BRAIN HEALING

Everyone will tell you: “Confidence is sexy.” This is all well and good, but that murky self-help language doesn’t really do anything to tell you how tobuild confidence, does it? Sure, it’s fine to just tell someone “hey, be more confident and the women will just start flocking to you”, but as many of you know, just saying the words doesn’t actually progress towards undoing years of reinforcing your own negative beliefs about yourself.

Everybody will tell you “Just be more confident!”, as though confidence was something you could just acquire, rather than something that you develop over time. They’re wrong. Confidence takes time and effort. If it were as simple as the self-help gurus would have you believe, nobody out there would have low self-esteem, therapists would lose half their clientele base and I would be out of a job.

So if you’re finding that your self-worth is lower than a snake’s ass in a drainage ditch, it’s time to start making progress down the path that will help you develop the confidence and self-assurance you need in order to make yourself more attractive to women.

What Is Confidence?

What is confidence? How do you know the difference between confidence and arrogance? And just why is confidence sexy, anyway?

Confidence is, at it’s simplest, the belief that one is equal to the task or situation at hand; it’s the certainty of of the correctness of one’s worth, course of action or ability. The line between confidence and arrogance or hubris is relatively thin; it’s phenomenally easy for confidence to turn into self-importance when it’s not tempered by humility and self-awareness. Arrogance is untested or undeserved confidence; confidence is a belief confirmed by experience. A confident person doesn’t necessarily believe that they can’t fail, but they do believe they can succeed.

Confidence is sexy because of what it says about you; it says that not only are you comfortable in your own skin and secure in yourself, but that you’ve been tested before and you’ve passed. Confident men exude strength. Confidence implies skill and bravery. On a primal level, this is attractive to women because it says that the confident man is someone who has the skills and experience to survive; he can provide for her and their children, protect her against predators. In this day and age when we’re not hunting mammoths or trying to ward off terror birds and Smilodonts, confidence means that a guy has his life together; he’s not going to break down at the first sign of trouble.

But how do you build that confidence?

Fake Until You Make it

It takes time to build up true confidence… which doesn’t do you any goodnow. You may be willing to devote the time and effort in order to climb out of that whole of self-reinforcing negativity you’ve found yourself in, but what do you do when you want to be more attractive now?

You fake that shit, son. And amazingly, that will actually help you buildtrue confidence.

You see, your brain is directly influenced by your physicality. In the ’70s and ’80s, psychologists discovered that adopting the physical posture of an emotional state will actually trick your brain into thinking that it’s actually experiencing that emotion. People who force themselves to smile – a real smile, one that reaches the eyes – find themselves actually feeling happier. Men who slouch and keep their eyes downcast will feel more ashamed.

And men who act confident will feel more confident.

Watch interviews with George Clooney and you’ll see what confidence looks like. The man simply oozes charisma and self-assurance.

He could steal your girlfriend and *you would be ok with this*.

Watch his body language; his shoulders are back, his back is straight and his head is level. He moves in slow, deliberate motions. He makes strong, lingering eye-contact with whomever he’s talking to, he speaks with low, measured tones and he has that large, toothy grin. Watching Clooney, you will see a man who looks as though that no matter what’s going on, he’s not just secure in his own awesomeness, but that he’s having the time of his life.

Bad posture, shifting your weight from side to side, quick sharp gestures… you need to eliminate these from your physical lexicon. They project insecurity and nervousness, and they will ultimately infect your own self-perception. Adopt the body language of a confident person and you will find yourself starting to feel more confident. And that will be your first step down the road towards true confidence.

"It’s OK George… we weren’t doing much anyway."

Accentuate The Positive

I have long noticed that nerds are almost universally negative when it comes to their own lives. In their own minds, the rules of the universe dictate that they will always ultimately fail and that nothing good can possibly last. They’re defeated before they even start; the girl they like will reject them – or find someone they like better, nobody will like them, they will be humiliated in front of everyone and that everything they do will just end badly. Their successes and achievements mean nothing in the long run… either they’re flukes and random chance, or they’re meaningless in the grand scheme of things. They count for nothing,especially when weighted against all of their failures, both past and future.

It’s no wonder that they suffer from a lack of confidence… they’re too busy sabotaging their own progress and locking themselves into a vicious cycle of failure and self-recrimination.

A confident man, on the other hand, is a man who embraces the good about himself. He’s not just aware of his strengths, he’s proud of them. He has his faults to be sure, but that is just part of what makes him human… but his gifts are what make him awesome.

If you want to become more confident, you have to learn to end the negative, self-limiting beliefs that hold you back. You need to learn to recognize and acknowledge your strong points and the successes you’ve had. Make a list of them and add to it regularly. If you have a hard time coming up with them, enlist a friend to help you. Read it out loud, daily; the repetition will help embed them in your psyche.

Get in the habit of being thinking positive about yourself. Yes, thinking positively is a habit, and you’ll need to cultivate it in order to help break the cycle of self-reinforcing negativity. If you don’t think well of yourself, nobody else will either.

Embrace Outcome Independence

Nobody succeeds at everything, no matter how confident they are. Failure is inevitable. However, the self-confident man doesn’t dwell on failure; the failure is irrelevant to the event itself.

In practice, this means learning how to separate your desired outcome from the moment. When you’re talking to the girl you like, don’t focus on the fact that you really, really want her to go out with you. All you’re doing is making your current self-worth dependent on how somethingmay occur. Instead, focus on the here-and-now: you’re talking to the girl you like. You’re having fun, you’re savoring the emotional rush you get from the connection you’re building and how cute she looks when she gives that half-grin you like so much.

By not expending all of your emotional energy on treating every interaction like a test that you need to pass, you’re more able to focus on the interaction itself… which in turn will make you better equipped to get the result you’re hoping for in the first place. And that will make you better at the interaction… which in turn will build your confidence.

Practice, Practice, Practice

I know that I say this often, but it bears repeating: practice is the key to success, whether it’s getting better at a sport, improving your guitar-playing skills or getting better with women. Experience and skill is built via a repetition over time; the more experience you have with something, the greater ease you will feel. The more at ease you feel, the better you will perform. The better you perform, more naturally confident you will become. The more confident you become, the easier the skill will become. When managed properly, this can become a chain of positive feedback… if you actually devote the time and effort to it.

Practice means actually spending time and energy; just as you will never improve at guitar playing only occasionally, if you want to be better at talking to women, you can’t just only go out and talk to women when you feel like it. You have to make a concerted effort to go out and take advantage of every opportunity.

With sufficient repetition, it will become almost second nature to you and you will feel relaxed and at ease. You’ll have faith in your abilities. That faith will help your self-esteem to grow in leaps and bounds.

Oh yeah. You’ve got this.

Fear + Survival = Confidence

You need to face your fears.

Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death. Fear is part of what holds you back. And you need to learn to be stronger than your fears. When you confront your fears and survive, you will start to master them, and with mastery comes self-confidence.

It’s understandable to fear rejection or humilation; romantic rejection hurts, literally. It activates the same centers of the brain that deal with physical pain. But the fact of the matter is, rejection isn’t going to kill you; at the end of the day, whether getting rejected by someone you’re attracted to hurts or not is ultimately up to you. With enough experience1 and exposure, you’ll start to learn that how it affects you is determined by your attitude2.

Fear can be a tool. It can be used to motivate yourself. Use your fear as a signal; when you feel intimidated or afraid of approaching someone, use that as a sign that you need to go up to her if only to prove to yourself that you can beat this. Through exposure and repetition, you will being to understand that what you fear is the product of your own mind. Your fear of rejection is really tying your self-worth to her reaction. By letting her have that much power over your self-image, you’re taking the locus of control of your life and handing it to someone else.

Once you begin to understand that rejection is nothing to be fear, you’ll start to relax around women. Relaxing around women will make you feel more self-assured and more in the moment.

Every time you confront your fears, they lose the ability to control you. Every time you let that fear wash over you and push through it, you’ll feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with conquering a challenge. Every time you beat your fear, you’ll feel your sense of ease and confidence grow.

And that confidence you feel? Women will notice it. And then they’ll start to realize you’re a lot more attractive than they’d thought at first.

Damn right it will!

–drnerdlove

On Thu, Feb 19, 2015 at 8:41 PM, Dr Olga M. Lazin Andrei <olazin> wrote:

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LIFE & CULTURE

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THE SATURDAY ESSAY

Our Amazingly Plastic Brains

Mental and physical exercise can keep the brain fit and help it recover capacities lost to disease and trauma

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As people reach middle age, exercising the brain and the body to which it is attached—keeping both active—becomes more important.PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

By NORMAN DOIDGE

Feb. 6, 2015 12:34 p.m. ET 89 COMMENTS

Can the brain healand preserve itself—or even improve its functioning—as we get older? For some time, many scientists have tended to think of our brains as machines, most commonly as computers, destined to break down over time under the strain of age and use. In recent years, however, research in neuroscience has begun to show the inadequacy of this metaphor for describing the physiology of the brain. It turns out that our brains, like our bodies in general, are far more likely to waste away from underuse than to wear down from overuse.

As people reach middle age, exercising the brain and the body to which it is attached—keeping both active—becomes more important. It is one of the few reliable ways to offset the natural wasting process and the damaging influence of our unnaturally sedentary modern lives. It also points to new possibilities for the brain to heal itself in the face of disease and trauma.

For decades, physicians and scientists generally believed that the prognosis for most brain problems was grim. The standard view was that the brain had evolved to be so complex and specialized that we had to pay a price for its sophistication: It couldn’t repair or restore itself with replacement parts, as was possible with other organs, such as the skin, liver and blood.

That view fit with, and partly stemmed from, an image that had prevailed since the days of the great French philosopher and scientist René Descartes, who described the brain as a glorious machine with discrete parts. Descartes’s heirs argued that each of these parts performed a single mental function in a single location. If a part was damaged—by a genetic fault, or stroke, or injury or disease—it was assumed that the body had no resources of its own to deal with the problem: After all, machines cannot repair themselves or spontaneously grow new parts.

Once the electrical nature of the brain was delineated in the 19th century, scientists began speaking of it as a grander sort of machine, an electrical one, with “circuits”—a metaphor still very much with us. They came to see its circuits as analogous to those of electronic gadgets—unchangeable or “hard-wired.”

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As the machine metaphor evolved, neuroscientists took to describing the brain as a computer. This “master analogy,” as computer scientist David Gelernter calls it (in criticizing this view), encourages us to see thought as “software” and the brain’s structure as “hardware.”

The unhappy practical implication of this view, for anyone wishing to maintain his or her brain, is clear: Hardware inevitably degenerates with time and use. The rule for a machine is, “Use itandlose it.” Many clinicians under the sway of this analogy saw patients’ attempts to resist their brains’ decline through activity and mental exercise as a harmless waste of time.

Fortunately, a growing body of research suggests that this older view is wrong. It seems that a more accurate rule for our brains is “Use itor lose it.”

In the late 1970s, research by Mark Rosenzweig of the University of California at Berkeley and Michael Merzenich of the University of California at San Francisco and others began to show thatthe brain’s circuitry changes microscopically with experience and activity.Dr. Rosenzweig and colleagues found that, with environmental stimulation, the brains of animals grew in key areas. Dr. Merzenich discovered that if an animal stopped using a body part, the brain area that processed sensory input from that part weakened or was taken over to perform another function. These findings have since been replicated many times.

The mainstream view in neuroscience and medicine today is that the living brain is actually “neuroplastic”—meaning that its “circuits” are constantly changing in response to what we actually do out in the world. As we think, perceive, form memories or learn new skills, the connections between brain cells also change and strengthen. Far from being hard-wired, the brain has circuits that very rapidly form, unform and reform.

This capacity is the foundation for the brain’s distinctive way of healing. If an area is damaged, new neurons can often take over old tasks. Nor are we just our neurons. Our memories and experiences are also encoded in the patterns of electrical energy produced by our brain cells, like a musical score. As with an orchestra, when one member of the string section is sick, the show can still go on if a replacement has access to the musical score.

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This new “plastic” understanding has major practical implications for how we treat brain problems and maintain brain health. And it has led to some surprising discoveries.

Consider dementia, which in some form affects some 15% of people in the U.S. over age 70 and advances rapidly as we age. A brain with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, turns out, by various measures, to be a brain that is losing its overall plasticity. It shrinks and loses connections. But a growing body of research has found that exercise, both mental and physical, can lower the risk of experiencing dementia.

Last year, Peter Elwood and a team from the Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health at Cardiff University in the U.K. released results from the most detailed study ever done on the effect of lifestyle and exercise onthe risk of getting dementia. The researchers followed 2,235 men—almost all the male inhabitants of Caerphilly, Wales, with initial ages between 45 and 59 years old—for 30 years.

They found that men who consistently did a few things reduced their risk for cognitive decline and dementia by a staggering 60%. These activities included eating a healthy diet (at least three to four servings of fruits and vegetables a day); maintaining a normal weight, with a body-mass index from 18 to under 25; limiting alcohol to about a glass of wine a day; and not smoking.

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But the activity with the biggest impact on risk was walking at least 2 miles a day, biking 10 miles a day or engaging in some other regular, vigorous physical exercise. All five of these factors have been found in other studies to promote the general health of two types of cells in the brain: neurons and glial cells (which interact with and protect neurons).

Imagine if there were a drug that could reduce the risk of dementia by 60%. It would be the most talked-about drug in history, but this astonishing finding has been fairly quietly received.

One reason is that many people assume that Alzheimer’s disease is “all in your genes.” But as neurologist and dementia researcher Tiffany Chow of the Rotman Research Institute and the University of Toronto points out, environmental factors “interact with…genetic makeup to eventually allow or deny dementia a foothold.” Even having multiple copies of the genetic materials associated with risk, Dr. Chow points out, “is not sufficient to produce Alzheimer’s disease.” For the majority of people, how they live matters.

The research in Wales followed at least 10 other studies showing that exercise in midlife was associated or correlated with lower rates of dementia—and that a lack of regular exercise corresponded with higher rates of dementia.

Another recent study—a randomized, controlled trial by Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh and colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—shows that those without dementia who did aerobic exercise for a year showed significant hippocampal enlargement. The hippocampus is the brain region that turns short-term memories into long-term ones, and it is often the first to degenerate in Alzheimer’s cases and with age in general. Earlier studies showed aerobic exercise increased the brain’s gray and white matter in the frontal lobes, areas involved in planning and goal-directed activity.

How does this form of healing work? Exercise triggers the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus. It also triggers the release of “neurotrophic growth factors”—a kind of brain fertilizer, helping the brain to grow, maintain new connections and stay healthy.

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ILLUSTRATION: GETTY IMAGES

Frederick Gage of the Salk Institute, co-discoverer of stem cells in the brain, has suggested that new cells arise from long walks because, in an evolutionary sense, our bodies associate the exertion with moving from an existing territory, which had perhaps become depleted of food or too dangerous, to a new, unexplored territory whose details must be learned. In anticipation, the brain releases new cells and growth factors, which create a more plastic state and make possible new neural connections. This may be one of the mechanisms by which exercise helps to protect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Recent studies have also found that exercise can reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s—a degenerative disease that causes patients to gradually lose control of their muscles. Parkinson’s treatment has primarily focused on medication, with exercise as something of a distant runner-up.

But in 2011, a study of these issues waspublished in the journal Neurology. J. Eric Ahlskog of the Mayo Clinic reviewed the available evidence about exercise and Parkinson’s, in animals and humans. Vigorous exercise, for purposes of the study, included walking, swimming and “physical activity sufficient to increase heart rate and the need for oxygen.” He concluded that exercise deserved a “central place” in the treatment of Parkinson’s.

A 2014 randomized study of Parkinson’s patients at the University of Iowa, led by researcher Ergun Uc,found that walking three times a week for 45 minutes for six months improved patients’ mood and Parkinsonian movement symptoms; the exercise also decreased their fatigue. Though the patients were on anti-Parkinson’s medication, the improvements could not be attributed to medication alone.

Parkinson’s patients are caught in a tightening noose. They may be helped by fast walking, but fast walking is precisely what they can no longer easily do. And the Parkinson’s patient who cannot walk does not “stay still”—his disease gets worse. Because our plastic brains are “use it or lose it” organs, when walking becomes more difficult, walking less will cause whatever walking circuits the patient still has to wither from disuse.

When people with dormant brain circuits try to walk, they fail, “learn” that they can’t walk and stop trying. This is called “learned nonuse,” a phenomenon first seen in human beings who have suffered a stroke—caused by a blood clot or a bleed that cuts off the blood supply and oxygen to brain tissue and killing it.

We have known for more than a century that, after a stroke, the brain enters a state of shock: Neurons die, chemicals leak out of some cells and harm others, inflammation is very active, and blood flow around the dead tissue is interrupted. All of these events disrupt functioning not just where the stroke occurred but throughout the brain. The period typically lasts six weeks or longer.

Physicians once treated such dire problems by waiting six weeks to see what mental functions their stroke patients still had. Since conventional medical wisdom held that the brain couldn’t “rewire” itself or develop new connections, physicians just wanted to discover which cognitive abilities remained after the shock wore off. The rehabilitation that patients underwent merely attempted to reawaken whatever circuits had been spared.

But the plasticity of the brain provides better options. Edward Taub, a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama at Birminghamwho discovered “learned nonuse,”has had striking results with patients who have lost the use of limbs from strokes and haven’t gotten better with conventional rehabilitation. He puts the patient’s good arm in a sling (so they can’t use it), for instance, and then incrementally and intensively trains the paralyzed or partially paralyzed arm.

Brain-scan studies show that when patients recover under Dr. Taub’s treatment, neurons adjacent to the injury begin to take over from the damaged or dead neurons. More recently, the approach has worked with stroke patients who can no longer speak and with movement problems from multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and even movement problems that occur after radiation to the brain for cancer. Learned nonuse seems to occur in response to many brain problems, so dormant circuits, awaiting to be revived, are far more common than has been generally appreciated.

Among the most exciting new neuroplastic treatments are those that deal with “the noisy” brain—that is, neurons that fire out of sync or at the wrong rates in conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, but also in traumatic brain injuries, learning disorders, conditions on the autism spectrum and some cases of chronic pain.

A range of noninvasive methods has yielded radical improvements in all these diseases, allowing scientists and clinicians to “resynchronize” the noisy brain. Our brains work on patterns of electrical energy, and we can change the patterns of brain-firing with sensory input. When you hear a loud pounding beat, for instance, your neurons fire in sync to that frequency, a process called “entrainment.”

Using sound frequencies passed into the ears (which convert patterns of sound energy into patterns of electrical energy), it has been possible to cure some learning disorders and developmental delays, as well as to radically improve the lives of some autistic children. Scientists and doctors using mild forms of electricity to turn on touch receptors in the tongue have been able to reduce the symptoms of MS, Parkinson’s and brain injuries—and even to cure some strokes.

Clinical work in Toronto and studies at Harvard and in Israel have shown that low-intensity lasers applied to the back of the neck can diminish stroke and brain-injury symptoms. And new forms of “conscious walking” that allow Parkinson’s patients to learn to use healthy parts of their brains to take over from damaged areas can sometimes get them moving again.

The basic neuroplastic principle of “use it or lose it” and the benefit of forming new brain connections through intensive learning also apply to people without brain problems. Physical exercise produces some new cells in the memory system, but mental exercise preserves and strengthens existing connections in the brain, giving a person a “cognitive reserve” to fend off future losses and to perfect skills.

Brain exercises developed by the neuroscientist Dr. Merzenich have been evaluated in a National Institutes of Health study, published by George Rebok of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and colleagues in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. People who did the brain exercises—called Brain HQ—showed benefits 10 years later. They didn’t just improve on the brain exercises; their cognitive function improved in everyday life. Earlier studies showed that the exercises increased a person’s mental sharpness, so they could process information with the speed and accuracy they had when they were 10 years younger.

We still have a lot to learn about the brain and its powers of recovery, of course. But increasingly we have the evidence to conclude that we have been seeing our brains the wrong way for too long. Metaphors often conceal as much as they reveal. One day, we may well marvel at how odd it was that, for several centuries, we chose to view our ever-changing, activity-craving, animate brains as fixed, passive, inanimate machines.

Dr. Doidge teaches in the University of Toronto’s department of psychiatry and is on the research faculty at Columbia University’s Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. His latest book is “The Brain’s Way of Healing” (Viking), from which this is adapted.

Corrections & Amplifications

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that a study found a body-mass index of 18 and 25 beneficial for men; the article should have said the index ranged from 18 to under 25.

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