a stroke and I remember meeting him once in Prague and then later he ends up at my hospital with the stroke. When I remember meeting him, he was so present when I met him. I mean, it was like wow. I was just right there. He was really engaged in the present and then later as you know and it sounds like you know a lot about him, that he wrote a book called Im Still Here or something like that. I forget what the name of it or Still Here Now so to speak. So that long time practice that he engaged in actually helped him as you say, helped him survive the loss of many different aspects of his life because he was really kind of like a rock star out there for many people. The stroke rendered him disabled in many ways and having that long time practice of being able to be present allowed him to kind of fall back on what he already knew so he could keep on cultivating it to survive the stroke much better than a lot of people that didnt have that practice. So he is a great role model for us.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah he is. If you could just explain a little bit more about what mindfulness is to our listeners and how it can really help with all of this?

John Arden
So think of this; we go down the same highway every day or the same train or commuter bus or whatever and the more you go down the same highway, the less you pay attention to the novelty of the environment, the more likely you are to fall back in that default mode and that work and start ruminating about the past and everything. It turns out that we become dull to our environment over a period of time if we keep on doing what we have always done in the same way weve done it before. So mindfulness, I know of course it is a term that is bantered about all over the place and that is why I brought up the be here now aspect. Mindfulness is really about enriching your existence in the present with the effort to look for novelty in your environment. So for example, I have the great opportunity to drive to work by driving through these nice rolling hills with these vineyards. I live in the so called wine country of northern California, northeast San Francisco and its a beautiful environment. But often times I find myself drifting off, worrying about some budgetary issue because I run this big training program and Im on my way to work. Fortunately Im not plagued by depression or anxiety and my life is pretty good but I will still go off projecting or ruminating about the past and I have to go, John, wake up. Wake up. Look where you are. You can worry about that later. Pay attention to oh my God. Look at this. Its now fall and the grape leaves are changing color. Is that a chardonnay over there? I have to actually challenge myself to pay attention to the subtleties, to enrich myself in the present because I drive down these same roads every day so its hard for most of us that arent plagued by depression and anxiety to do that sort of thing like myself. Think of the people that unfortunately are anxious and depressed. Its really hard for them to do it so what I often do with folks that are like that is I teach them how to do it even in sessions, you know, how to pay attention to just sitting in your seat right now. Can you feel your weight? Now Im going to put this pen in your hand. Can you feel the weight shift as you hold it at the end or the front part or the back part? So really in many ways you could say mindfulness is partly about it. I cant really say its all about it. Its about feeling all of the richness in the present moment in a non-judgmental way.

Gregory Hansell
Yeah its interesting. I actually went camping last weekend. I had a stressful week beforehand and I am sitting in the woods. It was gorgeous and I had to remind myself to actually look at it and be present and attentive to it because I was still kind of stuff at just looking at things, not kind of observing them, not being present to them. I have to interrupt you because we only have about a minute and a half left and I wanted to ask you an important question. I ask this to our guests every week which is what is your vision for how your book Rewire Your Brain and just your outlook generally that youre trying to share with your patients and with the public can help improve lives and ultimately help make the world a better place? Big question. Sorry. One minute.

John Arden
Oh sure. Sure. Well you know, I did kind of end the book with not only a little discussion about being present and mindfulness and all that you just talked about but also the idea of compassion. It turns out that theyre a part of this is the same thing and to be present in a compassionate way and feel the interdependence between us all I think makes not only a happier world for all of us but actually makes the person that is able to express compassion and connection with others a much happier person. So I really feel that giving is receiving. So if youre more capable of being a generous person, youre really more capable of feeling positive emotions. Those people that kind of hold back, those are the ones that are actually more anxious and depressed and there is a brain based explanation for that. So generosity, compassion, and being present cannot only make the world a better place if you practice that but also make your life a whole lot more positive.

Raymond Hansell
Thats an amazing summary. Its in conclusion of a wonderful guest appearance by Dr. John Arden today to talk about his mission in making the world a better place on Better Worldians Radio and with our a lot of the initiatives that were doing also in our better world. You can find out more about Dr. Ardens work including his book Rewire Your Brain by going to Doctor John Arden dot com. John, once again, wed like to thank you for joining us on Better Worldians Radio today.

John Arden
Thanks so much. I enjoyed it.

Gregory Hansell
Thank you.

MarySue Hansell
Thank you.

Raymond Hansell
Please listen next week when well be talking with Rajendra Sisodia, the author of Conscious Capitalism. Well talk about how businesses have the ability to help make it a better world. We have an excellent lineup of guests in the coming weeks and if you know an unsung better worldian who would make a great guest on our show, please send us an email at Radio at Better Worldians dot com. Id like to thank everyone today for listening. You can join the Better Worldians community at Better Worldians dot com and until next time be a better worldian.