The Prefrontal Cortex: How to Reduce Your Impulsive Urges

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

The prefrontal cortex is a part of your brain that plays a major role in how you make decisions in your life. In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen touch on some of the material from Dr. Amen’s new book, Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, that relates to the prefrontal cortex, and how you can take care of it to improve your decision-making process.


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, visit Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back to Feel Better Fast and Make It Last, our series on my brand new book, which people can pre-order at We've been talking about our brain excel formula and we have a couple more things to do on the brain including what we're gonna talk about in this podcast, control of yourself. We're gonna talk about how important it is to take care of your pre-frontal cortex and then in the next one, we're gonna talk about change and how people can change their behavior.
But, the most human thoughtful part of you is your pre-frontal cortex. I know we've talked about it before, but let's talk about it in more detail. We finished the last podcast by saying if there's no forethought, there is no foreplay and yes, many guys can just turn on, but that's not true for many women.
Tana Amen: Yeah, but women don't, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You need to be romanced a little bit.
Tana Amen: Well, for women, that can start with helping her do the dishes and just being nice to her, giving her a hug and you know what I mean, just being kind and thoughtful throughout the day. You don't get to just show up, so it doesn't work like that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you want to feel better fast physically, you have to use the front third of your brain.
Tana Amen: You need to be thinking about it when you wake up in the morning, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So the front third of your brain is called the pre-frontal cortex.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Largest in humans and any other animal by far. It's 30 percent of the human brain, 11 percent of the chimpanzee's brain, seven percent of Aslan's brain or your dog's brain, three percent of Miso's brain or your cat's brain, one percent of the mouse's brain. This is why you should never let a child hit a soccer ball with their forehead because it can damage their pre-frontal cortex. It's why you don't let kids play tackle football 'cause it can damage their brain.
So what does the pre-frontal cortex do? It's called the executive part of the brain because it's like the boss at work. It's involved with executive functions like focus and forethought, judgment, impulse control, organization, planning, empathy, learning from the mistakes you make. When the pre-frontal cortex is low in activity, as in ADD or you've had too much to drink or you're smoking pot, or it's hurt, all of those things tend to go out the window and you don't feel better fast. You have trouble focusing, you're more impulsive-
Tana Amen: It's like brain fog, right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You're easily distracted, you're disorganized, you tend to procrastinate, and the decisions you make are not that great.
Tana Amen: Well, and I know we've all had days like this, so yesterday I described it, 'cause two days in a row I got less than seven hours of sleep and we were rushing, like on the go, you were on the Dr. Phil show. We were just ... So many things, we had to rush to an event and get there. Do you remember last night, I'm like, I feel like I've been hungover and my entire day has been out of sync. Left my phone somewhere, and I'm not used to that. Usually I'm pretty buttoned up and I'm like, everything's out of sync. That's what that's like. That's exactly what it's like when your frontal lobes aren't working right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And it's very important, they're the last part of the brain to develop, and what that means, they're the last part of the brain that becomes myelinated. Myelin is a white fatty substance that wraps your neurons and it makes them more efficient. When you're two, three months old, your occipital lobes myelinate. That's why when you look at a baby, the baby looks back and smiles at you, because she's taking you in. Myelinization happens from the back of the brain and it actually doesn't finish to the front part of your brain, so it goes back to front, until you're about 25 or 27 years old.
Tana Amen: And yet, we send kids off to live on their own at 18.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Which I'm just not a fan of, because we see the incidence of depression and suicide, the first psychotic breaks, when kids-
Tana Amen: Go off to college, first year.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Go off to college. What disrupts myelinization? Smoking, drinking, drug use, depression, traumas-
Tana Amen: Chronic stress.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Toxins, so all the Bright Minds risk factors that-
Tana Amen: We talked about.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We talked about, so I think we should be protecting children until they're a little bit older. When there are problems in the pre-frontal cortex, erratic decision making, they tend to be late, their judgment, empathy things are off. If you want to have a healthy brain and you want to make good decisions, you have to protect your pre-frontal cortex. You do that by sleeping seven hours at least, which is why for my travel schedule, 'cause I travel a lot, I don't let them schedule six o'clock flights for me, 'cause I know that whole day may be in jeopardy because I might not be able to get seven hours of sleep.
Tana Amen: Yeah, and if you're a morning person like me, I could leave really early so that I can get to bed early. You have to know your circadian rhythm, right, so that you can plan for that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Sleep is essential. Eating, they've actually found relapse for addicts happens when their blood sugar goes low.
Tana Amen: Yes, so avoid the sugar.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so eating three, four, five times if you need to, to avoid the low blood flow states which go with more anxiety and bad decision making.
Tana Amen: And avoiding foods that keep triggering the addiction center, so the processed foods.
Dr. Daniel Amen: You need to learn to say no to yourself.
Tana Amen: Right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's like a muscle. Practice saying no to others. Too often, especially people with low frontal lobes, somebody asks them to do something, they'll just say yes. I have my patients practice, "I have to think about that." And then ask them-
Tana Amen: I like that, you taught me that. If you can't just say no, then just say, "I have to think about it," and the other one is, "No thank you." 'Cause people have a hard time, it's like, "Oh, no thank you." Or, "I have to think about it." Just don't automatically say yes.
Dr. Daniel Amen: People ask me all the time to do things and I just can't or I wouldn't be able to sleep. Be very clear about your goals. We talk about the One Page Miracle a lot here. On one piece of paper, write down what you want and then ask yourself does this, what someone's asking me to do, fit the goals I have for my life? And if it doesn't fit, you have to say no.
In addiction circles, to help your judgment, they have a pneumonic called HALT. Don't get too hungry, low blood sugar, angry, negative thinking drops brain function, lonely, or tired. Don't get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired because those are the things that increase relapse. Then cut out sugar and foods that turn to sugar.
Tana Amen: We just talked about that, yeah.
Dr. Daniel Amen: It's just so important. Supplements can help boost the pre-frontal cortex. We make Focus & Energy specifically to do that. Brand new study out of Holland, that omega-3 fatty acids actually increased executive function.
Tana Amen: And isn't theanine good too?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Theanine can be very helpful. Ask yourself, "Does my behavior get me what I want? Does it fit the goals I have for my life?" Tiny habits to help you with making good decisions. When I'm tempted by something that's bad for my brain, I'll hum to myself just for a few minutes until the temptation goes away. There's a new study on the computer game Tetris, that people who have cravings, if they just play Tetris for ten minutes, their cravings will go away.
Tana Amen: Weird, but isn't it weird? That's a really weird thing, so sometimes when I'm having trouble sleeping, I will play the word games or Tetris and it zones my brain out. I know some people say it keeps them awake, not me, it puts me almost in a hypnotic trance. It's the weirdest thing, it's like weird.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Another little tiny habit when I feel out of sorts, I'll just take ten deep diaphragmatic breaths and in that way, get good oxygen to my brain, recenter myself. There are so many things you can do.
Tana Amen: Okay, I just have to plug this, which is funny because I always tease you about it. Your soundtrack for Bright Minds and for Feel Better Fast that you came up with. It's a joke in our family because the guy who wears black jeans and black T-shirts got written up in Style Magazine as-
Dr. Daniel Amen: New York Magazine.
Tana Amen: Okay, New York Magazine as a style icon.
Dr. Daniel Amen: New York Times Magazine.
Tana Amen: Okay, fashion icon. And then he doesn't play a musical instrument or anything but his two soundtracks have been on Billboard's list, like top whatever list forever, forever. It's crazy, it's like so annoying.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Barry Goldstein and I have created, we're now gonna launch our third album. Barry creates all the music, I just help him with the direction of it.
Tana Amen: Right. How does this happen?
Dr. Daniel Amen: So music for Bright Minds, 35 weeks on Billboard's New Age chart.
Tana Amen: Makes my daughter-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Top ten, it debuted at number two. And then coming soon in November, we have Feel Better Fast and Make It Last. It's beautiful music for focus, relaxation, creativity, sleep, boost your mood, 'cause as we talked about, music can do that. We hope it does really well, but we're not creating it for that, we're creating it for you to feel better faster.
Tana Amen: But anyway, this makes my daughter roll her eyes. He just shows up and stuff happens like this. It's just crazy, but I do want to plug it because when I can't sleep at night, when I'm having trouble or I'm feeling stressed, like I have to admit, I hate even admitting it to you because it's just so ridiculous that you get all this stuff like that. It's amazing, it actually is really helpful. It helps me, there's tracks on there that help with meditation for increasing energy, but there are ones on there that help you just totally relax and just zone out. It actually is a really good track.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Feel Better Fast and Make It Last. When we come back, we're gonna talk about change. You can pre-order the book now at and when you do, you can download the introduction and chapter one for the book, starter guide, sort of the cliff notes for Feel Better Fast. So helpful. In addition, audios to feel better fast, hypnosis tracks I do for you, and Tana's new cookbook, the 10 Day Brain Boost Cookbook. 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.