14 facts about the brain

Head Your body contains at least 60 trillion cells. Yet your brain contains ‘only’ 60 billion cells, just 0.001% of the total. Proof that the ‘mind’ isn’t just inside your skull.

Each cell carries, on average 7000 connections to other cells. Therefore the number of cell networks in the brain is 42 thousand billion, or 42,000,000000,000 pieces of information your brain can, store.

Yet your brain only weighs 3 pounds and uses just 10-23 watts of energy per day. That is less than the energy in three bananas.

Each year you will lose about 3.3 million brain cells. But that is less than 0.00000006% of the total. And nearly all of it is replaced, right on up until old age.

There is no truth in the myth that we only use 10% of brain power. The entire brain is being used every day, even if some areas of the brain are there only for storage or for back-up functions.

Super memory. The brain is capable of storing 10 trillion bits of information about you and your life experiences. 

The brain can make its own ‘heroin’. Endorphins are released in the Hypothalamus after vigorous physical exercise, injury, meditation, laughter and chocolate. Endorphins are up to 19 times stronger than morphine. By contrast, heroin is only 7 times stronger than morphine.

Being happy is good for the brain. Happy states trigger dopamine release, a feel-good chemical. Personal fulfilment increases neuroplasticity, slows down ageing and improves memory.

Why is adolescence so difficult? One main reason is that, between puberty and early adulthood, the brain is being rebuilt. There is massive growth in the pre-frontal cortex (Headmind); connections between cell networks are being hard-wired (making emotional life-lessons more intense); and there is a temporary loss of connection between the brain’s emotional centres (the limbic system) and the intellectual centres – which means that teenagers lack the capacity to make good decisions.

New experiences are vital for improved brain function. Getting out of the rut and going for new horizons increases cell growth, delays ageing and improves cell connectivity. The same goes when you let go of the past and exercise forgiveness.

Binge-eating. Emotional self-neglect can lead to food cravings and over-eating. So-called stress triggers an increase in Cortisol in the blood stream, which stimulates Insulin release. High insulin levels are associated with a craving for sugary foods and foods high in carbohydrates.

Regular sex (at least twice a week) improves daily moods, reduces pain thresholds, cuts the risk of a heart attack, decreases menstrual pain and promotes sleep. This is because enjoyable sex fosters high endorphin release.

Love and sex can be addictive. Falling in love, like sexual infatuation) is similar to taking cocaine: the hypothalamus triggers a cascade of dopamine. One problem is that, once the dopamine wears off, a ‘down-mood’ sets in, leading to further cravings.

The brain also contains a bonding chemical: Oxytocin. During labour, female brains produce large amounts of oxytocin, which stimulates contractions and smooths the passage of the baby down the birth canal. Oxytocin also creates a primal, intense bond with the child. Adults in love (or during ecstatic sex) also release high levels of oxytocin.


6 ways to get rid of an addiction

Brainaddict

In my last post – What Everybody ought to know about Addictions – I explained how addictions work. In this article I am going to describe how you can get rid of your addictions (if you really want to).

1. Break your slavery to the Dragon.

The Dragon is a creature who works like an Internal Control Freak. It tells you when to use, how to use, where to use, who to use with and why you should never stop. Some Addictions can seem overwhelming but they are only so because we secretly feed them our own power. Like I said in the last article, Attention is your Dragon’s fertiliser; while Inattention is its weedkiller.

The simplest way out of an Addiction is to live as if you never had one (this is easier than you might think so long as you ignore the Inner Voice – see below).

2. Reduce the power of the Inner Voice

The Dragon (i.e. your Addiction) works through a seductive Inner Voice that appears to know all the answers. Many people who hear the advice given in No. 1. (above) say things like ‘I wish I knew how!’ or ‘I wish it were that easy!’ The reason they find addictions difficult to break is due to the power of the Addictive Voice. Here are some ways to break free from it:

a) Doing something that is the polar opposite of the craving the Inner Voice counsels you to obey

b) Change the Inner Voice over to the Voice of an Idiot.

Listen to the Voice but this time use the accents and tone of someone you consider to be an Idiot.

c) Associate the Voice with someone (or something) very boring

There are endless ways in which you can mess around with the Addictive Voice. Using a voice that puts you to sleep has worked for quite a few of my clients.

3 Reduce opportunities for gratification

Like I said in No. 1 (above) the Dragon feeds on attention. The less you go along with the craving the weaker it gets. Here are some ways to do that:

a) Increase the amount of time between one indulgence and the next. If you consume every day then make it every other day. If you consume every hour then make it every other hour. If you drink alchohol continuously (for example) then have a soft drink between each consumption.

b) Delay consumption. For example, if you think you need a gamble, then go for a walk/talk to a good friend/carry on working for the next 15 minutes or so (you can do this again and again and again…).

c) Avoid situations where temptation could kick in.

Most addictions are tediously predictable. They involve the same substances, in the same quantities, with the same people, in the same places, at the same time of day. If you avoid those places, people and times then you are less likely to use. Period.

d) Stay busy.

Put it the other way around: if you have time to indulge then you are not busy enough. Or maybe you haven’t found something better to do (see No. 7 – below).

4 Go to the extreme.

This is the one I would recommend least. One of the few wrong statements William Blake ever made was that ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” It doesn’t. The road of excess leads to degradation. But it has become something of a truism that drug addicts and alcholics only turn around and give up when they reach the gutter and there is something in that. But do you need to lose your health, your job, your money, your relationship and your self-respect before you make that decision?

5 Associate gratification with something disgusting.

This is a less dangerous version of No. 4 and is based on reconditioning. For example, a teenager can give up drinking after one bad hangover; someone who is sexually promiscuous can reform quickly after getting a dose of the clap.

But you don’t have to go in for misfortunes in order to reform. Instead, dwell insistently on the way you look to others when you self-indulge. Moments when you were degrading, juvenile, bloated, repulsive, ill, contemptible, etc. Or real-life experiences: in jail, in the gutter, in bed with someone you didn’t want to be with, getting fired, etc.

6. Rediscover your passion.

In a famous quote Gregory Bateson, the Anthropologist, once said:

The alcoholic’s problem is not alchohol but sobriety.’

What he was referring to was a variation on my theme that people who become addicts are frequently bored. They get bored because they have too much time on their hands. And they have too much time on their hands because they have given up on their Personal Genius. Meaning they aren’t doing enough to engage their energy, their passion, their mission in life.

In the long run addictions are a substitute for the life you were meant to live.

Don’t let it happen to you.

What everybody ought to know about Addictions

Crack-addict This is the first in two articles about Addictions. The next one – 6 ways to remove Addictions – will appear next week.

In order to eliminate an Addiction you first need to understand how it works. When you see how an Addiction controls you then you are in a position to exercise Awareness over it. From that position you can start to sabotage it.

Human beings can get addicted to almost anything: sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, alcohol, food, weight loss, gambling, therapy, attention-seeking, shopping, stealing, wrist-slashing, surgery (think Michael Jackson), relationships and the internet. Most of what follows applies to Alcohol addiction but most of my observations equally well apply to other bananas.

The first thing to realise is that Addictions are actually obsessions. Obsessions work through tunnel vision, making the problem more important than it actually is. The key to breaking addictions is to break out of the inertia, habit and routine that comes with the addiction and connect back to Bodymind and the wider world.

Addictions are created and maintained in Headmind through a dominating Inner Voice. This Inner Control Freak can be incredibly powerful as well as seductive. It says things like:

‘Go on. You deserve it…’

‘Just the one won’t harm you…’

‘No one will know…’

‘The alternative is just too boring…’

‘You can’t make it through the night without a drink…’

‘It’s no use resisting you know you’re going to have one…’

The more you listen to the voice and follow its commands the stronger it gets. I call this ‘feeding the dragon’. The Dragon started off as a worm but grew and grew until it had you in its tentacles. Attention is its fertiliser. Disobeying it (or laughing at it/ignoring it) is its weedkiller.

If you do allow the Dragon to get a hold on you then your original liking will first turn into a habit. I have worked with many addicts over the past 20 years and it’s just weird how predictable they are. They will use the same beverages, in the same quantities, with the same people, at the same places, at the same times, every day of their lives. But it is easy to break a habit: provided you have something better to replace it with (see next article).

Once a habit turns into an Addiction (meaning that the Dragon has started to control you instead of you controlling it) at that point the problem becomes part of your Personality. Meaning that you start to define yourself as a person who is a slave to something else. This process is helped along by Alcoholics Anonymous and other ‘experts’ who use labels like ‘Alcoholic’, ‘Drug Addict’, ‘Sex Addict’, ‘Kleptomaniac’, ‘Bulimic’, ‘Narcissist’, etc. Labels like these can induce pathology and keep you in a bad place you no longer wish to be in. Drop the labels and change your personality and you will be free again.

The next thing to understand about an Addiction is that it’s not all in the mind. That there is a biological basis for the craving which is relatively easy to understand. So here goes.

When Bodymind notices that you are drinking in large quantities on a regular basis it also notices that the alcohol is depleting the brain of GABA – a neurotransmitter which regulates alertness. And when that happens it seeks to compensate by increasing GABA production. The net result will leave you feeling restless, agitated and uncomfortable. And Headmind – via your Inner Dragon – will interpret that problem as a cue for another drink….which means that, once again, you are feeding that Inner Dragon.

After a while even Headmind starts to realise that the Addiction is creating fresh problems. Like social exclusion, failed relationships, unemployment, crime, financial disaster, sexually transmitted disease, and persistent unhappiness. So it will start to worry about what happens next. But worry won’t solve anything – it just confirms your slavery. But more on that in my next article.