Can Healing Your Brain Boost Your Creativity? – Pt. 2 with Michael Peterson and Colonel Jill Chambers

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When country music star Michael Peterson decided to improve his brain health after suffering a traumatic brain injury, he was concerned about one very important possible side effect: Would fixing his brain ruin his creativity? In part 2 of a series on Brain Warriors’ Michael Peterson and Jill Chambers, Michael shares the story of what happened to his creativity during brain recuperation with Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen.


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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. Here we teach you how to win the fight for your brain to defeat anxiety, depression, memory loss, ADHD and addictions.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we've transformed lives for three decades using Brain SPECT imaging to better target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast.

Welcome back. In this segment we're going to talk about how all of these brain changes have affected creativity for Michael with his music, also their relationship together. For Michael and Jill, what happens when the brain changes? How do relationships become affected?

Michael Peterson: You know, one of the obvious ways, I think, is I have more forethought now as part of my sort of daily function. You know, I'm not as impulsive as I was probably when we met.

Colonel Jill Chambers Not at all.

Michael Peterson: Because of that, I'm probably more balanced to be around. I think that that probably contributes just to healthy relationship, whoever you're with. I just have that extra five to ten seconds where I'll pause before I do something.

Tana Amen: Wow. [crosstalk, 00:01:46].

Michael Peterson: I thought maybe it would make me less fun.

Colonel Jill Chambers No.

Michael Peterson: It's not. It's actually, I think, it's made us more healthy.

Colonel Jill Chambers Yeah. He is so thoughtful. Here is a super great example. We just got back from [inaudible 00:01:56]. Loved the vacation, but the waves out there were ridiculous and actually terribly dangerous. We actually had an opportunity to experience how dangerous they were unexpectedly just walking on the beach [inaudible 00:02:08], but we were okay. It was quite an experience. I mean he goes down, he takes me with him. He's holding my hand because he's not going to let go. We get swept out, we get swept back in. We must have looked like tumbleweeds. It was crazy. I try and stand up, and he couldn't get up and he pulled me back down. Finally a guy I'm sure came around and scooped me up. About four or five days later, we laughed about the experience, sand's everywhere, blah blah, but about five days later, we're walking along the beach, the tide was out so we were fine, and we were way up against the wall. Michael said to me, "On a scale from one to ten, what is your anxiety level?"

Michael Peterson: Actually before that I said, "Hey, I think I want to go out in those waves," because they were massive waves. They were 10, 15 foot waves and it looked so fun. I thought, "Man, that looks so fun." She's like squeezing my hand like, "Aah," you know. Then I said, "On a scale from one to ten, how resistant are you to me going out in the waves?" She said, "Eleven." Prior to my brain scan and trying to get to this place in my life, I probably wouldn't have asked. I would have let her hand go and I would have said, "I'm going out on the water."

Colonel Jill Chambers Right. That's the difference.

Michael Peterson: You know. I was able to pause and say, "Hey, how does that feel to you?" She said, "It doesn't feel good," and I thought, you know, we didn't come here to be stressed. Let's just keep walking down the beach.

Tana Amen: It makes you a better husband.

Colonel Jill Chambers Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: I often, when I lecture, I go, "How many of you are married?" You know, half the audience will raise their hand. I'll go, "Is it helpful for you to say everything you think in your marriage?" They laugh, because of course it's not helpful. Just getting those couple of extra seconds to go, "Will this help me?" Knowing you, I know you guys have the same goal in your marriage that we have, which is to have a kind, caring, loving, supportive, passionate relationship. Always my goal, but I don't always feel like that.

Tana Amen: You don't?

Dr Daniel Amen: Do I ...

Tana Amen: What?

Dr Daniel Amen: Do I say things that help me or hurt me? If you're married to someone whose brain works too hard ...

Tana Amen: Like mine.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... they, once you say a hurtful thing, they don't think about it once. You only said it once. They think about it like 7,000 times and you could be in trouble for like decades.

Tana Amen: We are never going to let it go.

Dr Daniel Amen: This is so helpful. Let's go to work. I know Michael has a new album out. It's actually one of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast. Do you think, because you had sort of brought it up. "If my brain is better, am I going to be as fun," which could also mean, "Am I going to be as creative?" A lot of my artists that I've seen, they worry. It's like, "Oh," if I treat their ADD or I treat their traumatic brain injury, "will I be as good of an artist?" What do you think with your new album that is more brain healthy?

Michael Peterson: Well, I think that, you know ... First of all, you hit it right on the head. I really made my living as a songwriter who then also was an artist, but the songwriting thing of it, you think about this. As a songwriter, your job is to sit in a room, to come into a room to sit there and look at a blank piece of paper and just create. Everything in my professional career for 25 years was all about being impulsive. It's not only that I was sort of ... my brain was wired to be pretty impulsive, my choice for my career, and then the feedback that you got continually approved that behavior. Man, if you were super impulsive, you could be so creative. Basically I was being affirmed all the time for being super impulsive. That's my career, right? Then I meet Jill and it's like, she's like the queen of forethought, you know. This has created a bit of a challenge for us. As we described in ways we described a few moments ago, that has gotten better as I have that extra 15 seconds.

I look back now on many many times when I was in the songwriting session and I would get to the point where I couldn't think straight. I would literally have to say to the guys ... it was sort of a joke. There's a couple of guys I wrote with all the time and it sort of got to be a joke. It would be like, "Okay. We need a line. Okay, Michael. Leave the room so you can go find the line." I would literally have to leave the room because if there was any talking or any other people making noise, I couldn't think.

I would have to literally leave the room and fifteen minutes later I'd come back and I'd go, "I've got the line." Whether I did or didn't isn't the point, but the point is that I couldn't think straight right at moments when I needed most to. I can say unequivocally that that has changed for me. I feel more focused. I feel, instead of sort of being at a traffic light where you have your foot on the gas pedal all the way to the floor and your foot on the brake at the same time, you're just revving even when you're supposed to be stopped.

Colonel Jill Chambers He's shaking now.

Michael Peterson: You know, I don't feel that way any more and songwriting has become better.

Tana Amen: I want to push back for one second on the, what I heard an ANT, an automatic negative thought, because for the people listening, because this idea that if I get rid of my ADD I won't be as creative. Here's why I want to push back on it. We have a budding songwriter at home. She's 14, almost 15. As much as she wants to be a musician and she's working on it, she likes to sing, her true gift is songwriting. Even her coaches are always like, "No, your true gift is writing." It just comes naturally to her. She's the opposite of ADD. She's almost OCD. She's like worry, worry, worry, anxious. She's incredibly opposite of ADD.

Her fear in us balancing her brain so she's not OCD is that she's afraid she will lose her gift. It's an ANT. Do you see what I'm saying? She was like so worried about taking anything to balance that, because every time I would say something like, "You'll be less anxious and you'll be more settled ..." "The reason I'm successful is because I'm so anxious." I just ... Do you see what I'm saying? It's a little bit of an ANT, and once we finally settled her brain, she actually was able to get into a groove better. I want people to hear that who are listening.

Michael Peterson: [crosstalk, 00:09:04] because, you know, as a creative person, you're trying to essentially ... your creations have an intended outcome, and that is to deliver an emotional experience for others.

Tana Amen: Right.

Michael Peterson: Okay. For me, I have often wondered, "Wow, if I get so happy, what am I going to have to pull from that's going to be, that can [crosstalk, 00:09:30] ..."

Tana Amen: That makes sense.

Michael Peterson: ... besides happiness. It's a natural thing to worry about. What I've discovered is I have those memories of, you know, emotional experiences in my life are so deeply rooted that I don't have to relive them to write about them.

Tana Amen: Well, and there's a thing called empathy. You can empathize with other people and what they've gone through. I mean I wasn't in 9/11, but I still can't watch it without crying and not getting goosebumps. That's empathy. Do you know what I mean? You can still pull from what other people experience.

Dr Daniel Amen: Although I have a question, and maybe this is naïve, so Michael you're going to have to help me. With country music, we often think of country music as going to people's pain in life.

Michael Peterson: Sure.

Tana Amen: But now always yours.

Dr Daniel Amen: You know, losing your dog, your car ...

Tana Amen: If you play it backwards you get back your truck, your dog and your wife. Yours is actually pretty positive a lot of times.

Dr Daniel Amen: If you think of From Here to Eternity, or Drink, Swear and Lie, it's so positive. It's so beautiful that great music doesn't have to always tap into pain.

Michael Peterson: No, but you know, part of what makes art work is tension.

Tana Amen: Yeah. It does. Conflict.

Michael Peterson: [crosstalk, 00:10:45]. There's tension and there's release. You know, country music by and large tells stories.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Michael Peterson: You have story arcs. You know, there's a song of mine called You Know You're in Trouble when the Bartender Cries.

Tana Amen: That's good.

Michael Peterson: That's just sort of, you know, about a guy who ...

Tana Amen: That's actually funny.

Michael Peterson: It's funny at the same time. There's this release in all of this creativity, and I think, you know, for any artists or any creators who are out there watching and you're wondering if you don't feel it, if you don't feel the pain so deeply anymore, will you still be able to tap that creatively? I just want to say for me the answer's been yes. I think it's worth taking the chance. Here's the truth. If you find that it's not working for you and your creative life has gone into shambles, you can always start drinking, smoking and taking bad care of yourself.

Tana Amen: You can go backwards. That's what I tell people. I'm like, "If it doesn't work, we can still be friends. You can go back to doing what you're doing."

Michael Peterson: Right.

Tana Amen: One of the things I want to point out, and I don't know if this is true for you, but once we balanced Chloe's brain, who's the opposite, who is afraid of losing her gift, she was really anxious and OCD, she started sleeping better. When she started sleeping better, she actually became more creative. She was like, "Oh, I never thought of that." I'm like, "Even though we tried to tell you for two years." Do you see what I'm saying? She started sleeping better and the sleep actually gave her more of a gift.

Dr Daniel Amen: Can you talk about your new album?

Michael Peterson: [crosstalk, 00:12:04].

Dr Daniel Amen: I would love for people who are listening to know about it, download it, get it. Talk about it. What album number is this for you?

Michael Peterson: This is my 18th album in my career.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Michael Peterson: The album commemorates the 20th anniversary of my biggest selling record on Warner Brothers in 1997 with three number one hits, five top 20 singles, sold a million albums. It was a real phenomenal time in my life, so the new album, we thought was fun to commemorate 20 years later the anniversary of that. There's four new recordings of my biggest hits. Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie, From Here to Eternity ...

Tana Amen: Which is one of his favorites.

Michael Peterson: [crosstalk, 00:12:48] and You Know You're in Trouble when the Bartender Cries. Then there's also a set of other iconic country classics, because you know, people love great songs. Sometimes when it's been 20 years, people may not remember me, but they love classic country music. We decided to put my favorite country songs on there, so great songs like Wichita Lineman, Friends in Low Places. Songs that don't normally get covered by other artists. I performed those songs 400 times in a show in Branson over the last couple of years. I was very comfortable with them and we felt as though this would be a wonderful album. The album looks like this.

Tana Amen: Awesome.

Michael Peterson: The album's called Drink, Swear, Steal and Lie. You can get it on iTunes. You can download it on Amazon. You can buy physical copies at

Tana Amen: Oh, that's fun.

Michael Peterson: Three, the number seven. You can stream it on Spotify. You can stream it on Andorra. Basically you can access this album just about any way. Some fun news about the album. We've had three singles off the album in Europe. There's really a robust country music community in Europe. They have a real music chart over there. It's called the Hotdisc Chart. The first single went to number two for two weeks. The second single went to number one for six weeks on their top 40.

Tana Amen: Wow.

Michael Peterson: The current single, which is Wichita Lineman, which just came out this last week, debuted ... it's the highest debuting single of my career ... debuted at number three in the top 40 its first week on the chart. We're having some real success over there. Many people have said it's my best album that I've ever made. They just love it.

Tana Amen: One of the things I like about country music and certainly your songs ... I like country music and I really loved those songs from the 90s. Still love them. It's timeless. It really is one of the ... One thing I like to talk about with my daughter is some of her music today, it's not that I don't ... I don't mind some of her music today. What I don't like about some of it is it's just freaking boring and it's ... they're one hit wonder songs that are going to disappear. What I like about country music is it's timeless. I really love those songs that you still play today, and they're amazing. [crosstalk, 00:15:01].

Dr Daniel Amen: Let's just talk about what music does to the brain, and learning how to play music actually activates a number of really important circuits in the brain, particularly the cerebellum, which is the processor part of the brain, along with your temporal lobe, so can actually help with creativity and learning. We did a study on teenagers looking at the impact of music on memory. We had them play a memory game while they listened to classical music, rock, heavy metal and country. They all did better when they listened to classical music. It was like no question at all.

Tana Amen: There's no way I would do better on classical music.

Dr Daniel Amen: The heavy metal, they all became disorganized. One of the kids took the cards we were using, just threw them up in the air.

Tana Amen: I'm convinced if I listened to Def Leppard I would do better.

Dr Daniel Amen: Country music was actually the second best that kids performed on.

Tana Amen: Yeah. I could see that.

Dr Daniel Amen: It was actually really interesting.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: Music matters. It can increase your joy now. Music also is heavily connected with memory. If you got divorced from someone and your favorite song starts playing even ten years later, you might start breaking out crying because music touches the emotional part of your brain. As it's the emotional part of the songwriter, it's also ... I love what you said, Michael. I wrote that down, that creativity is to deliver an emotional experience for others.

Tana Amen: I agree with that.

Dr Daniel Amen: I just thought that was so [crosstalk, 00:16:49].

Tana Amen: It's funny. I was telling that to Chloe the other day. We were listening to an Alan Jackson song on the fourth of July, and it made me cry because it reminded me of 9/11. I'm like, you know, that is the beauty. That's why musicians get paid what they get paid. None of us could put into words what we were thinking and feeling. None of us knew. We just had all this emotion swirling and it was so hard to process. A great musician puts into words what you're thinking and feeling. A great musician can tap into those feelings, those thoughts, those ... because you're not even sure sometimes. When someone else taps into that, it can make you cry. It can make you laugh. It can make you feel joy. That's an amazing gift. It's an amazing gift.

Michael Peterson: Thank you for sharing that. It's important information, Daniel. You know, one thing that I've really appreciated about you and Tana is that you don't just talk about these things. You actually do something about it. You created an album that has been a top seller on iTunes. Will you talk about that for a minute?

Dr Daniel Amen: You know, as I've been researching this over the last, goodness, twenty some years, I realized music changes your brain. It can change your brain in a really negative way if you're listening to hateful music, or it can actually change your brain in a really positive way. When we did BrainFit, our show, we created a Brain Warrior's Way album. I think it spent two weeks on Billboard's New Age chart. When I did Memory Rescue, we created Music for Bright Minds with pieces for creativity and focus and relaxation and sleep. I just checked. 27 weeks on Billboard's top 10.

Colonel Jill Chambers Oh, that's awesome.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's just been crazy.

Michael Peterson: It's because it works, too. It's not just because people like the music. It's actually impacting people.

Colonel Jill Chambers Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Drink, Swear and Lie. You want to pick it up now. Thank you so much, Michael and Jill. We're just so grateful to have you on the program with us. Stay with us and we're going to talk about Michael's work along how he integrated our work for high school students. Stay with us. Thank you for listening to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. Go to iTunes and leave a review, and you'll automatically be entered into a drawing to get a free signed copy of the Brain Warrior's Way and the Brain Warrior's Way cookbook we give away every month.