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Don’t Trust Your Brain

October 19, 2005

I have appreciated the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, especially in the field of research into Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. Having ADD myself, and working with so many people who have ADD, I have found that Dr. Amen’s approaches are much more workable than other therapists and pop psychologists.

But in his latest book, “Making a Good Brain Great” he is getting positively Biblical…and perhaps he doesn’t even know it. In a discussion with Newsweek magazine this week, he talks about the factors that go into improving the chemical and emotional makeup of our thought patterns. Here is his assessment about some of the things we obsess about:

You are what you eat, but you are also what you think. Every time you have a thought, your brain releases chemicals. When you have good thoughts, happy thoughts, it’s a completely different set of chemicals than when you’re feeling angry or hopeless. But thoughts lie. Just because you have a thought, it doesn’t have to be really true. No one is ever taught this. People can get these sad, mad or nervous automatic thoughts and they can come into your mind and ruin your day if you are never taught to correct them. If you have a sad, mad or nervous thought, write it down. Talk back to it. Don’t believe every thought you have. That’s not being irrational; it’s being more rational.

Notice that he tells us to distrust the thoughts of our brain. This is also the standard approach in lie-based thinking therapy, also known as Theophostic. It is not what others are doing to us that cause anguish, stress, and a “bad brain”, it is primarily our inability or unwillingness to challenge and correct lie-based thinking that gets us in trouble.

The Bible says something similar to Dr. Amen in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “Take every thought captive and make it obey”. I disagree with him that no one is ever taught this. And I disagree with him that it is as straightforward as just thinking something different.

The mind and the heart store values and ideas differently. The brain stores things in a temporary state. That is to say, we look at new ideas coming in and we compare them to the absolute system of beliefs that we have developed. An example: We may believe all our lives that we will never measure up to our parents. This transfers in adult life to believing we will never measure up to bosses, pastors, spouses, coaches etc. A new idea is given to us from a book that says in order to be successful in life we must approach everything with a confident, winning attitude. That works fine until the first thing begins to go wrong. Given a choice whether to believe our new idea or the one we have harbored in our hearts for years, we will regress to the old idea.

The word for “take captive” in 2 Corinthians 10:5 in Greek literally means “to hold onto and embrace“. This is what we would do to someone who tried to rob our house and we catch them. We hold onto them so they can’t get away. Most of us try to avoid negative thinking. Dr. Amen is suggesting the right course: Attack the thought and make it reveal how and when it got in. Only then can we challenge its right to be there.

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