How To Find Success Through Adversity, with Alize’ Castellanos

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

Finding success in life can be hard enough even when circumstances have set you up to thrive. But what happens when you start out in life with the cards already stacked against you? In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by their niece and co-author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, Alize’ Castellano. Alize’ shares some of the tips that have allowed her to rise to the top of the class despite her tumultuous upbringing.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warriors Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: 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.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warriors 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 personalized treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warriors Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals, to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back everyone, this is week two of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades. And we changed out the teenagers from Chloe to our niece, Alize Castellanos, who is one of the co-authors with me of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades. Alize is very special to us, and she's a great student. She is you know, you may have heard us talk about, has gone through a fair amount of trials and tribulations. Yet, wherever she's been at in school, school has been sort of a haven for her. Where she knew she could do well, she's bright, and has excelled. They moved from Oregon, goodness, coming up on more than a year and a half now.
Alizé Castellanos: Yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And she just graduated Costa Mesa Middle School, virtually with straight As. She was the graduation speaker. She won three subject awards. They love her there, she's enrolled at Early College, so be able to do basically high school and Early College at the same time. And none of this was in a family environment that was easy.
Tana Amen: Yeah, most people would have said that it was, that the cards were stacked against you. So we're really proud of you, Alize, and I don't want to make you uncomfortable, I don't want to have you talk about anything you're not, you don't want to talk about. But I think your story is motivating to a lot of people, so anything you are okay talking about would be really great.
Alizé Castellanos: Yeah.
Tana Amen: Alize's story is pretty, it's hard. She has a hard story growing up, and they moved around a lot. I don't want to tell details but she was in foster care. We helped get you guys down here and out of foster care. And even that when you first came down here, was painful and hard, because it was just another move. And I remember you breaking down and saying, "But how do I know they're going to stay around? How do I know they're going to... "
That was your feeling about people in your life.
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tana Amen: I don't know how long we're going to be here, they're probably not going to be in my life that long. Took a while for you to turn that around.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah, you're stuck with us.
Tana Amen: But you still did well in school. And that to me is fascinating. So even in foster care, you did well in school. And I just, that's mind blowing actually, because I think a lot of people would give up.
Dr. Daniel Amen: [crosstalk 00:03:28] So as you think about it, why do you think, where did you find that strength?
Alizé Castellanos: I feel like school was the one place that I had, that I knew that I was in control of at that time. But also, just, I've always loved learning and when I was able to really apply these habits that, I mean, they're in the book, you know? But just things like that. And I saw the success that I was getting out of it. That just made me feel really good, you know? And I've just, I've always kind of looked to the future. I've had a mind like that. And it's like, do I always want to be in a situation? No. I want to do better than this. I want to be beyond this, you know? And so it's like, okay, well, how do I get there? You know? And it's like, setting those goals for yourself, which we talk about in the book, it's like, and you've taught me this before. You've taught me this before.
Where it's like, okay, what do you want? Where do you want to go? Now, how are you going to get there? How is your behavior going to get you there? How is your thoughts going to get you there? How is your actions, and stuff like that. And so I just feel like school, that's why I put so much into school. And has it always been easy? No. There's been times where I've missed a lot of school because I had to take care of my mom. I had to skip school because I was pretty much on the run with my family, you know? And there's been times where it's just been crazy, where my home environment has been so stressful that it's so hard to focus on school. But I just feel like school's so important, and if you really put a lot into it, you'll get that same out. You know?
Dr. Daniel Amen: So it's those three words we talk about, does it fit?
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Daniel Amen: Does my behavior fit the goals I have for my life? And one of the exercises in Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades is the one page miracle, which we talk about a lot. It's, and I think I talk about it a lot because it's so important.
Alizé Castellanos: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: To tell your brain what you want so your brain can help you get it. But it's really defining what do you want in your relationships, what do you want in school, what do you want in work? What do you want for your money? What do you want for your physical, emotional, spiritual health? What do you want? So it's not me telling you should be this way, you should be that way. It's what do you want?
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Daniel Amen: And does your behavior fit? Right? Because then it's never about should, it's about fit. Does it fit what I want?
Tana Amen: Well, and we're just so proud of you. I mean, I think so many people would just give up and just feel like, "There's no hope for me." And I think a lot of people do. And so your story is inspiring I think to a lot of people who, and we're not going into detail, the story's hard, okay? It's been hard. So, and yet you have managed to be this ray of sunshine. Literally, just a ray of sunshine and sweet, and kind, and our teachers love her. And that's sort of mind blowing when you really think about it. So you choose to do that every day. Now, I've seen the other side. I've seen this girl break down when she gets home. So we've worked with you a lot on killing the ants, right? We talk about killing the ants, the automatic negative thoughts, because you hold it together at school, and then you would get home and sort of fall apart.
Dr. Daniel Amen: [crosstalk 00:06:46] So let's do a whole lesson on that next time.
Tana Amen: Okay.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But for this one, let's really focus on clarity of goals. That if you're going to change your brain, to change your grades, the first thing you have to do is know what you want. So as you look at your life, getting ready to go into ninth grade, what do you want? What do you want for you?
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Like, for me, I know that when I look to high school, I want it to be a very bright experience. I want to get a lot out of it. I want to be a social person, I want to be balanced, obviously, that's one of my biggest goals, because I know what it's like to be unbalanced. So I know the polar opposite of that. And so that's why I can't stress that enough, being balanced. And I want to be, I want to be successful. I want to strive and I want to thrive in high school. I want to be able to set myself up for success in the future, and that's one of my biggest goals, is like building those blocks up so that I can look back and be like, "I did something great. I did something great, and now I'm here." And I feel like back to what Tana said, just little rewind, when she was saying, she was like telling me, "Oh, you're a ray of sunshine, this and that." But one thing about that, I'm not always that way.
Like you said, but also just the immense support that I've been surrounded by, like that I have had with you guys and the things that you guys have taught me, that really has helped me get where I have been today [crosstalk 00:08:16].
Dr. Daniel Amen: So support really does matter.
Alizé Castellanos: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And one of the things I've noticed about you, and this is so important if you're listening. Whenever I ask her how she is, or how her day was, almost immediately, she goes, "How are you?" And, "How was your day?"
Tana Amen: And that means you're [crosstalk 00:08:34]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: And I've had plenty of people in my life, and probably you have too, where you ask people how they are, and they dump the whole thing on you. But they never once go, "Well, what are you working on? And how are things at work?"
Tana Amen: Right, they're energy vampires.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And, "How are things at home?" Energy vampires. And so, I've noticed both you and your sister and your mother, as soon as I ask you how you are, you'll tell me, and then you'll be interested in me.
Tana Amen: You ping pong [crosstalk 00:09:06].
Dr. Daniel Amen: So relationships-
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's how conversations should be.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Naturally go both ways. But as you think about ninth grade, 10th grade, 12th grade, college, how much, and people are going to just think this is a loaded question. It totally is. But how is alcohol going to help you get [crosstalk 00:09:26]?
Tana Amen: Or marijuana?
Alizé Castellanos: It's not. Not at all. I mean, like I've seen the effects of those kinds of things.
Tana Amen: Yeah, you've seen it first hand.
Alizé Castellanos: I've seen that first hand for sure. And I do have a lot of friends who look at that kind of thing and they're like, "That's the best part of high school. That's the best part of college." And it's just like, no. No, no, no. That's like, I have no, I do not have the desire to do that at all, because I've seen the effects of that. I've seen the... and that's not going to help you get anywhere that you want to go.
Tana Amen: Well [crosstalk 00:09:53]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: What I have my patients do is see both the positive of their behavior and the negative. So we call it the fork in the road exercise. So, this is what I want. If I do this, yes, it might be fun in the moment. But it could be a disaster, because drug and alcohol abuse has a genetic component to it.
Tana Amen: And this is really important, because your mother, my sister, we're very, very different in a lot of ways, and she's one of the sweetest people, funniest people you'll ever meet. But we grew up with different mothers, we had different upbringing, and I grew up poor and in a really hard situation, like she did. With one exception, my mom didn't drink and she didn't do drugs, okay? And I know your grandmother did have some issues with substances. And that affected your mother. And what's interesting is, teaching them what you just said really early makes a difference. Because when I had a, your mother's now sober. Which, we're so proud of her. I had a conversation with her, and I'm writing my new book right now, and I'm writing some things about the past that were hard for me to write. And I was talking to your mother about this, and I said, "So, I'm confused. How when you first decided to try drugs, you know, what part of you decided, oh, cocaine or meth or whatever it was that you were trying, what part of you... Wasn't there one part of you that said, 'This is a bad idea?'" She's like, "Nope. I never even thought that. Never crossed my mind. The only thing I thought of is what can I try next?"
And I was like, "What?" Because she was never taught. She was never taught that [crosstalk 00:11:29]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: She was actually modeled the opposite.
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tana Amen: She was modeled that drugs are good.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But, but also-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:11:33] They're fine.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The model came with chaos. And we-
Tana Amen: So we have to teach you-
Alizé Castellanos: Exactly.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We have seen your brain.
Alizé Castellanos: Yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And your brain is vulnerable. It can't tolerate.
Tana Amen: No, you don't have a big-
Dr. Daniel Amen: A lot of-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:11:45] Reserve.
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-mm (negative).
Dr. Daniel Amen: Nonsense, and so very few people get the privilege of actually seeing their own brain. And knowing, "I need to take care of this." Because if I don't take care of this-
Tana Amen: [crosstalk 00:11:57] And what's mind blowing is that in spite of having a vulnerable brain-
Dr. Daniel Amen: She's a superstar.
Tana Amen: That means you were working really hard.
Alizé Castellanos: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tana Amen: You were just, you were determined.
Alizé Castellanos: Definitely.
Tana Amen: And that's, that's really interesting.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, when we come back, we're going to talk about ants and learning and how important they are to go together. Automatic negative thoughts that steal your soul. Steal your happiness.
Alizé Castellanos: Steal your soul.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You can get a free copy of Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades autographed by the three of us if you enter the raffle. Go to
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