Get Your Prefrontal Cortex Working Like a CEO

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

The prefrontal cortex is like the executive part of the brain: it’s responsible for focus, forethought, impulse control, and empathy. But what happens when we have trouble in our frontal lobes? In Part 3 of the “Success Starts Here” series, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen explain how taking care of our frontal lobes is essential to success.


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

Tana Amen: 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 Brain MD, 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. We're talking about Success Starts Here. We are on the third lesson for Success Starts Here, and this is regarding the CEO in your brain.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Think like a CEO. Strengthen your brain's executive center to make great decisions and avoid ones that ruin your life. We started with love, passion, purpose because it really provides the energy and motivation for your life. If you don't have a brake in your head, the passion and purpose can get out of control and you will crash.

This lesson is really about the prefrontal cortex, largest in humans than any other animal by far. It's 30% of the human brain, 11% of the chimpanzee brain, 7% of your dog's brain, 3% of your cat's brain, that's why they need nine lives, 1% of the mouse's brain. It's called the executive part of the brain because it's like the boss at work. It's involved with the most human functions; focus, forethought, judgment, impulse control, organization, planning, empathy, empathy, learning from the mistakes that you make.

Tana Amen: Right. I think this is so interesting also because as I got to know what we do more when I was first involved in what you were doing, you know, it's easy to hear, "Oh, my frontal lobes were hurt," or they had a head injury and they hurt the front part of their brain, but you don't really understand the long term ramifications of that. If that CEO takes a vacation, there's a ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: When the cat's away ...

Tana Amen: The mice will play.

Dr. Daniel Amen: The mice will play.

Tana Amen: It's really important to understand why if you damage this ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: You wonder where all this rash of men behaving badly ...

Tana Amen: Yeah, I'm not letting them off that easy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That they didn't have lower frontal lobes, so decreased empathy, and made decisions that ultimately [crosstalk 00:02:58]

Tana Amen: Maybe some of them, but I'm going to go back to our previous lesson about dopamine.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, I have, that they may have worn those pleasure centers out.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: But, it's a combination.

Tana Amen: Wait, power stimulates dopamine. Does it not?

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a combination of your pleasure centers hijacking the brain and your prefrontal cortex not being strong enough to rein it in. Think of the elephant and the rider. Your limbic or emotional or your pleasure center urges, and can the rider control the elephant? If the rider is weak and doesn't carry a pointed stick, then the pleasure centers win, and you act out even though it could hurt you or hurt somebody else.

Your brain is always doing this dance between pleasure, motivation, drive and braking that drive. I like to think of the prefrontal cortex as, like, brakes on a car. You're at the top of a mountain and you have a Ferrari, and you want to have a fun time going down the mountain. What happens very close to the top of the mountain if your brakes don't work?

Tana Amen: Crash.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You die.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You hurt yourself, you hurt other people. That's what happens when the prefrontal cortex is low. That is why you should never let girls hit soccer balls with their head. More girls, brand new study out just this week that the tracks in their brain are actually thinner, more delicate in girls than they are in boys.

Tana Amen: Ouch.

Dr. Daniel Amen: There is one study that said 90% of female IQ is in her frontal lobes, where for males it's more widely distributed.

Tana Amen: That's kind of sad, because you can, a woman could really damage ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: This is why this so important, because when they have problems in the prefrontal cortex; short attention span, distractibility, poor planning, lack of perseverance, impulsivity, erratic decision making, chronically late, poor time management, disorganization, procrastination, unavailability of emotions, trouble expressing your thoughts, bad judgment, lack of empathy, trouble learning from experience. You say yes way too often. No is actually a frontal lobe function.

Tana Amen: Oh, that's so funny, because you said I say no too often.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Do we want to have that discussion here?

Tana Amen: You always say the first words out of my mouth are no.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Lack of conscientiousness, which is not you. Frontal lobe issues go with a higher incidence of school failure, divorce, job failure, legal issues, speeding tickets, incarceration, financial problems, and mental health issues, especially ADD and addictions. You can see protecting this part of your brain is critical to being healthy.

My favorite example of the prefrontal cortex is the movie Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket, which is Pinocchio's conscience. I mean, I just encourage everybody to watch Pinocchio and really pay attention to Jiminy Cricket, because he is the prefrontal cortex in the movie, and braking bad.

Tana Amen: No, I hate that show.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm not doing that in reference to that show. It's, when your brakes are bad ...

Tana Amen: Oh, I see.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Your life is bad.

Tana Amen: Yeah, that show gives me the eebie jeebies.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Jerry Seinfeld said, "The brain is a sneaky organ." We all have weird, crazy, stupid, sexual, violent thoughts that no one should ever hear. When you hurt your frontal lobes, they get out. Did I tell you about the time I was at a conference with a friend of mine?

Tana Amen: Yes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: She had been in a car accident, damaged her frontal lobes, and two overweight women were in front of us talking about why they were overweight. One said to the other, "I don't know why I'm overweight, I just eat like a bird." My friend, so everyone could hear her, said, "Yes, like a bleeping condor."

Tana Amen: That's terrible. That's terrible.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They were so offended. I turned beet red because I was so embarrassed. I looked at her like, "What is the matter with you?" She put her hand over her mouth and she said, "Oh no, did that get out?" You know, I was just on CNN talking about the first President Bush who has been reported by multiple women, six now, to be grabbing women inappropriately.

Tana Amen: That's so weird.

Dr. Daniel Amen: He's known to have something called vascular Parkinsonism, which is, you have vascular problems anywhere in your brain, they're everywhere in your brain, so they're also affecting his frontal lobes. How many guys, when they see a cute girl, don't want to grab her, but their frontal lobes inhibit ...

Tana Amen: I'm sorry, go back to that. What?

Dr. Daniel Amen: The guys will understand. How many times when you see a cute girls you go, "Oh, well that would be nice."

Tana Amen: Right, and if you think ...

Dr. Daniel Amen: But, you inhibit it because you have a wife like mine, or you just know it's inappropriate.

Tana Amen: If you think that we don't know you're thinking that, like, we know you're thinking that. Okay?

Dr. Daniel Amen: You don't act on it, because you have frontal lobe function. If you hurt or damage your frontal lobes, if you don't sleep, you have lower frontal lobe function.

Tana Amen: That makes sense.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you don't eat you have lower frontal lobe function.

Tana Amen: Right. You get in more car accidents when you don't sleep.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If you have a high sugar meal, two hours later you have low frontal lobe function because it spiked blood sugar and then dropped blood sugar. The prefrontal cortex involved with conscientiousness, which means it's involved in longevity, because in the longest longevity study ever done, 90 years, they found that what went with longevity was not what people would think. It wasn't happiness. It wasn't a lack of stress. It wasn't a lack of anxiety. In fact, the don't worry be happy people died the earliest from accidents and preventable illness.

Tana Amen: We have an entire society focusing on don't worry be happy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes, Bobby McFerrin was wrong. Don't worry, be happy. The prefrontal cortex is a late bloomer. Most people don't know that. It actually doesn't finish developing until you're 25.

Tana Amen: You know who does know that? The insurance companies.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's why your insurance rates change at 25.

Tana Amen: Right, because kids get in more accidents.

Dr. Daniel Amen: What disrupts prefrontal cortex? There's two processes that go on during development. One is called pruning, your brain gets rid of tracks it doesn't use, which is why early learning strategies are important for kids. A process called myelination. What that means is, over time all your nerve cells get wrapped with a white, fatty substance called myelin. Myelin makes nerve cells work 10 to 100 times faster, more efficiently.

Tana Amen: It's like putting high speed internet in.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, or putting rubber on copper wires, insulation on copper wires. You can direct the energy in a positive way. It doesn't get scattered all over the place, and that's why teenagers act the way they do, because they're myelinating their frontal lobes. Look at the list of things that disrupt myelin. Smoking, alcohol, drug use, marijuana use, depression, ADHD, brain trauma, toxins, infections, inflammation, a lousy diet. Teenagers are known for lousy diets. Low omega-3 fatty acid levels. New study, 97% of the population is low in omega-3 fatty acids.

Tana Amen: Crazy.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Low vitamins B, C, and D, low zinc, low cholesterol, because people think fat's the enemy. Fat is your friend. Low fat diets, myelin is 80% fat. Excessive stress, limited exercise, and less than optimal sleep. Isn't that nuts? How do you strengthen the executive part ...

Tana Amen: Really, though, that sounds a lot like the other things, because what's good for your brain is good for your body, what's bad for your brain is bad for your body. That list, it's the same thing that hurts other things as well. Smoking will kill you, I mean, it gives you cancer or emphysema or whatever.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Having low oxygen in your body is bad for your brain.

Tana Amen: Right. It's the same list.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's always the same list.

Tana Amen: Right. It's crazy that we've known this, and we still know it and we keep saying it, and yet we keep doing it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: How do you strengthen the prefrontal cortex? You practice saying no to yourself for behaviors that are not healthy.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Like, overeating.

Tana Amen: See, this is one of the reasons I like martial arts for kids. Again, like you said, not getting hit in the head, but I really like the discipline involved. It really does teach discipline, and I love that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Practice saying no to others, except your husband.

Tana Amen: Really? Double standard here.

Dr. Daniel Amen: People are taking on too many things.

Tana Amen: Yeah, for sure.

Dr. Daniel Amen: They are saying yes to too many things. When Tony Blair, who is the prime minister of the United Kingdom, said, "The number one job of a leader is to say no."

Tana Amen: Yeah, which I would assume you have to do a lot.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Steve Jobs said, "I say no to hundreds of things so I can say yes to one great thing."

Tana Amen: Right, to the important things. Agree.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Ask yourself, "Does this thing I'm going to say yes to fit with the goals I have for my life?" With your purpose.

Tana Amen: Which one of our friends had that, where did we hear that? I love it, because it just works. It's like, a really quick test. If I can't say hell yes, then it's hell no. Right? If you can't say hell yes I should do it, then you need to say hell no.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That actually works your decision. Then you want to strengthen your decision making. How do you do that? You sleep seven hours or more. You have a healthy blood sugar. Remember the voodoo doll study?

Tana Amen: Yes, hilarious.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Researchers took 107 couples and measured their blood sugar before bedtime. Then they gave them voodoo dolls. They said, "We want you to express your feelings about your partner with the pins in the dolls." The people who had the lowest blood sugar had twice the number of pins in the dolls, which is totally Tana.

Tana Amen: Right. I think if I don't eat, I don't really need a voodoo doll for everyone to know how I'm feeling. It's not good.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hangry.

Tana Amen: Yes, I get very hangry.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Hangry, that's what we call it. Then, ask yourself, "Does this behavior fit the goals that I have for my life?" You first have to have goals for your life, and then daily prayer, meditation, self-hypnosis, all of those have been shown to strengthen the prefrontal cortex.

Tana Amen: Yep, love it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Embrace change, coming up next. Success Starts Here.

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