Feb 27, 2021
The brain isn't for thinking!
So why do we have so many freaking thoughts all the time?
I share my love for Lisa Feldman Barrett and her work on emotions and the brain and how these concepts help me help my clients change the pain in their body.
Grab some hot tips on how to change your mood. And learn why I love looking at clouds.
Learn more about my work at debmalkin.com
Episode 3 Transcript
Welcome to Move With Deb. I'm Deb your friendly neuroplastician. And this is a podcast that explores the relationship between the body and the mind from a health at every size, judgment, free perspective. I teach you how developing a new internal conversation based on curiosity, self friendship and simple neuro-plasticity techniques can rewire your bodymind out of pain and emotional overwhelm to help you build the rich full life that you want to live. Disclaimer, this is not a replacement for medical care.
[00:00:50]Hello, it's Deb with Move With Deb and we are episode number three. So today I'm going to talk about my view of the body mind system. So I absolutely love the book, How Emotions Are Made. And also the followup book called Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by scientist, Lisa Feldman Barrett. What I love about this book is that it completely changed my entire view about the brain, which then completely changed my entire view and understanding about the body. And when I talk about changing a view, what I actually mean is altering and changing my embodied experience of understanding.
[00:01:52] And this is what I do in my pain recovery program. Is that we take new ideas and new information, or we unearth current ideas and beliefs that are impacting our body or our interpretation of nociceptive input and we bring it out from a subconscious level to a conscious level so we can look at it. So now I have this view of the brain. And the job of the brain, according to Dr. Barrett is that the brain's job is to manage the body. The brain is not created for thinking. So if that is true why do we think so much? Why do we think all the time?
[00:02:46] So there's this idea of a body mind system. The brain is made to run your body. Which means managing all the activities in the cell. So the way I like to think about the brain now is that it is like a meatball in a box. And all it does is interpret information coming into it from the nervous system. So the nervous system, my friend Sharon likes to call it electrified jello tentacles. So we have a meatball in a box it's connected to electrified jello tentacles that sensing our world. And sensing is perception. That information comes into the brain and the brain categorizes it. Decides what's important, what's not important.
[00:03:38] The entire job of the brain is to manage our body budgets so that we stay alive. So that means it's deciding which hormones to turn on and turn off. It is managing all of our systems, our blood flow, our organs, our interoception, our thoughts and our feelings, all the things that make us who we are, make us human. And it creates our experience of reality.
[00:04:11] But the job that it's trying to do is just keep this wonderful sack of meat going keep you alive. And it's successful until the day that it's not successful. So it has lots of different strategies for maintaining a liveliness. Some we enjoy some, we don't enjoy, enjoyment is kind of secondary.
[00:04:40] I would say it's not of any concern to the brain. Enjoyment certainly is of much concern to the mind, to the perceiver of being alive. All right it's almost like there are two things. There's this brain body situation. And then there's like, what makes us, us, who we are? And I'm not the first person to try to puzzle that out and figure that out.
[00:05:09] So the brain is made to run the body, it is not for thinking. We have all of these senses. So we were taught in elementary school we had five senses, sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. All of that information gets brought into our nervous system in our brain and is interpreted and categorized. What's important to notice. What's not important to notice.
[00:05:35] Think the golden nugget in all of this is what's happening with those sensory information that our body-mind system decides is not worth noticing. So if we're only scanning for danger, quote, unquote, we actually through our activities, train our brain, train this body mind system to be more and more and more sensitive to scanning for danger. That means the sensory information that comes into the nervous system, these inputs and just going to call all of our senses are inputs, those become really important because that's directly related to our survival. What are we not paying attention to? What's not important?
[00:06:28] And that's all the qualities of life that might bring us joy, happiness, connection, the things that oftentimes we so long for. But we have not figured out how to find them. Because we are not making those senses essential to our survival the brain is tuning them out. They're not that important because the brain has one job and one job only to manage this body budget and keep you alive.
[00:07:03] So what are inputs to the nervous system? Those are those five senses. I would also like to share my idea that thoughts and feelings are also inputs. So they're the same thing as these other five senses. And I would imagine if you study quantum physics or metaphysics, you might even be able to name and identify other senses that live in other realms of consciousness. But I am not that person.
[00:07:39] So we have these inputs into our nervous system and our brain is like, okay, is this dangerous? Do I have to pay attention to it? What do I need to know? And how does this match or not match? My sense of reality because our brain is trying to manage this giant organism it really needs to put a lot of shit on automation.
[00:08:06] Automation is metabolically conservative. We don't wake up in the morning every day and think I need to remember how to breathe. I need to remember how to open up my eyes. These are not things we need to learn over and over and over again. The fact that we can do things in our lives and not pay any attention to them is the proof that our reality is constructed because our brain and our body work together to create an experience, then it automates it, knows how to do it and predicts it into the future and just creates that for you without any extra energy or thought. And we don't think of that as being a thing, but it is a thing, going to use that kind of vague language cause I'm trying to help explain a concept.
[00:09:04] Not having to apply any effort to be alive is a state and is created constantly by our brain because that is how it operates on predictive coding, kind of how we manage to be alive. Otherwise, if we needed constant energy to figure all the things out, to constantly be scanning and interpreting and evaluating the, you know, thousands and thousands and thousands of inputs, pieces of information and data that come into our brain and our body every second, we would not thrive. We would cease to be alive. It would take more energy than we had to be able to do anything, take more energy than you had to be able to open your eyes in the morning when you woke up.
[00:10:03] So we have this magical brain and somehow in this culture, we've decided, well, the brain is for thinking and that's kind of a misinterpretation. It's just thinking like we do it a lot and we've prioritized it. So we put it on a pedestal and made it more important than our other senses, but it still is an input into the nervous system. Thoughts and feelings are an input into the nervous system, just like sight sound, smell, taste, and touch, and interoception, which is like your body's ability to sense itself in space.
[00:10:42] Nociception, sensing changes in pressure, chemicals, and temperature. We used to hear that nociception was a pain pathway. It's not a pain pathway, it's just a sensory pathway. And our brain interprets that information. Which is why we can change our pain experience. By changing the neural circuitry. So we have these inputs, senses and thoughts and feelings.
[00:11:11] We have other body inputs like food, sleep, we have movement. We have all kinds of things that are inputs into our body budget. We have emotional input like connection, self-talk interpretation, of thoughts and feelings, family, history, our own reactivity, fear, anxiety. Those are also inputs to our nervous system.
[00:11:36] They're kind of inputs that become their own inputs. They're inputs of interpretations of sensory information that then kind of take on their own life because we repeat them. Something that we repeat over and over again, becomes a well myelinated neural pathway. Becomes easier for the body mind to think and do and create for itself. Again, it is that process of the brain making things easy through predictive coding to manage its body budget so that we stay alive.
[00:12:10] And we have external input. Systems of impact, schools, housing, medicine, media, community, words, as inputs into our nervous system, which then we categorize and decide which ones are important and which ones are not important.
[00:12:28] For instance, if you were a person who lives in a fat body, you are well aware that there is a variety pack of opinions about your body that people may have. If you go to the doctor and you're having pain, you might get told, well, you should just lose weight. And that input, that thought, and that feeling helps construct the reality with which you are able to see the possibilities of your body and how they work.
[00:12:57] So then we think, high weight individuals means broken joints. Aging means more pain. There's all kinds of things that we believe that that aren't actually true, but they get repeated enough and there's not enough counter messaging that creates a new reality for us.
[00:13:14] When I grew up and I came out at 19, there was not a lot of out people being queer. We didn't even use that word. Queer was still a slur hadn't yet been reclaimed, codified as an identity, celebrated. So being a lesbian at a young age, I did not have a lot of inputs from culture that offered me an idea that my existence was welcome.
[00:13:42] So we have separated the body in the mind and decided that the body is medical and the mind is psychology but they're not separate. That viewpoint, I think creates bad medicine and unnecessary suffering.
[00:13:56] So we all know we want to organize our life to create certain mood states. That's why we watch Netflix. That's why we take drugs. That's why we have some friendships. That's why we cut people off. That's why we love our pets and hate our friends. It's why we do everything for a feeling that we want to be having.
[00:14:19] So we're always selecting what we want to focus on. There's just too much input for our brain to process. And that tuning and pruning process in the brain is how it selects what's important. So neuroplasticity offers us the pathway to feeling better, to feeling less reactive, to experiencing the world differently.
[00:14:41] Without needing our circumstance to change because when we understand how we are experiencing and creating a mood state in our life, we can create a mood state that we desire whenever we want. And that really requires two things. Learning to create prediction, errors on purpose and living with the discomfort of that and inviting in sensations, on-purpose into our embodied experience to create a mood state that we want to enjoy.
[00:15:20] And that's how we change our embodied experience or cognitive emotional experience. By organizing what the brain is paying attention to. So there's no need to be stuck. The brain tunes and prunes itself. When we understand how biology works, we can organize ourselves so that life has more ease and delight. That things feel less hard that we change our relationship to these various inputs. Some of which we have control over, some of which we do not.
[00:15:55] We have the ability to change our thoughts, think different things on purpose. That's one of the fun things I get to do is help people find new thoughts to think on purpose. And watch them experience the embodiment of a new thought in that moment, in that present time, because we feel our thoughts. This is why some of the language around processing trauma, I find so complicated and difficult because there's a perception may be a misperception that to resolve trauma one must go back in time and deal with the content go deal with the things that have happened in our life. But in reality, when we look at the way that the brain works, it is only processing input in this current moment. Sensory information comes into the nervous system and is evaluated by the brain. That's happening all the time, but it's not happening in the past. It has happened in the past. It is happening in the present and it will happen in the future when that future becomes the present.
[00:17:07] So anything we think about in our past or in our future, it's what we're thinking about right now. So we may have things that feel like shadows or conditioned responses to inputs, but that's the conditioned response we are experiencing in this moment.
[00:17:27] So the conditioned response to maybe a smell or a sound that maybe was created and supported and reinforced over a period of time, can be changed only now in the present moment. And we start that by uncovering it. By just noticing, without fear, the habit, the process, the conditioned response that we have created. Practicing, noticing things without fear and then soothing our nervous system and caring for ourselves is a very important process of retraining the brain.
[00:18:07] So when people would tell me when they would come in for a massage and they would tell me a story about how their muscles would hold memories. I just thought the muscle is living your thought about the memory that you have right now. Muscles don't have memory. There is the neural pathway that has been maintained and created and reinforced over time. So maybe that is a memory, but it can be unreinforced and unmaintained. And then the brain's natural process for tuning and pruning will make it insignificant and unimportant. And then you will not perceive it. It won't be there anymore.
[00:18:50] Your brain is always doing that. It is always deciding what is important and unlinking, and uncreating neural pathways. All the time. So this work between balancing the experience of sensations in the body, our interpretation of it, and then the interpretation of the thought and feeling inputs. That's the work that we do. We build new predictions for our brain to work with, which involves creating prediction errors on purpose. We want to interrupt the brain's predictive coding because the predictive coding is the simulation video game of our life that our brain is delivering to us. Not because it's devious or mean, or some weird robot from the future, but because that's how it maintains our body budget and our ability to be alive.
[00:19:48] It's like a TV screen that only refreshes the new content that comes in. So it's metabolically prudent to operate that way. So we have to learn. Learning is taxing to our body mind system. Learning includes discomfort, the discomfort of the prediction error. If we have a relationship that we have built of discomfort, meaning "I'm bad, I am stupid. I should have known how to do this. I don't know what I'm doing. I can't imagine how this will be any different. Why do I keep doing the same thing over and over and over again, this is just how things are. It will never be changed, is fixed. This is what's wrong with me." Those are inputs. Those are thoughts stories that we think over and over and over again, to help us explain that edge of discomfort that comes with wanting to create a prediction error, that being afraid.
[00:20:48] So brain is like a faithful dog. It will always retrieve us what we are scanning for. And the antidote to that is curiosity. So if we send our brain off and with the thought, I think the thought, why am I dumb? Why can't I explain this information about the brain in a way that is simple and easy? Well, my brain being a very faithful dog will come back and show me evidence. It will give me lots of examples of why that thought is true. And then, then I will feel the feelings that I have come to associate with that thought. And in some ways, because I've maybe thought that thought a lot, my body mind system will actually feel, it will feel normal, right?
[00:21:34] It won't be distressing because I'm not actually trying to have myself believe something I don't believe. So because we've maintained the prediction I get to experience a lack of distress, a lack of discomfort because my prediction of who I am and who I believe myself to be matches, the one that I'm experiencing.
[00:21:57] It just happens to one, not be true. And it doesn't feel very good. I don't want to keep thinking that thought that I don't know how to explain things clearly.
[00:22:10] So for me to believe a new thought, I have to come up with one that I can believe and also enjoy thinking and want to practice it. So believing a thought like I'm the smartest person on the planet doesn't make any sense to me, it's not believable. I mean, I'm just like an average student. I was a very average student in high school and college. So that doesn't match in a way that feels authentic, but I can believe something that went, "there might be a unique way in which I explain this that will help one person understand their lived experience better."
[00:22:51] And that feels true. Right? I check in with my body when I make a thought. And then if I practice that, that will become my new prediction and it requires practice. It's not an automatic process, but it's just the way the brain works. Because now I'm going to use this tuning and pruning process of brain managing the body budget to create an experience that I want to. Which is having more ease and making a podcast feeling excited and good about what I have to say, thinking about myself as a person who can make it the podcast with ease.
[00:23:28] And maybe it would be fun. As opposed to how I thought this morning when I woke up and I said, oh my God, why did I decide that I was going to do a weekly podcast? This is the worst idea ever. Maybe I'll just put the blanket back over my head. Pretend like I didn't commit to this. So I can use my understanding of the brain and how it works to create the experience of being excited to make this podcast and share these ideas. Even when I say I'm excited to create this podcast and share these ideas, that is a thought that feels true to me.
[00:24:02] And now I'm experiencing in my body. You can't see me, but my face is smiling and I'm feeling connection. And I'm feeling excitement. It's kind of a low key excitement. Maybe I feel pleased, I feel encouraged. I feel happy to be here. Maybe you won't understand a single thing I said, but I am sitting here feeling happy to be here and that's meaningful and important.
[00:24:27] And I can take that experience and apply that to lots of different places in my life. I have so much to say. I do find my own brain a little overwhelming at times. But one thought I had this morning, as I was hanging out with feeling overwhelmed was, I can't wait to be me a year from now having made a year of podcasts to see how that actually changes my experience of organizing these words in my mind, called thoughts.
[00:24:59] I cannot wait to see what it looks like to say something badly, I know that's a value judgment, but to say something awkwardly, incorrectly, badly, confusingly 10, 20, 30 times in a way, but then will help lead me to how I want to describe something how I want to explain. This was the part that I finally understood this year was that when we get curious about failing, create that curiosity as the pleasurable and enjoyable experience fear diminishes.
[00:25:42] I don't need to be afraid of making this podcast. If I am opting out of this kind of all or nothing experience. And that's what I do with people around their bodies, the more I'm coating people on pain, the more I'm recognizing that we all want to feel okay. And we just don't understand how to get there.
[00:26:05] And we have had different journeys. That have created different condition responses and have created different ways for our brain to prioritize some information as being very important for our survival, which means that it's ignoring lots of information about the ways that we already are succeeding, about the ways that we already are creating what we're looking for in our life. But we're just looking in the wrong drawer.
[00:26:33] So that's my job. It's to help people shift their experience of their thoughts and feelings. And then we create new neural pathways to travel down in a way that feels peaceful and calm and invited to the nervous system where we bring in delight and joy and fun. Not in an artificial way, but by attuning our senses to what we are already experiencing in our life. But because we are so busy scanning for danger, we are ignoring them.
[00:27:07] I think COVID has really forced me to understand this because it has constrained my life so tightly that nothing I used to do for fun or calm or connection or joy was available to me. So I decided well to figure out how to hack the system, what does joy feel like? I know where I used to locate it, on that hike that I love to take in Oakland. Seeing my client's faces before a massage, but none of those things, none of those circumstances were in my life. And instead I had a lot of circumstances that I was unhappy about.
[00:27:51] So I figured it out. I looked at a cloud. And I let that beauty of a cloud fill me up. And then I felt the sense of beauty. I would look at a tree and I would think about, there are thousands of people looking at trees. And so by me looking at this tree and taking in all the various colors of green, I also think about all the other people looking at trees, and then I felt connected.
[00:28:19] That felt sense of connection was alive in me in that moment. Not because I was near anybody, but because I chose to invite that in and then paired it with a sense that spoke to my nervous system. Now, when I look at a tree, I feel connected. Now, when I look at a cloud, I feel joy. Our thoughts and our feelings are not psychology and our body is not biology or one system.
[00:28:45] Change is always available to us. The experience of pain is just an interpretation by the body. Sometimes it's an important interpretation to pay attention to. Like, if you broke your leg or your hand is in a fire. Sometimes the information that's coming into you that's being interpreted by the brain and the nervous system is a misinterpretation in that we're just experiencing the prediction of the nociceptive experience.
[00:29:13] We have a lot of different tools that we get to explore this misinterpretation of the brain. So if any of that resonates with you. I invite you to jump on a curiosity call with me, and then we can talk about how my eight week pain recovery program might be helpful. Get more in-depth into the science, but not so in-depth that you have to be a neurobiologist.
[00:29:36] I'm certainly not a neurobiologist, but I am trained by Dr. Schubiner, Charlie Merrill the PPDA. I have the experience of helping my clients create a shift in their own embodied experience away from the one that they don't want to be having towards the one they do want to.
[00:29:53] I am wishing you well. I invite you to think about paying attention to some of these senses that we often ignore.
[00:30:03] Thank you.