Believing the Brain Can Change


(Shelley Saban, who is currently participating in the Brain Highways program with her son, is our guest blogger.)

Above average! Quite a difference from his results eight months ago.

Everything I do in life has to be researched   . . .  from buying the best hammock to choosing care for my children.  I ask questions. I search the internet.  I seek referrals.  When I first heard about Brain Highways, I discounted it. I didn’t even research it. That was four years ago.

Back then, I was on a mission to find what was “wrong” with my son.  When he was 4, the school district and behavioral clinic at Children’s Hospital concluded that he had ADHD (the combined type).

I was relieved; I finally had a diagnosis that I could work with. My husband and I immediately decided that we’d go to behavioral counseling to find strategies that would work with our son.  We went for several months and developed numerous behavioral charts—all to no avail. We also went for a year to occupational therapy.

After seeing little improvement, the counselor suggested we medicate. The school suggested we medicate. All roads pointed to medicate.

I wasn’t a big fan of medicating, but I had also heard many stories of children who came to be themselves when the medication worked. However, I had also heard of kids who turned into zombies.

After much debate, we took the plunge and tried stimulant medication. Not one stimulant medication, mind you. No, we had to try about four different ones, at various doses. One medication did make him act like a zombie; another one made him hyper and emotional. But then one medication made him just right, or so we thought.

Over the course of the next six months, we were hooked on the meds. We were afraid to stop them because the rebound effect was so intense.  However, even on the medication, our son was pretty emotional, and he would still have a meltdown if things didn’t go according to schedule. But, at least, he was now manageable.

At the same time, we went to a homoeopathist to try and get our son a remedy that would help ease the side effects of the medication. It seemed to do him some good.

So, that summer we took a trip to Israel and bravely decided to see what it might be like to stop the medication. It was scary because we couldn’t remember what lay beneath.

Well, it turned out my sweet boy was there!  The one who was a crying mess for the past six months was gone. I had my baby back, and I felt so lucky. We continued with the homeopathy since we thought that was still working for him.

My son entered kindergarten with a 504 plan and was doing okay. He was still pretty hyper, but his degree of movement was acceptable for kindergarten. First grade also went without incident. But once he hit second grade, everything seemed to unwind.

Our first parent teacher conference was a terrible one. While the teacher had good intentions, she suggested that he needed medication, noting that she had never seen a child with ADHD as bad as his.

Once again, I spun into action trying to find a cure. I called the psychiatrist that the teacher recommended, who asked for a $3000 retainer for six sessions.  Next, I went to an integrative doctor who did allergy tests on him and discovered that my son is gluten intolerant. Gluten was out.

At that time, I also started paying attention to the ADHD boards and going to the support meetings. It was in an email from those groups that someone mentioned Brain Highways.

I remembered hearing about them four years prior, but were they any good? I wrote to the mother who wrote the email, and she highly recommended it.

When I looked at the website and saw the videos, I started to get excited.  I called my husband over and said, “That’s our son!”  The entertaining videos (who star prior Brain Highways participants) clearly showed the connection between incomplete lower brain development and behavior.  It was as though they were talking about my son!  The resemblance between the behaviors noted in the videos and my son was uncanny.

So, I reserved a spot for one of Brain Highways’ (free) Sunday screening sessions. We decided to take my daughter (who was our perfect angel) along to see what they’d say about her. Turns out she can improve her brain efficiency, too (which is something that probably applies to all of us).

The program seemed interesting enough. I thought that I could definitely make the commitment to go for eight weeks.  How bad could that be? Eight weeks of creeping and crawling and then I’m done? Well, not really.

First, there are two eight-week classes (but that’s it—after that, the parents know how to continue on their own) to learn how to facilitate your child’s brain.  Second, I didn’t quite do the math.  Since it takes the average person 150-300 hours of doing the actual brain work in order to be done, that comes out to more like 10 to 15 months (if figuring chronological time) when doing the work for 30 minutes a day.

Actually, I’m glad I didn’t do the math since, truthfully, I don’t know if I would have enrolled. But my husband and I took a leap of faith, and we thought, “We have nothing to lose. Let’s try it out.”

My son, surprisingly, wasn’t that resistant to creeping and crawling, and he LOVED going to the Brain Highways Center.  I mean, his face just beams when he’s there. I figure it’s because he’s getting all the input his brain needs—and that happens without my son ever having to find his own compensations.

The staff is also amazing; they make the kids feel so confident.  I’ve learned that has a lot to do with the kinds of subconscious messages we send.  The Brain Highways staff really believes that each child is a champion when they walk in the door—even though they don’t have all their highways yet in place.  And so, the kids immediately respond as champions when they’re at the center.

For me, it took six weeks until I saw some minor changes.  Of course, the six week reference is misleading in that my son had only completed about 18 hours of the floor work at that time.

Although I still had doubts, we pressed on.

At Week 7, I responded on a course questionnaire that I didn’t feel I was seeing enough changes to warrant doing the second class.  I was skeptical that I would see many more changes.

However, the day after I answered the questionnaire, I had an IEP meeting at my son’s school.  Unsolicited, the principal told me that she noticed a real change in my son. Specifically, he seemed more present, and he was making much more eye contact. Not only did his teacher agree, but she additionally noted that his body seemed much calmer.  In the past, she would see him flailing in line, but now he was walking in line with the other kids.

So, others were seeing significant changes!  Well, I knew, right then, that I was signing up for the midbrain course.

It didn’t stop there. I also received unsolicited feedback from his soccer carpool, telling me that my son was now much more focused, and he needed little prompting to get ready (which was a great improvement from last season).

Then my brother, who lives in Arizona, came to visit and was floored. He couldn’t believe the changes that he saw. He told me that he couldn’t believe how someone could NOT do Brain Highways. That’s the truth.

So, I’ve come to learn that we, as parents, are often the last to see those first significant changes.  Maybe, it’s similar to not noticing that the person we live with has lost weight, while others immediately “see” it.

After our third month in the Brain Highways program (my son now had done about 40 hours of the brain work), the teacher noted that he was doing much better in class. Yet, he was still having trouble in the pull-out program.

However, by the fourth month of the program (now he’d completed about 55 hours of the brain work), he was successful in every environment in school!

The speech pathologist’s recent report also underscored documented changes in this area, as well. The results significantly differ from when my son was assessed eight months ago (with the same tests).

For example, in the section where he’s evaluated for his interactions with peers and adults, he leaped from “sometimes” (bypassing the next ranking of “usually) to the “almost always” column in just about every area.  In the part of the assessment that ranked his ability to show “consideration for another individual’s personal space,” he catapulted from “rarely” to “almost always.”

Eight months ago, this assessment concluded that my son had social/emotional deficits. But today (with those 55 hours of floor work completed), the current assessment states that my son has social/emotional competence!

It gets better.  The summary of this recent clinical report concluded that my son’s “overall performances on standardized assessments were in the average to above average range” and . . . “at this time, does not qualify for speech and language services.”

And what about the ADHD?  Well, before starting Brain Highways, that clinical report (eight months ago) stated that my son was on task 53% of time. The recent report states he’s on task 97% of the time!

The teacher says he’s like a different person.

But I know he’s not. He is actually the person that he always was. It’s just now, with more highways in place, the world can more easily see who he really is as they finally meet my real son.  That, too, is an underlying theme at Brain Highways.

So, I wanted to share my story because, maybe, if I had read something like this four years ago, I wouldn’t have waited so long to find out more.  I also wanted people to truly process that brain organization is not magic (it’s work, though it can also be fun)—and it does not happen instantly.

But the brain can truly change.  And when it does, it’s almost unbelievable.  Yet, once you’ve experienced this, it becomes an undeniable truth— one you just want to share with everyone, with the hope that more families will discover this reality for themselves.

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!”

Which Experts to Ignore

Brain Highways Center

This letter defies what experts once predicted was possible for Adrian Galvan.

Sometimes the experts are wrong.  Eleven years ago, the experts said that Adrian Galvan (who was 6 years old back then) was mentally retarded and had autism because he could not speak or make eye contact, and he threw hours-long tantrums.

Yet, a few years after Adrian began organizing his brain, he was able to clearly communicate his original ideas with others, look them in the eyes, and yes, the tantrums were gone.

But, no, he had still not learned to really read and write since such skills (in natural brain organization) take time.

However, once again, the experts stepped in. At a school meeting, the professionals wanted Adrian’s mother to understand that she was in denial if she believed her son would ever become literate.

Their recommendation was to place him in a life-skills program. There, his educational curriculum would focus on just learning some basic skills that would help him survive in the world.

Collectively, the experts insisted this was the right course of action.  Adrian’s mother insisted it was not.

So instead, she decided to home-school her son. The idea was to give Adrian the grace of time to complete his brain organization and to become literate as part of the process.  A few years later, Adrian successfully returned to public school.

Flash to the present.  Adrian is now a senior in high school.

Much has changed since those experts insisted that a life-skills program was Adrian’s best educational option. For example, Adrian has not only researched how to construct a boat, but he actually built one that he then sailed on Mission Bay. He has led others in many service learning projects and is known for creating incredibly sophisticated, entertaining videos. The list goes on.

So, the recent letter from the principal of San Pasqual High School, sharing how Adrian had been selected as the Student of the Month for the English department, was no surprise to those who know him.

In the letter, it says:

“Adrian is an exceptional student. He comes prepared every day. He assists his peers, and he is a very polite and thoughtful young man.  He has earned an A consistently along with outstanding citizenship. His comments on topic always encourage other students to think deeper about the application of the information.”

The letter ends with the principal congratulating Adrian on his academic success. Yes, his academic success.

But this troubling question remains: What if Adrian’s mother had not known about developing the lower centers of the brain? What if she had listened to those experts?

Here’s what’s also concerning: We usually seek an expert’s opinion when we’re the most vulnerable (when we need help).

Therefore, here are some specific behaviors that now cause me to pause and question the credibility of an expert.

  • They reject whatever you bring to the discussion—even though they have no first-hand experience with whatever information you are sharing.
  • On their own, they bring up and negate other approaches and programs (again, usually without any first-hand experience) within the context of advocating the one they support.
  • They talk in absolutes and present themselves as though they couldn’t possibly be wrong.
  • If you question their prognosis, they tell you that you are in denial.

In contrast, there are experts who respect and acknowledge that parents, too, have their own expertise when it comes to their kids.  Such experts don’t automatically dismiss something a parent brings up, such as a method or program that’s unfamiliar to them. In fact, many of these professionals often express interest to learn more.

Call me crazy, but here’s a thought.  Since the brain is involved in everything we do—and incomplete lower brain development can affect  behavior, academic performance, coordination, health problems, memory, and more—why wouldn’t we start all discussions about our kids by first asking:  What’s actually going on in my child’s brain?

If we don’t know the answer, then why wouldn’t we want to find out before anyone leaps to conclusions or makes recommendations that may or may not prove helpful?

And that’s where Adrian’s mother and the professionals parted back then.  The experts were focusing solely on his current academic output—but she knew what was going on his brain. More importantly, she understood that his current output was going to change once more of his brain was organized.

Without question, Adrian’s story is a tribute to his parents, his perseverance, and the amazing ability of the brain to reorganize itself so that it can function as intended. In fact, I’m thinking the principal who just signed Adrian’s recent congratulatory letter would probably find it incredulous to learn that he’d once been slotted for a sparse life-skills educational curriculum.

That’s why I’m hoping that Adrian’s journey will continue to inspire others to also keep the door open—even if an expert tries to close it.

When Excuses Mask the Truth


We may have a lot of excuses, but does that move a situation forward?

When my daughter, Callan, was nine years old, she had a friend who’d join our family on outings and who’d come over to our house to play—but her friend never reciprocated.

Then one day that friend, Rachel, called. For the first time ever, she not only invited Callan to go somewhere with her, but the invitation was to go miniature golfing! Callan was thrilled.

However, Callan had already made arrangements for another friend, Chloe, to come over that same afternoon. When I pointed that out, Callan quickly noted that she saw Chloe a lot—and this was special.

But wasn’t that just an excuse to bail on her other friend?

So, I told Callan she could go miniature golfing so long as she told Chloe the truth, which would be (if she opted to go) that she was the kind of friend who ditches someone in a heartbeat if something better comes along.

In other words, it was Callan’s choice how she spent the afternoon, but I was not going to allow her to excuse her actions in a way that somehow rationalized leaving one friend for another.

When Callan tried again to justify why she should go miniature golfing, I cut her off. The choice was hers, but it had to include the truth.

Callan was not happy with me. I watched her ponder the dilemma, and I honestly did not know what she was going to do.  After about five minutes, I saw her go and pick up the phone and dial. But I still didn’t know which friend she was calling.

And then I heard her say, “Rachel, thanks for inviting me to go miniature golfing, and I really, really, wanted to go. But  . . . I already have plans with another friend today. I hope you ask me again.”

So, even a nine-year-old understood the difference between rationalizing an action and the actual truth.

But how many times do we cover our own truths with an excuse—and do not even realize we’re doing that? So, here are some common examples when excuses mask what’s really the truth.

An excuse: I was late because there was a lot of traffic.
The truth: I was late because I overscheduled my day and did not allow enough wiggle room.

An excuse: I couldn’t do (whatever) because you weren’t clear what needed to be done.
The truth: I didn’t do (whatever) because I didn’t ask for clarification on how to do the job.

An excuse: I didn’t finish (whatever) because there weren’t enough supplies.
The truth: I didn’t finish (whatever) because I didn’t plan accordingly (e.g. buy enough supplies) to complete the task.

An excuse: I can’t pay my bills because my job doesn’t pay me enough money.
The truth: I can’t pay my bills because I spend more money than I make.

Interestingly, these two different responses—an excuse versus the truth—might also give us some insight as to how our own brain is wired.  For example, the excuse mentality can be thought of as a fight or flight reaction.

How’s that? Well, first the person withdraws any personal responsibility for what happened by pointing the finger elsewhere, and then he or she likely goes into the fight mode if others don’t graciously accept the excuse.

In contrast, the truth mentality can be thought of as a cortex response. Here, the person has reflected on his or her own role in whatever has happened and then accepts full responsibility for whatever has transpired.

This latter kind of wiring also decreases the probability the same action will be repeated. That’s because such people have an awareness that they are ultimately responsible for whatever happened, so they can now do something different in the future to avoid the same scenario.

But that’s why we wouldn’t expect that kind of learning curve with a person whose brain is wired to make excuses. Without any self-awareness and reflection, such people will continue to point to someone or something else to justify what they did and, therefore, will likely repeat whatever they did previously.

So why not ask yourself: How often do I mask the truth with an excuse?  To find out, record a point every time you gloss over the truth and make an excuse (that shifts the focus to anyone or anything but you) for whatever happens over the next seven days. Tally your points at the end of the week.

If you accept this challenge, there’s no way you can lose.  If you have no or few points, you can smile and congratulate yourself. If you have more points than you’d like, you can decide to pause as soon as you realize you’ve inserted an excuse in place of the truth—and then, you can reframe what you say.

This is also great modeling for our kids because here’s yet another humbling truth: If we’re tired of all our kids’ excuses . . . have they learned that response from us?

Why Acting Goofy is Great


It doesn't take a whole lot to be a little goofy.

When interviewing prospective Brain Highways staff, here’s the first question I ask: On a 1 to 10 scale, how goofy can you get?

So, how would you rate yourself in terms of being goofy? And . . . would that number differ from how others rate you?

Here’s why I think acting goofy at times—clearly, this is not the preferred default mode—is important.

1. When we’re goofy, we’re definitely in our cortex. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to be goofy while we’re in the primitive, survival parts of our brain.

2. If we welcome being goofy, we probably don’t take ourselves so seriously all the time. That then reminds us and others that no one is perfect.

3. When we’re goofy, it usually prompts others to laugh and smile—and that triggers positive mirror neurons in everyone around us.

4. If we’re goofy in front of others, we probably aren’t real self-conscious or care what others may think.

So, as parents, how can we include more goofiness in our homes?  Here are some favorite ways we had fun being silly when my girls were young.

Backwards Evening

We declared one night our “backwards evening.” After we figured out our names spelled backwards, that’s how we addressed each other (e.g. Jim became Mij). Each family member wore their clothes backwards to dinner, where we (of course) ate dessert first. After dinner, we re-wrote song lyrics so that they were now backwards (last word of the line became the first and so on) and tried singing them that way. We wrapped up the evening by reading the nighttime story from the last page to the first.

House Dress Up

We gathered items, such as shirts, pants, socks, shoes, scarves, hats, headbands, and jewelry to dress the furniture in a room (e.g. socks and shoes were placed on chair legs, hats were placed on top of lampshades, and so on).

Amazing Dog

We promoted a new, fantastic dog show, and then we (as the parents) became “the dogs” while the girls (our owners) taught us new tricks. (Yes, we were down on our hands and knees—and even barked here and there—as we learned to roll over, and more.)

Fifi from France

Oddly, a woman who looked a lot like me—but who had (if truth be known) a terrible French accent and was named Fifi—seemed to show up when the girls had friends over for lunch. Of course, Fifi loved to serve people their food as she told them of her days in France. (She was so popular that my girls’ friends often inquired if Fifi would be serving them when they came over.)

Human Christmas Tree and Presents

First, the kids made homemade wrapping paper from long pieces of butcher paper. We also made a large green paper pancho-like tarp that we put over my husband, who was designated to be the human tree.

Next, we wrapped the part of his legs that were still showing in brown paper. Combining both homemade and store-bought ornaments, we decorated our novel tree, complete with lights and an angel on top of his head.

After that, we wrapped the human presents (the kids and their friends) in the paper they had created so that just their heads and feet showed.  We placed the human presents under the human tree, and turned off the lights, pretending it was Christmas Eve. After a few minutes, we turned the lights back on, declared it was Christmas morning, and the human presents burst out of their paper!  Oh, and by the way, we did this in . . . July (just adds more to the goofiness).

Okay, so can you picture yourself doing any or all of the above?  If not (and you’d like to bring a little more goofiness into your home), you may have been raised in a house where acting silly and goofy was frowned upon. Without realizing it, you may have now inadvertently passed on that subconscious message to your own kids.

But that’s hardly etched in stone.  Any family can have a backwards evening, dress up furniture, teach (parent) dogs new tricks, be served by a foreigner with an accent, and create a crazy Christmas in the middle of summer.

And that’s just the beginning. The list of potential ways to be goofy and fun is endless.  In fact, you may be surprised to discover that you have a lot of dormant goofiness— just waiting for a chance to surface.


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