This episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast continues the content from the End of Mental Illness 6-Week Live Class and Challenge. This episode focuses on the self-sabotaging thoughts people can have, and why these thoughts can be so destructive to a person’s life. Fortunately, with a little work you can train your mind to reject these thoughts and think more objectively. Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen describe how a technique taught by Byron Katie can completely transform your way of thinking.
To take The End of Mental Illness 6 Week Class and Challenge, visit https://endofmentalillness.com/brainhealthchallenge/
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel. Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Dr. Daniel Amen:
Hi, this is Dr. Daniel Amen.
And I’m Tana Amen.
We’re so excited you’re with us. For this week’s series, what we’re doing is we’re playing the live class from The End of Mental Illness.
We wanted you to join us on this journey because we had such a good time in our class, and the people who joined us had just saw such incredible transformation that we wanted to share the challenge with our tribe. So we wanted to share this with you, and we hope that you will join us in the challenge.
Okay. Fortune telling. This used to be my ant. I tried to get rid of this ant. Fortune telling is where you predict things are going to turn out badly even though you don’t have evidence for it.
I was on CNN once. I was waiting in the green room, getting ready to go on. It’s my first national television appearance, and I started having a panic attack in the green room. And my heart went fast. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I had to leave. And before I left, the internal voice in your head, I don’t know if you have a voice, I have a voice, it laughs at me. And it said, “You treat people who have this problem. What do you tell them to do? Don’t leave. Breathe. Write down what you’re thinking.”
And my first thought was, you’re going to forget your name. I’ve never forgotten my name. My next thought was, you’re going to stutter. All of that is fortune telling. And ultimately I wrote them down and then I talked back to it. Well, you’ve never forgotten your name, but if you do you have your driver’s license in your wallet. So much better. Do you ever have this ant?
Probably. I don’t think this is as much mine as probably the judgmental ant and the all or nothing. And I mean, I think we all probably have a little bit of all of them.
When Chloe leaves, I’ll be so lonely.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. No, that one’s, yeah. I’m very not happy about her leaving.
We are having the-
The pre-empty nest.
The pre-empty nest syndrome.
Yeah, I’m not happy about it. No, it’s not good.
Which caused you to be a little clingy for a while.
Yeah. I’m getting over it though. I’m finding other ways. I’ve been dealing with it.
And now that we’ve adopted our two nieces.
You have a long way to go.
I’m plenty busy. I’m plenty busy.
And then there’s the mind reader ant, where you arbitrarily believe you know what someone else is thinking, even though they haven’t told you. I have 25 years of education, 40 years in clinical practice, and I can’t tell what anybody else is thinking. A negative look from someone else may mean nothing more than they’re constipated. You don’t know. And I often tell you, please don’t read my mind. I have enough trouble reading it myself.
Yeah, but I’m just trying to help you do it for you.
And then the worst ant. This is what I call the big red ant.
Yeah. This one bothers me.
Marsha says with the empty nest thing, “It’s hard at first, but it gets easier each day. Just wait til you have grandkids.”
Yes. Well, we have five and we love them dearly. And grandkids can actually-
I’m trying to remember that it’s her life, but we’ve been so close for so long it’s a little hard to …
You’re getting support from the group.
I know. Thank you.
Okay. Blaming. When you blame someone else for the problems in your life, you become a victim and you can’t change anything. And so, I work on this a lot with my patients to get rid of blame. What is it I can do today to reach my goals, to make my relationships better? What is it I can do today?
So, one of my very favorite words is responsibility because it means the ability to respond. And it’s the opposite of being a victim. And, when you blame people and you become a victim, you have zero power in your life to change things. So, I always think responsibility. Take responsibility. The more responsibility you have, the more power you have to change it. But that doesn’t mean taking the blame. It means taking responsibility.
When you first told me that, I thought that was so smart. I still think it’s smart. So, our friend, Byron Katie, has this just masterful ant-killing technique. So, killing the ants is a form of CBT, or cognitive behavior therapy. And when I got to meet Katie, I read her book, Loving What Is, when I was going through a hard time. And it was just so smart and I went, oh, this is the most elegant form of cognitive therapy.
So, write down what the belief is. I’ll be lonely, which is fortune telling. And then you just go, is it true? So basically five questions. Is it true? Initially you might go, yes, you have to retire and stay home. You’ve told me that.
Yeah, I’ve been telling you that. You need to retire.
The second question, I’ll be lonely. Is it absolutely true? With 100% certainty, you know that.
Well, I’ve already discovered probably not because my niece is now living in the house.
Okay. The third question is, how do you feel when you believe the thought I’ll be lonely?
Sad, depressed. I’m anxious. I worry. I just feel like a part of me is missing.
And then, how do you treat Chloe?
I want to cling to her, which it probably doesn’t make her want to be closer.
And then how do you treat your husband?
I tell you, you have to retire. I get frustrated that you’re gone so much.
And, how would you feel without the thought? If you couldn’t have the thought.
So, probably resourceful. Resourceful enough to think of other things to do with my time. Purposeful. So there’s so many things I’ve wanted to do in my life and, even though I will miss her, I will be able to think of other things that I can do with that time. And I’ll be happy for her.
And what I love is to take the original thought, I’ll be lonely, and turn it to the opposite. And then ask yourself if the opposite of the original thought isn’t, in fact, true or even truer than the original thought. So what’s the opposite of I’ll be lonely?
I won’t be lonely.
Do you have any evidence that that’s true?
Well, I’m not lonely right now. I will tell you that I’m very busy. Yeah, there’s a lot of evidence. There’s so many things that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve wanted to volunteer doing some things, and join a Bible study, and take dance lessons. And so there’s a lot of things that I can do. And I haven’t done those things yet, but I’ll have the time to do some different things. So that’s, yeah. Spend time with you. Take trips with you that I haven’t taken because I’m home.
I’d love that.
So, from one of my patients, the thought was I’m useless, worthless. That’s sort of what you’re saying is, she goes away-
My purpose went away with her.
Your purpose. Even though your purpose is broad and your purpose is talking to the thousands of people who are going to watch this video. And so I asked her, my patient, was it true, and right away she said no. And that actually happens when you learn this technique. You learn to crack the thoughts that go through your head. Is it absolutely true? No. If one is no, two is automatically no. How do you feel when you have the thought? And this is what she said. “Dead, weak, foggy, withering.” Wow. And without the thought, “Optimistic, purposeful, content, happier.” So turn the thought around to the opposite. I’m not worthless. The examples. Well, I’m a team leader, I’m a daughter, I’m a wife, I’m a sister.
You know what’s interesting to me? This thought that I’m worthless? Some of the most successful people that we see are some of the people that say that the most. It’s so weird to me. Some of the highest achieving people. It’s very, very odd. Don’t you think?
It is, but it’s because their thoughts are undisciplined. Tana and I worked with BJ Fogg and his sister, Linda Fogg, from Stanford’s persuasive tech lab, on how people change. So one, they have an epiphany, like they got diagnosed with cancer. Or, they have an emotional breakdown where they see their scan. So many people have changed after they see their SPEC scan. There’s a change in relationships. I mean, you want to get healthy, find the healthiest person you can stand and then spend as much time around him or her as possible. Right? I mean, we make ourselves better by being around each other.
Because people are contagious.
Or, what he calls tiny habits. And he has a brand new book out called Tiny Habits, that’s really good. And it’s about how people change. And I have a couple of tiny habits for you. In The End of Mental Illness, there’s a whole bunch of them and they don’t take much time. Tiny. Whenever you’re about to do something ask yourself, is the decision good for my brain or bad for it? And if you can answer that question with information and love, then you’re much more likely to do the right thing.
When it comes to the ants, whenever you feel sad or mad, or nervous or out of control, write down what you’re thinking and ask yourself if it’s true. If you can absolutely know that it’s true with 100% certainty, just this habit will change your life. I often tell my patients, give me a hundred of your worst thoughts, and I have them write them down. And then just by challenging each one of them with those five questions can make a dramatic positive difference.
Start every day with today is going to be a great day. It’s so important to do this on my to do list that whenever I fire up my computer in the morning and I look at what I have to do, it’s right on the top. Today’s going to be a great day. And then I’ll find in my head why it’s going to be a great day, because if I have an undisciplined mind your mind tends to go to the negative. Many people.
We’re hardwired that way.
Because for thousands of years ago-
… that was survival.
And for some of us, it wasn’t thousands of years ago. For some of us, it wasn’t that long ago. We had to pay attention to what was wrong for so long that it’s hard to let that go.
I know. I had a patient today where he grew up in just a lot of trauma.
And that was something. His nervous system-
Is set that way.
… it was set that way.
Right. So it’s really hard to re-wire that.
And, in addition he had a lot of antibiotics when he was a child, which kills a lot of the good bacteria, which you did too, makes you more likely to be vulnerable to anxiety.
But when you are constantly looking for the next bad thing to happen as a child, it’s hard then to go, oh, I’m only going to pay attention to the happy thing. You’re so hardwired for the next bad thing to happen, that you’re paying attention to what’s wrong because you want to avoid it. You’re not looking for people smiling at you on the street. Or if you are, it’s like, oh, that’s not sincere. You’re always thinking that. So it takes a lot of work to rewire that and go, okay, it’s okay for me to hold on to protecting myself, but I’m not at a place in life anymore where I still have to be that hypervigilant. So, you have to work at that.
What went well today? I do this every night. These are two habits. Today is going to be a great day. Do it at breakfast with your children or with your spouse, and then at dinner go, what went well today? And just talk about the positive things that happen during the day. It begins to retrain your brain.
Our nieces thought this was so weird. They thought we were the weirdest people. But now they really like it. They’re like, “Why do you keep asking us these weird questions?” And now they like it.
They said that to you?
Yeah, they think we’re so weird, but they really like us. Because now it’s becoming very comfortable and comforting for them. But at first they were like, “I don’t know.” Yeah, it’s fun.
What went well today? And then just as you said you did today, when you were feeling more stressed because you’re just a little bit busier than before.
I’m tired. I was just tired. So for me, getting just a half an hour, an hour less of sleep really changes my outlook on life. And so this really helps.
Write down three things you’re grateful for every day. Those three simple tiny habits, today’s going to be a great day. What went well today? Three things you’re grateful for, just make a dramatic positive difference.
Want to tell a story. When people come Amen Clinics, they do a test called WebNeuro. WebNeuro is a computerized neuro psych test that measures 17 areas of cognitive function. And those of you who signed up for Brain Fit Life, our online computer program, you get to take WebNeuro as part of it. It takes about 40 minutes, but it really is great at measuring both cognitive and emotional function.
And one of the tests is positivity versus negativity bias. And it’s you tend to notice what’s right or what’s wrong, what’s happy or what’s sad, what’s positive or what’s negative. And so many of my patients score very high in negativity bias. Even one of my own grand babies. He’s 10. I had him take it. And so, I’m developing positivity training.
Now, both Tana and I, we’re not a fan of positive thinking, because positive thinking is, oh, I can have the third cupcake and it won’t negatively impact my inflammatory markers or my weight. So we’re fans of accurate thinking. But we’re really not fans of negative thinking, because you’re just more likely to die early, and you’re going to be unhappy and you’re going to make other people unhappy as well.
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