Can Brain Waves Get Stuck??: Mind Your Metaphors

I received this question in my email:

Q: For my final research project I am researching brainwaves and neurofeedback. what I am trying to find out and understand specifically is how brainwaves can get "stuck" in a certain part of the brain... if you would be willing to help me understand this if you understand it yourself, or maybe give me a direction in which to look I would really appreciate it.

So what? Apart from a student research project, who cares? Why am I sharing this?

For me, how we think about and understand the world and our lives is all about metaphor. Whenever we try to understand something new, our brain is always making connections based on what that something or someone is “like”.

So when we attach a metaphor to something we want to understand, that metaphor drives our concepts about it, our expectations, our strategies — everything. If someone new reminds you physically of someone you heartily dislike, you tend to dislike things they say or do, read their motivations as if they were the other person, etc. When it comes to our brains, as your Brain Mentor, I want to caution you about accepting metaphors that limit your options.

And the idea of brainwaves getting “stuck” is one such misguided metaphor.

Let me tell you why…

What is the Internet Doing to Your Brain?

Is the internet your brain's friend?

I was asked a question by someone who was in a discussion about the internet and its influence on our brains. Specifically, they were talking about whether there is any truth to some recent work showing that the internet, and how we (you, your children) are using it, is making us dumber.

So the question posed to me was….

Wondering if you have any thoughts/insights on the changing nature of the brain, with increased internet communications, and the prevalence of tools like Google to locate information?

My answer was: …

The Spiritual Brain: Not what you think!

I recently read a brilliant short novel from Brandon Anderson called The Emperor's Soul. It tells the story of a woman named Shai, a thief and a Forger—a person capable of rewriting the pasts of objects in order to change their present.

As I read the Forger’s descriptions of how she duplicates and changes the appearance of things by understanding their essence, it struck me that Anderson presents some lovely ideas about the life of things that seem powerful reflections of how the brain works as well. So let's capture some of those ideas:

Rethinking the Brain

My professional intention is to help you re-think how you think about your Brain.

What does that mean?

Most people think about their brain as a collection of tissue, an organ sitting inside their heads that generates thoughts and emotions and actions through the.interaction of its anatomical bits and chemical connections.

Many think of the brain as being like a computer -- "processing" its "input", generating "output", running "programs" that determine how we think and feel and react and act. They wonder whether some part of them is "hardwired" or whether it might be changeable.

And even though they "know" it's just a metaphor, they get frustrated when their brain doesn't perform as expected or desired. They feel like it needs "fixing", "upgrading", "re-wiring", or "re-programming".

But my mission is to ...

“Parts” of Yourself: Where are they all?

Some time ago, I was part of a fascinating discussion at Dawud Miracle's blog about whether we have “parts” of ourselves or whether we are a “whole” misled by our language and habits of thought into thinking of ourselves in parts. (This guy is not just another web designer, eh?)

I had to join such a conversation, but of course I approached the question from the perspective of the brain. (I couldn't help myself — you'll understand ).

To follow the whole conversation (or is that to follow all its parts??), you'll need to go catch up on Dawud's blog, but I thought I would share my thinking on this for my brain aficionados. (That's you.)

So —

Why do we seem to have “parts”?...

Does It Matter How Your Memory Works?

I recently was part of an on-line conversation about the family movie Inside Out. (Parents and kids alike are loving it -- check out the Facebook page in the link!)

There has been some criticism from brain-people that know a lot about how memory works that some memory metaphors in the move aren't...well...quite right.

Other people feel the power of the film for teaching about emotions -- the importance of every kind of emotion, how we manage them, a vocabulary for parents and children to talk about feelings, even for those of us who might be grown-up children without a good emotional vocabulary -- far outweighs any factual slips.

I want to suggest both sides are "right".

But I also want to share that I strongly believe that how we think about our brains -- our "model" of the brain -- can influence how we live our life. (Hence, my little tag line: Understanding the Hidden Principles of Your Brain as a Rosetta Stone to Life -- I really, really mean it.)

So, here are my thoughts on whether understanding how your memory works really makes any difference to the bigger picture...

Mirrors: What Do You Bring to Your Relationships?

What do you bring to your relationships?

This topic came up in a conversation I had recently. We were talking about the challenge of “being oneself” in a close relationship after my conversation partner was criticized by a friend for being “self-focused” (read: selfish) on what she wanted from the relationship. Without sharing the whole conversation, I wanted to share where this took my mind in terms of brain activity.

Often, eastern and western cultures are talked about as focusing on the individual or the collective.


Western cultures are often described as individualistic — that we focus on the individual as a person separate from others. We may interact with others, but our worldview sees each person as a distinct and separate entity unto itself.


Eastern cultures, on the other hand, are described as collectivist — that each person always feels themselves part of a web of relationships, not really ever a separate entity, but an element in a web of relationships for which they share responsibility.


As happens so often, because of our brain's efficiency in creating categories for clarity, we tend to see these alternative worldviews as Either ~ Or. But what might happen if we try to also create a Both~ And perspective on these?

Building a Resilient Brain - Where to Start?

Ah yes... resilience!

Most of the time people think they need to build resilience by avoiding stress. But  no -- this is absolutely the wrong thing to do (unless they find themselves already past a breaking point -- but that's a different story).

More recent research on the brain (and the same kind of “complex systems” that the brain is an example of) shows that we are better to push through the stress instead of pulling back protectively if we want to really build our resilience.

 And this makes sense if you think of the brain like the rest of your body...

 If you want to strengthen your muscles, what’s the best approach to take?...

We Are not Alone: The Phantom-Pain of the Brain's Grief

I've had a rough past week.

We have lived with a dependable family member for 18 years -- the AlarmCat. We called him this because of his reliability and skill in managing the two humans of our household: wake up times (different for each of us), dinner time (depending on who was home to remind), bedtimes (again, different for each of the humans, one of whom was incredibly inconsistent and just had to be kept company after getting the other safely to bed-- or eventually yelled at that enough is enough - Get to bed! Yeow!!!)

Our AlarmCat was gradually getting older (aren't we all?!) and sicker. He was alternately having days of repeated vomiting, being shaky on his feet, and sleeping the day and night through -- then rallying to do all his usual routines and human-caretaking for a couple weeks. But the cycles were getting shorter and shorter and last week was the point at which it seemed necessary to stop his growing discomfort.

His last day was the best we could create together.

Between stimulus and response?: Where do We Find Our Capacity for Choice?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” --

Viktor E. Frankl – Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor


I respect Frankl and his work immensely.

Yet, having said that, there is a wealth of research showing that there isn't much space between stimulus and response -- that our brain is starting to respond even before we are aware we intend to do something.

I wonder if the opportunity for making new choices is not wholly in that little space we aren't even aware of, but in the feedback we get from ourselves (physical energy and sensations, emotional, intellectual) after we have taken an action, made a decision, etc..

Mindfulness and nonlinear neurofeedback are effectively precisely because they don't "drive" change, they allow observation of what already is -- what just happened -- and change emerges naturally from the feedback.

Perhaps we could make slight revision to Frankl's quote -- that the opportunity for change is between response and stimulus"...?

Brain Plasticity Arrives in Toronto OR Why Haven't I Heard of Neurofeedback?

Over breakfast this morning, I read a Toronto Star article by Judy Steed about brain plasticity and the Rotman Research Institute.While I was delighted to have the ability of the adult brain to change discussed in a very public place, I have to admit I experienced a resurgence of the frustration and annoyance I often get when I read about medical centres "discovering" plasticity. I don't mean discovering in the sense of being the first to uncover the phenomenon. Because they just aren't the first anymore. I mean "discovering" in the sense of reporting on a phenomenon that is well-known in many circles and has been for some time, but announcing it as if they were the first. (Perhaps a bit like the claim that Europeans "discovered" the Americas which annoys our native peoples, but that's another article for someone else's blog ;-). When I read these articles, it seems to me to come across as if these "centres of excellence" were finally uncovering critically important findings that everyone else has missed -- and taking the credit for it. So this article is a bit of a rant - and I apologize in advance if I go over the top, but it is SO frustrating to be working in a field that has recognized the plasticity of the brain for decades and used that ability of the brain to change itself to help people for decades, only to have it dismissed for decades by many medical settings who are now "discovering" it without any mention of those there before them. But let me back up a bit and be clear.... First, a quick review of what we mean by "brain plasticity"...

Mindfulness: A tool for brain training?

Sorry to go missing for the summer - I seemed to have taken a writing-free vacation! But I"m trying to ease myself back into communicating with the outside world . So let's get (re-)started....There has been a lot of talk about mindfulness this days and lots of expensive courses to teach you "how to do it". Why is this approach so popular and is it worth the time to learn and practice it? I'm going to suggest that yes, it is. And that's because practicing mindfulness gives your brain a chance to allow old, less useful/unproductive "thought ruts" to weaken and change. That means you're less likely to just automatically go down the same old thought and feeling-roads you may be taking that cause you distress. I've had a couple of posts on this topic in the past, but I recently received an email about a free introduction to mindfulness -- and since courses can be so darn expensive -- free looked like a good thing to share with you. It's soon, but there's still time to let the presenters know you're interesed. I'm (with their permission) just going to share the exact content of their notice. Since I'm not affiliated with these folks, please do get back to them directly if you're interested. (But do feel free to say you found out about it here!) Here we go...

Brains in Motion: Following our Brain's Dance

In a conversation with a group of coaches interested in the brain, a number of elegant metaphors emerged from thinking about the brain not as a collection of anatomical structures, but a system moving through time, creating, discovering, and dissolving patterns.

One of these was the dance -- the fluid, graceful movments of dancing.

And interestingly, "movement" applies to creating "movement" around areas of "stuckness" and to one of the core principles underlying how the brain operates -- constant, unending movement.

So what do we know about movement?