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Barrie Davenport is a writer, mom, and career and life transition coach. She’s the author of The Bold Living Guide: 7 Key Ingredients for a Meaningful Life available through her blog, Live Bold and Bloom, and co-author of the Amazon bestseller Declutter Your Mind, How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking

Thought Medicine: Passion is a word that means different things to different people. What’s your personal working definition of “passion”?

Barrie: Passion is the place where one’s values, interests, skills, and joys intersect. Passion isn’t something that you discover “out there” somewhere. Discovering your passion involves thorough self-discovery of who you are and what motivates you, as well profound mind shifts. This work must be followed by specific actions to ignite and flame your passions. You might be passionate about writing for example, but if you aren’t regularly doing the work of writing, you aren’t living a passionate life.

Thought Medicine: How has passion made a difference in your life personally?

Barrie: It has changed me entirely. Doing what I love has profoundly impacted how I feel about myself and how I view the world. When you feel like your life is missing something and that you aren’t doing anything meaningful or fulfilling, everything is shaded with dull grey. Life feels like an endless series of tasks rather than a daring adventure. When you have energy, passion, and enthusiasm behind any aspect of your life, everything feels more vibrant and exciting. You wake up ready to seize the day rather than slog through it.

Thought Medicine: What are some of the methods you use to help your clients discover their own passion?

Barrie:  I ask the client to do a lot of self-discovery and clean-up work before they begin taking real steps toward their passion. Before we can discover and act upon what we are passionate about, we must really know ourselves. We need to know what motivates and inspires us, as well as what is limiting us and preventing growth.

I take the client through a process of learning about their personality type, their skills, values, joys and interests. They also begin to focus on a life purpose with some specific exercises for clarifying that, and they will create a vision and mission for their lives. A challenging part of the process is digging into limiting beliefs, blocks, and unresolved issues so that one can have a clean slate before launching on this exciting new life. I help the client synthesize all of this information so they can begin the action steps both for the “clean up” process and the passion discovery. This helps them create weekly actions for a full year. If they do the work, next year should look pretty bright!

“I ask the client to do a lot of self-discovery and clean-up work before they begin taking real steps toward their passion.”

Thought Medicine: Even when we are following our passion, we can hit a plateau. How do you keep motivated over time and deal with “burn out” if it should occur?

Barrie: Passions can evolve and change over time. Sometimes we have more than one passion, or we might feel really passionate about something for a time and then move on to something else. That’s why it’s useful to reevaluate where you are in life and how you can focus in on new or shifting areas of growth and interest.  Any time you begin to feel that restless, dissatisfied, or empty feeling about some aspect of your life, that is a signal to begin this work again.

Thought Medicine: How does changing the way they think support people in the process of finding and living their passion?

Barrie: As we both know, and I’m sure your readers know from the articles on your blog, the brain can be “trained” to support positive feeling. The more you practice positive thinking, gratitude, and affirmations, the more you are reinforcing a sense of well-being and happiness. (Read The Brain That Changes Itself  by Norman Doidge, MD for more info on the science behind this.) When you are actively focused first on seeking what you love and feel passionate about, and then taking real actions toward your passion, you are soaking your brain in “feel good” thoughts and actions. That’s why it is so important to resist limiting beliefs and negative thinking when you are doing this work. You are fighting against yourself when you do that.

Declutter Your Mind Barrie Davenport Steve S.J. Scott

Visit Barrie Davenport’s blog Live Bold and Bloom.

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Brain Scans Pre-PET Headgear

You’ve probably seen a TV show or read articles that feature impressive brain imagery depicting  a “normal” brains vs. depressed, anxious, or addicted brains.

Brain scans have made huge improvements in diagnosis and treatment.

However critics complain that when these images are interpreted to reveal information about your thoughts, feelings, and cognition, the claims are often exaggerated.

A recently published study by M.I.T.’s Edward Vul (and associates) concluded that,

“a disturbingly large, and quite prominent, segment of fMRI research on emotion, personality, and social cognition is using seriously defective research methods and producing a profusion of numbers that should not be believed.”

Brain scans were developed in order to visualize brain structures. Now they are being used to interpret brain function. This is where we need to proceed with caution. Personally I’ve had misgivings about who is deciding what constitutes a “normal” brain.

Would Beethoven’s or Einstein’s brain have lived up to the test?

And what about the invasive nature of such technology?  Body scanners at airport security have been in the headlines. If you don’t like the idea of your body being displayed for all to see, how would you feel about your brain being scanned and interpreted without your permission?

NPR reports the US military is developing portable brain scanners that work from a distance and can supposedly determine whether a person is lying or telling the truth. While this might be useful at security checkpoints, the ramifications of such technology are disturbing, especially if the software (or human being) that is interpreting such a brain scan is less than 100% accurate.

Clearly we need some ethical guidelines is place as this technology emerges.

Brain scans aren’t going away. Nor should they. They are powerful, life-saving tools.  But perhaps we need to proceed with caution about how they are being interpreted, and “sold” to the public outside of medical purposes. Especially when brain scans are being used to interpret intentions, emotions, and feelings.

In an article for Scientific American Mind, Michael Shermer (publisher of Skeptic Magazine) described the limits of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Here’s a summary:

1. Studies Are Skewed by Selection and Environment

The population sample can’t be truly random because about 20% of experiment subjects back out because of the claustrophobic experience of being in a narrow tube with the head locked firmly in place while being subjected to the loud banging of the machine. All this, while attempting to watch images, make choices, and report on emotions. It’s obvious that the brains monitored under such conditions are unlikely to reflect “real world” conditions.

2. Scans Don’t Measure Direct Brain Activity

It’s an oversimplification to describe parts of the brain “lighting up” when a person is thinking about something specific.  It’s important to remember that an fMRI isn’t showing actual mental activity.  It’s indirectly interpreting such activity by measuring the flow of blood to an area of the brain. Blood flow is known to take longer to register than the time it takes to think the thoughts that supposedly create the increased blood flow.

3. The Pretty Colors Are Fake

Such computer-generated images give the false impression that a certain well-defined area of the brain is responsible for specific activities. It’s much more likely that neural activity is distributed in a more loosely defined network. Another point to keep in mind according to Shermer: Scientists know that most brain activity is not stimulus driven. It’s occurring spontaneously all the time. Therefore the task to separate out which part of the brain is performing a specific task at any given moment is a challenge.

4. You’re Not Looking at a Portrait of One Brain

The images you’ve seen are probably not one person’s brain. Most likely the image was created from a statistical compilation of all the brain scans in a study. Even the brain scan image of one brain is actually a result of computer-adjusted data, using software-generated corrections for head movement as well as other possible variables. It’s not as simple as a camera taking a picture.

5. Interpreting Brain Scans Is an Art, Not a Science

Here’s an example: Typically, a structure in the brain called the amygdala is associated with a fear response. But the amygdala is also activated in response to arousal and even positive emotions. So if your amygdala “lights up” in a brain scan, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re experiencing fear. Similarly, the right pre-frontal cortex lights up when focusing on certain specific tasks, but it’s also involved when you do almost any difficult task.

A Glossary of Brain Scans:

X-ray: Discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen who received the first Nobel Prize for his work. Electromagnetic radiation passes through an object projecting an image onto light-sensitive film. Modern digital x-ray uses less radiation.

EEG (electroencephalograph. Multiple electrodes attached to the scalp provide a direct reading of the electrical activity in your brain. In use since the 1920’s.  It’s non-invasive but produces a chart and not an image.  It also can’t record activity in the deeper areas of the brain.

CAT Scan (computed axial tomography) Also called a CT scan (computed tomography) Used since the 1970’s, uses special x-ray equipment and computers in order to visualize areas in sections that would not be visible in a normal x-ray.

PET (positron emission tomagraphy) Measures blood flow in different parts of the brain by tracking a small amount of radioactive substance which is given to the patient and detected by special cameras.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) Magnetic fields are used to generate computer images of internal structures.

fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) Similar to MRI but able to measure and monitor brain activity and blood flow in real time.

MEG (magnetoencephalograpy) Detects real time brain activity by measuring magnetic fields that are created by electric current flowing within neurons.

SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) Similar to a PET, uses a radioactive tracer to monitor blood flow in the brain. Produces a three dimensional image.

DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) Measures the flow of water molecules along myelin which makes up 50% of the brain. This technology is not yet easily interpreted.

The source material for this article is from the excellent and thoughtful book The Scientific American Brave New Brain, How Neuroscience, Brain-Machine Interfaces, Neuroimaging, Psychopharmacology, Epigentics, the Internet, and Our Own Minds Are Stimulating and Enhancing the Future of Mental Power

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Let Go of the Past and Live in the Present

“When you begin to realize your past only exists in your imagination, you hold the key to transformation.” 

The Conscious Mind

When we talk about “thoughts,” we are normally referring to thoughts that seem to come from the so-called conscious mind. I say “so-called” because we rarely conscious of our thoughts.  Our conscious thoughts are whatever our mind happens to be thinking at any given moment.  For example, your conscious mind is reading and understanding these words.  Perhaps you have noticed that your conscious mind can only deal with a few things at the same time.

Since your conscious mind can’t see below the surface, it doesn’t realize it’s only a small part of a whole. The conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg while your subconscious mind which contains the largest part of your consciousness, lies beneath the surface of conscious awareness. You could also think of the conscious mind being similar to the screen of a computer displaying whatever you are focusing on, while the subconsious mind is more like the hard drive where all the files (memories) and applications (habits) are stored.

Because we don’t realize that the subconscious is the source of most of our thoughts, the conscious mind often rebels against the idea that change can happen without its understanding how or why. This can make it difficult to change the way we think and especially the way we behave. The conscious mind wants to change but it doesn’t know how, and it’s reluctant to relinquish control, or more accurately, the illusion of control.

The Subconscious Mind

The subconscious mind encompasses almost everything that’s not conscious. Many desires, beliefs and emotions are subconscious, although often they may be noticed and expressed consciously. Memories, dreams, daydreams, and images, both real and fantastic, live in your subconscious mind.  The subconscious is also where your creative resources lie.  Normally, most of the information your conscious mind uses to formulate conscious thought is filed away in the subconscious.  Think of your phone number right now.  Go ahead say it out loud.  Where was that phone number before I asked you to recall it? It was stored in the data base of your subconscious..

What’s Real?

The important thing to remember about your subconscious mind is that it’s not very skilled at telling the difference between an imagined experience and a real one. For example, think of a lemon right now.  In your creative imagination, see, sense, and feel a ripe, yellow, juicy lemon.  Now imagine taking a knife and cutting into that lemon.  Imagine the citrus aroma.  Now imagine taking a piece of that lemon and biting right into it.  Feel the sourness of the juice puckering your mouth and smell the lemony aroma as it floods your nostrils.  Close your eyes and really do this.  If you are like most people, you will notice that your mouth began to salivate as you imagined biting into that lemon!  But where is the lemon?  It exists solely in your imagination.

Your Imaginary Past

Your subconscious mind learns things in two primary ways:  intensity and repetition. It learns best through a combination of both.  One of the reasons you were able to salivate as you bit into an imaginary lemon is because the first time you bit into an actual lemon it was an intense experience.  And if you repeated that experience, it was intense each time.

Remember some other intense experiences from your life and notice the way your physiology responds. Think of your first kiss, maybe. Or remember a recent argument and notice that you may be feeling just a little more upset than you did before I reminded you. Yet just like the lemon, that argument now only exists in your imagination. When looked at from this perspective, your entire past is imaginary!

When you begin to realize your past only exists in your imagination, you hold the key to transformation. This is why the present moment is so powerful. Much like that lemon, the thoughts that are “running” you in any given moment are just an imaginary “rerun.”

If for just one moment you stop rerunning your past your awareness will be free to experience what’s actually happening in the present moment. There you may discover that the real you is much more vast than the rag-tag collection of reruns that up until now you’ve thought was who you are.  The real you is so much more powerful than your personal history.

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