It’s Just A Brain State!

Earlier this year, I read a book called Wired For Joy by Laurel Mellin that was very interesting. There are two main points that I think most people could benefit from. The first involves something called neuroplasticity, which is a property that our brains have. Simply put, it means that your brain has the ability to change. People who have been practicing being stressed out for a long time have a tendency to stay stressed out. Imagine deep ruts in a country road. The more time the person has spent in stress, the deeper the ruts are. But here’s the good news – neuroplasticity means that those ruts can become more and more shallow until they aren’t even there anymore. If this person has learned how to handle stress and has spent more time in peace, then the “peace ruts” will develop. Which is a good thing. I guess we might need a metaphor other than ruts, though…

To elaborate a bit on neuroplasticity, neuroscientists (aka brain scientists) like to say, “What fires together wires together.” This simply means that if you spend most of your time in peace, your brain will literally change so that it’s easier for it to both stay in peace and to return to peace when it’s stressed. The “peace ruts” are getting deeper and deeper, which is great! Peace is becoming your more normal state. And no, I haven’t thought of a new metaphor yet… The other side of the coin, though, is that if you spend most of your time in stress, your brain will change so that it’s easier for it to stay in stress as well as to return to stress when it’s in peace. Which isn’t very cool. So we want to learn how to spend more of our time in peace, so that the brain gets used to that state and changes accordingly.

The other main thing I got from Wired For Joy is that according to Dr. Mellin’s neuroscience research from the last several decades, a person is in any one of five brain states at any given time – that’s all. These are called Brain States 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Brain State 1 is total peace and Brain State 5 is total stress. The others are in between, so that 2 is pretty peaceful, 3 is slightly stressed but not bad, and 4 is pretty stressed out. Every moment of your life, you’re in one of these brain states.

So why am I excited about this and why do I think this knowledge can help you in your daily life? I’m excited about this, and I share the author’s huge excitement about this, because this means that when you’re totally stressed out, either in Brain State 4 or 5, it’s just a brain state! It’s not personal. You’re not bad or damaged or diminished. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just that the reptilian part of your brain that evolved eons ago has taken over. It was designed to protect us when survival was different than it usually is now. Think caveman/cavewoman times. They weren’t doing much higher math and poetry back then. The brain has continued to evolve, with the more recent parts being responsible for higher thinking. When you’re being chased by a lion, though, it’s not the time to do higher thinking. You need some cortisol pumping to get you going so you can survive. The same thing is happening when you’re stressed. But there’s no lion.

So the first thing to take away from this part about brain states is that it’s just a brain state, with a certain part of the brain in charge. It’s not personal. You still have to deal with the stressor(s), though, so I’m not saying that life is all roses when you’re facing being evicted form your house. But knowing about the brain states can help you calm down to better deal with the situation. To think more clearly. To communicate better.

The next question is, how do I change brain states? That’s what the book is ultimately about. Mellin teaches you how to identify which state you’re in, and then she gives a corresponding tool for that state that’s designed to move you up to 1. The only exception is that the tool for 5 gets you either to 4 or 1, but if you’re in 4 then you can use that tool to get to 1. They’ve done lots of research with the effectiveness of the tools for each state.

There’s an iPhone app (I’m not sure if it’s available for other smartphones) that might help even without the book. And it you want to learn more online, search for Emotional Brain Training (EBT), which is the name of Dr. Mellin’s group.

Now here’s the only thing that doesn’t work for me. The tools, while amazing, are a bit cumbersome for me. I prefer the more simple and instantaneous release of The Sedona Method, which I’ve written about before. That works very well for me, especially after much practice. My releasing process has gotten shorter and sweeter. I don’t have to figure out which state I’m in and then use a tool that takes a few minutes. That’s just me, though. If you recognize that you’re living in 4 or 5 much of the time and are having trouble breaking free, then I’d definitely recommend taking the time to identify which state and try that tool. Then you’ll be in a much better place to handle those stressful situations. And what’s more, what fires together wires together, so you’ll be hardwiring your brain to spend more time in peace and joy. Once you’re more used to snapping out of stress, something simpler like The Sedona Method might work. But if that works already, then I don’t think you have much use for the brain state tools. Just knowing about them might be all you need. Either way, let’s continue to take control of our peace and spend more time living there!