Research shows that our brain does not stop changing and growing when we reach adulthood. Although stress can negatively affect our brain, we have available to us a variety of tools that can change how we respond to stress and when we feel our survival is threatened. These brain training tools include Emotional Brain Training developed by Laurel Mellin.
Researcher Laurel Mellin found five different brain states, according to the kind of circuits – stress or joy circuits – that are triggered. Brain State 5 is when the reptilian, most survival-based, brain is in charge and the person is feeling extremely stressed. This is in Brain State 5 that survival circuits that get encoded, usually in our early years in life.
Because survival circuits are the neural patterns about our survival drives, these wires are particularly strong. They are therefore primed for repeated activation, which in turn make them thicker and easier to trigger. Laurel Mellin, author of Wired for Joy, developed Emotional Brain Training (EBT), which includes a tool that helps weaken survival circuits and re-wire the brain for something more favourable.
|Brain State 1||Brain State 2||Brain State 3||Brain State 4||Brain State 5|
|in flow, joyous, whole-brain balanced, attentive, attuned to the state of the emotional brain, neocortex is working well, abstract thoughts, feeling connected||feeling generally good and balanced, aware of the negative and positive emotions, behaviour is healthy||emotions, especially the negative ones, are ramping up, overthinking, limbic brain in charge, thoughts becoming more rigid||definitely stressed, prefrontal cortex not as functional, reactive, feeling needy or distant, disconnected||highly stressed out, irrational thoughts, feelings are overwhelming, merged or disengaged with others, destructive behaviour, reptilian brain in charge|
These circuits form the emotional backbone for your external solutions – the smoking, the overeating, the raging, and all their substitutes – so they are important from a health perspective.
Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy
What Happens in Brain State 5
A survival circuit gets wired because on an unconscious level we are responding to death or our fear of death. In this overwhelming state of stress and terror, we grab onto anything that can provide us with safety, even if the behaviour has little to do with survival. We grab onto whatever security we can find – food, for example, as in “I get my safety from overeating.” This circuit “saves” us from going completely to the dark side.
I hope knowing this will engender more compassion for yourself and others. It is the wire, not you, not me. When we are in Brain State 5, we are overwhelmed. Our rational mind is not functioning. We may even have a lapse of memory, not remembering things like how eating that entire double chocolate fudge cake is not such a great idea.
This is not to abscond our responsibility. Rather it is to understand why we behave the way we do, even when we do not want to.
In Brain State 5, we are looking for a lifeline because we are in terror that the end is near. When our life is on the line, worrying about what a tub of Ben & Jerry’s will do to our waistline, or even to diabetes, is far from our mind. There is no tomorrow, only this moment. After this moment we may be dead. That’s just how the reptilian brain operates.
Our responses are wired and hardwired over time. This is why it is important to share these brain training tools and any tool (HeartMath, tapping, etc) that can help someone understand 1) it is not them and 2) it can change. Perhaps with us finding safety/security/love within ourselves, rather than externally, we can create less conflict and more harmonious and loving relationships.
The thing about weakening these very strong survival circuits is that we have to be courageous enough to trigger them, to face and feel what we feel and to dig for the underlying unreasonable expectation. “I get love from being angry.”
Our unreasonable expectations are that, unreasonable and we all have them!
Why Work in Brain State 4
Being in Brain State 5, however, is strong-arming these circuits, which is not productive. Some people then find other lifelines, such as alcohol. People may go deeper still into their survival mode.
Instead of triggering Brain State 5, Laurel Mellin suggests using the “Cycle Tool” repeatedly while being in Brain State 4. This particular brain training works best when we are right at the border between the two brain states, though not traversing into Brain State 5. With lots of support and community, a person can more easily weaken these survival circuits with this tool.
(A paid monthly membership on EBTConnect gives a variety of tools and support or you can first read Laurel Mellin’s book Wired for Joy for the detailed instructions and examples to better understand the tools.)
Using the Cycle Tool
The EBT tool for Brain State 4 is the “Cycle Tool”. There is however one key difference between the steps for “normal” stress wires and for survival circuits.
Because survival circuits are tied to our survival and mortality, if we lay down a joy circuit without first being okay with letting go of the unreasonable expectation (what the survival circuit is about), we can trigger a stress response.
What is the Cycle Tool?
A pop is the shutting of the fear circuit (the amygdale) and the activation of the reward circuitry in the emotional brain that is associated with the lighting up of the left prefrontal cortex.
Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy
The four steps of the “Cycle Tool” for Brain State 4 are:
- State the Facts
- Nab the Stress Circuit
- Build a Joy Circuit
- Strengthen the Joy Circuit
In the first step, stating the facts arouses the stress circuit which allows unconscious emotions to surface. The next step is when we nab the stress circuit by flowing through these negative emotions. I feel angry that…I feel sad that…I feel afraid that…I feel guilty that…to get to the underlying “unreasonable expectation” and to identity the stress circuit itself. From the “unreasonable expectation”, we can find a “reasonable expectation” to start building a joy circuit.
This new expectation has to be reasonable (doable) and meaningful for you. You will know you have found one if you feel that pop and you feel great. It is a powerful “aha” moment.
Continue building this joy circuit by stating a positive powerful thought, “an essential pain”, and an “earned reward.”
The “essential pain” is the challenge in following through with the”reasonable expectation”. To find the true “essential pain” requires you to be honest with yourself.
If you can get through the “essential pain”, what is the reward that you earn? The EBT rewards are sanctuary, authenticity, vibrancy, integrity, intimacy, spirituality, and wired at 1.
The last step of the “Cycle Tool” is to strengthen the new joy circuit. This is done with “Grind In”, which is to repeat the “reasonable expectation”. As you repeat this statement, feel how powerful it is. Go deeper into yourself, perhaps to places you have hidden away. This statement may change as you find greater resonance.
People who deny their emotions can find EBT Tools challenging. They can also greatly benefit from them. To maximize the effects of the tools, it is important to FEEL, really feel the feelings, and stay with this last step until you feel an emotional shift. Keep going through the cycle!
You will use the Grind In that you discover every day, saying it ten times, at least three times each day. Each repetition of the Grind In brings up strong feelings – anger, sadness, fear, and guilt-and the strategy is to feel those feelings and let them fade. Mourn the loss, pure and simple.
Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy
The Cycle Tool for Survival Circuits
For survival circuits, the “Cycle Tool” is modified. The process starts out the same by stating the facts. In some ways, it may be easier to identify this circuit as it is so primal. Instead of laying a joy circuit, here you first negate the circuit before transforming it. Once the survival circuit is negated, the “Cycle Tool” is then repeated.
If that puts you in Brain State 5, use the Damage Control Tool to calm the brain and move back into Brain State 4.
Step 1 Find the “Unreasonable Expectation”
Find the “unreasonable expectation” by using this statement – “I get my safety/protection/love/nurturing from (fill in the blank).”
What comes up?
Remember it is an “unreasonable expectation” so what comes up may be quite surprising. Survival circuits are maladaptive. We seek external solutions rather than finding them within ourselves which is the healthy mechanism. Remember these survival circuits are formed in stress free fall so please allow any judgments to fall away.
To get to the “unreasonable expectation”, we need to let go of how we want others to see us – strong, capable, loving, smart and see who we are at the core. Being honest with ourselves and aware of the feelings that come up as we try on different statements is how we get that survival circuit.
Step 2 Nab and Break the Survival Circuit
Now, time to break the survival circuit with the “Grind In”. Negate the “unreasonable expectation” by repeating the opposite statement. It is essential that this step is completed fully. Negating the survival circuit may take a while, even weeks.
If the unreasonable expectation is, “I get my nurturing from eating sweet,” the Grind In would be, “I cannot get my nurturing from eating sweets.” The Grind In for laying down a joy wire would be, “I get my nurturing from me.”
Step 3 Doing the Cycle Tool
You are ready to move to this last step when the emotional charge from saying the “Grind In” is gone. Step 3 is doing the “Cycle Tool” as per usual again.
State the facts about the topic. Go through your feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and guilt. Repeat your “unreasonable expectation” and state a “reasonable expectation”. What is your “essential pain”? What is your “earned reward”?
The steps of this brain training process may sound simple and may understate its power. Doing the Cycle Tool is a big process. Brain training takes time and patience.
Getting EBT support and working with an EBT practitioner may be the best way to go. Survival circuits are tough. They touch the core of what we think about ourselves, what we hide from ourselves and others. We use external solutions to cover up our need for love and nurturing. External solutions do not make much sense and do not work in the long run. Many people, for example, use rage to get love or mistake this powerful emotion as love.
The reality is that we cannot get rid of stress in our lives. Stress can be productive as having the right kind of stress has positive effects such as motivation. What we do learn is that there is no need to judge stress or our emotions, and we can change their effects with brain training.
With tools such as these from EBT, we are able to re-wire our brain for a healthier life. This brain training includes being aware of our brain states, withering away our stress and survival circuits, laying down new joy circuits, and using eudonic over hedonic rewards. We can groove in joy. “I am creating JOY in my life.” Joy, no matter what.
Until the last decade, none of us knew the there are universal tracks in the brain that could return us to well-being and that rolling, compassionate state of joy. We did not know the power of our focused, trained consciousness to transform the emotional terrain of our brains, to sculpt new pathways, and sequester old ones. Nor did we know that our intimate inner state could travel so freely from one brain to another so that our joy would be contagious and find its way into the emotional circuits of those around us. Now we do.
To the extent that we become wired for joy, we share our emotional wealth with others. Our joy makes us a beacon of light, spreading our positive emotional state to others in a natural contagion of warmth and compassion. One beacon of light shines on another and another, maybe, just maybe, beginning to create a world at 1.
Laurel Mellin, Wired for Joy
Whether stress or joy circuits are triggered determines the brain state. One type of stress circuit is the survival circuit which gets triggered when our sense of survival is threatened. In this Brain State 5, stress circuits are rather resilient to change and therefore we work on transforming them in Brain State 4. Using brain training tools we can change our resiliency. We can transform our stress circuits and lay down new neural pathways, joy circuits.