Remember what you promised yourself on New Year’s Day?
The problem is that, a few weeks from now, most of us won’t. Next month most resolutions will be distant memories, gone from our daily routines.
Why is that? The explanation is that we are hard-wired against change. And there are good and useful reasons for that.
As a child we learn how life works. We learn to talk and walk and we learn that we cannot put our hands in fire. We store all that acquired knowledge somewhere in our memory that’s operated by our brain. Our brain automates these procedures like a computer and stores the information in our subconscious. Just imagine having to consciously think about how to walk each time you move. Without brain automation and our subconscious, our lives would be impossible.
Here’s the problem: We don’t only store the useful stuff like how to walk and talk. We also store and automate many unhelpful conclusions. As a 5-year old, we may have had some unpleasant experiences. Perhaps there was stress because your mother or father lost a job. Because of the stress you received less attention—love—from your parents and somehow you concluded that there was something wrong with you. You started feeling insecure, unloved, unworthy… Wrong conclusion. Nonetheless, in our clever system such a response gets automated too and a sense of unworthiness gets hard-wired.
Many of us have seen therapists and discovered such patterns. Yet I know from my personal experience how hard it is to change something that is, after all, part of your subconscious. Even if you consciously recognize a pattern, how do you change the subconscious “code”?
The answer is neurofeedback or neurotherapy. These practices manipulate the way the brain processes information to reduce stress, help repair damaged brains, enhance creativity and improve mental health.
Neurons, the billions of cells in our brains, transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. The brain’s electrical impulses take the form of waves that researchers categorize by frequency, the number of times they repeat each second. An overabundance or deficiency at one of these frequencies often correlates to conditions such as stress, depression and learning disabilities. Neurotherapy reads these waves, feeds them into a computer and translates them into visual, audible or tactile form. By seeing, hearing or touching your brain waves, you can (re)train your brain to produce desired levels of activity and you can clean up its overstressed parts or self-sabotaging processes.
There is a growing body of evidence showing neurotherapy’s potential benefits for a range of mental health issues, from seizures to learning disabilities to substance abuse. Writer Blaine Greteman gives a good overview in a 2009 article in Ode magazine, the predecessor of The Intelligent Optimist.
Ever since we published that article I have wanted to join one of the world’s leading neurotherapy pioneers, Marty Wuttke, for a personal neurofeedback treatment. Together with his wife, Wuttke runs the Wuttke Institute in Santa Barbara, California. Wuttke offers single neurofeedback sessions, but his signature treatment is a two-week, twice-a-day intensive that produces, in his experience, the best results in the most efficient period of time.
In November I finally experienced the treatment, and I look back at a powerful experience with lasting effects. Midway through the program I reported to Wuttke that I sensed there was more “space” in my head. I had never experienced much pressure inside my head—I’m not a headache person—but since my neurofeedback treatments I keep feeling a new sense of relaxation. I respond differently, in a more relaxed way, to situations that used to provoke stress—a clear sign that my brain uses different pathways to process information. Wuttke is a meditation teacher as well, and he advises daily meditation to maintain (brain) health. And my meditation has benefitted—my mind becomes quiet more quickly, and I seem to reach a deeper level.
Over the years, I have searched for programs and practices that help people “get rid of their pasts,” as so many lives are sabotaged by past experiences. After my sessions with Wuttke I’m convinced that I know no more effective way to “re-set” yourself than neurofeedback. It takes an effort—mostly time—but almost everyone experiences major progress on issues from simply too much stress to addiction, and from PTSD and ADHD to self-sabotaging behavior. The world would be a very, very different place if Wuttke could realize his dream to integrate neurofeedback into regular schools. Unfortunately, that’s still a distant possibility. Meanwhile, I encourage you to check out Wuttke’s two-week intensive program. It’s a deeply healing experience and I can’t think of a better way to support your New Year’s resolutions.