Why Perfectionism Is a Hazard


Let’s face it: No baby thinks, “Oh, no! I didn’t roll over perfectly.” That’s because perfectionism is not part of our DNA. Instead, it’s a way of thinking that some of us adopt—somewhere in our life—where we’ve now convinced our brain . . . this is who we are.

And that’s why people who consider themselves to be perfectionists often wear that description like a badge. For example, they’ll even smile as they explain to others, “Well, I am a perfectionist.”

Do you wish you could turn that can (to match the rest)?

Of course, they wouldn’t do that if perfectionism behavior wasn’t viewed positively by most of the world. In other words, people don’t usually smile and share with others, “I’m quite a jerk.” Or, “I’m such a liar.”

Now, it should come as no surprise that the world of marketing is hugely invested in perpetuating perfectionism. After all, the desire to be “perfect” is a strong motivator to keep buying more and more products.

Society, in general, also supports perfectionism. Family members, friends, teachers, bosses and more all send both conscious and subconscious messages that we could always be doing something a bit better, right? In fact, there’s usually one or more people in a perfectionist’s life who responds in ways that keeps the perfectionism “alive.”

So then, what is the dictionary’s definition of a perfectionist? Well, we find phrases such as “a person with an attitude that demands perfection” and “someone who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.” Yet, interestingly, we don’t usually view people who are demanding or those who refuse to accept flaws in a very positive light. In fact, we often frame such people as inflexible, rigid, and uncompromising.

A Brain Doesn’t Even “Get” Perfectionism

It turns out that our brain thrives whenever we’re presented with a challenge—so long as that challenge is within reach. Something too simple, and the brain is bored. Something too hard, and the brain shuts down. But when learning happens at what is referred to as the “sweet spot,” our brain does a happy dance. The problem is . . . perfectionism doesn’t co-exist with hanging out in our sweet spot.

For example, suppose a soccer coach has the team shooting goals from a set distance during practice. Now, Player 1 may give the illusion of doing this challenge perfectly when she makes 10 out of 10 shots—especially if others perceive that as a “perfect” score. But, in truth, Player 1’s brain is bored. There’s no learning here, no change in her brain. That distance was too easy for her present skill level, and so she does not improve during that practice.

However, suppose Player 2 misses 9 out of 10 shots. Well, since that distance was too challenging for her present skill level, there’s also no learning or improvement in her brain. But something else has happened with Player 2. By repeatedly engaging in a challenge that was not within reach, her brain switched to survival mode— which, ironically, then additionally decreased the probability of her making a shot.

Yet, what if Player 3 makes 8 out of 10 shots? Bingo! For that player, the coach’s distance WAS her sweet spot.

Unless . . . Player 3 believes she’s a perfectionist. If so, she now likely engages in negative self-talk as she fixates on the two shots that she didn’t make. And she won’t agree that she’s ready to practice shooting from a distance a bit further back. No way. That might make her look even worse! Instead, she convinces herself that she needs to keep repeating this drill, again and again, until she can do it perfectly.

But, in her quest for perfectionism, Player 3 doesn’t improve her overall athletic ability. For example, suppose she eventually makes 10 out of 10 shots during practice. So what? Those exact conditions won’t be replicated in a game. Even if Player 3 shoots from the same distance, game performance has a much higher level of intensity than practice. And in a game, Player 3 is hardly going to risk shooting from distances further than from whatever she “mastered” during practice. She’ll be too afraid that she’ll miss the goal—and then look stupid for even trying.

Why Perfectionism Keeps Us in Survival Mode

Since perfectionists live with continual anxiety, they’re often preoccupied with maintaining whatever image they’ve been trying to project. In response to such anxiety, the perfectionist’s answer is to work harder, accomplish more.

But that answer is not sustainable, especially since perfectionism is an illusion. So, sooner or later, that brain hits its threshold, whereupon it then shifts into survival mode. Once in survival mode, the brain now only has three ways to respond: fight, flight, or freeze.

And so, fight, flight, and freeze reactions become automated responses among those who have crowned themselves perfectionists. Most commonly, long-standing perfectionists resort to flight behavior. That’s because it’s easier to avoid or postpone doing whatever until everything lines up perfectly than to stay on the never-ending treadmill of working harder and harder.

However, that doesn’t mean those same perfectionists don’t articulate, often quite eloquently, convincing arguments as to why they haven’t started or completed something, to the point they may even sound like they’re being quite thoughtful by doing their (disguised) flight behavior. But if there’s any doubt that such reactions are flight behavior, try pushing perfectionists to move forward. Watch how quickly that nice flight behavior turns into fight behavior. That’s because (as far as the brain is concerned) flight and fight reactions are both survival responses.

But the truth is . . . perfectionism is just masked fear — and fear is always a lower brain reaction. So, the perfectionists’ never-ending fear keeps them in perpetual survival mode.

However, that continual stress response then affects our physical and mental health. For example, if we remain in survival mode over time, we end up with increased levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol are associated with insomnia, inflammation, depression, as well as problems with memory and focus. Sure seems like quite a high price to pay . . . to avoid making a mistake.

How Perfectionism Affects Relationships

Perfectionists are often overly critical of how they acted (or didn’t act). However, such negative thoughts aren’t compatible with feeling and showing compassion to ourselves and others. So, perfectionists may come across to the rest of the world as generally being frustrated, unkind, unhappy people.

Perfectionists also tend to impose their perfection on family members, as well—and that’s when relationships go south. While a perfectionist may believe she’s being helpful when insisting on a higher standard or to do something the “right” way, she can’t control how others hear her judgement, corrections, and criticism.

Consequently, those on the receiving end of a perfectionist have two options. They’ll either resist whatever perfectionism is being “forced” upon them—or they’ll inherit it (and all the fear that comes with it). It’s that latter scenario that ensures perfectionism becomes transgenerational.

But it doesn’t stop there. Maintaining a perfectionism mindset requires copious amounts of time and energy. For example, perfectionists often work overtime to conceal their own imperfections or to project an image of perfection or to work on something until it’s “perfect.”

Perfectionists also have difficulty letting something go—so they’ll keep thinking about what happened or how they “failed” in the past. Yet, all that time and energy takes away time from being present and enjoying family and friends.

Perfectionism can additionally interfere with work relationships. For example, most of us would not choose a boss who assigns a project and then commands, “Now do it RIGHT.”  Or, we may dread a boss who looks at whatever we complete and often says, “That’s all wrong. Do it again.”

Sure, the perfectionist boss may spin such reactions as merely holding employees to high standards. But that boss hasn’t provided any specifics. Instead, she leaves it to her employees to read her mind as to what is “right.”

Of course, employees can also be the ones who are perfectionists. This often shows up when such staff delays starting a project (out of fear someone will discover they don’t know how to do the assignment) or when they keep re-doing whatever they’ve been assigned (out of fear that it still isn’t perfect).

Yet, more times than not, these staff members end up missing a deadline. In such case, their boss may now become irritated when he doesn’t have the report he needs. If the boss expresses his annoyance, such employees may then get defensive or blame someone for the present situation. (Perfectionists commonly look at others for the reason something didn’t go well.) That’s because perfectionists don’t usually realize how often their perfectionism causes friction and a disconnect with others.

Defending Perfectionism

Some people will argue (often quite vehemently) a case for perfectionism. They’ll cite examples of when mastery is critical, and when sloppiness is problematic. They’ll insist there IS a right way and wrong way to do something. They’ll also attest that perfectionism is a healthy motivation for reaching ambitious goals, and that extraordinary high standards are what produces world-class athletes and other renown people, both in the past and present.

But here’s the first problem with such thinking. Mastery, sloppiness, right and wrong are all subjective perceptions.

Second, when we’re attached to perfectionism, we’ve allowed the all-or-nothing brain to now highjack how we view life. Here, we’ve chosen to live in a world of extremes, where there is no middle ground. For example, we now believe that those who don’t set the highest standards must be operating from the lowest expectations, right? Anything less than perfect (whatever that’s perceived to be) is unacceptable. So results—not ever the process—is all that’s important, leaving no room for mistakes.

Of course, that latter thought, alone, causes problems since the brain loves “wrapping myelin,” a neurological process that naturally happens as we learn . . . from mistakes. Of course, avoiding mistakes also negates how many famous inventions (post-its, microwaves, penicillin, Coca-Cola, potato chips—to name just a few among such discoveries) are part of our lives today—but only because someone originally made a mistake, didn’t get something right.

And, perhaps, this is the biggest difference between perfectionists and others who also work towards a goal, who regularly tweak and even redo something to improve their first attempt. The perfectionist is motivated and driven by fear that something “bad” will happen if the goal isn’t attained or if something isn’t done perfectly. With that persisting belief, the perfectionist has now eliminated all joy from the process. The perfectionist has conflated a desire to improve with a demand to be perfect.

The perfectionist additionally gives up the option of just being “okay” with something, if (whatever) is not exactly as originally imagined or preferred. For example, there’s nothing wrong with choosing to place toilet paper rolls, all in a straight line, inside the bathroom cabinet. That action, alone, does not infer perfectionism.

It’s what happens if one of those rolls is now not lined up “perfectly.” Does seeing that wayward roll create angst? (The perfectionist will want to immediately put it back in its place.) Or, does seeing that out-of-place roll generate an angry reaction? (The perfectionist might shout, “WHO messed this up!”)

Disabling Perfectionism

Here’s the good news. If we were the ones who created our perfectionism highways, then we’re also the ones who can disable such circuitry. However, we can’t just tell someone (or ourselves), “Stop being a perfectionist.” That’s not how the brain works.

First, our brain needs to believe that perfectionism is no longer serving us well. Then—especially since we’ve already likely automated our perfectionist highways—we need to DO lots of actions that give our brain a chance to experience that life without perfectionism is more enjoyable than one that chases that illusion.

Here are some simple ideas to get started in that direction.

1. Post these signs as helpful reminders:

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Showing up is better than perfect.

2. Engage in zany activities where it’s impossible for anyone (including ourselves) to say we did it perfectly.

3. Decide that failure doesn’t exists (read Why Failure is a Hoax).

4. Toss the word “perfect” from daily vocabulary. For example, no longer frame someone as the “perfect little girl” or that whatever someone said or did was “just perfect.”

5. Do something and celebrate only the process—not the result.

Last Thoughts

What if some perfectionists now think: “Okay, perhaps, that mindset hasn’t been serving me well.” But suppose those same perfectionists try the disabling perfectionism ideas and then conclude, “Well, none of those worked. I’m still a perfectionist.”

If so, here’s the irony. Those people were trying to disable their perfectionism circuity . . . perfectly, with that same prior all-or-nothing mindset.

So, beware of that gotcha trap. And recall that merely deciding to focus on the process—without any attachment to the outcome—is already going to make huge changes in a perfectionist’s brain. That’s because being a perfectionist was never about making a perfect world; it was about thinking we needed to live in a perfect world and then vigilantly pursuing that illusion.


Why Failure is a Hoax


Most of us think failure is real—even though it’s not. It turns out humans—all on their very own– fabricated failure, plain and simple.

So then, how did this failure hoax ever gain traction? After all, it’s not as though babies think they failed to sleep through the night or failed to roll over by some arbitrary date.

Yet, at one point in our lives, most of us “buy” into the idea that we can and have failed. And then, we spend much of our life dreading and avoiding more failure, or we feel miserable about all those prior times we thought we had failed.

At what age . . . do we start thinking we can fail?

Unfortunately, both scenarios contribute to a lot of never-ending stress—that wouldn’t be there if we didn’t believe in failure. So, who’s invested in keeping this hoax going?

For starters—advertisers. It should come as no surprise that advertisers perpetuate our fear of failure all the time. Marketing campaigns are intentionally designed to make us believe that we may fail at being healthy or smart or safe or anything else we think we could fail at –unless, of course, we now buy whatever they’re selling.

Ordinary people can also, unknowing, perpetuate the failure hoax. That’s because if a co-worker failed at (whatever)—but I didn’t–I may now momentarily feel better about myself.

If so, my brain may come to view failure as something that’s beneficial to me, that is . . . until I’m the one who can’t do whatever.

But worst of all, believing in failure clouds our brain’s ability to see acts of courage. How is that possible?

Well, ponder how we might view an action differently if failure isn’t an option. For example, did we fail to make the soccer team, or did we show courage by trying out, knowing that not everyone would be chosen? Did we fail to convince our boss of a new plan, or did we show courage for presenting a completely different solution?

And now, consider how those contrasting views result in different, long-term brain wiring.

The brain that sees failure will likely activate need-to-play-it-safe circuitry (to avoid possible failure) whenever presented with new opportunities. But the brain that sees courage will likely activate safe-to-take-risks circuitry for those very same opportunities. Down the line, which of those brain profiles ensures someone will discover his or her passion and explore new ideas and experiences?

Also, if we think failure is real, then what about the concept of timing? For example, just maybe, we didn’t get the promotion because we still need to acquire certain skills and, therefore, will be better at the position at another time. Or, maybe there’s a completely different job—one that we’d enjoy even more than the one we hoped we’d get. But the timing for that isn’t quite right (i.e. the other job isn’t open at this moment).

If we believe in failure, then we must also think that we’re the only person in the world with a story to unfold. Here, we don’t even consider that, perhaps, we didn’t get the job because . . . it was someone else’s turn. It could be a simple as that.

Believing in failure also means we’re ignoring how the brain works. Since there’s a never-ending overflow of information flooding our brain at every second, the brain is always challenged with, “What should I pay attention to right now?”

Well, we’re more likely to catch our brain’s attention when something doesn’t go as planned. When that happens, we’re given an opportunity to reflect, re-calibrate, re-do which (in terms of what’s happening in the brain) now wraps myelin around neurons—a process that’s quite beneficial to our brain.

Yet, we’re going to bypass all those great myelin-wrapping opportunities and ways to improve our neural circuitry if we go straight to, “I failed.” That single thought “turns off” the cortex, the part of our brain where we see options.  And now, our lower centers of the brain–the part that triggers fight, flight, and freeze responses—is firing away.

Yes, some people try to soften the idea of failure by saying: “It’s okay to fail.” Or: “Failure is good because it motivates us to try harder.” Yet, such thinking still perpetuates the belief that failure even exists and, again, ignores how the brain works.

Namely, if we’ve stored memories of failing, then just hearing the word “fail” can be enough to trigger a stress response.  And once that happens, good luck thinking any other part of a message is going to register.

Of course, if there’s no failure, then there also can be no success. We can’t have one—and not the other. Yet, it’s interesting how many people may consider giving up failure, while vigorously defending that success, though, is very real.

Keep in mind: Tossing aside failure and success is not the same as saying we now forego feeling emotions. Hardly.

Once more, from the brain’s perspective, emotions are neither good nor bad. Rather, all emotions are merely sensations. We’re supposed to feel them, and then . . .  they’re supposed to pass. So, we wouldn’t want to skip this part of an experience, especially since emotions are what often then motivate us to take certain action.

However, instead of passing, there’s one emotion that often burrows inside us. That emotion is shame.

So, if our brain has failure circuitry, there’s a good chance that shame is also part of that wiring. And since “neurons that wire together, fire together,” every time we think we failed, we’ll now also feel shame.  Or, every time we feel shame, we’ll now also think we failed somehow. Sounds exhausting—and certainly not like a brain wired for an upbeat, positive life.

Okay. Suppose we do decide there’s no failure and no success. Then what? Well, now we can view life as a never-ending series of opportunities to learn.

Wow. Think how freeing—and life-changing—that single thought might be.

Changing My Brain . . . Changed My PTSD


April, our guest blogger, is currently participating in the Brain Highways program with her children. Here, she shares her first-hand experiences with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—and how that has now dramatically changed.

Eight weeks ago, I enrolled in the Brain Highways Pons course. I was looking for help for my kids regarding some behavioral problems. What I did not anticipate was how much the Brian Highways program would help me with my Post Traumatic Stress issues.

When I was deployed, I didn't know about incomplete lower brain development.


I was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan in 2014.  During my deployment, there was an insider shooting, and 15 of my coworkers were shot.  Additionally, right as I returned home, there was an IED explosion that killed two more of my coworkers.

Once home, I had great difficulty sleeping.  I would wake up in the middle of the night, completely panicked, with a full-blown adrenaline rush.  I would also go into full-blown panic mode if someone approached my car.  My brain was back to IEDs, even though I was safe and sound at home.

I hated going out in crowds because I was so hyper-vigilant. The things that once brought me joy, like professional sporting events or a concert, were now a source of great anxiety.  My family was constantly on edge because they never knew when an encounter would lead to a confrontation or us having to leave because I could no longer deal with being in a crowd.

After a few weeks of integrating primitive reflexes, creeping, and learning about the brain, something wonderful occurred.  I slept through the night! It was the first time in almost three years that I had slept for an entire night.

As the weeks continued, the nights of restful sleep grew more frequent.  Additionally, thanks to the techniques I learned during the program, if I woke in the panicked state, I could now calm myself and sometimes even get back to sleep.

My entire family has benefited from a well-rested parent, who is not exhausted.  Even better, I was recently able to go to my son’s seventh birthday party at a crowded kids’ place–and truly enjoy the event!  I was not so anxious and on guard that I missed out on the fun.

In the pons course, I learned that my reactive lower brain did its job (so thank you) when I was in Afghanistan, when I was in true life-or-death situations. However, that kind of reactivity was not serving me well in my normal daily actions at home.

So, thank you, Brian Highways, for helping me finish my lower brain development, for teaching me how to calm my brain (so that I can return to my cortex, if needed), and for giving me back the life I once had.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about the connection of incomplete lower brain development and PTSD, listen to the audio, “How might PTSD improve with brain organization? (https://brainhighways.com/adults-physical-and-mental-health), or read the transcript (https://brainhighways.com/transcript-how-might-ptsd-improve-with-brain-organization).

Bedwetting, Accidents, Bathroom Phobias: From a Brain’s Perspective


Bedwetting, urinary accidents during the day, and bathroom-related phobias can weigh heavily on kids, especially as they age and such problems persist. For example, if I’m 10 and I wet the bed, how do I go to slumber parties or summer camp? If I have an accident during the day, how will I cover it up so no one knows? If I have distorted fears about going into a bathroom by myself, how does that affect my overall life?

There may be a connection between bedwetting and incomplete lower brain development.

But more times than not, no one is asking, “How might brain circuitry be related to each of those problems?”

So, here are some of those answers.

Bedwetting and Accidents

It turns out . . . we don’t have just five       senses—as we’ve all been taught. We have vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems, as well.

Now, when these systems are functioning as intended, we acquire automatic functions. But if such sensory systems are not operating efficiently, bedwetting and accidents during the day (among many other behaviors) may result. Here’s why.

When we have good proprioception, our brain naturally “senses” when it’s time to eliminate. But here, our proprioceptive system will signal us before it’s ever urgent. In other words, people with good proprioception have a grace period between getting that information and having to act.

Yet, that’s not often the case for those with poor proprioception. Their brain may only get that signal at the very same moment it’s now no longer an option to wait.

So, can the brain learn to compensate for poor proprioception? Yes, but there’s always a trade-off whenever we compensate.

For example, a child who has poor proprioception may now have to rely on his cortex to ensure there are no daily accidents. But requiring the cortex to additionally direct its attention to a job that it isn’t intended to do . . . means it’s now less available to learn and do other cortex functions. In other words, every brain can only direct its attention to so much at any given time.

Also, if we’re relying on compensations—then we’re vulnerable, meaning we can’t always count on our compensations to work. So, if a child with poor proprioception becomes very engaged in an activity, he may consequently have an accident. In such case, the cortex was so preoccupied with the activity that it “forgot” to do its extra job.

Likewise, if we have good vestibular and proprioceptive processing, we may take for granted that we automatically sense that we need to go to the bathroom while we’re asleep, and that our vestibular system then wakes us up to do so. Yet, note that many kids with poor vestibular processing already have a difficult time waking up in the morning. So, they’re not likely going to wake up in the middle of the night—when they’re sound asleep—to make a trip to the bathroom.

Of course, there can be other reasons a child wets the bed or has accidents during the day. But if traditional solutions have not worked, then a lower brain connection becomes more probable. I cannot even begin to count how many Brain Highways parents have gleefully reported that their kids longer no wet their bed or have accidents during the day.


Bathroom Phobias

Some kids fear going into large public restrooms, such as those in an airport. But if they have incomplete lower brain development, there may be a physiological reason for their apprehension.

For example, some of those kids may process the sound of a toilet flushing very differently than others. What does that mean? Well, imagine however we ordinarily hear a toilet flushing has now been amplified ten-fold, twenty-fold in its volume—and there are four or five toilets flushing at the same time.

Well, that may be what some kids are experiencing whenever they’re inside a large public restroom. That’s why these kids will often even resist entering such places. If made to do so, they’ll then put their hands over their ears and become very stressed. Yet, if we heard toilet flushing as they do, we’d respond in the same way.

Learning about our brain’s amygdala may be helpful when understanding how other bathroom phobias—that aren’t directly related to incomplete lower brain development—originated in the first place. For example, suppose a child has been constipated for a long time, and so, she then experiences pain when she’s finally able to go.

In such case, her brain stores that memory with that pain. In other words, elimination and pain have now been “wired together” in her brain. So, whenever she just thinks about having to eliminate in the future, her amygdala is triggered (Danger! Impending threat! Avoid pain!), and her amygdala now responds by sending a stress response to her entire body.

Yet, without understanding how to disable this kind of unproductive wiring, a child’s fear of elimination will likely escalate. That’s because this child’s brain now believes it is helpful to refrain from eliminating. After all, the brain is naturally wired to avoid pain. But, of course, the longer the child withholds, the more likely there will be pain, perpetuating a cycle that has now become an unproductive “learned” response in terms of brain circuitry.

Other kids may have different “learned” bathroom phobias. For example, some kids believe they can’t enter a bathroom—in their very own home—without someone accompanying them. But, again, once we understand how to disable such unproductive circuitry, such behaviors are truly eliminated.

And so, that’s why learning how to complete our lower brain development (if incomplete), as well as how to eliminate any unproductive, learned behavior is often viewed as miraculous. But without question, there’s a huge relief when the frustration, embarrassment—and even shame—associated with kids wetting their bed, having urinary accidents during the day or being held “captive” by bathroom phobias . . . are no longer part of a family’s life.

How to Toss Stressful Thoughts


When we understand how the brain works, we can’t get around this fact: We act on our thoughts. So, to create a thriving brain—as compared to one that’s prone to being stressed—we need to make sure we only keep thoughts that are helpful to us.

When we toss stressful thoughts from our brain—it’s a whole new world.

So, how do we do that?

Well, we can start with any thought, and then answer five questions. For example, here’s a thought shared by most people:  Kids have to finish worksheets and homework assignments before moving on to something else. But now, rather than automatically accepting that statement as fact, we ask ourselves these questions.

 The Questions

1.  Says who?

No one was born believing kids have to finish worksheets and homework assignments before moving on, right? But we often forget that our thoughts are a cumulation of what we’ve either inherited from others or formulated all on our own throughout our lifetime.

So, to remind us of that truth, we start this process with a little attitude. “Says who?” challenges our brain to think, “Where did that thought originate?” Moreover, if we’re going to carry that thought with us (for maybe the rest of our life), it seems like we should know that answer.

Well, what if we think the thought came from an expert or someone in authority? Then, we’d ask: How did that source come to believe it? We’d also want to ponder whether that source is relevant today or to our own situation. For example, many of our current educational policies were created during an industrial revolution and reflected how people lived in the 1800’s.

But what if we discover we’re the sole source of our thought? If so, then we’d ask, “What makes me credible? My past experiences? But even if so, why do I keep bringing my past . . . to the present?”


2.  How much money would I invest in believing this thought is a FACT that no one could dispute?

If we wouldn’t invest much or anything, that suggests we know (on some level) the thought is not a factual statement—that it’s just a perception. Yet, we most often parade our perceptions as facts, which then prevents us from moving forward.

For example, if we view the perception that kids must finish their work as a fact, we probably won’t be open to learning how that belief contradicts with how the brain learns naturally. We probably also won’t be willing to explore why this requirement doesn’t always contribute to learning, and in some cases, has quite a negative effect.


3.  How does believing that perception is FACT affect my own and others’ lives?

This question is important because it reminds us that we act on what we think. So, here are some possible ways this thought (I believe kids must complete worksheets and homework by a designated time) might impact many people’s lives.

(If I’m the teacher and I believe this is fact)

I have to hold kids accountable for completing their work and then discipline them if they do not do so. If a child does not complete his work on a regular basis, I will have to contact his parents to discuss this—which may or may not go well—and may still not move the situation forward. This belief may interfere with creating a positive connection with such kids because I’m constantly having to address their incomplete work. Since some kids in my classroom will finish the work on time, I may inadvertently create a hierarchy among my students—where kids who finish their work on time achieve a higher status and recognition than those who do not.

(If I’m the parent and I believe this is fact)

I have to hold my child accountable for completing his work and discipline him if he does not. If I become frustrated that the work is still not completed, I may be willing to disconnect with my child by arguing, threatening, and doing similar reactions to try and motivate him to finish. I may even opt to do some or much of his work so that I’m not judged by the teacher as being a bad parent (for not getting him to do all of it) or to prevent my child from having to face consequences for incomplete work.

 (If I’m the kid and believe this is fact)

I may believe I’m not smart since other kids seem to finish on time, or I may be convinced that I can’t do homework without my parent’s help. If I miss recess to complete my work (while other kids get to go and play), I may resent my teacher. Or, if I’m given some other disciplinary action, I may get angry. If not completing my work is a regular occurrence, I may even resist starting any work since I’ve experienced the same scenario (i.e. I won’t finish, which means something bad will happen) is likely to occur no matter what. Or, I may learn that it’s better to just rush through work so that it looks finished—regardless whether I gave any thought to what I was doing.


4.  What fear or other prior belief prevents me from letting this thought go?

By the time we arrive at this question, we may have already defended, justified, or rationalized why we REALLY DO need to keep the very thought we are examining.  If so, we may not realize that we’re probably still viewing the original thought as fact—rather than perception—while also presenting other perceptions as “fact” to make our case.

For example, maybe we think, “It would be chaos if we allowed all kids in the classroom to work at their own pace,” as a fact, rather than to explore how that may be possible. Or, maybe we’re stuck on a thought that takes a detour from the original thought, such as insisting that, of course, everything we do in life has to end, right?

But here, that person is arguing a point that isn’t part of the original thought we’re examining. The focus was on whether every child needs to have completed the assignment at an established point in time and whether it’s in a child’s best interest to make him do so before moving onto something else (if he has not).

In general, resistance to something that may help us is always a great clue into our subconscious mind. Since we operate from our subconscious mind about 95% of our day, it warrants discovering what our subconscious mind believes (since, again, we act on our thoughts). It’s also important to note that if our subconscious mind has conflicting views on any topic, the most fear-based view will always “win” and be the one that dictates how we act in our daily life.

That’s why if one or more resistant thoughts kept popping up when answering the first three questions, we need to pause at this point of the process. It’s going to be more helpful to take the time to zero in on which other thoughts are getting in the way.

For example, maybe we don’t believe we can toss the original thought (about finishing work) because, “I’m not the kind of person who rocks the boat or challenges the status quo.” Or, maybe we think, “There will be a backlash directed at me and my child if I don’t believe this thought is true.”

But, if so, where did any of those thoughts originate? And that’s why at this point in the process, we put the original thought on hold to now go through this same process for whatever thought has become a roadblock.

However, once we flush out our fear-based beliefs, we’ve now created space to adopt new thoughts, while also allowing other thoughts, previously overshadowed by fear, to come to light. For example, maybe we realize that we already knew, “The model of my phone or computer or other electronic device certainly isn’t the one-and-only completed version—just as I know there will be more updated versions in the future. And, how about a new edition of a book? Each subsequent edition also means the prior editions were not actually completed. So, if schools are supposed to prepare kids for the future, why ARE we imprinting a perception that differs from how completed work is often perceived in the workplace?”


5.  How would I feel if everyone believed my thought was false?

If we answer something, such as “excited” or “relieved” or some other positive emotion, then (once again) we ask ourselves, “Why AM I holding onto this perception?” After all, the stressful thought is only a perception we adopted and then decided to house in our brain.  That’s it.

But since we’re the ones who created this neural circuitry, we’re also the only ones who can disable it.   And whenever we do so, we often suddenly realize how much stress WE create from believing even just one thought.

For example, look at all the stress that teachers, parents, and kids experience from believing all work must be completed before moving on. But more importantly, think how much stress would be instantly GONE if that thought was tossed!


Stubborn Thoughts

What if—even after we’ve completed the 5-step process—we still find ourselves clinging to the original stressful thought? Well, then that’s still great fodder for reflection. In such case, we might now ponder why keeping the stress is more appealing than letting the thought go.

Here’s a possible explanation. As odd as it may sound, our subconscious mind may have come to believe that chaos and stress in our life benefits us.  You might think, “What?” But chaos and stress provides a great distraction. Such mayhem then prevents us from having time to address whatever we don’t want to face . . . that our subconscious mind is convinced would be even more painful than the current stress.

But we do want to flush out those thoughts.  That’s because when our brain is functioning mostly in survival mode (which is the case when we have on-going chaos and stress), we greatly reduce the probability of bringing our heart into our daily interactions and decisions. Instead, our fears will continue to override what our heart wants to do.


Why We’d Want to Take Inventory of Stressful Thoughts

We can use this 5-step process for any stressful thought–and doing so may be easier than it seems. First, we don’t have to change how anyone else thinks for us to move forward. In truth, we can’t control how anyone else thinks, anyway. But we can absolutely choose what our brain thinks. Bottom line: We don’t need to get everyone on board before we toss a stressful thought.

Second, we truly discover how much power we already have if we choose to believe this: The speed in which our life moves forward can be gauged by the speed in which we’re willing to toss stressful thoughts and allow different thoughts in. Think about the simplicity, but powerful truth of that statement. And think how many changes could happen by merely challenging our thoughts with a simple, “Says who?”—and then being open to whatever direction that answer leads us to explore.

What’s the Downside of Neuroplasticity?


Changes are happening in our brain all the time—whether we’re aware of it or not. And so, there’s a good chance we’ve created (what we refer to at Brain Highways) some automated, unproductive highways—without even realizing it.

When understanding neuroplasticity, we can create a positive--rather than negative--brain.

That’s because our brain wires both helpful and unhelpful automated responses in the very same way. Simply, if we do a behavior, again and again and again, it becomes automated.

Now, for the most part, automation is a great feature of the brain. Can you imagine if we had to do everything as though it was the first time? That would be mentally exhausting.

But here’s the problem. Our brain doesn’t have a special edit mechanism where it goes, “Hmmm . . . I see you’re doing that unproductive behavior again. But since that’s NOT helpful to you—I won’t make it automatic.”

No, whenever we do a behavior, again and again— it’s as though we’re texting our brain, “Hey, make this highway automatic”—and so our brain merely complies.

Now, unfortunately, there’s another reason we end up with automated, unproductive highways. First, we have to understand that the brain is always going to make survival its number one priority. So, as soon as our brain even thinks it’s being threatened, it sends out a survival stress alarm. Once in survival mode, we now have just three ways to respond—fight, flight, or freeze. That’s how our brain is designed to work.

In times of real danger, that’s exactly what we want to happen. If our survival is truly being threatened, we don’t have time to analyze, ponder, and contemplate information.

However, our brain has no clue as to what’s a true or imagined threat. In other words, something such as a parent saying, “It’s time to do homework,” may be all that it takes to trigger a child’s stress response.

In such case, that child might now react by screaming or throwing a textbook—which would be examples of fight responses—or hide under the table or say he first has to go do something—which would be examples of flight responses —or doesn’t budge or only stares at the assignment in front of him–which would be examples of freeze responses.

But here’s where those initial survival responses may then start a long-term automated, unproductive highway. It’s very possible that the child’s brain processes that initial survival response . . . as helpful. After all, the response got him out of doing homework, at least for a while.

And that’s when the brain goes, “Ah . . . well, then let’s repeat that behavior—and maybe not just for homework. Let’s do that behavior any time something seems threatening.” And so begins the making of an automated, unwelcome highway.

Now it’s important to note: We all have automated, unproductive highways, although sometimes these responses aren’t so obvious. For example, perfectionism (where we need everything to be just right or in place) and negative self-talk (where we think pessimistic thoughts) may also be viewed as automated, unproductive flight responses. After all, the end result is no different than the child who hides under a      table—since those subtle automated responses still delay us from moving forward.

So, if we truly want to create a positive brain, we also have to learn how to disable our automated, unproductive reactions. That’s because how we integrate retained primitive reflexes and complete pons and midbrain development is very different than how we immobilize automated, unwelcome reactions.

Of course, when we do both—complete our lower brain development and disable our automated, unproductive reactions—it’s like wining the “neuroplasticity sweepstakes.” That’s because we now have a brain that works for us, where it’s incredibly easy to share our unique gifts, creative ideas, and kind heart with the rest of the world.

Are You Resigned to Stress?


Imagine living on the top of a mountain with a really sharp drop-off. Well, we’d definitely want to spend our days far from that edge—since we already know . . . it’s more than possible to get “bumped” in life.

Are you far from the edge, barely hanging on, or spiraling downward?

For example, suppose on Friday, our boss says everyone has to work the entire weekend. Okay, that’s definitely a bump. Then on Tuesday, we learn a family member has been diagnosed with a serious illness. Wow. So, that’s two bumps. And then on Thursday, the water pipe in our home breaks, flooding everything. Three bumps–right in a row—not to mention all these new stresses are in addition to everything else we’re responsible for every day.

But guess what? If we were originally positioned far, far away from that hazardous cliff, we’re going to be just fine. That’s because we had plenty of room to be “bumped”—again and again–without ever being in danger of falling off the edge.

However, most parents who are about to start Brain Highways do not see themselves with such leeway. We say that because we now ask parents to initially rate their stress level over the past few months.

On a 1-5 scale, about 95% rank themselves as follows: a 3 (they’re right at the edge) or a 4 (they’ve already fallen—but are barely hanging on) or a 5 (they’ve already fallen and are quickly spiraling downward). Note that it doesn’t seem to matter where any of these parents live in the world.  Almost all of all participants say they’re right at the edge—or have already fallen—when we first meet them.

Of course, we never judge how parents rate themselves. In fact, we appreciate their raw honesty, and such information helps us know who would initially benefit from extra support at the start of the course.

But most of all, we’re eager to prove that it’s more than possible to climb back onto the ridge (if we’ve already fallen) and how to live a life far, far from the edge of that cliff. And again, we say that with confidence because those very same parents then rate themselves a 1 or a 2 once they’ve learned about the brain–and most importantly, how to apply that information to truly change their lives.

Note that such change isn’t going to happen by reading a few blog posts on ways to relieve stress or hearing some words of encouragement. Yet, that kind of change is possible when we’re finally taught how our brain actually works. (For whatever reason, that information seems to be sorely missing from our general education.)

Best of all, anyone can learn about the brain!  Such knowledge includes, but is not limited to, concrete ways to ensure we’re never near our brain’s threshold, how to complete our lower brain development (if that’s not yet finished) since such underdevelopment, in itself, often causes so much stress, how we “catch” the brain’s attention—rather than demand we “pay” attention, how we really don’t have to feel anxious all the time, and much, much more.

Yet, here’s a troubling question. What happens to the kids of parents living at the edge or who have already fallen? Wouldn’t we expect those kids—even if they’re not experiencing their own daily challenges—to now also be thrown off balance?

That scenario may also explain why many kids are resistant and non-compliant. On a subconscious level, none of us want to follow those who may inadvertently pull us over the cliff as they fall.

In truth, an entire family may be presently living on the edge or have already fallen of the cliff.

So, that’s why we strongly believe that in order to help kids, we must also support their parents. That’s why Brain Highways parents learn how to change their own brain, right alongside their child. By doing so, their brain also becomes one that’s positive, efficient, calm, and energized. Such a brain greatly contrasts with one that had previously been in survival mode—most or all of the time.

Now, the airlines already “get” that parents must be equipped to lead, which is why flight attendants instruct them to put on their oxygen mask before helping their child. But when we learn about the brain, it doesn’t even have to be a “parents first” approach.

In fact, the more family members who change their brain at the same time, the more quickly a family starts living very far from that edge. And once that happens, everyone now experiences a life where stress and fear no longer dominate.

Yet, many people may not even believe that kind of life is possible. After all, the masses seem resigned that being stressed and overwhelmed—all the time—is just today’s new normal.

But if the brain could talk, it would tell us that being stressed-out-to-the-max and feeling overwhelmed was never intended to be its default mode. Our brain would also want us to know that it’s more than possible to change a brain from a surviving one to a thriving one—and that our kids will most certainly thank us when we make that shift.

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