Brain Tweaking

SOME RESERVATIONS

I’m not suggesting this book as a ‘must read’ for everyone; it might be your cup of tea and it might not. In particular, it’s not going to help you with overeating or any other addictive behavior. This is a book about hardwiring happiness, so this is fair enough.

The reason I’m thrilled with it is partly because I’ve felt it working for me already, and partly because it’s a big step in an important direction. It’s going to contribute to making neuroplasticity more of a normal and natural part of life. And, most importantly, doable. Hanson clearly shows that the processes that encourage a palpable sense of happiness and resilience are quite subtle shifts in thinking that can take place in seconds, just a few times in a day.

The value is in knowing what we’re doing, and a few details about how. Having a ‘use it or lose it’ brain doesn’t mean we’re in danger of losing it totally if we do nothing but sit in front of a TV all day in a drunken stupor. The brain survives, certainly enough to get us to the kitchen for another beer from time to time. The question is, do we just want to survive or do we want to survive well, and even thrive?

However, Hanson does have a very peculiar blind spot, which is a shame, because this in no way undermines the value of neuroplasticity nor the value of most of what he’s writing about. This flaw shows up very clearly on page 186, where Hanson writes about the impact of the body on the brain:

“Most of the inputs into your brain come from inside your body rather than from your external environment. This is because your brain needs to know, moment by moment, how your internal organs are doing to make sure you’re okay… Even small shifts in your sense of breathing, heart rate, digestion, or facial expression can produce large changes in your thoughts and feelings.”

All of this is excellent, but he continues…

“This tight linkage between mind and body gives you a powerful way to rest in a growing sense of calm and ease, since most of the time your body is doing fine. Its messages up to your brain are usually like the reassuring calls of a night watchman: “All is well, all is well.”

Perhaps in an ideal world, but a significant number of people are receiving messages from their bodies more along the lines of “HELP!!!” This is especially relevant for those living with some degree of depression or anxiety. (2, 3, 4, 5)

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