The Brain Game
How Do We Run Our Own Brain?
So you want to run your own brain? Good for you. What a wonderful objective! And so rare. Many people talk about running their own brain and taking charge of their own mind, but just watch them when criticized or insulted. They go to pieces. Let one of their closely held beliefs be questioned, and watch out. Sudden it becomes semantic reaction time. They explode with rage, anger, stress, fear, shock, etc. If they truly "run their own brains," how is it that they lack state management skills in the moments when managing one's reactions really counts?
Running our own brain, and thinking freely in independent ways apart from rehashing worn-out or spoon fed thoughts necessitates several things. It necessitates that we develop mindfulness about our brains (or more accurately, our minds) so that we actually develop state management skills. It means we learn to play a new Game, The "Running My Own Brain" Game. So, with that in mind:
• What do you need to understand about brains to be able to run yours?
• Would you like to play the Brain Game?
SEVEN BRAIN FACTS
Here are seven things about your brain. They provide a description about how brains work. They also establish an understanding of the Game of Running Your Own Brain and so lead to the Rules of the Game.
#1: Brains Follow Directions
Brains follow directions. They take the directions that you give them and they follow them.
"John, did you see that red, white and blue cat yesterday? Yes, red, white and blue? in fact, the American Flag colors were bright red, white, and blue. Someone in the neighborhood must have thought it would be a patriotic thing to do. Where did I see it? On Linda's yellow car. It was being chased by a pair of French Poodles across the greenbelt by the swimming pool. That was just before King Kong climbed to the top of the school and beat his chest at the circling plane."
Provide a little description and the brain goes to work representing the information on our internal mental screen. Like a movie director, brains use the information as instructions for our mental Cinema. This explains why the following are very important questions for our states:
What directions are you giving your brain?
What are the default instructions that you've learned to give your brain?
What instructions did your parents or teachers provide you about yourself, life, others, etc.?
How useful, ecological, healthy, balanced, valuable, true, etc. are those instructions?
Do those instructions create empowering states for you?
Would you want to give those instructions to your children?
Do they map out an exciting and loving life?
Why are these questions so important? Because the quality of our lives is a function of the quality of the information processed by our brain. The quality of that information flows from the quality of its instructions. The most important thing you do in life then are the instructions that you give your brain. Are the instructions those that you would use to create a world-class movie?
Recently a young man wrote to me.
"I'm an extremely shy person. When I see a social situation, I avoid it because I say to myself that I'll have nothing to say and that I'll be a complete idiot because they will find me boring, then I'll feel depressed. So I just don't go. Every time I make a mistake, I feel stupid, then depressed. And that's what causes me to procrastinate. It's really stupid, and I know better, and I see it causing me to produce sub-optimally. I feel like these are insurmountable problems...."
I copied the words from the email, cut and pasted them back into my reply. I then asked him to step back from the words and view them as brain instructions.
"Just pretend for a moment that these are instructions for your brain. Are these ideas healthy or sick ones? Would you recommend this way of thinking? Suppose the most popular kid at the university thought this way. How much of a party would these instructions make his or her life?"
There's a principle in this. Namely, feed your brain toxic ideas and you enter into a toxic world. Your brain will go there because that's what brains do. Brains go places. Just this week I caught a Brain (thank God it wasn't mine) going to "Worst Case Scenario!" The person was talking about terrorism in the world. He then entertained unimaginable scenarios. Then he freaked out. Then he said, "This shouldn't happen!"
And I can tell you, these instructions did not put him in a very resourceful state.
Brains use words, pictures, sounds, tones, volumes, smells, tastes, all kinds of things as the basis for swishing us places. Mention a word and off your brain goes. But where? It depends on your learning history, experiences, memories, imaginations, hopes, etc. Brains are phenomenal at linking things. They do so very, very quickly. Actually, this is one of the chief problems we have with our brains. The problem is not that they don't learn, but that they learn too quickly. It's just what they learn that often times is just not true or useful.
Brains are also incredible instruments that never shut down. Even in sleep, we dream as brain wave activity continues. This becomes a problem if we don't give the brain lots of interesting things to process. The stimulus hunger of brains will trigger them to play the old B-rated movies or hallucinate freely.
#2: Brains Externalize Instructions
We can see a person's internal world of ideas and frames by noticing the person's external Games. External life reflects internal frames. The behavioral, speech, and action Games that we play on the outside are expressions of our internal frames of mind. They go together. Games and Rules of the Games.
The old proverb put it this way: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." The Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius put this yet another way:
"As thy thoughts are so will thy mind be also; for the soul takes its coloring from thought."
"If you are pained by an external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you?but your judgment about it." (The Meditations, 160 AD).
Brains manifest internal representation into the external world so that we externalize our internal frames and representations. What does this mean? Namely, that our external world will only be as exciting, vibrant, dramatic, and powerful as our internal frames of mind. So, as you decorate your internal world of mind, imagination, and memory with hopes, desires, wonders, delights, etc., you alter the quality and content of the instructions that you give to your brain.
This brings up several excellent questions for those of us who want to run our own brain to create a quality life:
What kind of images, sounds, words, sensations, etc. do you have running on the inside of your brain?
What kind of internal movies are you showing in the Cinema of your Mind?
Who does your interior decorating?
Does your internal world of frames need some better interior decorating?
#3: Brains Run on Representations
The cognitive and neuro-sciences have discovered that brains represent our external sensed experiences. It is not that we literally have an internal movie screen in our mind, yet it seems that we do. This phenomena of consciousness is how we experience thoughts and awareness's. It seems that we internally recall what our home, car, work, friends, parents, dogs, etc. look like, sound like, smell like, feel like, taste like. This sensory awareness on the inside of our brain has led neuro-scientists to designate parts of the brain the visual cortex, auditory cortex, the cortex where we process smells, tastes, sensations, balance, etc.
Korzybski and others noted that we operate upon the world, not directly, but via a map of the world. In NLP, Bandler and Grinder revolutionized psychology by putting the foundation of thought in terms of the sensory representations systems and using these modalities of awareness as the first "languages" of the mind. This facet of running our own brain seems so simple, yet it is so profound.
If we picture a beautiful day with blue sky and billowy white clouds and a green grass lawn facing the white sands of a gorgeous ocean view and imagine feeling the warm ocean breeze blowing through our hair and the smell of the salt water and the sounds of children playing and enjoy our favorite drink while getting a neck and back massage from our special loved one ...
Well, it doesn't take long before our body and neurology responds to those representations as if they were instructions about how to feel. Because brains run on representations, the more expressive, vivid, dramatic, and sensory-specific, the easier it is for us to tell our brains where to go and what to feel. Then the screen play is clearer and easier to follow.
Our brains represent things as it were on a mental screen of the mind. It's like there's an internal movie playing and we fill in the sensory details of that movie. Of course, we do not play out everything in that Cinema. We can't. We can't even input all that comes in. Our eyes only scan a very narrow part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Our ears only receive a very narrow band of sound wave frequencies. So we have to be pretty selective, as a movie director, about what we play on our internal Cinema. Choose well. It's your brain.
#4: Brains Transition In and Out of the Present Moment
With that last induction (three paragraphs above), did you leave where you are now and go somewhere else? If you didn't, perhaps you could use the words to do that. Try it out. Because we represent things, we can represent realities that are not immediately present and go there. This is the foundation of all day-dreaming, night-dreaming, fantasizing, learning, creativity, invention, thinking, conceptualizing, mathematizing, theorizing, etc. This is what we humans do best. We can leave our current situation and travel to distance places, times, and worlds.
We call this thinking. It's also hypnosis. It's also trance. It's many things: imagination, fantasy, creativity, and hallucination. This means that we are not stuck or limited to his present moment. We can represent things not present, never present, and even impossible things. What freedom of mind we have! It's a freedom of consciousness that's unique to our species. We have a consciousness that can transition from our current state to other states, hence the word "trance." Anytime we shift our awareness to something that is not part of our current awareness, we enter a trance state.
This means that most of our states of mind are trances. We mostly live in hypnotic states not sensory aware states in this present moment. Hypnosis is the norm, our default situation, not present time sensory acuity. We call hypnosis or trance "downtime" in NLP because we are down inside ourselves thinking, feeling, and experiencing other times, places, people, and ideas. We call present time sensory acuity "uptime" because we are "up" and noticing what our eyes see, ears hear, skin feels, etc.
"Hey, Tom! Tom, Earth to Tom!"
Our brains love to zone out. Doesn't yours? It happens when you drive on long trips, it happens even when you drive to the grocery store. It happens when you wait in line, in an elevator, and when you're listening to a speech. Brains do that. It's no big deal. Well, it's not unless you have no guidance or control over it. Then it is a big deal. If you lack awareness of when you are present and when you're off on some mind-trip, then you are doing out-of-control hallucinating.
We all hallucinate. Those who do so mindfully and by choice are our greatest scholars, inventors, creators, designers, teachers, CEOs, etc. Those who don't do it by choice suffer from under-achieving and the ineffectiveness of not being able to manage their own mind. They don't run their own brains.
#5: Brains Induce States
Brains put us into neurological states. They affect our physiology, breathing, movement, and internal chemistry. To work up a good mad, we only have to think angry thoughts of injustice and violation. We only have to think about a dangerous threat and off we go into a fear state. And some representations of sexuality can induce our body to experience desire and lust.
Brains do this because they are part of the body. They sit at the top of the spinal cord and nervous system and bring in all of the nervous impulses processed by the end receptors. Out of the structure of our multi-layered brains emerge our sense of awareness we call "mind." Mind is an emergent property in the neurology of our brain. So it is always mind-body or body-mind, and never one without the other.
This explains why we mostly think or represent ourselves into our states but why we also can act our way into states. This gives us two royal roads into a mind-body state of consciousness whether it is confidence and joy and love or fear, anger, and sadness. We can use mind and all of our internal representations and we can use body (breathing, posture, movement, activity, etc.).
What state are you in? What state do you go into when any given stimulus or trigger occurs? You need look no further than the instructions you give yourself at the mental dimension or what you do in terms of your posture, muscle tension, breathing, etc. at the physiological dimension.
#6: Brains Go in Circles
Not only do our brains represent the world, go places, and put us into states, but brains also do flips, they roll over, they flip back on themselves, they go in circles. As there are feed forward and feedback loops in the physical structure of the brain so that nervous impulses are sent to the thalamus and the amygdala they are simultaneously passed on to the escorted and after processing there back to the lower brain structures. It's all inter-connected. We even have an associative cortex that keeps everything connected with everything else so that we have more cortical connections in the three trillion brain cells than atoms in the universe.
No wonder we loop around. No wonder we can worry about our humor and wonder if we are caring too much and then become afraid of our worry and then think something must be wrong with us that we are worry about something so silly as that. We get caught up in down spirals of negative thoughts and can become obsessive compulsive. We can get caught up in positive spiral of thoughts and suffer from insomnia due to our excitement.
Our brains are not strictly logical. To think in a straightforward way and to stay on that path for more than a few seconds is very difficult for our brains. That's why mathematics and formal logic seem so foreign to us. It's not the natural habit of our mind. We think in circles. Our brains go around in loops and spirals. We keep reprocessing the same tired old thoughts.
This reflexivity is what allows us to layer thought upon thought, feeling upon feeling, thought upon feeling, memory upon imagination, fear upon anger, dread upon worry, joy upon learning, etc. This creates the whole domain of our meta-states?our states of thoughts and feelings about other thoughts and feelings. And that's what creates the layering effect of our awareness so that we can create great complexity in our experiences.
We begin with a reference experience, bring it in and represent it, then develop thoughts and feelings about that, and so on until what was "out there" becomes a frame of reference, a frame of mind and then the very frameworks of four personality and orientation. This creates the Rules of the Game, or our highest frames of mind.
#7: Brains Frame Things
This is one of the greatest powers of our brain for health and sanity and for insanity and destructiveness. Our brains frame. They do so to create contextual meaning. Things, events, people, even words do not mean anything in and of themselves. It takes a brain to create meaning, a "thing" that does not exist out there but is a production of the brain.
Actually, the brain creates two levels of meaning. Associative meaning arises when we link up one thing with another thing. What does a cookie mean? It depends on what you have associated with a cookie. It could mean a sweet or junk food. It could mean reward or lack of nutrition. It could mean delight and fun, it could mean threat to my diet. It could mean survival, it could mean fat.
Because brains link ideas, images, feelings, etc., things easily become associated. This creates triggers or anchors. One thing (a sight, sound, sensation, word, etc.) triggers another thing. Stimulus? Response. In this way we create structures of the mind that we call understandings or knowledge. These are not "things," but organizations of associations?how we have sequenced or ordered the frames in our movies.
What does an "authority figure" mean? Where does your brain go when you think about an "authority figure?" What state does it evoke? Pleasant or unpleasant? Resourceful or unresourceful? Just thoughts ... connected in your brain to memories, awareness's, meanings.
Then there is contextual or frame meaning. Once we have linked up and associated things and bring that association into our mind as our frame of reference, we develop higher level thoughts about it. We call these ideas "concepts." In this way we now look at things through a conceptual frame of mind. It becomes a filter. We call them meta-states and meta-programs. This establishes a mental context for thinking and feeling. This is how we turn associations into higher level maps. Doing so establishes the mental Rules of the Games that we then play.
We first associate a harsh tone of voice with being spanked. Later we develop ideas and concepts that people who strain their vocal chords are mean, hurtful, and nasty. Then we develop higher frames that "criticism is bad," "confrontation always ruins things," "I'm sensitive to criticism," "I cannot handle that tone of voice," etc. These thoughts create the higher frames of mind about an event and semantically load that event. So when someone strains the vocal chords, the meanings I experience in relation to that event puts me into very unresourceful states. All of this happens so quickly that on the inside it seems like and feels like "the criticism" (or harsh tonality) makes me upset, angry, or frustrated. This is how we set up and play the Games that we do.
Brains deal with data overload by making generalizations. They create categories for items; they organize things into groups. This allows us to develop contextual meanings from our frames, giving us an even higher way to interpret things.
"Oh, that's just information. Good. For a minute I thought that was criticism."
How we categorize a thing determines what it "is" to us? in our neurology. Yet as we frame, so we become. What we organize on the inside, in-forms us. We are all psychologically organized by our belief frame, value frames, identity frames, decision frames, etc. And the thing about the brain framing is that as we frame, so we play the frame games that we do.
HOW TO PLAY THE BRAIN GAME
Now that you know about brains (minds), what they do and how they work, you're ready to play the Brain Game. This is the Running Your Own Brain Game, one of the original visions of NLP. With Neuro-Semantics we take this even further to run our own brain at the highest levels of the mind (The Secrets of Personal Mastery <../Books/Personal_Mastery.htm>, 2000).
Rule #1: Quality Control Your Brain's Instructions.
Consider anything that isn't Top-Notch Quality for your Brain as Absurd.
Did I mention that brains are stupid? At least in one sense they are very stupid, in the aspect of quality. In that area, they are less intelligent than stomachs. Really. After all, if we feed our stomach garbage, it at least knows how to vomit. Not so the brain. Feed it garbage and it doesn't think twice, it just processes the garbage. Feed it toxic ideas, poisonous thoughts, limiting beliefs, irrational conclusions, and inaccurate mapping and it doesn't know any better than to represent it, assume it is real, and then believe it. Brains themselves are not discriminating about quality, at least not near as much as the stomach. Whether the information is accurate, useful, true, productive, hurtful, stupid, etc., it doesn't seem to matter.
So, given this stupidity of brains, we have to take charge of the Quality Control of the information we feed it. We call this "running an ecology check." Reality test the value, health, and balance of an idea in the whole system of your body, relationships, energy, etc. This is the first Rule of the Game.
If you don't do this, prepare yourself for trouble because trouble, problems, ill-health, incongruent, sabotage, conflict, etc. you will get. This Brain Game Rule says,
"Anything that does not create personal power, health, balance, joy, compassion, wealth, love, etc. is absurd."
Do you play the Game of Life by that rule?
I highly recommend it.
Consider anything that your brain produces in your body, emotions, speech, behavior, relationships that puts you in constant conflict, that keeps repeating patterns that don't work, that creates incongruity, ineffectiveness, unresourcefulness, etc. as absurd. Then stop it! If you follow this first rule, your life will probably radically change and transform in a matter of weeks. This is an extremely powerful and pervasive Rule.
If what you are doing, whether in communication to yourself or others, whether in relationship to your work, career, relationships, health, etc. is not working as an ongoing pattern, STOP. To keep repeating long term patterns that don't work while hoping for different results is a practical definition of "insanity." It is absolutely ludicrous to keep replaying the old movies of hurt and pain in the theater of your mind. Wasn't once enough? It's ludicrous because while the first time it happen to you, after that first time you have been doing it to yourself! It's your brain doing it. It's not happening "out there" anymore. If you're still watching that B-rated movie, and you are the director of the movie.
Quality control your thinking, higher frames of mind, beliefs, states, etc.
Does this enhance my life over the long-run?
Does this empower me as a person?
Does this make life a party?
This Rule will radically challenge everybody still whining over childhood aches and pains, feeling like a victim to a failed marriage or business, or blaming others for their lack of success. This Rule enables you to live in a different way and to play a different Game? a more passionate and ferocious Game, one where you move out into life looking for opportunities and taking risks and playing to your strengths.
Rule #2: Rise Up in your Mind to Become Aware of the Games
You Only Get to Run Your Own Brain if You have Meta-Awareness
Everybody does not get to run his or her own brain. There is one primary condition for getting to run your own brain, you have to know that you have a brain to run and awareness of how you are currently running it. The brain creates first level "awareness," awareness of the world. This is the consciousness of animals and small children. Awareness of that awareness, meta-awareness, moves us to a higher level of mind. If you don't know that you are running your own brain or how you are running it, then your unawareness will be unconscious. Then you won't get to run your own brain. Your Brain will run you!
This Rule ought to scare the hell out of out you! Does it? Unconsciousness means that you are not mindful of what's going on. Use that as a cue. Do you ever scratch your head wondering that? Do you have ask:
Hey, what's going on here? Why do I feel this way?
Why can't I seem to get ahead?
Why am I always running around in circles and never getting on with things?
I don't know what came over me; I just flipped out?
I don't seem to have control of my emotions.
When Rule #2 says that you only get to run your own brain when you develop meta-awareness of what you're doing, it posits awareness as the key condition. This is a big challenge for many. Over the years many have asked, "Would you just hypnotize me and make this problem go away?" I played that Game for awhile. Then I realized the toxicity in that attitude. It's the wrong attitude if you really want to have control over your own life. That attitude will not lead you on to personal mastery. That attitude indicates the failure to actively participate in your own life. And that's why it has to be refused.
In NLP and NS we know that the magic is in the structure. The structure of an experience itself is the magic. That's why we model. We model experts to learn how they do it. Do what? Run their own brain with regard to a specific area (selling, parenting, relating, communicating, wealth building, health and fitness, leadership, etc.). Once we know that, we know how to find the magic in any field or expertise.
This explains why we do the kind of trainings that we do. We seek to teach to the conscious mind. We want consciousness involved. So while we utilize processes for working with facets of mind outside of conscious awareness, we focus on empowering people to run their own brains without becoming dependent upon us. So we facilitate their self-awareness and ego-strength to look reality in the face, and laugh, and feel ferocious.
This rule leads to various questions and orientations.
What is the basic attitude that drives this experience?
What frame of mind do I need in order to experience this orientation?
How does he do that?
How can I adopt her frame of mind about that?
Rule #3: Beware of Your Frame Referencing
Just Because Your Brain Framed it Does Not Make it Useful
If your brain frames, and if the frames that you set create the Games that you play, take care what you reference and how. We all know people (perhaps we have been such) who experience one or more negative events in life and then (to make things worse), build their lives around that event. Talk about a program that sucks. This is the structure of sick magic: Center your life around a Tragedy, Misfortune, or Injustice! This violates Rule #1 for the Brain Game. It is failing to consider this way of representing and framing things as totally absurd.
Decided to build your life around great events. Find (or invent) wonderful references that you can center you life around.
What wonderful event could I build my life around?
What inspiring referent experience (real or imagined) would I like to commission at the center of my attention
If I did, what else would have to change?
And what other supporting ideas or beliefs would enable me to frame things this way?
What you reference, how you reference in terms of the representation richness you encode it in and what you set as your governing frames makes all the difference in the world. It controls and governs the Games that you play. Are you playing the Games that you want to play? If not, then take a look at the entire referencing and framing sequence and design a more empowering one.
As everything habituates so do the neuro-pathways and the internal processing of the brain. When we habituate a way of thinking, an information processing style, or a direction for sending our brain, it eventually becomes our meta-programs or sorting styles. This defines our current trance that organizes our mind-body states. Frames become our software programs or default maps for how to operate in any given arena of life.
Rule #4: Lighten Up and Have Lots of Fun with your Brain
If you don't enjoy the process, you will get stupid.
Here's another rule in the Brain Frame Game. If you get serious about things, you will get stupid. Stupidity is the occupational hazard of getting serious about things. Getting serious typically undermines such graces as humor, laughter, enjoyment, playfulness, silliness, and ludicrousness. And yet these are the saving graces that keep us human. These are the saving graces for being real, being spiritual, and being authentic. Lose these and you will not be able to run your own brain with any dignity or grace.
Lose humor and laughter and you loose perspective. You'll even begin to be seduced into playing the God Game, thinking you are perfect (or should be), know it all (or should), and be everywhere and do everything (hence, indispensable). If any of that seems legitimate, you are in danger of getting stupid very rapidly.
Now the stupidity of seriousness causes people to become stiff and rigid. They get "right" (or so they think), then proud of being right. That leads to stuffiness, arrogance, and the closing of the mind. It's a pitiful thing to see. Yet it happens all too often. Many people pursue an advanced degree and then think the degree bestows upon them an All-Knowingness. They actually think that their every opinion is somehow sacred and should never be question. Doctors, educators, and bureaucrats often fall into this fallacy. All of this increases their stupidity because not only do they not know it all, but they cannot know it all, no one can, and if they did, it would make life less worth living. The fun is in the pursuit.
Rigid serious arrogance makes these people clowns when it comes to making a mistake. Talk about watching a fallible human being make an ass of himself. Watch one of these people do something wrong. The problem is that they can't be wrong. It's not allowed. Yet their pomposity won't allow them to simply say, "Oops. Missed that one."
This Rule in the Game of Running Your Own Brain says you have to enjoy and delight yourself in your complete fallibility. Your brain is fallible and that makes all you think fallible, all of your emotions, speech, behavior, and actions. It is all "liable to error." Don't just accept this, enjoy it. How easy is it for you to have fun with it? To poke fun at your own silliness? To be ridiculous, make a fool of yourself, blow it, and still maintain all of your dignity?
Serious people not only believe, they believe in their beliefs. This is what makes them dangerous. That leads them to being fanatical "true believers" who have closed their minds to the possibility of being wrong. Such serious people never see the high comedy of their ridiculous position. It's their lack of humor that leaves them with no perspective. So it is humor that's our saving grace, that frees us up, that allows us to lighten up and to know that all of our mental mapping is just that?fallible human mapping, at the best, the highest thinking we can do at the moment.
Lighten up and enjoy the ride especially when you get into a loop. Just flow with it. If you fight it, if you resist it, you add negative energy to the loop. The quickest and easiest way out is paradoxical? welcome it and enjoy the ride. It's just a loop of the mind. Play with it.
#5: Keep Teaching Your Brain New Tricks
Yes, your brain can (and will) learn new tricks. Count on it. Brains are always learning, that's the good news. The bad news is that if you don't take charge of what they are learning, they will learn trash. So in playing the Brain Game, aim to constantly be teaching your brain more productive things. Feed it the best data available: inspiring ideas, awesome thoughts, empowering beliefs, and supporting understandings. Keep coding and recoding the Cinema in your mind so that your internal world is dramatic, exciting, bigger than life, full of grace and love, power and energy, make it alive and vital. Create one new empowering frame of mind every week?in a year's time you'll have 52 enhancing frames for the Matrix of your Mind.
Set out on the exciting adventure of discovering, unpacking and replicating the strategies of the experts. Forget "why" things go wrong and people are stupid, focus on those who are producing excellence and search out their strategy. Find out what movies are playing in the Cinema of their Minds. Find out all of the cinematic features that make that movie so entertaining and the states and higher level states it creates. After you do that for a year or two, you'll have habituated the Movies of the Experts in your mind ... and body and emotions and life.
There's a new Game in town. It's the Game of Running Your Own Brain. Nor does it take a rocket scientist to understand the Game. Mostly it takes self-awareness, meta-awareness, and the willingness to have fun exploring how the brain creates the Matrix of Frames that then governs the Games of our lives.