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You Are Not Your Brain

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Candacemoody @candacemoody

Remaining upbeat during a prolonged job search is not easy.  Uncertainty about the future can take an enormous toll on your self-esteem and your optimism, both of which are essential to making a good first impression on contacts and recruiters. 

When something is not right in our lives, we tend to focus only on it. You may take comfort in knowing that our human brains are hard-wired to see negative things more clearly and focus on them more.  It’s a throwback to when we were cave dwellers.  Failing to notice a saber-toothed tiger lurking in the shadows was a possibly fatal error; failing to notice a rose blooming in the meadow was not.  We see things that are wrong in our lives and we obsess about them.  But as rational beings, we can also use tools to help us focus on other issues.

Rebecca Gladding, M.D. and Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz have written a book called You Are Not Your Brain. Dr. Gladding says “Our brain often gets in the way of our true, long-term goals and values in life (i.e., our true self.)” Your brain is hard wired to worry and obsess, but your mind can override these signals, which are simply the result of your brain’s complex chemistry set releasing hormones. Dr. Gladding states that “The brain’s chief job is to keep you alive, so it tends to operate in a survival … mode.”  That’s good, but not an optimal way to manage your life or relationships.

Dr. Schwartz, who works with people with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, offers a four-step process for overriding your brain with the power of your mind. (Courtesy of Psychology Today.)

Step 1: Relabel. Identify the deceptive brain messages (i.e., the unhelpful thoughts, urges, desires and impulses) and the uncomfortable sensations; call them what they really are.

Step 2: Reframe. Change your perception of the importance of the deceptive brain messages; say why these thoughts, urges, and impulses keep bother you (it’s not ME, it’s just the BRAIN!).

Step 3: Refocus. Direct your attention toward an activity or mental process that is wholesome and productive – even while the false and deceptive urges, thoughts, impulses, and sensations are still present and bothering you.

Step 4: Revalue. Clearly see the thoughts, urges, and impulses for what they are: sensations caused by deceptive brain messages that are not true and that have little to no value.

So when your brain starts sending its negative messages, you can counter with positive thinking (more about that in the next post.)  Here are some thoughts that may feel rational, but are simply examples of the brain overriding the mind: (courtesy of

  • Exaggerating and extending the importance of an adverse event
  • Blaming yourself for something that was caused by external circumstances
  • Generalizing that whatever happened always happens
  • Thinking bad things always happen, good things never happen
  • Trouble tolerating mistakes, disappointment or losing
  • Shutting down in the face of any obstacle

Once you recognize the pattern of all or nothing thinking that is typical of your brain’s reaction, you can create deliberate practices to override these messages.  Dr. Tamar E. Chansky, (full disclosure: she’s a child psychologist) says that it’s also important to get some distance between you and your negative thoughts. Name the naysayer in your head, and cut her off (it IS almost always a her, isn’t it?) when the messages become counterproductive.   My inner unhelpful voice is called “The BE-atch who Thinks She Can See the Future” (TBWTSCSTF for short.) She says things like: “No one will read that” and “No one will pay you for that” and “You’ll never make it to (that goal.)”  I work hard to drown out her voice.

Next post: Ways to stay upbeat and overcome your brain.


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