How to Break the Self-Defeating Holiday Cycle

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

In honor of Tana’s achieving second-degree black belt status, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana discuss how training habits and willpower come into play during the holiday season. Learn how to break the cycle of surrender that many of us succumb to during this time of year, and how the mantra “a black belt is just a white belt that never quits” relates to our struggles with health issues during the holidays and all year-round.


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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.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody. So excited. This is a very special day for us-
Tana Amen: It is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... and a special podcast and a special live chat. We found out today, Feel Better Fast and Make it Last made the Christian Book Association's bestseller list.
Tana Amen: That's awesome.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And we have some very special news for you. But first, one of the reviews from The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, "I really appreciate how Tana has shared her personal story."
Tana Amen: Aww.
Dr. Daniel Amen: "I can really relate and appreciate the inspiration. I love the work you are both putting out to the world. Thank you, keep up the amazing work."
Tana Amen: Well, thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, we love when you leave reviews. It's our payment, if you will. It makes us happy.
Tana Amen: It really is.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But today we have a very special announcement. Tana Amen, wife of Daniel Amen, mother of Chloe is getting her second degree Kenpo black belt. She is a very dangerous person. I mean, if I ever thought I would be rude to her, I've just like put that aside. But I couldn't be more proud of you.
Tana Amen: Thank you. I am super excited. So I just turned 50. One of my goals-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Did you really?
Tana Amen: I did.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh my God. I didn't know that.
Tana Amen: Yeah, yeah. So I turned 50 on the first, and one of my goals was always ... I told myself that I was going to be healthier at 50 than I was in my 40s. The truth is, is it started off a little rocky. I was a little worried, 'cause things towards that 49 mark started to, I felt like were going sort of the wrong way. I had surgery, and then just a bunch of ... My neck, well, I hurt my neck and my back and I'm like, "Oh wow, this is like getting more challenging." But true to the warrior mentality, if you've read Brain Warrior's Way, as like this woman says, I've shared my story. It's like when things start to get really hard ... and you always say the best way to get me to do something is tell me I can't. There's that little bit of just a fighter in me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's also called "oppositional defiant disorder."
Tana Amen: Yeah, but if you channel it correctly ... so if you channel it correctly, it could be very powerful. So yeah, so then I started to really not feel well. I mean, I started to like slow down. And then all of a sudden, I went, "Nope, nope, not going to happen." So I started to really fight it. So what I want to really leave you guys with, I love the expression, "A black belt is just a white belt who never quit." So really, I mean, so many times in this process of getting my black belt ... I'm going to relate this to your health. So many times in the process of getting my black belt, I was told, "You can't practice." Because first it was my heart rate, because of the medication I take for the thyroid cancer. Then it was my back, I have scoliosis. There were all these reasons why I couldn't practice. Initially, I would listen to it-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And hitting things makes your-
Tana Amen: It's concussive.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... spine worse.
Tana Amen: And my favorite line in Creed is when he says, he sees Creed hitting the bags 'cause he's really mad about something, and he goes, "Well, it's a lot less expensive than seeing a shrink." Well, that's how I ... sorry. But that's how I feel about ... like it's so fun to just go hit stuff. There's like this huge endorphin release. So I love it. I love it so much.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I've actually never had that.
Tana Amen: Oh, I love it so much. I can't even tell you what it feels like to just go hit stuff and kick stuff. It's just like ... So anyways-
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm grateful you don't do it to me.
Tana Amen: Yeah, no. You got to the right ... do it in a very safe environment. It's just so fun.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So what are some of-
Tana Amen: But let me finish what I was going to say-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Okay.
Tana Amen: ... about ... So, I started to feel like I was going downhill. And I'm like, "No, this can't happen." So what I want to tell you going into the new year, everyone does this whole "new year, new you" thing, and I'm turning 50. I turned 50. I decided okay, I know The Brain Warrior's Way, I wrote about it. But now it's time to really like step back and think about it like the people who read our stuff, right? What do we tell them? Get your numbers checked. Go get assessed, right? So I started doing that, like from ground zero. Like I started having everything assessed.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So for people who don't remember,-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... so it's mastery. How do you develop mastery over your brain and your body and your life? And it starts with mindset.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So you have to have the mindset of a warrior,-
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... which is armed, prepared, and aware.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, your mindset is right. And then the "A" is assessment, just like you just said.
Tana Amen: And so I'm going and I'm getting these assessments. One thing I want to add is, you should have a good trainer. So Master White is my-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, so "S" is sustenance and "T" is training.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So, you always say you don't start on fight day.
Tana Amen: You don't start training on fight day. You have to train and be prepared for fight day way in advance, 'cause if you start training on fight day, you're going to lose, right? So I have an amazing instructor, Master Bob White. He is just awesome. You should have someone that you trust that guides you. It's a physician or a mentor or someone that you trust to help lead you on this journey to help you get well. So we think of getting well as you need to have a warrior mindset. That's what we want you to start thinking about.
So in this assessment process, I started thinking about all the things I was concerned about, I just started getting them assessed one by one, check it off, right? Time to get a colonoscopy, I'm 50, right? Time to get all my blood work redone. Time to get all of this stuff done. My thyroid, all of this stuff. My neck and my back. Now I still practice, even though I was told 'cause of my neck and my back, don't do it anymore. But you make adjustments. So I'm willing to make the adjustments, and I never had the idea of getting my black belt in mind, because I was told, "Okay, well you're probably never going to be able to practice like that."
All of a sudden, enough time went by, and I realized ... my master came to me and he said, "It's time for you to test." I'm like, "What? Wait." I was just doing it for the journey. I was literally and truly enjoying the journey. And that's what I think that we try to tell people is, really focus on the day, the journey, enjoying the moment, and being the best you can each day, and you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So white belt that never-
Tana Amen: Quits.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Quit.
Tana Amen: Right. 'Cause if you see some of the beasts I train with, like I'm not one of them, right? But I just show up. I give my best every time I go in, and I always tell myself, "When I walk in that door, I'm going to leave it on the mat. I'm going to leave whatever I have on the mat today. I'm going to give my best, whatever it is." If you just think that way every day in life, what can you accomplish? What can you get done?
Dr. Daniel Amen: And "E" is essence, so it's sort of like why.
Tana Amen: Pain to purpose.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Where you talk about all the time. "R" is responsibility, 'cause it's not about you. It's about generations of you. And "Y," it's years long. Now, I know I just wrote a book called Feel Better Fast and Make it Last, 'cause that's what everybody wants. Nobody wants to feel better slowly, but the Brain Warrior's Way is forever.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's you never stop. And yes, you're going to fail or you're going to have a hard time-
Tana Amen: Yeah, I don't like the word "fail," you're going to fall.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But-
Tana Amen: But get up.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But you just turn around. I was somewhere recently, I think for public television. I was raising money for public television. We were talking about, if you want to keep your brain healthy or rescue it if it's headed to the dark place, you have to turn around.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So if you're going to the dark place, right, if things aren't working for you, you've fallen off the wagon, if you will, the wagon to brain health, turn around.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right?
Tana Amen: [inaudible 00:09:04]
Dr. Daniel Amen: So many people when they make a mistake or they get into a bad rut, they go, "Oh, well I've fallen."
Tana Amen: So I'm just going to stay here.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So I'm just going to stay on the ground.
Tana Amen: What the frick is that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: We have a new grandbaby, Haven, who's almost six months old. When you put her on the floor, she moves her feet.
Tana Amen: Right. Oh, it's the cutest thing you've ever seen. She literally looks like one of those little windup things you put in water. She's so funny, 'cause she wants to go so bad.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, when she starts to walk, which is going to be soon, sort of like her mother, she is going to fall over and over and over again.
Tana Amen: And when you practice martial arts, you fall over and over and over again. So you got to learn how to do it safely. You only fail when you don't get up. That's it.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're so intense.
Tana Amen: You don't get to be a second degree black belt without being intense.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Wow! So for those of you who don't know, she's a very, very dangerous woman.
Tana Amen: I'm actually a protector.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And she not only has a black belt in taekwondo, she's now got her new second degree black belt in Kenpo. It's because she shows up on a regular basis. So if you're struggling, the issue is don't quit. Show up.
Tana Amen: And the more you fall, the more experience you have in getting up.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So get your mindset right, assess your brain with know your important numbers. [inaudible 00:10:33] completely help. We'll talk more about that. Sustenance, food is just absolutely critical. Now, when I first did Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, we started the first class December 1st.
Tana Amen: Yeah, see, [crosstalk 00:10:48]
Dr. Daniel Amen: We started it December 1st.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The week of Christmas, the average weight loss was 2.5 pounds. I love that. There is no rule you have to get fat during the holidays.
Tana Amen: Not only no rule, it's irritating to me. So it's like, what is this cycle that we do, this really self-defeating cycle? I just want you to stop and think about it for a minute. And I've done it, I did it for years before I changed my lifestyle, okay. What is that self-defeating cycle every year? Okay, I'm going to stop taking care of myself starting in October, right?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Halloween.
Tana Amen: With Halloween. Stop taking care of myself. I'm just going to like give up, because I know it's going to be too hard. Too hard, what? Aren't you so glad that the warriors that like defend us, our police officers, our soldiers don't give up when it gets hard? So you don't give up. And so, just because it's hard. So they give up, you eat terrible. You stop sleeping well. Time change, travel. All this stuff happens, the stress of the holidays. You gain a bunch of weight. Most people start to feel really lousy about themselves, and physically lousy. More heart attacks on Christmas Day than any other day of the year, that should tell you something right there. So we go through this process, this self-defeating process. And then we do, "Oh, just kidding. New year, new you." What is that?
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's insane.
Tana Amen: It's insane, it's insanity. So stop that. You got to train all year. That does not mean you can't have fun. That's why in the cookbook there are like over 20, there are like 25 desserts and like treats and things like that. Healthy things you can have that make you feel-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And the cookbook actually did really good last week, so I'm very happy.
Tana Amen: Right, the holidays.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook.
Tana Amen: It always does well through the holidays.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And you know what I tell people ... and the longer I do this, the more I begin to understand, you are a habitual creature. You will do what-
Tana Amen: You are used to.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... your brain has done.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And in The Brain Warrior's Way Cookbook, you just have to find 20 recipes ... and there are what? Over 100 recipes. You only have to find 20 recipes-
Tana Amen: It's 125.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you love that love you back.
Tana Amen: And there's a whole holiday guide on how to do holidays, not only in a healthy way with all the healthy recipes, but if you go somewhere and you are going to have a bite of something, don't sabotage your entire plan. You know, there's a whole way to like make the holidays work.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So we're going to talk more about that coming up, but for those of you watching, listening, send Tana a congratulations note. I'm so proud of her, and I want you to be proud of her, too. Stay with us.
Tana Amen: And I want to say thank you to all of the people who have mentored me and helped me along the way. It's been quite the journey, and you don't do it without having a team of people. You must have a community to help you through. So thank you, Master Bob White, Barbara White, and just so many people that have helped me along the way.
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.