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Whole Person ~ Whole Planet Blog

with Victoria (Vikki) Hanchin

The REAL Choice This Election: To Mindfully Evolve or Reactively De-volve

The REAL Choice This Election:
To Mindfully Evolve or Reactively De-volve

Victoria Hanchin, LCSW © October 4, 2016

Greetings, Dear Planetary Family,

It’s Victoria (Vikki) Hanchin here, returning from a long absence while I was focused on my magnificent Mother’s conscious dying process. Now, thoroughly nourished by her legacy of fierce love and deep wisdom, I am back. And I am excited to announce the mobile-friendly upgrade and re-launching of my WholePersonWholePlanet.com website, with a free gift for you at the “Store.” (See link at end of blog).

In this timely blog, I share some vital brain science with you about your brain. This news may be the most important breakthrough available currently. 

New brain science documents that excessive stress can “dumb you down,” by literally damaging your brain, and disrupting access to higher brain functions. Fortunately, brain science has also verified daily practices that can help you repair such stress-induced brain damage. This is where brain science can become your new best friend. 

This new science of  “brain neuro-plasticity” teaches that your brain is “plastic.” This means that your daily experiences, stress exposures and choices are altering your brain’s structure and functioning—either for better, evolving you to grow; or for worse, de-volving you to regress. So, when stress exposure is excessive and chronic, it can damage your brain’s structures and functioning for the worse. Then you regress rather than evolve, in your thinking, feeling-states, and behavior. 

Based on this brain science news, I suggest that each one of us is being faced with a choice even bigger than the vote for the next U.S. president—although certainly tied to that vote. What is this choice? 

I see that the real choice is whether to mindfully evolve, or to unknowingly and reactively devolve, in response to the unrelenting and unprecedented levels of stress exposure. It appears that our future, and its quality of life, depends on this choice. Excessive, brain-damaging levels of stress are being generated all around you. You can learn how to take care of your brain, improve the quality of your life, and contribute to a better future, all by learning this new brain science. 

For example, toxic feeling-states such as antagonism, hostility, anger, perceived threat and fear are being incited by some of the election candidates. These negative feeling-states actually activate high levels of stress neuro-chemistry in your brain.  Add to that your exposure to news of terrorism, mass shootings, and severe weather disruptions. Without your realizing it, repeated exposures to these conditions can be damaging your brain structures and functioning.  And that is not yet factoring in your personal level of stress. 

That may sound overly dramatic. But the brain neuro-science I am about to share with you is a clear example that what you don’t know—about chronic excessive stress—can harm you and your loved ones, and our future.  Fortunately, learning to apply the new science of brain neuro-plasticity can positively evolve your life…and our future.

 I am summarizing in this blog the essentials that you need to know about the new brain science, and how to begin applying it immediately, based on highlights from my soon-to-be-published Retrain Your Brain Guidebook™. Due to the intense level of stress many have expressed about the upcoming election, I want to get some key points out to you immediately. (see my primary brain science references at the bottom of this blog.) 

And please share this newsletter widely, so that we can repair our brains from excessive stress, and create momentum for evolution rather than de-evolution at this very important time for humanity! *************************************************************************** 

 First, the bad news from the brain neuro-plasticity research: 

1) Your brain can be damaged by excessive and chronic stress, which dumbs you down. This occurs by over-activating your lower Limbic and Reptilian brains, and disrupting higher brain functions. 

2) Excessive stress is identified by the disruptive neurochemistry generated by frequent, chronic, “negative experience-based feeling states” such as hostility, violence (even witnessing acts of violence on the news), threats to safety and survival, anger, blame, antagonism, fear, anxiety, overwhelm, helplessness, and despair. 

3) Frequent exposures to such “negative experience-based feeling states” devolve your brain by disrupting its higher Neo-cortex functions with high doses of stress neuro-chemistry.  This stress neuro-chemistry hijacks your perceptions and behavior to the fear-based lower Limbic and Reptilian brains. You then have difficulty accessing the higher brain Neo-cortex functions, capable of complex problem solving and creativity. Examples of the brain-damaging effects of excessive stress include the following:

* Shrinking the brain’s white matter and grey matter, which are part of the higher, “CEO” executive-function zone of your brain

* Enlarging the fear centers of your brain, such as the amygdala, so that you over-perceive danger

* Damaging the hippocampus, which is a key part of your brain involved in learning and memory

* Hijacking your brain’s neurochemistry away from the creative higher functions into the negative rumination area, that keeps you in “negative experience-based feeling states.” 

4) With excessive stress becoming more chronic, your two fear-based lower brains (the Limbic and Reptilian brains) increasingly dominate your functioning, holding you hostage, so to speak. As brain damage accumulates, you are less able to access your Neo-cortex’s creative higher functions. This results in your functioning devolving into:

* Increased impulsivity and negative reactivity

* Increased angry feelings* Increased “me” focus, with less consideration for “we” (others, the Earth, and the greater good)

* Decreased empathy and capacity for understanding others’ points of view

* Decreased capacity for goodwill and collaboration

* Decreased capacity for compassion toward self and others

* Decreased capacity to learn new things

* Decreased complex problem-solving ability

* Decreased ability to be effective and cope 

NOT a pretty picture! Ready for the GOOD news? 

The good news from brain neuro-plasticity research:  

1) With this new brain science-based knowledge, awareness is power. You get to have a say about how to work with excessive stress—which is pervasive on our planet and is increasingly generating this damaging brain neurochemistry. You can now see why it is so important that each individual becomes conscious of intentional choice in response to daily challenges, rather than just being reactive. 

2) There are an increasing number of science-based practices that you can easily learn and use that will generate the good kind of brain neuro-plasticity that will repair your stress-damaged brain. I will highlight a few of them in this article. For the more complete report, stay tuned for my upcoming Retrain Your Brain Guidebook™. 

3) These reparative science-based practices do their work by providing methods for you to frequently notice, interrupt, and redirect your habitual destructive patterns of stress response. Instead of becoming emotionally hijacked and held hostage by your lower brains’ perceptions (and frequent misperceptions) of threat and overwhelm, these practices offer ways to notice and work with your responses. 

4) In addition, and equally important, these practices give you ways to generate elevated, positive experienced-based feeling states. Such elevated emotions switch the damaging brain neurochemistry to beneficial, reparative neurochemistry. The key is to consciously generate positive feeling states, in a ratio of three to one (3:1)—three positive experiences for each negative experience you encounter. This is not as challenging and time-consuming as it might seem. And it is pleasurable. (More on that later.) 

5) Applying these practices reverses the brain-damaging effects listed above. These practices restore easier access to your Neo-cortex, the higher brain’s executive “CEO” functions. You become less reactive and rigid in your responses to threat and excessive stress. You become more creative, intuitive and effective in complex problem solving. You even become more capable of experiencing higher Neo-cortex states such as peacefulness, joy, altruism, awe, oneness-- and even enlightenment. 

6) The intentional cultivation of these higher-brain, positive feeling states has also been studied to determine ways they can prime your brain toward enlightenment. This aspect of brain research indicates that enlightenment is a universally reported experience, described in similar terms across all religions, spiritual traditions, and even by atheists. It is characterized by the key words unity and oneness. 

Next Steps—Getting a working understanding of brain science: 

The important take-away is that excessive, chronic stress damages your brain and impairs your ability to cope and solve problems. This is because your brain is “plastic,” which means that its structure and functioning changes in response to daily experiences. 

As the excessive accumulating neurochemistry of chronic stress changes your brain, it changes you. 

If you continue to be exposed to escalating excessive stress without balancing it with good brain-hygiene practices, it will change you for the worse. It will become more difficult for you to re-stabilize following each challenge. Depression, anxiety, cynicism, anger, aggression, blame, rumination, despair, ill health, and less adaptive behavior can rule your world. 

These changes happen because your two lower brains come online rapidly when crisis is perceived (or misperceived), and they take a long time to settle back down, especially without help. Both your Limbic and Reptilian brains are rapid-fire reactive in their functioning, so you tend to act before thinking. This can cause regrets and unintended impacts that result in more problems. These brain states also lead to excessive negative rumination, causing more stress-based brain damage. 

Our lower brains are important for short-term, self-absorbed survival, based on mobilizing aggression or avoidance—the classic fight-flight reactions. However, impulsivity, aggression, avoidance, and excessive self-interest are often not desired nor adaptive. The greater good of the whole must usually be considered also. 

Applying brain science to assess the U.S. presidential candidates:

It is important to note that, if we apply these brain science principles to assess from which predominant brain state each presidential candidate mostly operates, we can make wiser choices for our country’s future in every election.  

Sadly, in the U.S. political arena, candidates who demonstrate lower-brain functioning behavior are more and more the norm, and generate drama and subsequent media interest. Remember, the media’s main mantras are  “FEAR SELLS” and “IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS.” This makes most TV news a steady diet of excessive stress. 

Here is how to identify behavior generated by the lower Limbic and Reptilian brains, in a candidate--or anyone else: 

Lower-brain behavior is habitually emotionally reactive and defensive, angry, impulsive, suspicious, focusing on fear, threat, aggression, and antagonism. This negative and aggressive lower brain-state behavior activates the lower brain state neuro-chemistry of those engaging with the individual, producing a sort of contagion of toxic emotional states. Those engaged are easily hijacked into their lower brain states. They tend to regress to more alarmed, fearful, suspicious, impulsive, and aggressive states too. 

Applying this description of typical lower-brain functioning and the toxic emotional contagion to the political arena, we see for example, that it is a match for the predominant behavior of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump. 

Public displays of Limbic and Reptilian brain behavior over-stimulate the fight-flight brain neuro-chemistry, and effectively bring out the worst in others. When such lower-brain “contagion” of toxic mental states spreads, it brings out the worst for an entire society. 

Now we can be aware that candidates who frequently demonstrate reactive, angry, threat and fear–inciting, antagonistic lower brain state functioning, will repeatedly activate “negative experience-based feeling states” in others. Experiencing the stress neuro-chemistry of these toxic feeling-states tends to damage the brain and dumb-down the behavioral functioning of those involved. Then access to the more rational, creative, problem-solving Neo-cortex is disrupted.

Those candidates who operate from higher brain Neo-cortex states will demonstrate more stability and calm under pressure; they will be able to stand for hope and goodness, rather than inciting fear, antagonism, and aggression; they will be able to move beyond rigid, black-and-white thinking when addressing complex problems; and they will avoid over-simplistic solutions that devolve us to regress into segregation, rigid gender roles, fear of differences, and chronic fear states. 

Candidates operating from the higher brain will also have consistently better access to their creative, complex-problem-solving higher brains. They will be able to access empathy and compassion for those in need, without pitting people against each other divisively, or firing them up into aggressive, antagonistic, reactive behavior. With the stabilizing, creative and adaptive influence of leaders functioning more from their higher brain states, it will help bring out the best in others, and even the entire society. 

Bringing home this brain science for you and those you love: 

This brain neuro-science information is revelatory. It tells us that experiences and their correlated feeling-states are, day by day, either damaging and devolving your brain or repairing and evolving it. In other words, the quality of your prevailing emotional state determines the quality of your life. 

For this reason, feelings-states are one of the keys to tracking inner stress. If your prevailing feeling state is negative, that can clue you in to the probability that your brain is being hijacked to lower brain functions and held hostage there. With this knowledge, you can learn to detect when and how to intervene on your own behalf. You can train yourself to generate elevated, brain-reparative feeling-states, at a 3:1 ratio. You can apply good brain hygiene. 

You will realize that after a negative experience occurs, it is important to re-stabilize quickly. This requires interrupting the negative ruminations and rehashing of negative feeling-states because they generate neurochemistry that derails the higher-brain functions. Re-stabilizing also requires accessing positive feeling-state experiences. This process generates the restorative brain neurochemistry and access to the neo-cortex’s higher “CEO” functions. You can choose to apply a combination of science-backed practices and good brain hygiene to soothe, regulate, and restore your brain functioning to the creative, more effective higher-brain levels. Sometimes this means doing so moment by moment, as if you are working with an inner coach. 

What are some of these science-backed reparative practices? 

My upcoming Retrain Your Brain Guidebook™ explores more deeply 10 science-backed practices that repair your brain from the damage of excessive stress. It examines what each practice does to reshape your brain, and what benefits you will most likely experience from each practice. I offer more ideas to generate the 3:1 ratio of positive experiences needed to offset each negative. I explore the role of intention as well as the new science of unified quantum physics, which will both amplify your brain repair practices. I also explore practices to prime your higher-brain functions. I highlight the research about the neuroscience of enlightenment. I suggest practices that can prepare you for being receptive to higher states of awe, self-transcendence, and oneness—which can open you to experience enlightenment states. These higher brain states are the deepest gifts of being human. You don’t want to miss out on those gifts by getting stuck in the lower-brains! 

For now, here are some practices to get started with: 

1) Meditation and Mindfulness—There are many ways to meditate, such as paying attention to your breath, letting go of thoughts, or using a mantra. They all are effective brain-repair practices and also prime your brain for higher states such as awe and enlightenment. Repetition of the practice, not how successful you feel about it, is what repairs your brain. For those who cannot sit still or feel frustrated when they cannot quiet their “monkey mind,” moving meditations can be an effective alternative. These include mindful walking, mindful speaking, and mindful eating—each enlists your full sensory-based attention in the present moment experience. Techniques for meditation and mindfulness include both “Bottom-up” and “Top-down” practices, as described below. 

“Bottom-up” learning and repair practices are those that focus on involving the body directly, in contrast to the more mental involvement of “top-down” cognitive approaches. These practices are good when you feel too spent and emotionally hijacked to focus on anything cognitive, and include the following: 

2) Spending time in Nature—Walking in a forest or a field for 20 to 90 minutes is healing for your brain. Being near water amplifies the benefit. Even watching Nature videos provides benefit. 

3) Laughter—According to research, you can laugh your stress neuro-chemistry away, especially in a group, such as Laughter-yoga practice. Watching funny movies also provides benefit. 

4) Exercise—Walking, jogging, biking, and swimming—various forms of exercise are reparative for the brain as well as the body. Exercise for 10 to 30 minutes or more, as frequently as possible. Even mindful stretching counts. 

5) Yoga—Like meditation, all forms of yoga also help to prime your brain for higher states such as enlightenment. 

“Top down” learning and repair practices are the more cognitive practices that help tame and redirect the negative ruminations and rehashing that can escalate into worry, catastrophic fear, and anger. The more you repetitively practice them, the more these practices help to repair your brain—whether you feel successful at them or not. So keep practicing them and do not give up. These are examples of “top down” practices: 

6) Perspective/Thought Reappraisal—This is the practice of exploring multiple perspectives on an issue in order to step out of habitual, fear-based distorted thinking. For example, reframing a negative experience as an opportunity to learn a life lesson, and allowing new possibilities for experimentation and more effective choices. This practice also includes self-reflection, such as exploring unintended impacts of your behavior and how to address them, and shifting from the Inner Critic to the Inner Caretaker. 

7) Gratitude/Feeling Reappraisal—This includes practices that focus on feeling and expressing positive states, such as gratitude and appreciation. They generate a huge reparative brain neurochemistry process. They also generate more positive social connection and goodwill. 

8) Compassion for Self and Others—The brains of Tibetan monks were studied at the request of the Dalai Lama. Research determined that Tibetan monks have the happiest brains ever measured. Their main practice is to send compassionate wishes for goodness to those who suffer, including those who generate suffering. Whenever this practice becomes too difficult, the monks return to sending themselves compassionate wishes for goodness. Compassion is based on the understanding that all humans have a common ground of suffering; that we each are doing what we can to stop our suffering (even if it is ineffective or harming others in the process); and we are all interconnected and can help relieve the suffering of self and others through this practice. Compassionate wishes can be expressed in a simple statement such as “I wish for you to be well, safe, loved, and happy.” 

How to cultivate the 3:1 ratio of positive to negative feeling-state experiences: 

 The main priority in good brain hygiene is to frequently generate and experience feeling-states of goodness. There are countless ways to do this frequently and intentionally throughout your day. 

Here are some points to remember about cultivating this good brain hygiene: 

1) It is not as challenging as it may seem to get this 3:1 ratio of positive feeling-states (or even the 5:1 ratio, if your stress is at trauma levels). Many things you are already doing count, such as eating healthfully, getting enough sleep, keeping your consumption of alcohol at a minimum to modest level, avoiding drugs (they disrupt the brain’s pleasure pathways), listening often to music that uplifts and inspires you, and spending time outdoors to focus on the goodness that you see in Nature. 

2) Time with friends counts as increasing the 3:1 ratio—but only if you are enjoying goodness together. If your time with friends is focused on complaining, bitching, moaning, criticizing others, and rehashing negative feeling-state experiences, then you are activating your limbic and reptilian brains and intensifying your suffering. 

3) When you do find yourself focused on complaining, bitching, moaning, criticizing others, and rehashing the negative, recognize this as the perfect cue to practice good brain hygiene. Instead of engaging negative brain chemistry, activate your brain’s care circuit and its beneficial brain chemistry, by doing what the Tibetan monks do. Send compassionate wishes for goodness and relief from suffering to those who are the subject of your rants. If that is too hard, send compassionate wishes for goodness to yourself first. 

Here are some of my favorite 3:1 practices: 

1) Set your alarm one-half hour earlier than you must get out of bed. When your alarm rings, wake up slowly, and spend your first waking moments in a positive feeling-state, feeling gratitude for your cozy and safe bed, mentally connecting with your higher guidance and intention for the day. Feel gratitude for the support in your life, and inwardly do any favorite spiritual practice or grounding practice. You can even do some delicious bed-yoga. 

2) Whenever you encounter challenges and upsets, quickly re-stabilize your brain neurochemistry by sending yourself compassion, then imagining how you wish for the situation to turn out instead. Then re-focus on a positive intention, and generate a feeling of gratitude, if only for the lessons this challenge is bringing to you. Then seek growth and mastery through the challenge. 

3) Find ways throughout the day to notice the good. Notice what moves, touches and inspires you. Acknowledge people, thanking them whenever possible. Smile at others often, and do random acts of kindness. Practice being a goodness generator. 

4) Find music that moves, uplifts, and inspires you. Listen to it often. Dancing to it gives you a two-fer. Even listen to it as you fall asleep, if it is calming music. 

5) Make a habit of noticing the beauty that shows up all around you. Go on “beauty walks,” taking photos of the beauty that calls your attention. Feel deep gratitude for the beauty around you. When you are low, look at your photos. 

6) Recall the people (and pets!) in your life that you love. Savor that feeling of loving connection. Send them love each time you think of them. Visualize them sending love back to you. 

7) Read inspiring true stories of triumph, transformation, oneness, and enlightenment. This will support your brain’s recognition that such events are accessible and possible. One of my favorites is my own spiritual memoir, The Seer and The Sayer: Revelations of the New Earth, because it documents many extraordinary revelations that I experienced with others, of the consciousness of oneness expressing through Nature and synchronicity. It blows my mind every time I re-read it and re-live it! Such stories provide the kind of positive mental rehearsal that opens you up for awe and beneficial surprise. 

Now, start making up your own 3:1 practices. Cultivate several of the science-backed brain repair practices. And don’t forget to thank yourself for being on your way to becoming a goodness generator! 

Summary:    *Applying these brain science-based practices creates a lifestyle of good brain hygiene to continuously repair your brain from stress-generated damage. Beyond that you will even be able to cultivate the higher brain states that make you feel fully alive, such as creativity, awe, joy, peace and interconnectedness. You will also be able to apply this knowledge to assess and choose future leaders who will help society to evolve, rather than to regress and de-volve.     

*Remember-- humans are designed to make huge evolutionary leaps out of the pressures of the deepest chaos. Humanity has done that before in our evolutionary journey. Trust that you are poised to make your big leap in the midst of the current mess, and are even being activated by the extreme pressures of it.     

*As Albert Einstein famously said, “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. “  This means that the dysfunctional behavior (and culture) generated by the Limbic and Reptilian lower brains cannot be solved at that regressed level. Restored higher brain functioning must be cultivated, or we remain hostage to the lower functions. And now we know many ways to do just that.     

*The more you and others practice this new brain neuro-science, the faster it will accelerate humanity making this big evolutionary leap together. The ancient prophecies, addressing this challenging timeframe that we are currently living, call this evolutionary leap “The Shift of the Ages,” which I have written about previously. Instead of pessimism, antagonism, worry and anxiety (damaging your brain neuro-chemistry), cultivate your 3:1 goodness. In fact, make that 5:1 just for the heck of it! Become a generator of goodness and make your personal Shift! 

Please stay tuned for my upcoming book that expands on this information,Retrain Your Brain Guidebook™.  Contact me for private consultations, insurance-covered psychotherapy, group presentations at your office, group or church; and for my practice support groups implementing this new brain science. Please contact me at  Vikki@wholepersonwholeplanet.com                 or call412-241-7001. Please visit my website at  www.WholePersonWholePlanet.com, where I have a free gift  for you in my “Store” until 11-11-16. Also visit my Wholistic Psychotherapy website at  www.VikkiHanchin.com which is being re-launched next. I would love to hear your thoughts about this blog and my books. I am reworking my “Victoria Hanchin” Facebook author page, where this blog will also be posted. I hope you will “Like” me and follow my work for new announcements. 

With gratitude and joy,

Victoria (Vikki) Hanchin, LCSWWholistic Psychotherapist

CIO (Chief Inspirational Officer)

Transformational Author

Contact: Vikki@wholepersonwholeplanet.com                     

Primary brain science references for this blog:

1) Neuroscience For Clinicians: Evidence, Models, and Practice; C. Alexander Simpkins and Annellen M. Simpkins, 2013.

2) Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom; Rick Hanson, PH. D., 2009.

3) Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation; Daniel Siegal, M.D., 2011.

4) Self-Compassion in Psychotherapy: Mindfulness-Based Practices for Healing and Transformation; Tim Desmond, 2016.

5) The HeartMath Solution, Doc Childre and Howard Martin, 2000. 

Written by
Victoria (Vikki) Hanchin, LCSW
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