Why The Brain Hates Change

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

It’s been said that the only constant in life is change, but then why is it so hard for the brain to accept the all those changes? In episode 4 of a series called Success Starts Here, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen teach you how to train your brain to better handle change, and how to make sure those changes are the right ones to help you live a longer, more fulfilling life.


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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 imagining to target treatment and natural ways to heal the brain. For more information, visit Amenclinics.com.

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain ND, where we produce the highest-quality nutraceutical products to support the health of your brain and body. For more information, visit brainndhealth.com. Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking about success starts here, and this is actually one of my favorite sections. It's something that I've been thinking about a lot recently. Why has it been so hard for the medical community to change, come around to the imaging we work we do and natural ways to heal the brain? Then I realized, people hate change.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: The brain hates change. That's why people get stuck in ruts and why innovation is hard-

Tana Amen: You don't even like when I change a chair at home, so.

Dr Daniel Amen: I only like it if you change it to the chair I want.

Tana Amen: Yeah, but it's hard to even get that far. You like things a certain, like what you're familiar with.

Dr Daniel Amen: We're going to talk about embracing change and new ways to do things, except the chair. You have to know about two important parts of the brain. One is called the anterior singular gyrus. It's the brain's gear shifter that sees errors. It's involved in shifting attention, cognitive flexibility, going from idea to idea, seeing options, going with the flow, being cooperative, getting outside of yourself, and into the head of your husband. It also sees errors. When it works normally, it sees errors. If you came home and the garage door was open, but nobody was home, you-

Tana Amen: No, you think I'm paranoid. I see errors all the time. I see them, even tiny details, but I definitely notice when something's wrong.

Dr Daniel Amen: When this part of the brain doesn't work hard enough, so it runs deep, right down the middle of the frontal lobes. When it doesn't work hard enough, low motivation, low energy, low movement, and you don't talk. When it works too hard, talks a lot, dislikes change, trouble shifting attention, difficulty seeing options, hold your own opinion, don't listen to others, get locked into a course of action, even though it might not be good for you. You say no without thinking first, needs to have things done a certain way, can be involved in compulsive behaviors such as washing your hands or checking locks, oppositional, argumentative, says no, upset when things don't go as you expect. Can go with anxiety, people who predict the worst. I don't know anybody like this. Actually, I know a lot of people like this.

Tana Amen: I mostly just notice things that are wrong, and I tend to say no when ... The thing is, I say no where most people will be more polite, I just say it. I don't know what to say about that.

Dr Daniel Amen: Then there's another part of the brain called basal ganglia that integrate feeling and movement and tends to be involved with anxiety. When these parts of the brain work too hard, people tend to be anxious, rigid, and inflexible.

Tana Amen: They get stuck.

Dr Daniel Amen: They get suck in a rut.

Tana Amen: Have you ever known anybody that loops? I think of it as looping. Oh, my gosh. They just loop and they won't let it go.

Dr Daniel Amen: Haven't you, like they said the same thing over and over?

Tana Amen: And they won't let it go until you are supposed to agree with them, even if you don't agree with them, but they won't let it go. They're going to beat it to death, right?

Dr Daniel Amen: I had this one patient once. I said she had a PhD in grudge holding. She would not only beat things to death, she would beat them into the afterlife.

Tana Amen: That's really hard on relationships. It's really hard on the people around you.

Dr Daniel Amen: Oh, my God.

Tana Amen: Right?

Dr Daniel Amen: Yes. I've been in that sort of marriage.

Tana Amen: Yeah, no. No.

Dr Daniel Amen: I know if I die and go to hell, and the first thing I hear is a vacuum sweeper, that I've gone to hell.

Tana Amen: You know that it won't be me.

Dr Daniel Amen: I know it won't be you and I've gone to hell.

Tana Amen: You know I have not joined you. I'm not going to be running the vacuum 24/7.

Dr Daniel Amen: Besides low levels of serotonin, because when serotonin levels go low, the singular gyrus gets more active, and then you become more rigid or inflexible. There are some psychological resistances to change. Why don't you go through those?

Tana Amen: You do not understand the need for change. Something might be happening and you need to change, but your brain just isn't going to accept the need to change. You're busy doing other things, completely miss that your family, health, business and finances are headed the wrong way. You're not picking up the cues that something needs to change.

Dr Daniel Amen: People didn't explain it to you. We were in the store. We've sort of adopted our nieces, and I took them grocery shopping. Before we went in the store, I said, "Look, I just have to be really honest with you. I don't spend my money on bad food. I'm never going to do that, so just don't ask." I taught them how to read food labels.

Tana Amen: Of course, they think we're starving them to death right now, but it's okay. It's all okay.

Dr Daniel Amen: Now they're doing so much better.

Tana Amen: They're doing better.

Dr Daniel Amen: They're doing better, but it was hard for her.

Tana Amen: It was hard. We literally filled our house with food, and the first thing they said was, "There's nothing to eat."

Dr Daniel Amen: What's next?

Tana Amen: Fear of the unknown. The brain doesn't like to do what it doesn't ... When it can't predict what's going to happen, right?

Dr Daniel Amen: Many people stay longer in relationships than they should because they were afraid of what would have happened next.

Tana Amen: I used to love what my mom used to tell me when I was a little kid. When things would not be going a certain way that I wanted them to go and I didn't understand why, like, "Why is this happening? Why is this happening?" Things were changing and I didn't really like it, but my mom would tell me this one thing that was so comforting to me, and it's something that I grab onto. She'd say, "Sometimes God has to close all the doors around you before you will take the time to turn around and see the one that's open." I try to remember that, when I'm starting to resist what's going on. It's like, "Wait a minute. Is there a door that's open that I'm supposed to be seeing?"

Dr Daniel Amen: Sometimes people don't change because they have low self-confidence, low self-esteem.

Tana Amen: Yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: They're afraid of conflict.

Tana Amen: Would you say some people are afraid of success, if it's a big change?

Dr Daniel Amen: Yes, but it's less than I think it is. It was almost a DSM-IV diagnosis.

Tana Amen: Like self-sabotage?

Dr Daniel Amen: Self-sabotage.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr Daniel Amen: Some people are just attached to the old ways of doing things.

Tana Amen: Right, they just are stuck where they're at.

Dr Daniel Amen: We've always done it this way.

Tana Amen: But don't you know people who, they're living a certain way, and you're thinking to yourself, "God, they have so much potential. They've got the opportunities right in front of them, and they're not taking it, repeatedly." It's so weird.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, someone we're coaching, I want her to apply for jobs that are really above her level, so that she gets the best job she's under qualified for.

Tana Amen: Right, and she's terrified of being rejected.

Dr Daniel Amen: She's terrified, but we just went, "You know, so if 20 people say no and only one person says yes, you can only work at one job at a time."

Tana Amen: Right. I like what you told her though. What you actually said was, "If you're not getting rejected, you are not reaching high enough." I'm like, "Oh, I like that." That's really good.

Dr Daniel Amen: That's how I got you.

Tana Amen: That was really smooth. That was smooth.

Dr Daniel Amen: It takes work to break out of your comfort zone. Many people don't have the health, the time, the energy, to do it, especially if they're anxious, uncertain, or depressed.

Tana Amen: One thing I think you can do to help flip that, because whenever people say to me, "I don't have time to do this, or I don't have time to do that," we are some of the busiest people we know. For me, after being as sick as I've been, is I don't have time not to. You need to flip that in your head a little bit, tweak the saying and say it enough. You don't have time not to, if you're a busy person.

Dr Daniel Amen: There are social resistance to change. Groups hate change. Groups resist.

Tana Amen: Oh, my gosh, don't we know it? Repeatedly, over and over, we work with these groups. They bring us in to do this things.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, just our family. Just our own family, that as we live super healthy lives, they make fun of you, they belittle you, then when they get sick they need you.

Tana Amen: Right, but big groups are really hard.

Dr Daniel Amen: But they're really hard. Families, coworkers, friends resist change. You spend time with people who have bad habits.

Tana Amen: People are contagious.

Dr Daniel Amen: There's three ways people change. We're talking about change. They get an epiphany. The imaging work we do is an epiphany for a lot of people. They realize they can change their brain and change their life. When I saw my scan for the first time, I'm like, "That's not as good as I want it to be. How can I make it better?"

Tana Amen: Yeah, me too.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's an epiphany. When I read this first study from Cyrus, as your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down. That was an epiphany. I lost 25 pounds. I was like, "No, we're not doing being fat and having a small brain." It's the wrong combination. Some people change by changing their friends. The fastest way to get healthy is find the healthiest person you can stand, and then spend as much time around him or her as possible.

Tana Amen: Right, because people are definitely contagious. Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: The other way people change is they make small incremental changes, and if you make one small change, you're more likely to make two. If you make two small changes, you're more likely to make four.

Tana Amen: Right, so baby steps.

Dr Daniel Amen: Like in the 26-week course we taught, the Brain Warrior's Way [crosstalk 00:10:42] great results, but it was one week after the other, putting small habits into your life.

Tana Amen: Yeah, and so this idea of people being contagious, so we have a lot of people who start to get healthy. The first thing they run into is that resistance with coworkers, the resistance with family. It trips them up, and a lot of people do give up, or they do give up and they keep trying to start over, because it's hard. It's hard when you're first doing it to stand up to people. I just have one thing to say. That is the one place where being a little oppositional, and liking the word no comes in handy. Be that person. Think of yourself as that person who's the change-maker. You are the change-maker. It's okay to say no.

Dr Daniel Amen: Well, it's what Gandhi said, right?

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Tana Amen: Be the change-maker.

Dr Daniel Amen: There's a spiritual resistance to change. You believe your reason for living will be disrupted if you change. Where are ruts in your life? Here's some questions. Do you dislike change? Do you tend to get stuck in loops of thinking? Do you struggle with repetitive, negative thoughts? Do you have difficulty seeing options? Do you tend to hold your own opinion and not listen to others? Do you tend to be oppositional or argumentative? The more questions of these you answer yes to, the more likely your singulate works too hard, based on our research here at Amen Clinics. What habits do you want to change, from a practical standpoint? Are there relationships, health, work, money? Do you have habits around these things you want to change? Cell phone, digital habits, email, brushing your teeth, making coffee, breakfast, what are the habits that are messing with your life? Quickly, we'll do more on this coming up on nine ways to embrace change and turn your ruts into the superhighways of success. Quickly, you got to boost serotonin. How do you boost serotonin?

Tana Amen: Eating the right carbohydrates, exercise, meditation, all those things boost-

Dr Daniel Amen: Sunlight.

Tana Amen: Oh, and serotonin?

Dr Daniel Amen: Serotonin.

Tana Amen: Okay, I just learned something.

Dr Daniel Amen: But sunlight.

Tana Amen: I had no idea.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's intimately connected with vitamin D and mood and serotonin.

Tana Amen: What do you know, I actually just learned something.

Dr Daniel Amen: Bright light therapy, say you live in Seattle and you're coming to winter-

Tana Amen: Is that one of the reasons it works? I thought it was just vitamin D. I didn't know it was serotonin.

Dr Daniel Amen: Vitamin D helps to optimize serotonin.

Tana Amen: That's fascinating. I didn't realize that that's what it was connected to.

Dr Daniel Amen: Brand new study, just out today, on Inuit tribes in Canada. It was actually a fairly large study. They looked at the psychological stress index, and the Inuits, who had the highest level of psychological stress, more likely to be female. We know females have 52% less serotonin.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: They had lower omega-3 fatty acid levels.

Tana Amen: How is that?

Dr Daniel Amen: And lower vitamin D levels.

Tana Amen: Because they're not making their fish their primary-

Dr Daniel Amen: Because their diet has changed.

Tana Amen: Right, to the western diet.

Dr Daniel Amen: Their diet has changed to the western diet. Okay, so number on is boost serotonin. Number two is define the behavior we want to change. Three is assess your readiness for change. Do you want to change? Are you thinking about it? Are you all in? You really have to know-

Tana Amen: And don't lie to yourself.

Dr Daniel Amen: Where am i? Identify your most vulnerable moments.

Tana Amen: See, I think this is a really important one, to actually just take a minute to be aware that your vulnerable moments are when you have a meeting and your boss yells at you and it happens every Friday, or when you pick your kids up and you take them over to some play date, or whatever it is. You go to your family's house for dinner. Whatever it is, just knowing it, for some people it's come down to when they eat, they eat in front of the TV in a certain room in the house. Just being aware of that means you can change it.

Dr Daniel Amen: Then know the behaviors you need to do. If you want to lose weight, it's eating right and exercising. It's more than that, but it's like, whenever you come to a decision about food, you ask yourself, "Is this good for my brain or bad for it?" If you love yourself, you make more good decisions. The one, and this was really interesting, you develop if-then plans to overcome the vulnerable moments. This has been shown in research study after research study to be effective. If my mom offers me the second piece of pie, what am I going to do?

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: It's really activating your frontal lobes that we talked about last time, to activating the CEO to plan ahead of time, if this happens, then I will [crosstalk 00:15:48]

Tana Amen: So it's really a visualization exercise. You're visualizing what you want to have happen.

Dr Daniel Amen: Then reframe your pain. We do this all the time with people. It's, "Oh, well I don't want to deprive myself."

Tana Amen: Right, but is that depriving you? Because engaging in that behavior is the deprivation.

Dr Daniel Amen: What are we really going to deprive them of if they get serious-

Tana Amen: Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, yeah.

Dr Daniel Amen: Brain fog [crosstalk 00:16:15]

Tana Amen: Exactly.

Dr Daniel Amen: Very important to turn accomplices into friends or get rid of the enemy. You become like the people you hang out with.

Tana Amen: Or you've got to be really strong and be that change-maker, because eventually you will begin to create your own community. Eventually they will begin to turn, but you've got to be strong.

Dr Daniel Amen: Who was the [inaudible 00:16:34] who came up to us at church?

Tana Amen: That was hilarious.

Dr Daniel Amen: She came up to us-

Tana Amen: She lost 26 pounds and she's like, "But that's not the thing. That's not the thing." She started to talk about her husband.

Dr Daniel Amen: Who wouldn't do it.

Tana Amen: Right, he was irritated with her. Annoyed, irritated, didn't like that she was doing this, because it means she's not going to cook the same way. She's not going to eat the same way when they go out. He was very resistant, right?

Dr Daniel Amen: Until he saw her get super cute.

Tana Amen: Right, and he still didn't change, though. Remember, she said something to him. Remember what she said? It was really funny.

Dr Daniel Amen: I'm going to be really happy long after you're dead.

Tana Amen: Right? I don't think she said it quite like that, but yes.

Dr Daniel Amen: Yeah, that's what she said.

Tana Amen: "I love you, but I'm going to be around and healthy and happy when you leave me."

Dr Daniel Amen: No, I think she was clearer with that. I'm going to be really happy long after you're dead.

Tana Amen: I don't think she meant she was going to be happy he was going to be dead, but that's how it sounds.

Dr Daniel Amen: No, she's just going to be happy.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: That if he's not going to take care of himself-

Tana Amen: I'm going to choose happiness and health, right. Right. Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: Then you want to create a series of small wins to attain big gains. Those are the tiny habits that we often talk about BrainFitLIfe, our online community. Boost serotonin, know what you want, know the behaviors you need to do, then come up with these if-then statements. If I'm going to break biting my fingernails, so if I get anxious, then I'm going to go drink a glass of water. I'm going to go for a walk. I'm going to go listen to Coldplay, whatever it is, come up with another plan. Think about it ahead of time, which actually engaged your prefrontal cortex. Stay with us. We're going to talk about mastering your mind. Success starts here.

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