How Do Positive Changes Influence The Brain?

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

When you have a thought, your brain experiences chemical reactions that can change the way you feel. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen describe how knowing about the physiology of your body and brain gives you the freedom to change it, and how to bring your attention to the things that influence a positive change in how you feel.


Read Full Transcript

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 Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Greetings, everybody. You are in our series on my new book, Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, about the things we do that help us feel better now and later versus now and not later.
Tana Amen: Listening to this podcast is one of the things that can help you feel better now, you can share it, and hopefully help you feel better later, if you actually follow the things that we're giving you to do, if it becomes a habit. There are good habits, and there are bad habits. In fact, I want to read one of the reviews we got, because this is fun for me. This is one of the things that makes me feel better fast, so please keep sending them.
Dr. Daniel Amen: As were gonna see coming up under inspiration, it drips dopamine in your brain.
Tana Amen: Right. So much fun. This is from Michelle Ray Healing. That's her name that she has posted. "After receiving a SPECT image scan in 2012, I've dedicated my life to healing my brain and recovering my health. I've enjoyed and appreciate every podcast that I have heard so far. Dr. Amen and Tana Amen work so well together and provide a sense of humor that lightens very heavy topics." I think that she thinks that we are crazy together. Anyways-
Dr. Daniel Amen: If she only knew.
Tana Amen: If she only knew. Yes. "These podcasts are so informative and provide essential information for healthcare practitioners and people who are interested in transforming their lives. Thank you." That's awesome. Thank you so much.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, that's why we do this. That's why we're here, for you. When I wrote Feel Better Fast, we talked about brain. You gotta get your brain right to feel better fast, but the next part, once you get your brain right, is you have to get your mind right. What I've learned is so many people live with bad habits, bad mental habits, and what we often tell you is where you bring your attention determines how you feel.
Tana Amen: So, before we get too far down the road with our next topic, a lot of people ask when you write a new book, because you come out with them fairly quickly, and you're a prolific writer, what's the difference? What is going to be unique about this book? I mean, the title says a little bit of it, but tell us what's different about this book compared to ... I mean, obviously Memory Rescue was very specific, right? So, that one was pretty clear. That one's about you're going to the dark place. What can you do to rescue your mind and your memory? But why is Feel Better Fast different than say Change Your Brain, Change Your Life?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life is sort of the method we use here at Amen Clinics, but I first wrote it 20 years ago. There's so many new things that have happened. The idea behind Feel Better Fast, it's really for 2020. So many people have short attention spans, and it's what are those things that people do that help them feel better now, but not later versus now and later? So, it's what I see in my office day in and day out. I saw somebody yesterday who had trouble stopping smoking pot, because it made him feel better now, but he didn't like it. He didn't like the dullness that he felt, and his partner didn't like how he acted when he was on it. So, it's very much I get rid of the pain now, but it causes trouble later. This book is based on a major theme in my practice, is how can I get people to love doing the right things that help them feel better fast, but in a way that lasts?
Tana Amen: Okay. If I'm understanding, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, which I already know this, but I just want to put this out there, is really about the method we use here at Amen Clinics. It's about why we do what we do, and it's about how really it can transform lives. This is more about what you teach patients on a ... like change your daily habits. These are the things you can do every day, right now, in the moment, that last long term.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the book is filled with tiny habits, which we've talked about, but it's what's the smallest thing I can do today that will make the biggest difference?
Tana Amen: So, leverage.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you can leverage your behavior. For example, I know if I put my FitBit on in the morning, I'm much more likely to get 10,000 steps than if I don't put it on. Other people tell me, "I know if I put my workout clothes ... if I get them out the night before, I will work out tomorrow. So, it's really the science of how people can change.
Tana Amen: So, metaphorically it's really cool, and we need to get going, but I'm doing this emergency volunteer class for the city. They teach you how to lift these couple thousand pound platforms if someone were stuck underneath it, and you do this cribbing, and shoring, and whatever. It looks pretty cool, because it looks pretty heroic. You can lift this couple thousand pound platform with crowbar basically, and it looks pretty awesome. It looks like it's a big deal, but really if you leverage it right, it's not that hard. If you're using the right technique, it's really not that hard. It's actually pretty simple. In essence, it's that same idea. You do the right things, and it's not that hard, and you're able to do something pretty cool.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I really like that. I like that.
Tana Amen: See? I'm smart.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Because it's about leverage. I know you're smart. That's why I married you, besides-
Tana Amen: Don't even. Don't go there.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you're so cute.
Tana Amen: Okay.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're so cute.
Tana Amen: Don't go there. You should have just ended it where you did.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right. Feel better fast, and make it last.
Tana Amen: You're getting yourself in trouble.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Marry a redhead.
Tana Amen: No. I thought you said that caused pain.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Rational mind. So, gotta get your brain right, and the tiny habit was is this good for my brain or bad for it? Rational mind is where you bring your attention determines how you feel. I was talking to one of my patients this morning, and when she could get her mind in the right space of gratitude, of excitement, that her team is not there to punish her, her team is there to support the goals she has, and kindness and gratitude really make a big difference, it changes everything in her life. So, on my new public television special, for the first time Chloe did a section with me. It was really so much fun to have our 15 year old daughter do a section, and she did a section on rational mind with me. She was actually pretty vulnerable on national television.
Tana Amen: And she does not like to be vulnerable.
Dr. Daniel Amen: On national television she talked about some of the thoughts that tortured her, like, "I'm not good enough," which is so common among many of the women-
Tana Amen: Especially teenagers.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... that we see. Well-
Tana Amen: Even women.
Dr. Daniel Amen: In an exercise we did at Amen Clinics yesterday with our staff, there was a 59 year old women who said exactly the same thing, "So, I'm not good enough," but on the show Chloe said the thoughts that bother her is, "I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. Why do I have to work harder than other people? Why am I the only person who feels this way? I don't fit in." The reason I included Chloe is 20% of teenage girls suffer with major depression. It's horrifying when you think of it. That has probably quadrupled over the last 40 years, because they're on social media all the time, and they're negatively comparing themselves to all these people who have fake lives and photoshopped bodies.
Tana Amen: Right. It's ridiculous. I want to touch on this for a minute, because this has been a huge thing for us, right? Working with her on this. I'm speaking to you out there listening as well, because this is a big thing. We see so many teenagers, as you said, women, people with this problem, this idea, "I don't fit in." Chloe's turnaround was that's not always a bad thing. That can be a good thing, right? Now, that wasn't a one time thing she had to do, and then it was all better. All right? She works on this ... This is daily. I'm telling you right now it's a daily thing. Sometimes she feels sad that she doesn't ... The thought is, "Well, why can't I just hang with other teenagers?", because she doesn't. It's been hard for her to hang out with other kids, because she prefers adults. I mean, I could get into this, but I won't.
But what she did, she found a group that works for her, right? The group at church. She's a volunteer for the Student Leadership Team, and this group celebrates those difference with her. So, she found a group that celebrates her differences, that appreciates those differences in her, and she still has to focus on this daily thing of, "I's okay. Maybe it's a good thing that I don't fit in. Maybe those things about me are positive."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, so that is part of the turnaround that we'll talk about.
Tana Amen: Right, but they put her in that leadership role.
Dr. Daniel Amen: When you feel sad, this is so important to pay attention to what we're going to talk about, because we can teach you how to flip it, but before we talk about that, I want to give people a little basic training for their mind. I learned this when I was a biofeedback scientist, so 1987, 1988, when I just finished my training to be a psychiatrist and a child psychiatrist. I took a 10 day course on biofeedback, which is ... What's that? We actually hook up your body to measuring instruments, so hand temperature, heart rate, breathing, sweat gland activity, muscle tension, even brain waves. If you know what's going on in your body, in the physiology of your body, you can learn to change it.
What I used to do is hook up people to all these things, and then I'd do a word association test with them. I would go like, "Mother, father, job, baseball, chocolate," and see what words they responded to. If you hooked me up, when I got hooked up, and I would say, "Mother," immediately my hands would get warmer. They'd get drier. My muscles would relax. My breathing would be deeper. I felt better overall, but if you said, "Father," my hands would get colder. They'd start to sweat. My muscles would be tense. My breathing wouldn't be as efficient, because one was relaxing, and one idea-
Tana Amen: Stressful.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... was stressful. So, whenever you have a negative thought, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel bad, and it happens immediately. Your hands get colder. They start to sweat. If you've ever shaken someone's hand and they're cold and wet-
Tana Amen: Clammy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... it's usually because they're nervous. Their breathing becomes erratic. Their muscles become tense, and they can't think. Negative thoughts actually drop the blood flow to your brain.
Tana Amen: Right. We've all had that experience where in the middle of the night for some reason, some thought comes to your mind of something you have to do that's stressful, and you can't go back to sleep. You toss. You turn. Your heart rates ... you know. We know that it causes these horrible things.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And it happens immediately, so thoughts are powerful. Thoughts actually have mass. They have-
Tana Amen: Isn't that crazy?
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... weight.
Tana Amen: That's crazy.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Your thoughts virtually affect every cell in your body. A lot of negative thoughts is sort of like the pollution in Beijing. It really can negatively impact your immune system. It can negatively impact blood flow to your brain.
Tana Amen: Is that why when I am regularly as a discipline doing the meditation and listening to ...? I actually really like the Bright Minds music, and I'm listening to that, and I'm doing my meditation, my prayer, on a daily basis, and I read my little verses. I literally feel high, but then I get really busy, like everybody, and I get away from it for a week or two, and I start to feel weighed down, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. That's exactly what's going on. The opposite is always true. When you have negative thoughts, your body responds immediately in a negative way, but when you have positive thoughts, happy thoughts, hopeful thoughts, loving thoughts ... We have a lot of those about each other. ... your brain releases a completely different set of chemicals that make you feel good immediately. Your hands get warmer. They become drier. Your breathing rate slows down. Your muscles relax. You feel happier. So, where you bring your attention determines how you feel.
We've learned thoughts are automatic. They just happen. They're based on complex chemical reactions, and memories from the past, and often from undisciplined thinking, that there's nowhere in school people teach you how to direct your thoughts, and they lie. They lie a lot. We call them ANTs, automatic, negative thoughts. They steal your happiness. They rob you of your joy. These little buggers are flat out toxic. I see they're a major cause of divorce. They're a major cause of school related problems. They're a major cause of job related problems. Learning how to kill the ANTs is just absolutely critical to you staying healthy. So, when we come back, we're gonna talk about how to get rid of the automatic, negative thoughts. I know we've done it before, but we're gonna go into more depth.
Tana Amen: I just want to end this on a positive note. In Chloe's words, if a 15 year old can do this, you can do this. So, one of the things that she did that I love, she does this on a [inaudible 00:16:22] like I said, on a daily basis, that thought of it's painful to not fit in. It's painful to be different from other people. Now, she regularly says, "Well, if I wasn't different, I wouldn't be in this position. I wouldn't be able to do this. I wouldn't be able to do that." Then she consciously will go through the house. It's really cute. She'll skip through the house, "I love my life. I love these things I get to do. If I wasn't different, I wouldn't be able to do these things. I wouldn't be on the leadership team." So, she starts to celebrate those differences instead. So, just think that way. Think like a 15 year old for a minute, not in all ways.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I do all the time.
Tana Amen: Yeah. You do. For sure.
Dr. Daniel Amen: 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.