Discover more from Self-Brain Surgery with Dr. Lee Warren
Taking Control of This One Thing Will Set You Free
You're not a helpless victim. You're a Self-Brain Surgeon.
Hey my friend,
I hope your weekend was great and that this morning finds you well. Lisa, Tata, and I had a lot of fun this weekend, and really enjoyed the gorgeous weather. I love the mornings right now, with the little hints of cooler days coming. Tata’s brother and sister-in-law, our Uncle Will and Aunt Pat visited from Texas, and we had a great time.
This past week I was reminded again how important it is to get serious about improving our thought lives. A reader contacted us to share that their child had been lost to suicide, which is the ultimate example of someone who isn't hearing the truth inside their own head.
This is Important:
Your thought life is the single most important determinant of how successful, happy, and fulfilled your entire life will be. Your thought life determines the quality of your relationships, the impact of your work, the influence you have over others, and even the outcome of your spiritual life.
In other words, how you think determines how you live.
The problem is, most of us never think about how we think. We just react to it, as if every thought that pops into our head is true and unchangeable.
Here's the truth: Your mood/emotional state sets the baseline of how you feel from moment to moment. And it is chemically determined by the levels of various neurotransmitters in your brain like dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and others. And the types of thoughts you tend to think are tied to your current emotional state, derived from neurochemical levels.
The good news is, you're not a slave to those chemical levels. You can change them, and you can do it (usually) without taking antidepressants or other pills.
The chemistry of your brain responds dramatically to your thinking, and IS NOT static.
Do you know anyone with type I diabetes? Diabetes is a chemical disease, a problem with the pancreas in which the beta cells in the Islet of Langerhans fail to produce a substance called insulin. If you don't make insulin, you can't control your blood sugar levels. Left untreated, diabetes wreaks havoc on the body and will ultimately kill you.
But diabetics are not helpless victims: They constantly monitor their blood glucose levels, and actively manage it to avoid the devastating and potentially fatal consequences of high or low levels. They pay attention, they take action when needed, and they maintain control over their body's chemical state. It's the only way they can survive.
Just like diabetes, bad thinking is at its core a chemical problem. If you understand that, then wouldn't it behoove you to actively manage your brain neurotransmitters so you have a better chance at a healthy mental life?
It also needs to be said that, just as diabetes is a medical problem, so too is bad thinking. It’s not primarily a spiritual issue. Here’s an old tweet I sent a while ago:
I guarantee that learning to manage your thoughts will result in a healthier mental state, increased clarity in your decision making, and an improved quality of life.
But just as diabetics have to actively participate in monitoring their glucose levels, and have to take action when insulin is required, if you want to improve your thought life, you'll have to learn some self-brain surgery techniques.
I wrote a few paragraphs ago that diabetics do three things to gain better control of their disease:
They pay attention
They take action when needed
They maintain control
The first one is simple: pay attention to your thoughts (we’ll cover the other two in future letters). When you have a negative thought, QUESTION IT. Just like a surgeon who takes a biopsy to determine the nature of a suspicious lesion, you will benefit from learning to biopsy your thoughts.
Example: "I'm a loser, and no one would miss me if I was gone."
Every person who has ever committed suicide has had some variant of this thought.
And it's never true.
Imagine if you had that thought, "I'm a loser, and no one one would miss me if I was gone."
You can either sit with the thought, let it permeate into your brain, and watch it further depress your mood, darken your mind, and feel the chemical effects of it's negative power and become true in your mind, or you can question it. "Wait a minute," you might think, "I bet my mom would miss me. Maybe I should call her and tell her how I'm feeling. Maybe she'll tell me she would miss me."
If you just take that moment, those few seconds, to simply question the validity of the negative thought, you'll interrupt the coming neurochemical storm that's impending whenever you're thinking negatively.
You'll feel a little bit of hope, a little dopamine spike in your brain, and suddenly it won't seem quite so dark.
Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Today’s podcast talks about the bad thought biopsy, and two other helpful ideas!
My friend Dr. Daniel Amen has a great process for questioning negative thinking in his wonderful book, Your Brain Is Always Listening: Tame the Hidden Dragons That Control Your Happiness, Habits, and Hang-Ups, which I highly recommend if you want to become a master self-brain surgeon!
Book I'm Reading:
Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple, Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Anxiety, Stress, and Toxic Thinking by Dr. Caroline Leaf. It’s a great look at the current neuroscience of the importance of our thinking on our overall health, and offers a practical process that is very helpful. Here’s my favorite line:
“One thing is certain: if you don’t shape your life, it will be shaped for you. And to shape your life, you need to know how to shape your mind—you need mind-management.” Dr. Caroline Leaf, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess
Scientists at King's College in London have shown that positive self-talk can significantly reduce the symptoms associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. "The replacement of worry with different forms of positive ideation, even when unrelated to the content of worry itself, seems to have similar beneficial effects, suggesting that any form of positive ideation can be used to effectively counter worry." Check out their research here.
Faith Fact: Depression is a mood disorder, and sometimes requires medical treatment. But it's also a spiritual attack on your self worth, esteem, and quality of life. Chris Hodges, pastor of our old church in Alabama, presented the best message on the spiritual fix for depression I've ever heard, and it's worth forty-five minutes of your time. Please watch it, and share it with anyone you know who's struggling with depression. Click here to watch the message.
Practicing the bad thought biopsy technique will quickly turn you into a master self-brain surgeon, and I promise you'll feel happier, think more clearly, and become healthier.
This is life or death stuff. Even if you're not depressed, even if you're never suicidal, your thought life determines the quality of your life. Don't be a helpless victim of it. You'd think it was pretty ridiculous for a diabetic to throw up her hands and say, "Well, my glucose is out of control. I guess I'm just gonna die." So why would you just bounce through life letting harmful thoughts wreck your days when you could monitor and control them?
Start using the bad thought biopsy, my friend.
And start today.
God bless you, and dum spiro spero (while I breathe, I hope),
W. Lee Warren, MD
North Platte, Nebraska, USA
As for me, I will always have hope… Psalm 71:14
This work comes to you through the support of the sustaining subscribers of the letter and the patrons of the podcast- people who are serious about becoming master self-brain surgeons. If you'd like to join the practice, click below, or consider giving someone else the gift of Self-Brain Surgery!
I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know is available in hardback, audio (I narrated the Audiobook), and digital versions everywhere books are sold.
No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon's Long Journey Home from the Iraq War is available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions on Amazon.
Hope is the First Dose: A Treatment Plan for Recovering from Trauma, Tragedy, and Other Massive Things is in press from Waterbrook, and will release sometime in 2023!