Cognitive Change

. The arousal of the limbic response impairs prefrontal cortex's activity and vice versa. Switching between the 2 is called symbolic labeling (using words to label emotions reduces the activity in the limbic system and activates the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (involved in braking and inhibiting in the brain). Thus using a "few" words to express your emotions decreases the limbic response and does not increase arousal as is incorrectly assumed by many people. Remember that as open dialogue does increase arousal, you need to keep your expression of emotions to a few words !!!!!!

. People who use symbolic labeling find that more of their brain becomes part of the inhibition process. Thus they are able to "stay cool" under pressure, ie ability to stay in a high limbic state of arousal and still remain calm so that they can think clearly. Remember: stress is not necessarily bad, it is the way you handle it, ie

"...Successful people learn to harness deep stress and turn it into eustress, thus enhancing prefrontal cortex functioning..."

David Rock, 2009

Certainty and autonomy (feeling of control) are primary rewards or threats for the brain. The brain craves certainty, ie

"...a sense of uncertainty about the future and feeling out of control both generate strong limbic response..."

David Rock, 2009

. Labelling them is not enough to manage them. A better way is to reappraise by re-interpreting an event or reordering your values or normalising events or repositioning your perspective, create choice, etc.

. Your brain is a prediction machine with massive neuronal resources used to predict what will happen each moment by combining what it has seen//heard, etc before and what is happening now. The neo-cortex part of the brain primary function (foundation of intelligence) involves more than our 5 senses. It is estimated that there are around 40 environmental cues that you can consciously pay attention to at any one time. Subconsciously the number is more than 2 million,

NB the brain likes to know what is going on by recognizing patterns ‐ it likes to feel certain.

. There is a perception of control. The brain likes to feel that it is in control. In fact, choosing in some way to experience stress is less stressful than experiencing stress without a sense of choice or control. It is the pre-frontal cortex that determines whether we feel in control or not. Linked with this is having choices. Choice reduces the threats from autonomy and uncertainty. Even the smallest perception of choice reduces the impact the limbic system arousal. It goes to a toward state and this is easier to reflect on the situation. It is the perception of choice that matters to the brain.

. Perception works by coming to a quick conclusion and then filling in the details later. This quick conclusion can provide the framework for further exploring the matter. This is an important survival technique, eg when under threat, such as from a predator, with no time for detailed assessment, one needs to react quickly. Similarly when meeting someone for the first time, the first impression dominates.

. Encountering something new means arousal of uncertainty which the brain does not like, ie

"...doing something differently can bring about a negative spiral that can feel overwhelming..."

David Rock, 2009

. Emotional responses can be changed for the better, ie positive. Generally older persons are better at this than younger persons. Strategies for doing this re-appraising of experiences by involve re-interpreting, normalizing, re-labeling or re-ordering or re-configuring or re-positioning, etc and are a powerful way of managing internal stress caused by something new, different, uncertain, etc. Re-appraisal means increasing optimism, environmental mastery, positive relationships and life satisfaction.

. Re-appraising means having cognitive flexibility to see things from many angles. The brain uses this perceptions of events, things, etc

. It is better to re-appraise than suppress emotional responses.

. Having an explanation for an experience reduces uncertainty and increases the perception of control. This re-organising of the neurons uses much energy as it requires inhibiting your current way of thinking. To reduce this energy usage, get someone to help you re-appraise and/or practise it and/or use humour. Humour makes the cognitive process work more easily.

. The brain craves certainty so that it can control the limbic response. It likes to make predictions to handle uncertainty, etc

. There is an optimal level of arousal for decision-making & problem solving which allows you to think at several levels at once. However, over-arousal can "freeze" thinking, eg uncertainty about the future can create over-arousal, especially of the limbic system.

. Many of your idiosyncrasies come from the way the brain is built, ie when your limbic system is aroused, you can make unintentional mistakes and anxiety is increased. Consequently, re-appraise to dampen down the limbic response

Expectations are the experience of the brain paying attention to a possible reward or threat as it alters the data your brain perceives. It is common to fit incoming data into expectations and to ignore data that does not fit. You can create your own expectations of value, like setting a goal.
As expectations alter perceptions, you tend to see what you expect to see and not see what you are not expecting. Also, we can ignore data that is not linked to what we are expecting.
Unmet expectations can create threat responses.
Expectations become our reality, ie the brain does not distinguish between reality and perception. .

"...the right dose of expectation can be powerful as one of the strongest painkillers..."

David Rock, 2009

Expectations can change brain functioning; the right dose of expectations can be similar to a clinical dose of morphine; expectations activate dopamine circuitry (central for thinking and learning); exceeding expectations generates a strong increase in dopamine (neurotransmitter of desire) and reward response (including focus), while unmet expectation generates the reverse effect including a strong threat response like pain. When dopamine levels are too low, the number of connections per second in the brain falls.

The dynamic between expectations altering experiencing and impacting on dopamine levels, helps to generate an upward or downward spiral in the brain. This brings into focus the importance of a positive state of mind and setting expectations that are achievable. Expecting good outcomes generates a healthy level of dopamine and a sensation of feeling happy
Need to pay more attention to your own experience, including watching how expectations alter your state of mind and how excitement can get in the way of clear thinking.

"...For average emotional hits you can try labeling your emotions, which increases a sense of certainty and reduces limbic arousal. The stronger emotional hits you can reappraise, by changing your interpretation of events. This can increase both certainty and autonomy, while having a stronger dampening effect. And to help reduce future bursts of arousal, you can manage your expectations by being aware of what they are, and choosing new expectations in their place...... With these three techniques in hand ‐ or, rather, easily accessible as maps in your brain - you have a great chance of staying cool under pressure, even in the most difficult circumstances..."

David Rock, 2009

  • The brain is compromising all the time, ie one part of the brain wants to keep the secret while the other parts, eg social, wants to tell everybody
  • Being hungry and/or tired can have negative impacts on our prefrontal cortex and thus our thinking ability.
  • The unconscious is the most powerful part of the brain but we do not realise it. The unconscious is dominated by our experience and genes. The brain learns by experience.

The unconscious brain runs much of our life.  It makes decisions without awareness, especially if events demand a fast response, ie too quick for the conscious to become aware of what is happening.

If we practise something a lot, this can change a part of the brain where the activity will occur, ie go from software to the hardware.  Once it is hardwired, the brain becomes automated and energy efficient. Automation means we lose conscious access to it and have no memory of what happened, ie like auto-pilot. Examples of this are extreme activities like rockclimbing, free solo flying, etc. when doing these activities we are in the zone or flow state where we have no fear, no distraction, etc.. When are not consciously thinking, just doing.

It is thought that unconscious decision-making is based on our evolutionary experience; what is ingrained in us. For example, there is a strong emotional pull for instant gratification now, rather than long-term reward in the future.

The brain likes to be in energy-saving auto-pilot mode. It will stay in this mode until something different happens, ie it needs to make sense of, and react to, a situation that is unexpected.  The conscious brain is really the arbitrator of what you should do when something unexpected happens

Some examples of unconscious decision-making:
- holding a warm cup of coffee you are more likely to think about a favourable relationship with your mother than when holding a cold cup
- if you are smelling something bad, you are more likely to make harsh moral decisions
- if you are cleaning your hands, you are more likely to have conservative political opinions
Who we are depends on how genetic make up interacts with the environment. Research has shown that the structure of the brain can be influenced by environmental factors like culture, ideas, belief systems, etc. Thus a better word than "hardwired" is "livewired" as hardwired implies inflexibility which is not the case with the brain as it is very plastic.


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