Recently I read transcripts for a three-part podcast with coach Brooke Castillo about using brain science to stop over-drinking. I was finding that if I wasn’t careful I would always want at least one additional glass of wine. And then a link to Brooke’s podcast, "Stop Over-Drinking," popped up on my Facebook feed and I was like, “Let’s check this out.” It blew my mind. And her techniques can be used for overeating, trying to cut stuff out you don’t want to do, like shopping too much, etc.
Brooke's podcast in three parts:
I highly recommend listening to or reading all three podcast transcripts because Brooke breaks down why we choose to over-drink, why it’s so hard to stop doing that, and then a pretty easy way to re-teach your brain not to do that. In a nutshell the idea is that our animal brain is the older and more efficient part of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is a newer evolutionary trait. The animal brain (the amygdala) is the part responsible for the dopamine hit and choosing stuff based on that, like we would back in the day, for example, when we’d eat a berry or something and we’d know by the dopamine hit that it would help us survive (or how not having the berry would mean we might die). But then when you have something like alcohol it floods the system with dopamine and teaches the brain pretty quickly to go “MORE” (and that less means we feel like we might die if we don' have it). And since that part of the brain is the most efficient and knee-jerk, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t stand a chance when you’re in the situation and trying to choose not to drink more.
Brooke explains how it’s like Pavlov’s dogs. They started to drool when they’d hear the clogs of the scientists walking down the hall. They didn’t even have to hear the bell. But the scientists could also easily train them to stop drooling simply by teaching them through not giving them the food every time. Brooke goes on to show that with some planning we can do the same for ourselves. To take the decisions out of the hands of the animal brain we decide in advance: I’m going to have X number of drinks twenty-four hours from now. You get to decide how many and what. And then you stick to it. And eventually this way of doing things gets embedded (or whatever) in the animal brain and then THAT becomes the way that is knee-jerk and efficient — choosing in advance how much you’ll have.
Instead of resisting the urge or pretending it’s not there you just observe it, she explains. Like, “Oh, I have the desire to have another drink. How interesting you are, brain! How interesting.” You simply let the urge be there and you move through and on. And it gets easier because you are training this newer evolved part of the brain to make the choice and then the animal brain to efficiently process it. It’s hard to explain — hence my suggestion to read/listen. She also has a LOT of helpful hints, like how not to underestimate the number of drinks you want. Like, be realistic when you’re starting out, and this will make it easier to train. The point at the beginning isn’t so much to drink that much less, but to train the brain to choose how much you’re drinking so that soon you will drink less. It has been working for me.
So I’m totally in love with this way of being. And it has made me realize that there is so much mind-blowing stuff we can do by training the prefrontal cortex. I, personally, believe this might be the key to our shift in consciousness. Or “shift to consciousness,” as my friend Casey Erin Wood pointed out when I told her about how I think we can use brain science to usher in the shift all the new age people have been talking about. It perhaps isn’t just a big rainbow that’s coming and happening TO us, but something we choose to do. What if the shift to consciousness is because we are making conscious choices about what we want and how we want to think? Sounds powerful and sovereign to me.
Take institutionalized racism, for example. Whole lotta white people have been taught their whole lives and through hegemonic means that black people are to be feared. That they’re less than. They cannot even see why the Black Lives Matter movement is needed and why that is so sad. BECAUSE in part the animal brain has this shorthand embedded based on bullshit we were taught ages ago and that is continuing to be reinforced by a hegemonic white supremacist society. So! If we talk about and look at what we have been taught, what has become knee-jerk, what has embedded in there by no choice of our own, we can start to dismantle it. There’s the choice. We can use the prefrontal cortex to choose to be with people, to choose to hear people of color, to choose to make the decisions about races other than ours rather than allow the animal brain to continue to make us react. We have a choice.
We can use it for social media addiction. Like, instead of continuing to become automatons connected to our phones we can say, I’m taking Facebook off my phone and I will allow myself to look at it in the evening when I’m already done with my creative work and I’m already tired and have less energy to invest in it (or delete it altogether). And then we are automatically using the prefrontal cortex to make the choice instead of allowing the animal brain to get the adrenaline hit from the notification and have that all-too-efficient system rule our lives.
We can use this method for self-worth as well. Karen Noe, medium and Hay House author, was telling me during a recent session about Dr. Wayne Dyer’s daughter who had warts. She started saying, "I love you, thank you for what you’ve taught me, but you can leave now.” Karen was telling me this so that I could use it for my own swirling thoughts. I have been and it has been brilliant. Also, I feel like this is using the prefrontal cortex to cut the knee-jerk swirling thoughts off at the pass. What also works is this — deciding we’re going to look into the face of the efficient animal brain thoughts we have always believed because someone embedded them, or because of the patriarchy, or because society’s efficient systems thrive by our being held down — and what better way for us to be held down than by our own animal brains believing we are unworthy? Talk about an efficient system.
So these are some ideas I’ve been working with and interested in seeing where they go. I am very excited to trample the patriarchy starting literally from the inside out — with my brain! How cool is that?!
Tell me your thoughts on brain science! Have you been using any techniques to help you trample the patriarchy from the inside out? I would love to hear about it.
So much has healed around my father and my relationship since he had Alzheimer’s and since he passed in March. But for a long time, our relationship was tough as turkey jerky. He was certainly always a champion of my music and writing, but it often felt like nothing was good enough. Because he tried to control the world with his mind (and keep us, his kids, from getting hurt), I was always concerned he lived a tortured life. And that for all of his prosperity he always seemed so focused on everything that was wrong. I was seeing his life as half full (still, half full of Johnnie Walker Double Black, but half, nonetheless).
But then I had a magical reading and session with healer Liz Donahue last week. My last question was what she could tell me about my father’s life and if there was anything I should know for closure. We barely had any time left in the session, and normally I would not have imposed on her to take extra time, but I've been learning how to ask more lately.
“Your father had to hold a sharply angled personality line in order to achieve his life’s purpose, which was to change the paradigm of education on the planet. He had to take one for the team, in a way.”
Because I had always assumed he had achieved what he did in spite of his personality. Hearing that made so much click, like a really huge second hand coming to life after being stuck in the same position for years.
Liz also explained that my family’s purpose is about education and changing the ways in which education happens in our culture and how people are educated. I had always thought of my life as separate from “the school,” as we’ve always referred to the College of Westchester, which my sisters run today, but hearing this made sense, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I teach as well and how that’s a way I honor my dad, whose biggest passion was teaching. God knows I've been a student for most of my life, but hey, best case scenario, who isn't?
My father bought the Westchester Business Institute in the ’60s when it had only nineteen students. He built it into a two-year school which put the student first and was geared toward people having flexible schedules (many students work full time and have families) and reasonable financial aid options. Eventually it was accredited and now offers Bachelor degrees as well. I worked there as a teen, too, helping my sister Nancy in career services and loved it. When my sisters cleaned out my dad's house recently Nancy took all of his ties to the school to give to students for job interviews and work. That makes me feel really good to know the students have a piece of my dad with them.
When I told my sister what Liz had said about my dad changing the paradigm of education she told me she wasn't surprised and has been thinking about that and how suddenly now she hears the bigwigs at Harvard and whatnot talking about putting the student at the center of their education, and how our dad had talked about that our whole lives.
Liz also said my dad was very pleased with himself and his family, “well done,” he accomplished more than he had set out to do in this life, that my Uncle Mac helped him cross over and my mom was there to meet him. There is still integration and healing to do, but there are lots of roses, a beautiful tribute, and a lot of peace.
And now I feel more integration with my own purpose as well as how my dad and my relationship fits together in the grand scheme of things. I feel really lucky for so many reasons. But most of all that I was able to spend so much time with my dad before he passed and that our relationship improved so much. And I can appreciate on such a deep level now how much I learned (and continue to learn) from him. I was always afraid of being tough because at times he was too tough, but now I borrow some of that toughness and decisiveness when I need it. It's in my blood.
Recently I was playing music with my husband and our friend Steve (the three of us are in a band together and it’s a big part of why we moved to Boise). I was so thrilled with the resonant melody flowing from my hands onto the 1973 Rhodes electric piano. My heart swelled with pride for a moment and I realized it was my father’s pride I was feeling. We had a huge connection with music and now it’s as if I can just play and know what he would feel about it. It boosts my confidence and makes me feel tender as a day old puppy (which, granted, isn’t hard to do because I am generally tender as a week-old puppy).
And because I could not possibly write a piece for Ernie without mentioning Bing, here’s one for my dad. We used to sing this together sometimes. Well, really, he would sing "Put it there, pal," to me often (while putting his hand out for me to slap). I hope he knows I’m singing it in my heart to him all the days. I feel he does.
It's me, Jennifer Bernice (rhymes with "Furnace": it was my Granny's name) Sutkowski
• More details about my writing here.