No Shame with the Lower Brain


Most of us didn’t know that the “ground floor of brain organization” was supposed to happen during the first year of life.

A while back, a mother posted on our Brain Highways Facebook page how her son had gone from being the kid placed on a behavior contract with a stack of “character referrals” to one the teacher was now exclaiming and praising—but how that had only happened after he started organizing his brain.

After seeing so many positive responses to her post, the mother then wrote me what she had not previously shared.  Prior to starting Brain Highways, her son had been scheduled for a behavior assessment at Rady’s Children Hospital to see whether he qualified for a formal diagnosis.  Such appointments are hard to come by, so (while waiting), her family began Brain Highways.

However, when that appointment time finally came around, this mom decided to postpone it since she was already seeing changes in her son, even though he had only been participating at Brain Highways for about a month.

As the re-scheduled appointment neared once again, she now decided to cancel it altogether. There truly was no longer any need for the assessment.

Since I know that people who are unfamiliar with brain organization, as well as those who want it to happen overnight (they forget it’s a process), benefit from reading such stories, I asked if she would now also share that part.

Yet, she was reluctant.  She wanted to check with her son to make sure he was comfortable telling others that he had been scheduled for a formal behavior assessment. She was concerned that friends at his school (who also visit the Brain Highways Facebook page) might see the post, and she wanted to make sure he was comfortable with that.

Not surprisingly, her son shrugged his shoulders and asked why would he care what other kids thought?

However, here’s what most likely happened.  Don’t think a 6-year-old actually has first-grade friends who visit our Facebook page. So, I’m thinking his mom’s concern was about the reaction of his friends’ parents.  Without realizing it, she may have felt some kind of shame that her son had needed to be scheduled for a behavioral assessment or that he may have even been close to getting diagnosed with some condition that again . . . often comes with even more guilt and shame.

Now, if such emotions were triggered in the mom, there is absolutely no judgment there.  But there is reflection.

How did we (as a society) get so far off the beaten path that there is stigma or embarrassment—or even actual shame—associated with those who have just not finished their lower brain development?  After all, it’s not as though any of us had a say in whether this work was completed during our first year of life (if we’re the one who did not finish the development), or it’s very unlikely that we (as parents) consciously decided to forbid our kids to complete this important brain work.   In fact, we most likely did everything we thought we were supposed to during our child’s first year of life.

Yet, I’ve lost count of how many Brain Highways parents ultimately shared they experienced much shame and guilt associated with what turned out to be . . . underdeveloped lower centers of the brain.  I say ultimately because such sharing usually only happened after they were confident everything was moving forward in the most positive way.

You see, shame hecklers in the brain count on people keeping quiet about whatever they think others will judge harshly. The more secretive, the more the shame escalates.

But no more. That’s why I’ve decided to dub 2014: No Shame with the Lower Brain.  If any of us—adult or child—has been trying to function without the ground floor of brain organization in place, there should not only be no shame, but such people deserve accolades for whatever they accomplished with a brain that is not functioning as intended.

So, what’s the best way to silence those shame hecklers?

Well, we’re no longer going to be secretive about how our brain is organized. If our lower brain development is incomplete, we now blab that information to everyone, noting how we must be pretty darn amazing, considering all that we’ve already accomplished without these highways in place.  We share how we’ve been struggling unnecessarily since it’s possible to go back and finish that development at any time in our life—and how we’re grateful for that opportunity.  We’re optimistic and curious about how life will be once the highways are in place.

And guess what? The more people who shift their consciousness to think this way, the more people will silence lurking shame hecklers in their own brain.  But such sharing may also motivate others to be more open about what they’re also experiencing, which may lead them to decide to complete their brain development if they discover that their own “ground floor of brain organization” is not yet in place.

At the Brain Highways Centers, that’s already the mindset.  All (not just a few) of the parents now organize their own brain alongside their child.

Not only that, but the parents’ lower brain is assessed in front of everyone (we’re talking a large crowd) at a pre-session parent meeting because . . .  why not?  We’d only do assessments behind a guarded curtain if there was something to hide, right?

And then, after we’re done assessing all the parents, no one is strutting because they may have a more developed pons than someone else.  Actually, if anyone is strutting, it’s the parent who discovers that he or she only has 5% of their pons developed.  In such cases, the reaction to such information is often, “Wow! I must be brilliant!”

So, let’s challenge the idea that we have to keep secret how our brain is presently functioning.  Let’s truly make 2014 the year where there’s no longer any shame with anything associated with the brain.

Good Enough


The Boelk family no longer thinks wanting “more" (of whatever) is going to make them perfect or happy.

Marisa Boelk is our guest blogger. She writes how developing her own lower centers of the brain and reframing unproductive thoughts have resulted in a very different outlook on life for her and her family.

Our child is now 6 years old, and the first 5 years of her life were a true emotional, mental, and physical roller coaster. As her parent, I had a challenging time finding my place, along with hers, in this world of what seemed like perfect families. All this really shifted for me last year, during the Brain Highways program.

Our family believed so strongly in the Brain Highways program that the whole family enrolled. Mom and dad and little brother went through both the pons and midbrain courses with our daughter. (This was before the program made it possible for parents to organize their brain alongside their kids.) Even grandma enrolled!

And this is the difference it has made: I no longer see our family as imperfect, and everyone else’s as perfect. My emotions are no longer an extension of my child’s. 

I recently read an article by a parent explaining what it is like to grieve and hurt from having a child with special needs. This parent explained the pain and grieving of looking at her child’s disability (in this case Asperger’s) and seeing it be more marked and separating the child more from peers as the years go by, instead of getting easier or better or less noticeable.

And this parent also explained how her emotions are attached to her child’s. In other words, if her child is doing well, so is the parent and vice-versa. Though I identified with everything she said (to the tee), I realized that I now identified with this parent only in my memory of what it used to feel like before Brain Highways.

Today, I no longer feel hopeless and sad. I am no longer grieving. I now know that my brain will believe what I tell it.

Prior to a year ago, I would sit on my therapist’s couch and tell her how hard it was to have a child with special needs. She would agree, and I would cry. By the end of my regular visits, I would cry more, then get home and cry some more, then hug my child, and then cry again.

Those visits were so helpful in giving me words to the feelings inside, but they never helped me feel any better about myself or my child. It was my own brain organization work, the Brain Highways reframing exercises (that dealt with unproductive subconscious tapes and messages) and their numerous other techniques that made a difference.

You see, my child’s brain development has shifted, for sure, since we started the pons and midbrain work last year. But I also knew that I had to change.

For many years, I had trained my own brain to be unhappy, disappointed, always wanting more signs that my child would be okay. But I have now learned that if I am not content with where my child is right now, I will never be content.

I have often heard at the Brain Highways Center (from Nancy) whenever I’d point out something that still had not changed for my daughter (while glossing over all that had improved): “At what point, will you ever think your child’s brain highways are good enough?”

Well, today they are enough. Daily, they are enough. Even if my child does not build one more highway, my child is enough.  That is probably the most valuable thing I have told my brain to believe since starting the Brain Highways program.

However, since I had allowed my brain to go to unproductive thoughts for so long, I still catch myself going there at times. The difference today is: I no longer stay there or believe those thoughts as facts.

Like the parent of the blog I noted earlier, I, too, felt sad, afraid of the future, pretty much hopeless. Some of my thoughts were so unproductive and hopeless when I first came to Brain Highways that it was nearly impossible to get through a class without breaking into tears.

Slowly, I learned that I have no crystal ball to know what the future holds for my child or our family, but I do know this: I can live in gratefulness, and I choose how I act and feel. 

I have a very close family member who continues to speak of my child as “autistic” even though our family does not adhere or embrace such labels. (Heck, some days I still think I can diagnose other children based on my extensive years of zero professional training to do so.)  Over the holidays, this family member was being very assertive in expressing the kind of environment and help she thought my child should be receiving, to which after a couple of attempts at changing the subject, my pons responded in full-blown mode.

This is where the Brain Highways work came in play. After admittedly yelling at my family member, I excused my self from the situation by saying, “I need to leave now.”

As soon as I walked outside, I started reciting all the things I was grateful for. Shortly thereafter, I walked back inside . . . and hugged and talked to that family member.

I have also made it a point not to retell this story in a negative way. Instead, I have said how much this family member loves my child and our family, and how much this family member cares that my child is well taken care of—and that’s the end of it.

This was nearly impossible to do prior to Brain Highways. I would have played and re-played in my brain all the horrible things that were said, and how horrible of a person she was, and poor me. But Brain Highways has also taught me how to ensure that we record events in our memory in a way that includes more than just our own perception and our first negative, emotional response to whatever happened.

Our family has recently made a decision to do the Brain Highways program for the second time, almost exactly a year after the first time. So you might ask: “If you are doing so fabulously, why are you re-enrolling with your child?”

Great question, one I have asked myself. Here is what I have so far.

My own brain development is still not complete. I have a child whose brain development is still not complete, and I know there were concepts I missed the first time around because I was so wound-up, so fricken’ tight. I know my child will find it refreshing to come back to the Brain Highways Center and have other adults help facilitate her brain organization, and my husband and I will also find it re-energizing to have others help us facilitate this work.

But most of all, while we may now “get” what kind of thinking moves us forward, it’s much harder to do when so many around us think differently (and even try to get us to change how we’re thinking).

Enter Brain Highways. You walk in the door, and you’re instantly surrounded by people who truly accept parents and kids just as they are—where no one makes anyone try to fit in (which only brings on misery) or then judges people if they don’t meet someone else’s expectations. At Brain Highways—right from the beginning—you feel connected, that you belong (which is a very different feeling that trying to fit in) . . .  just by “showing up.” That’s good enough.

Of course, that’s not how much of the rest of the world thinks. So, it’s always uplifting to be around others who think the same way.  And then, there are mirror neurons, meaning it’s additionally great to hang out with people who reflect positive thoughts since those also affect our own brain.

So, I am grateful for the opportunity to come back to the Brain Highways Center. And at this point, who knows?  Until we’ve all finished our lower brain development, maybe refresher courses will just become a family tradition.  :-)

How a Mom and Son Changed Their Brains, Week by Week


Kathy is our guest blogger. Both Kathy and her son, Josh, recently completed the Brain Highways pons class. Here, Kathy writes about both of their lives before they started to organize their brains, and then what specific changes happened to each of them over the past eight weeks. 


When the brain starts to function as it's intended, there are always a lot more smiles.


Before starting the Brain Highways pons class:

  • Josh will not try new foods.
  • He is not very verbal, and he will only use simple sentences when asked to describe something.
  • He is fearful of new experiences and especially afraid of elevators and heights.
  • He struggles to stay focused and sit still.
  • He cannot express himself through writing.
  • He has very little self-confidence.

After the first pons class

Josh articulates his thoughts on the 40-minute drive home. He notices lights blinking off and on in a pattern on a store front and describes it in detail. He uses the word spat correctly in a sentence, which he has never done before.

After Week 2

Josh volunteers at dinner to try salad with ranch dressing. Before this, it was a fight for him to eat or try vegetables due to their taste and texture.

After Week 4

Josh is able to focus and sit still for a longer period of time. He is not restless like before.

After Week 5

Josh notices the freedom that new highways have given him. He feels calmer inside and has a better sense of where he is on the field when playing soccer. He is very motivated to continue creeping since he sees the personal gain for himself.

After Week 6

Josh articulates his needs and feelings. He never before would start a sentence with “I feel . . . ”  since he could not articulate what it was he felt.

After Week 7

Josh is taking care of business (a way of communicating his needs and acknowledging others’ needs) all the time and gaining confidence.

After Week 8

Josh conquers his fear of elevators, glass elevators and heights all in the same day! What a champion!


Before starting the Brain Highways pons class:

  • I have trouble concentrating and focusing or will hyper-focus and forget about everything else. I struggle to find the exact words I want to say, or a similar word comes out instead, which always leads to embarrassment or laughter!
  • I have moments of distorted fears like claustrophobia over the past few years, and I do not like the feeling of my hair lightly touching my face.
  • I struggle to stay focused and sit still. I can only focus if I sit sideways in a chair and in the front row. I always feel like there is a wheel turning inside. I feel anxious and uneasy, like having pent up energy similar to a shaken-up soda can ready to explode. My friends call me effervescent because I am like a bubbling soda can.
  • I think I am hard of hearing because I constantly ask people to repeat what they said.
  • I always have to have sound around me to feel comforted. I dislike quiet. So if I am alone, I must have the TV on or a radio playing.
  • I have picked at my fingernails and cuticles all my life. Having long nails “bothers” me.
  • I am diagnosed with adult ADD and have been medicated for the past 10 years. I wear bifocals.

After Week 1

I begin to feel and notice changes immediately. I notice my glasses are actually bothering me, and I can see better without them. I feel calmer inside. I find my ADD medications are working against me, so I begin a process to eliminate them.

After Week 2

I start to notice I don’t want the radio on if I am riding alone in the car and actually enjoy the quiet. I no longer have a need for background noise.

After Week 3

I notice I am no longer picking or biting my nails. The strange part is that I don’t feel driven to pick at them. In fact my nails begin to grow very long, and I don’t even notice. The turning wheel inside me disappeared after the first week but I only notice it at the third week when my nails are getting LONG!

After Week 4

I have been able to concentrate more, think more clearly and focus for longer periods of time. The inner peace has allowed me to be more creative and to solve problems quicker and more efficiently. I feel more articulate when writing. My thoughts are more organized.

After Week 5

I have noticed physical changes in my body and continue on a path to eliminate medications with medical help. I have an appointment with the eye doctor, as well, since I feel like my eyesight has changed for the better. I am able to memorize facts faster and with less effort.

After Week 6

I find myself taking on tasks that I had avoided for years, such as cleaning out old boxes in the garage. I am able to access situations and make a decision quickly without self-doubt. I have more confidence. My thoughts are no longer fuzzy, but clear. I notice it has been weeks since I have asked someone to repeat what they said since I didn’t hear them. I do find myself asking my son to wait to interrupt me so I can complete a task.

After Week 7

I am feeling more confident in parenting. I have had no episodes of claustrophobia in weeks. I have long nails and don’t find my thoughts wandering at seminars.

After Week 8

I notice I feel at peace in my own skin. I truly feel like a champion.

I never would have believed it, but Brain Highways has given me my life back! And my pons is not even 100% developed yet (let alone my midbrain).

I recently had some health setbacks that delayed progress with my brain organization, but I continue with each new day knowing once I have completed the work, I will be that much better off.

I am sincerely grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to organize my brain and to facilitate my son’s brain organization. I truly believe everyone can benefit from this class.

The Baskin-Robbins Approach to Diagnosing Kids and Adults


The DSM guide lists many, many mental health conditions, yet overlooks a common thread that may tie many of those diagnoses together.

I was recently talking with one of our Brain Highways parents, and we were discussing kids who act as though they (rather than the adults) are in charge.  The parent nodded, saying, “Yes, my child definitely has Alpha Dog Syndrome.”

Now here’s the sad part. I actually paused a moment before I realized she was making a joke.

But I also cut myself some slack.  That’s because, right now, there are so many diagnoses for kids and adults that Alpha Dog Syndrome doesn’t really seem like much of a stretch.

For example, guess what’s now included in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)—the holy grail guide that doctors refer to in terms of what’s a “true” diagnosis or not? Irritable kids who throw frequent temper tantrums may now be diagnosed as having “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.”

And most recently, a group of Australian scientists say extreme laziness may have a medical basis, describing it as a condition called motivational deficiency disorder—MoDeD.

Seriously. I’m not making any of this up.

Apparently, the trend of creating mental diseases to “fit” a behavior is nothing new. For example, after studying runaway slaves who had been caught and returned to their owners, Louisiana physician Samuel A. Cartwright became convinced he had discovered a new mental disease. So, in 1851, the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal reported that these slaves suffered from drapetomania, a disease that caused them to flee.

Somehow, having a desire for freedom became a medical condition.

But before we shake our heads and judge how such a notion could have ever appeared in a medical journal, we might pause and ponder who (in the future) will do the very same when reviewing all the diagnoses that we now slap on both adults and kids.

Please note: I’m not saying there are no mental health conditions. But the current trend is what I’ve come to think of as the Baskin-Robbins marketing strategy.

When this famous ice cream company first presented to the world that there were now thirty-one flavors of ice cream (who knew?!), consumers readily bought the concept. So many choices!

And yet, it’s not all that different when it comes to diagnosing today’s mental health conditions. So many choices!

Also, keep this in mind: The diagnoses in the DSM guide are often made by pure subjective evaluation, based solely on observed behavior—and nothing more. In other words, these diagnoses do not come about in the same way a doctor may diagnose cancer—where cancer cells truly differ from normal cells when looking at a biopsy.

Regardless, this influential guide is what’s considered the credible source that draws the line between what is normal and what is not. That’s even more concerning when we note the following: According to Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, more than 46 percent of the U.S. population will meet the criteria for at least one DSM diagnosis during their lifetime.

That means this guide has an awful lot of power that may then greatly affect many people’s lives—from determining whether or not someone qualifies for special education services or disability benefits to whether someone may be prescribed and treated with a variety of drugs.

But what if there’s a different way of viewing those very same behaviors that are presently justifying a diagnosis?

Turns out . . . that’s not just wishful thinking. After 14+ years of working with over 6,000 families in the Brain Highways program, I have long lost count of all the different diagnoses that have come my way. But there was always this common thread: Such kids and adults had not yet completed their lower brain development.

This isn’t really surprising when we note how behaviors associated with such underdevelopment so closely parallel those that are used as the criteria for mental health conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disease, autism, OCD, and more.

Yet, here’s the big difference when we view such behaviors as symptoms of underdeveloped lower centers of the brain as compared to symptoms of a disease.  We can actually do something about the former. That’s because neuroplasticity, the brain’s proven ability to change, makes it possible to go back and finish that development—at any age.

That way of thinking, in itself, is often a great catalyst for change, since research has also documented how our beliefs are so interconnected to how we act and how we expect others to behave.

In other words, a diagnosis almost always comes with restrictions and parameters as to what we may now “expect” from that person—like forever. Yet, none of that limited thinking is even on the radar when the focus is on completing lower brain development. Neuroplasticity is all about hope and curiosity in regards to how life might improve once those highways are in place.

Now, it should be noted that Baskin-Robbins has long surpassed offering just thirty-one flavors, as they continue to add more and more selections. As far as the ice cream world goes, I don’t see that as a problem.

But as a trend that seems to be presenting the newest “flavor” (i.e. disease) of the month, I am worried. So, I am encouraging everyone to pass along what’s been excluded from the DSM guide. Namely, symptoms of incomplete lower brain development may mimic symptoms of many of today’s diagnoses.

Seems like people should (at least) know this possibility exists, especially considering how so many diagnoses come with some pretty serious ramifications.

Expect the Unexpected with Brain Organization


Heidi Guthrie, mom of Gigi and Dominic, is our guest blogger.

Although the Guthries live in Mexico, they crossed the border (every Sunday enduring long crossing-the-border lines) and then drove yet another 40 miles to get to the San Diego Brain Highways Center—just to attend the local pons program. They did this twice a week, for two months. (Impressive!)

Here, Heidi writes about the unforeseen changes she and her kids have experienced since they began Brain Highways eight weeks ago.


The Guthries prove that any family member can change his or her brain.

When we started Brain Highways, my husband and I really thought that our daughter was the one who needed the class. But we also enrolled our son because we thought . .  .  well, why not?

So imagine our surprise when our son started making huge changes, and many of the things we thought my daughter needed to improve truly went away just by building into the structure.

Turns out, we all really needed the class, least of all my daughter!

Here are some changes we experienced after finishing the pons course and clocking 24 hours of floor time.

For myself, the improvement in my vision was completely unexpected. After 25 years of continuously worsening vision, my vision in one eye has now improved one complete point (which is a big deal by this measuring assessment).  My left eye now actually sees like it did 10 years ago!

I also have more patience and more awareness of my reactions. This helps me choose to pause and respond from my cortex rather than react from my pons, contributing to a more peaceful home environment. (Not bad for just 24 hours of brain organization.)

My daughter, Gigi, has improved her concentration. She used to resist reading of any kind, but she’ll now read without complaint and even asks to go to the library. Also, the bickering with her brother has vastly improved, and I see her trying to take care of business (a high level cortex way of expression that we learned during the course) when they communicate.

At school, Gigi’s teachers have commented on her improved schoolwork, which is reflected in her grades.  Gigi will now also sleep with the door closed (she previously had a distorted fear that the door had to remain open all night), and she has learned to stop trying to negotiate everything—she just goes with the flow.

My son, Dominic, used to hold a book while looking toward the ceiling and “guessing” at the words. He now asks to read and does so daily without complaint. His teachers have noticed improved school work, especially commenting on how his handwriting has changed (we learned—and have now experienced—that poor handwriting can be directly related to retained primitive reflexes).

Dominic also used to avoid eye contact while talking. But now, not only has his eye contact improved, but his optometrist also says his eye tracking is spot on.

At home, Dominic doesn’t provoke and needle his sister like he used to. He is more forgiving of himself when he makes a mistake, telling himself and others that they’re just “wrapping myelin.” I actually haven’t heard negative self-talk from him in over a month.

In fact, Dominic recently applied some of what he learned about negative self-talk (in the pons course) while at school.  One of his second grade classmates was talking very negatively about himself, while also doing other behaviors that Dominic recognized as being in “his pons.”

Dominic’s teacher shared with me that she overheard him telling his classmate that negative self-talk is a “never-ever” and then showed his classmate how he could just “slip-n-slide” those thoughts away!

Dominic has also taken to heart something else he learned during the pons course. Dominic won’t allow anyone to start a positive sentence and then say “but” and then continue with that thought, without letting everyone know how doing that just erased anything positive that was said in the first part!

Lastly, did I mention . . . no more whining!!!!!

So, what’s next? Well, on to developing our midbrain!  Ironically, that’s actually the class we thought we’d see some changes in when we first began. Little did we know . . .

Are There Hecklers in Your Brain?


Once we're content with who we are and what we have, we experience a lot more joy.

When families finish their Brain Highways midbrain course, we ask the parents to list all the ways their kids have changed since first starting their brain organization. The list is always long and full of wonderful changes.

But sometimes, the parent ends that list by noting what still hasn’t changed—even though the question doesn’t ask for that information (since everyone knows the brain organization is not complete at that point in time).

So, I often find myself sighing because that last sentence reminds me how we seem to create what I’ve come to think of as a cluster of “scarcity highways” in our brain. I picture this as a group of neural connections that continually perpetuate the illusion that . . . we are never enough, or we never have enough of something. Think how many unproductive thoughts reflect this kind of thinking:

  • I’m not smart enough.
  • I’m not pretty enough.
  • I’m not thin enough.
  • I don’t have enough money.
  • I don’t have enough time for myself.
  • My house isn’t big enough.
  • My boyfriend isn’t nice enough.
  • My essay isn’t good enough.

The list goes on.

Yet, this “not enough” cluster of highways is crazy because we’ve created this fiction. But since the brain has no clue what’s real or not, it just believes whatever we tell it.

For example, we may make $50,000 a year, but if we don’t believe that’s a “good enough” income, we may even quit a job we actually like in search of something more lucrative.

Yet, even if the new job pays more, we’re still going to it with the same scarcity cluster that we had at the old job. So, once again, those neural networks will light up as soon as we think the new job isn’t close enough to home or this boss isn’t organized enough or our office space isn’t big enough—and more.

Of course, something has to trigger this cluster, and I’ve come to imagine two kinds of hecklers as the main culprits. There are the judging hecklers, who keep telling us how we’ve somehow fallen short, and there are the comparison hecklers, who keep pointing out how we’re lacking what someone else already has. Both hecklers constantly pick on us, always pointing out how we are just not good enough.

But, again, we’re the ones who write this fiction. We’re the ones who make up the stories where we believe we truly lack something within ourselves or something we need. Yet if we’re the author, then why not write a whole new story . . . with a happier ending?

If you’re interested in doing just that, here are some simple ways to get started.

1. Bounce the hecklers.

Honestly, if we’d just silence those hecklers (okay, why be polite) . . . if we’d just tell our brain hecklers to “Shut up!” then that cluster would be toast. Simply, a scarcity cluster depends on and thrives on our brain believing what others tell us is the absolute truth.

2. Create a new cluster of “abundance” highways.

So instead of thinking our house isn’t “big enough,” we focus on what we already have. And then . . . wow. Suddenly, we appreciate the roof and walls that keep the rain and wind and snow out of our home, the running hot and cold water that we turn on or off whenever we want, the warm bed we crawl into every night, the lights that go on with a flick of a switch, and more. 

3.  Ignore the negative influencers.

These aren’t just Grandma Mildred (who’s known for her harsh criticism) or our dad (who always reminds us that our sister makes twice the amount of money that we do). Such influencers also masquerade in the media as daily messages on television and the internet that tell us we’re not thin enough, not healthy enough, not savvy enough, not hip enough, and more.  And if that weren’t enough, the 24-hour news cycle continually reminds us of this: Anything bad can happen–at any moment—so we’re never safe enough.

4. Savor joy when you feel it.

When we don’t feel safe enough, we greatly reduce our ability to feel joy. That’s because even when things are going well, we immediately start imagining some impending disaster, just around the corner. Yet, as soon as we do that, bam!  We zap the joy right out of the moment.

So, what do you think? Do people all over the world have scarcity clusters in their brain?

I’m not so sure. Many, many moons ago I lived in the jungles of Mexico and Central America with people who most would deem as truly having very little. Yet, in all my interactions with them, I don’t ever recall anyone saying he or she didn’t have enough of anything.  In fact, these people seemed so grateful for whatever they did have.

I also remember the results of a study that one of my college professors conducted in the shanty towns of Tijuana. The researchers studied how the Tijuana kids—who owned no toys (this was long before electronic devices were available) or sports equipment or board games—“played.” They then compared the Tijuana kids to kids in the United States, who grew up with lots of toys, equipment, and board games.

Hands down, the kids from the Tijuana shanty towns outshined the American kids. Time and time again, they demonstrated incredible creative, imaginative, resourceful, and joyful play that the American kids never even came close to showing.

Of course, we don’t have to live in a jungle or shanty town to understand this bottom line:

We can write any story we want in our brain—and most of all, we don’t need anyone’s approval to edit one that hasn’t been serving us well.

How Yelp Encourages Pons Behavior


It does seem as though Yelp “feeds” the pons . . .

Yelp and the Pons

Yelp is probably one of the best examples of an internet business that encourages people to react in their pons, as well as an example of a site that promotes distorted views (also a sign of an underdeveloped pons) as though they were shared by the majority.  Here’s why I say that.

First, the name Yelp (versus calling it Help) kinda says it all if the “Y” in Yelp represents “yelling” for help. Or, perhaps, the name was chosen to reflect the literal definition of yelp: to utter a short cry of pain or alarm.

Either way, the Yelp name does not invoke anything positive.

Of course, since the creators of Yelp know that people are more naturally inclined to be negative than positive, they capitalize on that. Note that Yelp posted nearly $138 million in revenue last year.

In short, Yelp needs and wants people to “bellow” what’s wrong, rather than encourage them to take care of business—which would mean they would express their concerns to those directly involved, give people a chance to clarify before acting on (whatever), and explore how to move a situation forward in a positive way.

But nope, Yelp is set up to encourage people to stay in their pons since the format promotes fight and flight reactions (both are red flags of an underdeveloped pons). For example, reviewers can do flight behavior by hiding behind their Yelp post without ever sharing their real, full name or without ever expressing their thoughts directly, in person, to the people targeted in their review.

Yelp additionally encourages fight behavior since people can go on the “attack” whenever they aren’t happy with an outcome. Yelp requires no cooling off period or “statue of limitations.” Instead, Yelp makes it possible for people to post a review at anytime—while in the heat of the moment or months or years later after whatever happened (and the situation has now festered in the reviewer’s mind).

In fact, reviewers can shoot as many poisoned arrows at as many businesses as they want, whenever they feel like it—without ever putting themselves “out there.” It’s like open season on businesses, where Yelp reviewers are always completely “safe” as they remain under cover.

There are also themes among negative posts that further suggest many of these reviewers do have an underdeveloped pons. For example, the review will often focus on being duped or slighted or wronged, personalizing whatever the reviewer perceived happened through a “victim lens.” Yet that, too, is often how people with an underdeveloped pons often view the world—as victims.

Adding to that . . .  people with such underdevelopment don’t always even process what was actually  said—even though they’ll insist that what they “heard” was correct. But, again, since Yelp’s format doesn’t require any verification of the “facts” presented in a review, such people’s version of events is then portrayed as  . . . being accurate.  In other words, Yelp does not ever hold reviewers accountable for writing the truth.

To be clear . . . my problem is not with Yelp reviewers. After all, they’re just doing what’s been presented as possible. And, of course, I’m not saying that every Yelp reviewer has an underdeveloped pons or that people in their cortex never have a negative experience. Hardly.

But my problem is that Yelp takes advantage of and then exploits people with an underdeveloped pons. For example, if Yelp mandated that people had to submit their full name (as required when people send letters to the editor in newspapers), then that would eliminate much of the  “flight” potential that’s present when anyone can say whatever they want and remain anonymous.

What Yelp Doesn’t Tell You

Yelp has a filtering system, where Yelp decides which reviews remain visible and which are filtered—and they do this without ever making this process common knowledge to the public.

So, if you have X-ray vision, you might note some very fine print at the end of the chosen reviews that says “filtered.” And if even if you find this microscopic word—and understand what it means in terms of Yelp–you still have to click on it and jump through a few more hoops before you can finally read those hidden reviews.

Now, I need to write that Yelp claims they use an algorithm that determines which posts remain visible and which are filtered. However that algorithm is “top secret,” and even Yelp admits that it sometimes affects perfectly legitimate reviews and misses some fake ones, too.

However, there has been A LOT of discussion that suggests Yelp’s review selection process is not as random as they claim. For example, many business owners contend that “bad” reviews stay visible while good ones are filtered if the business does not purchase advertisements on Yelp.

Our own Brain Highways experience gives some credence to such concerns. We have been continually asked to pay to advertise on Yelp, but we have not done so. And guess what? We have just three visible Yelp reviews of Brain Highways. Two of those reviews are not positive, while the one that appears . . . is like the shortest review ever.

Now, if those three reviews had truly been all that was ever written about Brain Highways, I would still stand by my conviction that the two negative reviews do not reflect the overwhelming positive feedback we’ve received over the years. But I’d accept those posts as reflections of those people’s experiences. (I would wonder, though, why such comments were never expressed either to staff or as responses to any of our questionnaires during the four months the reviewer was in the program.)

However, Yelp has currently filtered TEN Brain Highways reviews—and nine of those had 5-stars. Hmmmmm . . .

So, that’s not only frustrating to us, but it is also greatly misleading to the public.  For example, if people who are interested in brain organization just read those three unfiltered reviews, they may decide that neuroplasticity is not possible or feasible for the average family. Yet, that conclusion is nowhere in sync with 6,000+ participants who have completed the Brain Highways program and have experienced great changes and improvements in their lives.

How Yelp Entices People in their Pons

I also have concerns when people start to get a distorted sense of power—which is additionally common among people with an underdeveloped pons. That’s because, in my experience, such intoxicating power only escalates. For example, with Yelp’s encouragement, the more a person “yelps,” the higher probability reviews from such people will stay posted, rather than be relegated to the filtered junkyard.

So what does that mean? Well, negative people will continue to get some thrills from seeing their attacking reviews remain in print, while positive people will likely get discouraged (and not continue) to write reviews, especially after seeing what they wrote didn’t make the “cut” by Yelp standards. However, that scenario then actually affects the public the most since they now get a distorted view of a business (and most likely, do not even know that other reviews have been filtered).

As a business owner, my only Yelp options are to ignore the review (but then that could easily be interpreted as the reviewer was “right” since there is no response to say otherwise), comment below the review (but doing that then automatically suggest the review is credible and in need of a response) or contact the reviewer via the secret Yelp way (meaning the reviewer’s identity still remains secret).

But since the Yelp reviewer remains anonymous at all times, responding directly to that person may just be a total waste of time since the reviewer could be a competitor who fabricated the review as a way of sabotage. In such case, no response is going to “rectify” anything.

Viewing Yelp from the Cortex

There’s always a chance to learn something from any situation, right? So what might we glean from Yelp?

Well, I for one no longer give credence to any rating or review (and not just on Yelp)—positive or negative—if the person’s full name is not included.  That seems simple enough, and such a stance could greatly influence exchanges on the internet if that mindset became mainstream.

Yelp might also encourage us to reflect on whether we’ve provided a way for people to express their concerns in a positive, productive manner wherever we are in charge—whether it’s at a business or our home. Note that such an approach is opposite of encouraging people to whine and complain.

At Brain Highways, we’ve created a whole system called “Taking Care of Business” that presents a positive approach for both parents and kids to express whatever they’re thinking. But this way of communicating is based on a desire to first connect with someone and then explore ways to find common ground in order to move forward. However, if someone is not interested in making a sincere connection or finding common ground, well then, I admit . . . the Yelp format is going to be a very appealing alternative.

When thinking about Yelp, a positive, new idea also came to mind. I’d love to see someone create an online Help format that focuses on problem-solving, rather than just encouraging a recap of whatever irritated, annoyed, and aggravated someone.  Such a site might have a simple format that looks something like this:

  • Write your full name.
  • Write the name of the business.
  • Write a few statements that describe your original concern with this business.
  • Write who (in the business) you contacted to address this concern.
  • Write how quickly you contacted that person (from when the concern began).
  • Write how you presented your concern to move the situation forward.
  • Write how the person (from the business) responded.

Now that kind of information might actually be helpful to someone interested in learning about a business. It would also require the person who experienced a problem to take responsibility by first directly contacting the business and by attempting to resolve the situation.

Again, please note that I am not judging anyone who has written a Yelp review. I fully acknowledge that people have the right to post whatever review they want, as well as concede that Yelp has the right to also set up its business as it pleases.

Just can’t help wishing there was a demand for a “Help” site, where the focus was on assisting people to move forward in a positive way and ensuring that the public was given an accurate view of a business.


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