Do You Understand Brain Highways-Speak?


This man is most likely “in his pons.”

Not that long ago words such as texting, apps, and Google weren’t even part of our everyday language. But now, people talk as though such words have always been around.

I recently realized that Brain Highways families and staff also use certain phrases as though they were commonplace.  Such references are often linked to what’s actually happening in the brain.

However, those who are not part of the Brain Highways classes probably have no idea what such phrases mean.  So, I thought it might be helpful to not only translate our terminology, but to also encourage others to maybe adopt some of these phrases into their vocabulary, as well.

Here are some of our most common Brain Highways phrases:

1.   “She’s in her pons right now.”

Translation: People don’t respond logically or with reason when they are “in their pons” (the primitive part of the brain.) Instead, they most likely react with angst or anger or withdrawal. So noting that a person is “in their pons” serves as a signal to wait until that person returns to the cortex before engaging in further interaction.

2.  “He’s in his baby brain.”

Translation: This is a variation of saying that someone is “in his pons” since this is the part of the brain that was supposed to develop during the first few months of life (i.e. when we were a baby). Younger kids tend to identify more with references to their “baby brain” than to their pons.

3.   “She’s so ponsy.”

Translation: This reference is used when a person reacts more often in her pons than not. In such case, noting that someone is “ponsy” is now describing more of a character trait than noting a temporary state of mind.

4.  “I’m really midbrain-stuck that you forgot my birthday.”

Translation: When the midbrain is not fully developed, we often keep dwelling on a thought. So, noting this serves as a signal that someone is having trouble “letting go” of something that happened or something they’d like to happen.

5. “You’ll like how I took care of business today.”

Translation: Taking care of business is a cortex approach where we express our needs, while also remaining cognizant and addressing what others may need in order to reach a solution. Asking for clarification and acknowledging why someone may want something that is conflicting with our personal needs is part of this process.

6. “I don’t think that’s the true problem, so follow the fear.”

Translation: We often make conclusions and decisions without realizing that some level of fear has played a role in our response.  So, when we “follow the fear,” we’re exploring that connection.

7. “I’m going to shine the spotlight on myself because I did forget to tell you about our refund policy.”

Translation: When we “shine the spotlight,” that’s where we look in terms of who’s accepting responsibility.  Moreover, if we’re hoping to move forward on something, we soon realize that if we shine the spotlight on ourselves (i.e. What can I do to change the situation?), we’re more likely to bring about a positive change, rather than if we just hope and wait for someone else to do something.

8. “When I heard that my son’s teacher left a message to call, I caught myself time traveling.”

Translation: As soon as we start to think about whatever happened in the past or begin to worry about what may happen in the future, we’ve left the present and are now . . . time traveling.

9. “As soon as I realized that I was time traveling, I told myself to drop the story.”

Translation: Since we cannot change whatever story we’re recalling from the past, and we can’t really know if the story we’re creating about the future will even happen, such thoughts only distract us from the present situation.  So, “dropping the story” is a quick reminder of that.

10. “I’m going to slip-n-slide that thought.”

Translation: While we don’t have control over what others say to us, we can decide whether we allow negative thoughts to enter our brain.  To avoid that from happening, we can visualize a slip-n-slide running across our forehead. Then, as soon as we hear something we don’t want going in our brain, we can just “slip-n-slide” that thought.

11. “I wrapped a lot of myelin today.”

Translation: Myelination is a term that describes the process of forming a myelin sheath around a nerve to allow nerve impulses to move more quickly.  We actually wrap the most myelin when we’re learning something new, working at our edge, and when we make mistakes (if we learn from them).  So references to “wrapping a lot of myelin” mean we’ve been learning new information or can be something we say before telling someone how we messed up.

12. “I think you’re playing an old tape.”

Translation: Our subconscious is a storehouse of all memories.  So, when something negative happens in the present, this can trigger a memory of a prior, similar bad experience.  In such case, that “old tape”—and all the unproductive emotions that were stored with that experience—are now playing, once again. This then only amplifies the negativity already associated with the current situation. However, awareness that this is happening can help put the current situation in perspective.

13. “Let’s rewind the tape.”

Translation: Sometimes we act (or react) in a way that we wished was different. In such case, when we refer to rewinding the tape, we’re saying let’s go back and start again—from the point the interaction went south—and do it the way we’d actually wish we had the first time.

14. “I’m adopting a researcher’s mentality.”

Translation: When a researcher begins to gather information, he’s not attached to the outcome.  Rather, the mindset is more one of curiosity.  So, the reference to adopting a researcher’s mentality is a reminder to be open-minded when exploring a different approach or learning new information.

When we review these Brain Highways phrases, we note a definite theme. Namely, this way of talking could be viewed as reminders of how the brain works, and how we can then apply such knowledge by using certain phrases that, in turn, guide us to act in a positive way.

With that in mind, note whether you do any time traveling, get midbrain stuck, or are in your pons today. Or, challenge yourself to wrap a lot of myelin, adopt a researcher’s mentality, drop the story, slip-n-slide negative thoughts, rewind the tape, and take care of business today.

See . . . adding just a few new words to your vocabulary may even greatly change your day!

How a 5-Year-Old Handled a Bully


(Heather Olson, a program facilitator at Brain Highways, is our guest blogger for this post.)

We can teach kids how to "take care of business" . . . at any age.

At Brain Highways, we teach the families something we call “taking care of business.”  When we take care of business, it results in the polar opposite of feeling like a victim.

So, of course, I have also been teaching Tegan, my 5-year old son, how to take care of business.

This recently came to light with an 8-year-old in our neighborhood (who we’ll call Z for the purpose of this post) who has bullied many kids in the neighborhood, including Tegan.  Yet, this very same child was also the one who helped my son learn to ride his bike for the first time—which was most likely a glimpse of who that child really is.

However, about a month after that act of kindness, Tegan started to cry as I was putting him to bed one night. He said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more.

When I asked why, he couldn’t really articulate a reason.  I assured Tegan that he didn’t have to play with Z, even without a reason (noting to myself that I could clearly come up with many).

But the next time Z came to the door, Tegan was all up for playing—as though he had completely forgotten the prior sadness and angst from interacting with this child.

Yet, last week when I called home to say I was just leaving the Brain Highways Center, my husband told me there had been another incident with Tegan and Z.  That day, Z had pushed Tegan off his bike.  Tegan hadn’t responded. He had just gotten back up and kept riding. But then Z told my husband that Tegan had called him an idiot.

Tegan had tried to stand up for himself. He kept telling my husband, “No, I didn’t. Z, you called me an idiot.” My husband said that Tegan was devastated and desperate for him to believe that Z did the name-calling.

Tegan has never lied to us about anything, so there was no way we didn’t trust him on this.

When I arrived home, Tegan was so cute. He quickly pulled me into his room and shut the door. He wanted privacy as he told me what happened.

Tegan really couldn’t understand why Z would push him off the bike or lie.

I asked a lot of questions. For example, how did Tegan feel about all this? He said that he was mad at Z. I responded that, unfortunately, there are lots of people– of all ages–like Z. I shared that I thought there must be something missing in Z’s heart for him to act that way.

So, with that in mind, I suggested that we might be more sad than mad at Z.  However, I pointed out that while we don’t have the power to change Z, we can decide how we want to respond.  For example, we don’t have to spend time with people who say and do things that are hurtful to us.

It was such a sweet, honest conversation.  At the end, we role-played (which is part of the taking-care-of-business approach) what Tegan could do if Z asked him to play.

Tegan immediately felt empowered. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. And I too, felt empowered for having helped him behind the scenes (another primary component of taking care of business).

Tegan actually wanted to go over to Z’s house—right then–and tell him what he had practiced saying. At first I thought, “Wow, now that’s really taking care of business!” (In truth, that probably would have been even more courageous than what I would even do.)

But, I was uncertain and concerned how Tegan’s taking care of business approach would be perceived by Z’s dad. But most importantly, this was between Tegan and Z. So, I nixed that plan.

Actually, I wasn’t even sure that Tegan would ever have a chance to talk to Z because my husband admitted that he “kinda laid into Z” that night.

But it turns out  . . .  my husband’s response had little impact on Z.  Sure enough, Z came by the next afternoon to see if Tegan wanted to play.

As soon as Tegan knew Z was at the front door, he immediately jumped off the couch, excited, waving me away from the door, saying, “Mom, I got this.”

He didn’t want anyone listening to the upcoming conversation, so he actually stepped outside–and closed the door behind him!

I confess that my own heart was pounding loudly as I pressed my ear as firmly as possible to try and hear what was being said.

Tegan was clearly nervous with his delivery as he said that he didn’t want to play with Z any more. When Z asked why, Tegan responded that he didn’t like being pushed off his bike.

Then I heard Z say, “But I won’t do that again” to which Tegan replied, “But how do I know?”

Z answered, “But I won’t.”  To which Tegan answered, once again, “But how do I know?”

(This was feedback to me that we didn’t role-play enough the part about not being able to trust Z and how Z might earn back that trust.)

When Tegan came back inside, I asked how it went. He looked like a kid . . .  who had just taken care of business! There was confidence radiating from his entire being.

Since then, we’ve role played a few more ideas of how Tegan might respond if Z returns, but so far, he has not.

I do feel badly for Z. Everyone in the neighborhood talks about him, and no one believes that his or her kids are safe around him.

So, I’m thinking that the next round of taking care of business will be to brainstorm with Tegan what Z may be needing and wanting.

That too, is part of taking care of business. Namely, we’re most likely to get our needs met when we also understand what others want and need. My guess is . . .  Z hasn’t yet experienced what a true friendship feels like and doesn’t know how to go about connecting with others in a way that results in positive interactions.

But since we’re not mind readers (as part of the taking care of business approach), we often ask the other person questions to get more clarification. For example, Tegan might ask Z: Do you want to be friends with me?

If Z says, yes, then Tegan could follow with: You know, I really liked when you helped me ride my bike, and I felt like we were friends then. But I didn’t feel like we were friends when you pushed me off my bike and called me an idiot. So, can we make some rules about how friends act when they’re with each other—and then, can we stick to those rules?

Of course, there are no guarantees of a specific outcome when we take care of business—and that’s never even the goal. Rather, it’s to shine the spotlight on ourselves, deciding what we might do in order to move forward in undesirable situations—while also keeping in the forefront of our mind that the person who has upset us is also needing and wanting something.

So, I’ll make a prediction: I’m thinking that there will be a situation in the very near future where Tegan will be the one prompting my husband or me to take care of business. That’s because at 5-years-old, Tegan is already way, way ahead of the game.

How Much of Your Stress Do You Create?


We often think that others cause our stress—when we actually create much of it all on our own.

Once upon a time, when people asked, “How are you?” almost everyone said, “Good.”  Even if that wasn’t always exactly true, in general, that was the overall sentiment.

However, today when asked, “How are you?” an alarming number of people respond, “So stressed.”

But here’s what’s crazy. We often create our own stress.  We do so when we believe that we have to do something. But, in fact, we’ve put those imaginary restrictions on ourselves.

And here’s where these illusionary boundaries create even more havoc.  If we’re in a chronic state of stress, then we’re more likely to respond from our primitive parts of the brain, rather than our cortex.  Ironically, such reactive responses just perpetuate and accentuate the existing stress.

So, here’s a suggestion. Write a list of statements that describe what consumes your time and often generates some form of negativity in your life,  Then ask yourself:  What might I let go . . . beginning today?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • I think I need to “fix” my child.
  • I believe I can “change” my spouse.
  • I insist that everyone meets my expectation of neatness in our home.
  • I place a lot of emphasis on personal grooming.
  • I obsess on whether I’ll ever get promoted.
  • I resent that my salary is not as much as I’d like it to be.
  • I act as though I am a super-parent.
  • I try to please (fill in the name of the person)—even though it’s never enough, no matter what I do.
  • I worry whether my child will be accepted at a good college.
  • I say yes to more commitments than I can handle (because I don’t know how to say no).
  • I’m concerned I’m not putting away enough money for retirement (or emergencies).
  • I’m jealous that my parents give way more to my sister (even now that we’re adults).

Now go back and rate each of your statements, using a scale of 1-10 (10 represents the most stress).

First, rate how much stress is attached to each statement if you continue to hold on to that thought or action.  Then rate how much stress you imagine you would experience if you let it go.

For example, what if you decide that you cannot really change your spouse, and so you no longer try to do so (i.e. you let this go)?  Would that bring more or less stress to you?

A word of warning here: You can’t fool your brain. So, if you say you’re letting something go—but, you really don’t—you’ll get immediate feedback. Namely, the level of stress will feel exactly the same as before.

On the other hand, if you truly let something go, you’ll experience an incredible freeing feeling.  That might even encourage you to ponder:  What might I let go of next?

And who knows? Once you’ve released yourself from self-imposed expectations and perceptions, you might now respond to the generic “How are you?” question with a truthful, resounding, “Great!”

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