You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life – Jeffrey M Schwartz, M.D.

Here are my comments on the book:

How can you change bad habits, end unhealthy thinking and take back control of your life? Dr. Jeffrey M Schwartz, American psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroplasticity and its application to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), states that it can all be done with a 4-step solution: 1) Relabeling, 2) Reframing, 3) Refocusing, and 4) Revalue. Relabeling is where you first “[i]dentify your deceptive brain messages and the uncomfortable sensations; call them what they really are.” Reframing is where you “[c]hange your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages; say why these thoughts, urges, and impulses keep bothering you: They are false brain messages (It’s not ME, it’s just my BRAIN!).” Refocusing is where you then “[d]irect your attention toward an activity or mental process that is wholesome and productive—even while the false and deceptive urges, thoughts, impulses, and sensations are still present and bothering you.” Lastly, revaluing is where you “[c]learly see the thoughts, urges, and impulses for what they are, simply sensations caused by deceptive brain messages that are not true and that have little to no value (they are something to dismiss, not focus on).”

For those of you who are looking for a book on either getting rid of bad habits, ending unhealthy thinking/thoughts, or wanting to get rid of unpleasant compulsiveness and to regain control of your life again, then this book may be for you. If you’re a person who loves success stories then you’ll probably enjoy this book. I personally didn’t like how the author repeatedly referred back to several individuals and how the actions that he suggested to them have changed their lives. Although Jeffrey Schwartz does suggest some other great ideas besides the 4-step solution, this book essentially refers back to the 4-step solution. This book is, in my opinion, 30% quality content and 70% fluff. Nonetheless, you can still learn something from this book.


My rating:
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Check out the book here:
Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK


Here are some of the points to the book:

1. The first step to any sort of change, is having an awareness that there’s a “problem” regardless of what you’re trying to change. How can you begin to recognize the false, negative thoughts associated with your actions and uncomfortable sensations? One of the best ways to ‘see’ the deceptive thoughts is to be attentive to your ‘negative self-talk’—those things you automatically say to yourself without awareness that are not true and that others might never even suspect were present inside your head. You may have already been exposed to the idea of such deceptive brain messages, just under a different name. Some therapists or authors might refer to them as ‘cognitive distortions,’ ‘automatic thoughts,’ ‘negative thinking,’ or ‘scripts.’ The main point is that these are the disparaging stories you tell yourself—the inaccurate explanations you give for why something is happening the way it is—that cause you to act in habitual ways that are not beneficial to you.” He later states, The key to succeeding, then, is not merely education and fear tactics, but an awareness that overcoming rote, automatic neural pathways takes an incredible amount of effort, patience, and dedication. Not only do you have to clearly see that you are engaging in these actions and that they are hurting you, you have to expend the effort and energy to recruit different brain pathways and make different choices each time you are confronted with the urge to follow your old ways. It is the same struggle we talked about previously: giving in to short-term rewards and enticements at the expense of long-term gains. It is the dilemma of satiating the brain-based messages in the moment versus choosing actions that are aligned with your goals and values (i.e., your true self). The ultimate goal is seeing that you are far more than your deceptive brain messages and that you can make choices that are in your genuine best interest.


2. We all seek out the “5 As” from others: attention, acceptance, affection, appreciation, and allowing. The antidote to those deceptive brain messages, they learned, was using the Four Steps to truly see that those negative brain messages were absolutely false. In truth, they were good people who strove for what we all want—to be loved, valued, and appreciated for who we are and to form healthy, wholesome relationships with other people. Psychologist and mindfulness expert David Richo, Ph.D., has focused on how these healthy connections are formed and what is needed to keep them alive. He describes the “5 A’s” as the qualities and gifts we all naturally seek out from the important people in our lives, including family, friends, and especially partners. What are these 5 A’s? • Attention —genuine interest in you, what you like and dislike, what inspires and motivates you without being overbearing or intrusive. You experience being heard and noticed. • Acceptance — genuinely embracing your interests, desires, activities, and preferences as they are without trying to alter or change them in any way. • Affection —physical comforting as well as compassion. • Appreciation —encouragement and gratitude for who you are, as you are. • Allowing —it is safe to be yourself and express all that you feel, even if it is not entirely polite or socially acceptable. What Richo is describing, in essence, are those genuine needs we have that form the basis of secure, healthy relationships. The 5 A’s are what we all should have received most of the time from our caregivers when we were growing up. They are also what we want in our adult relationships today.


3. Repetition, regardless on whatever it is, is the key to success. This point has been proven by others who have studied success. Repetition is what’s required to a level of mastery. A key to success, all of our patients agree, is wholesome repetition—literally just continuing to complete the Four Steps over and over while not acting on the deceptive brain messages. Over time, it becomes second nature because the ‘habit’ of turning to the Four Steps to effectively deal with erroneous messages becomes ingrained in your brain. In essence, using the Four Steps to deal with stress or upsetting situations becomes your new, healthy response and replaces the unhealthy habits you have been using. Kara agrees: ‘Practice makes perfect. Just follow the steps, follow the four R’s, and you will notice results. It worked for me—you notice some kind of result pretty much right away. Once you’ve done your first Refocus, there’s a sense of achievement, and if you just keep at it, it will become gradually easier. Be patient—feeling like you’ve had a success spurs you on to keep going.’


4. There’s no difference between physical pain and the pain of isolation in our brains. Having said that, socialize more and don’t isolate yourself from others. Why is it that you feel pain whenever your needs are being neglected, ignored, dismissed, devalued, minimized, overindulged, or hyperfocused on? Researchers at UCLA, led by Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D., wanted answers to these kinds of questions, so they studied what happens in your brain when you are socially excluded. In one such experiment, they asked participants to play a virtual ball-tossing game with two other people while in a brain scanner. The participants were told that their goal was to keep passing the ball around to the other two players (who actually were computer simulations controlled by the researchers)—in essence, to adhere to basic social norms by politely sharing the ball with their counterparts. Unbeknownst to them, the goal of this experiment was to break that social contract and see what happened in the participants’ brains. When the inevitable moment occurred and the two other ‘players’ stopped throwing the ball to the person in the scanner, that person reported feeling excluded. In those moments, the person’s Uh Oh Center started firing—thus indicating that social exclusion had ‘registered.’ What is most interesting about these findings is that the part of the Uh Oh Center that started firing is the same area that is activated whenever the body experiences the distressing aspects of physical pain. This means that the same part of the brain that processes the emotions related to physical pains also deals similarly with social pain s—and it explains why the uncomfortable sensations associated with deceptive brain messages feel so strong and true: The Uh Oh Center intensely fires in both situations. In a very real way, your body experiences the pain of social distress in the same way as the pain of physical distress because the same area in the brain generates the feelings and sensations.


5. Don’t bottle up your emotions as it’s unhealthy for you. In addition to Eisenberger’s and Lieberman’s brain research, James Gross, Ph.D., of Stanford University has found that changing your relationship to your deceptive brain messages and experiences (as you do when you Reframe) can have a beneficial impact on your body and blood pressure. In one of his experiments, he showed people a ‘disgusting arm amputation’ and then instructed them to (a) reappraise the situation in a way that makes the images less upsetting, such as telling yourself you are just ‘watching a medical video,’ (b) just watch (with no instructions provided), or (c) hide their emotional reaction so that it does not show on their faces (i.e., suppress their emotional reactions). Interestingly, he found that suppressing emotional reactions led to increased blood pressure , likely by increasing the levels of stress hormones, whereas just watching and reappraising did not. Gross followed this work with an experiment that demonstrated that suppressing emotions resulted in decreased memory of information and events . Participants were shown slides depicting injured men while they received verbal information about each man shown. When the participants were later given memory tests related to the stories of the men, the people who suppressed their emotions scored the lowest. Gross concluded from this experiment that suppressing your true responses is unhealthy because it causes the brain to dedicate significant resources to the act of suppressing, which results in less memory of events and impaired learning of new information. As significant, Gross showed that suppressing or hiding your reactions can negatively affect those around you. In this study, he showed a movie to pairs of women and asked them to discuss their reactions with each other. One of the women in the pair was told to suppress, reappraise, or respond naturally, while the other woman was in the dark about these instructions. Interestingly, Gross found that when the women suppressed their reactions, their counterparts experienced significant increases in blood pressure . This did not happen when the women reappraised the videos or watched naturally.


By Ryan Timothy Lee


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