The A-B-C’s of Brain stimulation via LoveWorks

(This is a post in the Choosing Change series)

It’s the 4th of July in the United States, and I suspect a lot of you are on the road enjoying your summer vacation. If you are out there, be careful and enjoy yourself!

When you arrive at your destination, whether it’s the pool, a lakehouse, or a state or national park, and you choose to unwind by reading a magazine or book, what book(s) made your summer reading list?

This summer I’ve been reading two of my favorite authors, Dr. Dan Siegel (UCLA, and the author of The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are, 2015) and Dr. Tina Bryson (USC, and co-author with Dr. Siegel of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind, 2012).

Together, their insights have helped me to put together a simple yet helpful way to care for my “state of mind” that I’d like to share with you.

Food for thought: If we want good functional outcomes with our thinking, feelings, behavior, and relationships, then we’re more apt to achieve and be successful in reaching our goals if our mind is optimally prepared, equipped and functioning to accomplish these tasks.

That’s why I’m suggesting this brief model to you (LoveWorks) because staying in a functional state of mind is necessary if we intend to implement values that say “I love you,” and, will create safe and secure environments where our loved ones will not only survive living with us but thrive while they’re living with us! Who wouldn’t want to use their mind to achieve these outcomes?

But first,  let’s see how Dr. Siegel defines “state of mind.” In his book “A Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology,” (2012), Dr. Siegel defines our state of mind as:

“An overall way in which mental processes, such as emotions, thought patterns, memories and behavioral planning, are brought together into a functional and cohesive whole.”  

Simply said, one of the first things that Dr. Siegel wants us to take away from this part of his definition is that we’ll want to focus and use our energy to become mindful, intentional, strategic and deliberate with our thoughts, our feelings, our memories and our behavior, so that we’ll create worthwhile “operating procedures” that work effectively for us and for others.

When we use our energy to focus on thoughts, plans, procedures, techniques, skills, and processes that affirm and make sense to us, and that helps us to connect with people or create environments that are mutually conducive for our emotional safety, health and well-being, then we’re well on our way to creating a functional, coheerent and constructive state of mind. But there’s more. Dr. Siegel adds this about our state of mind:

“A state of mind is shaped by the total pattern of activations in the brain at a particular moment. A state of mind coordinates the activity in the moment and it creates a pattern of brain activation that can become more likely in the future.

What I understand Dr. Siegel to be saying here is the consistent practice of being mindful, intentional, strategic and deliberate with our thoughts helps us to identify, reinforce, integrate and continually live by values, processes and procedures that make sense to us.

When we practice and repeat values and behaviors that make sense to us and others, then we’re positively impacting ourselves (by creating peace and security in our state of mind) and we’re positively impacting other in our environment, which hopefully impacts their state of mind. This is the type of “intentional living” that I’d like to create and live by not only this summer but for the remainder of my life!

So this brings us to the LoveWorks model that I’d like to suggest to you. My hope is that this simple “A – B – C – D – E process” will assist you to stimulate your brain to create a safe, functional, secure, constructive and cohesive state of mind within you, which will ultimately translate into peace of mind!

Let’s take a look at the “A – B – C’s” of Love Works!

ABCDEA – Apply AGAPE

Agape is one of the Greek words for Love and is actually defined by ten other “action words” that when applied and delivered, helps us to know we are and have received love.

The action words describe “one who Loves, Esteems, Cherishes, Respects, Favors, Honors, Accepts, Prizes, Relishes and demonstrates Devotion to oneself and to others” in their lives. You can read further about their definition and description by clicking this sentence.

The ten words that define Agape, the Nine Fruit of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control)  in addition to any other positive values, virtues or character strengths (Positive Psychology suggests Wisdom, Courage, Curiosity, Integrity, Mercy, and Spirituality to name a few) that makes sense to you when identified and practiced is the first step in the right direction toward creating a functional state of mind.

Dr. Siegel also supports the ongoing practice of Spiritual Disciplines (Reflection and Meditation, to which I’ll add Prayer, Study, Silence, Solitude, Service, Fellowship, etc.) as beneficial in helping us to feel calm, gain insight and to know ourselves, which helps us to know others. To Dr. Siegel, developing and practicing these interpersonal processes facilitates insight, empathy, and compassion.

When you identify and practice healthy values and disciplines that you choose to live by, you’re actually “uploading” into the operating system of your brain ideas, ethics, mores, actions, processes, and procedures that your brain will recall and repeat when you most need it.

So what are the Agape-oriented values and virtues that you wish to intentionally and consistently practice, get better at and in the process, create peace, flexibility, and cohesion among other outcomes, in your life and relationships? You can’t go wrong when you incorporate the work and practice of Love into your brain and into your life!

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” – Philippians 4:8 – 9 (TNIV)

B – Balance your Brain/Body via your Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions:

Drs. Siegel and Bryson identify nine functions of your Middle Prefrontal cortex that among other things, helps us to become and remain balanced and “regulated” with our emotions, “attuned” and connected with others in meaningful and purposeful ways, and helps us in our ability to be intentional and successful in carrying out and living by our Agape-oriented values.

The Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions (notice how they link together to help us!)

  1. Body Regulation: Creating and maintaining balance with the systems (biological, psychological, social and spiritual) in my body, …
  2. Attuned Communication: …which helps me to think, create, repair, reconnect and maintain harmonious connections with significant others in my life.
  3. Emotional Balance: Helps me to stay within my “68° – 72°” degree range of identified and constructive behaviors, that is, the values I’ve chosen to live by…
  4. Response Flexibility: …which gives me greater ability to be mindful, intentional, strategic, deliberate and inclusive in delivering “adult” responses to others.
  5. Fear Modulation: Helps me to lower internal worry, anxiety, dread, panic, and fear, which…
  6. Insight: …Helps me to discern, intuit then decide what might be the “next right step” that’s appropriate for me to make for myself and when others when are involved.
  7. Empathy: When I can tune in to, read and report my thoughts and feelings accurately, then I position myself to demonstrate the same actions with others.
  8. Morality: Self- and other awareness helps me to understand what behavior is important, necessary and guides me to demonstrate a “golden rule” response.
  9. Intuition: Helps me to create and demonstrate new, positive, and wise methods of living, which is a reflection of my ability to create functional adult outcomes.

I think one of the prime benefits of loving yourself by “tuning into and (re)training your brain” to function according to your value system is that you’re identifying new, creative, positive and skilled ways of living, which is not only empowering to you, but it also helps you to replace unhealthy and dysfunctional schemas with healthier and more functionally adaptive ways of seeing yourself, your world and others in your world.

So before moving onto the next point in the LoveWorks model, I’ll ask you to think about how you could improve your state of mind by focusing on, practicing and letting your values and virtues saturate your brain, your body, and your relationships. One final point, please know that most of the outcomes listed here are accomplished by your continued practice of these behaviors and are facilitated due to your connecting with others, which happens to be the next “building block” in LoveWorks.

C – Connect with Yourself and with Others:

As much as we’re capable of creating positive and constructive change within and by ourselves, our work to experience a positive and constructive state of mind is greatly enhanced when we involve others in our growth and maturation process. We are relational beings, and our brain develops and “learns” to function effectively when we do our own internal work and because we’ve connected with others who are safe, secure, creative, supportive, and respectful. In other words, who are living by their positive and identified virtues and values!

This is never truer than when we’ve identified our dysfunctional and maladaptive schemas and/or try to overcome traumatic experiences from our past (or present).

The Twelve-Step community knows this all too well, as they encourage us to develop safe, supportive and loving relationships with our God, ourselves and with other human beings, who hear us and help us to eliminate and replace confusing, painful and damaging “personal narratives” in our lives with constructive, connected, purposeful and empowering narratives for us to live by.

These newer narratives are the story that we get to (re)create for ourselves and our relationships and are based upon the values and virtues that make sense to us that we elect to live by.

These new narratives become possible because we’ve taken steps and risks to open ourselves up to be impacted by others whose “state of mind” is loving, caring, thoughtful, safe, secure and functional. Exchanging “life energy” with someone or a group of people who demonstrate love like this is empowering and spiritually uplifting.

Irvin Yalom documents the “curative benefits” that we experience in the context of working with others (especially in group psychotherapy), a few of which are imparting information, installation of hope, self-understanding and interpersonal learning.

So I encourage you to ask yourself:  What do I need? What do I need from others? What do they need from me? How could an encounter or a relationship with them help me to experience change, healing, and growth?

I encourage you to take steps to connect with other healthy people who could help you to generate and facilitate love and other skills in your life and in theirs!

D – Demonstrate (or Discuss) what Loving behaviors are appropriate:

When you’ve identified what values, virtues, mores, ethics, principles and processes (“A”) that help you to “do the next right thing,” whether the next right thing is engaging in and applying loving and functional behavior within yourself to help your state of mind (“B”) or to lovingly and functionally impact the brain of others (what the authors call “interpersonal neurobiology”), then I simply encourage you to demonstrate your good values with intentional, strategic and deliberate actions. Wait for it now, “Just do it.”

Remember, what helps to create new wiring in your brain is to engage in and practice the constructive actions that make sense to you, are part of your new narrative and define what’s important to you and how you wish to live, especially as you desire to create functional, attuned and cohesive relationships with others (“C”).

Remember to incorporate the “S – T – A – R” principle with the work that you demonstrate or the actions you’re practicing:

S – Stop: “What’s the appropriate action I need to demonstrate now?”

T – Think: “What does the situation deserve?”

A – Act: Do or implement the Action (the next right thing)

R – Review: Ask yourself “Am I satisfied with the outcome? Good!”  If not, then Stop… and repeat the “S – T – A – R” technique until you are satisfied with your outcome.

I’ve found that engaging in actions like this with others helps me to create and facilitate optimal environments where their state of mind is helped to thrive! This is especially important as we consider our relationships, especially our marital and parenting relationships.

E – Empowering and “Epigenetic” Environments:

So the outcome of identifying, “uploading” and applying Agape-oriented values (A) and behaviors into your brain, body (B) and relationships (C) with others, helps you to not only create a positive and constructive state of mind, but it also helps you to become and feel more competent and proficient in your demonstrated actions (D) with others.

But there’s one more letter and outcome that accompanies your engagement in mindful, intentional, strategic and deliberate actions.

Research has shown that the more you do this “A – B – C – D” type work, the more you’ll feel encouraged and empowered due to the state of mind you’ve created for yourself and due to the healthier functioning in your relationships.

You should also know that by continued repetition of these mental processes, you’re creating new connections and “linkages” in your brain (and since others are involved, in their brains too!) that prior to your engagement in working with Love in this manner, may not have been established.

This is the Epigenetic part of LoveWorks. Epigenetic (“Epigenesis”) is a biological term that means “above genetics.” It refers to a process where the DNA within our genes in our body is “turned on or off” (modified) due to some external causation or action.

Dr. Siegel described how these neurobiological connections within the brain (especially within the Prefrontal Cortex), are critical for our self-regulation and emotional balance, are “turned on” due to our learning  (“A + B”) and due to the constructive and positive experiences we create with others (“C + D”).

This is exciting because it means if we do our job by doing the work that’s suggested to us, then we position ourselves to overcome traumas from our past, and we position ourselves to create opportunities to convert that which we envision into a reality. Learning, especially in the context of constructive relationships, per Drs. Siegel and Bryson, will help our brain cells to “fire and rewire, which leads to inspiring” outcomes!

In closing this post (on July 4th), I’m reminded of Katy Perry’s song “Fireworks.” Even though some of us will see fireworks in a few hours, it’s her lyrics that speak about us achieving our potential as human beings, to “ignite our light and let it shine,” no matter how dark life appears to be, that speaks to me. Take a listen and have a great 4th and remember, to create a better state of mind, let love work in you! Take us out Katy!

Thanks for visiting drkenmcgill’s blog!  As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24” for additional information that could be helpful.

I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful.  Again, it’s my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.

Dr. Ken McGill


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