from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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“When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”
~ From The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk

When Insight Isn’t Enough

As a psychologist, people often ask me why they find themselves thinking, feeling, and acting the way they do. And, of course, I’m happy to explore past experiences that can help them understand more about themselves today.

However, if there is one thing that I have learned from over thirty years of working with people, it is that often insight (or just understanding the “why” of what has shaped their present-day thoughts, emotions, and behaviors) is rarely enough to produce lasting change.

The reason for this has to do with how the brain processes information. For example, when something negative happens to us (and most of the desire to understand “why” has to do with negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), the middle brain, or limbic system engages the lower brain, or brainstem, and triggers a chemical reaction designed to throw us into fight-or-flight.

This is exactly what should happen in a dangerous situation where either a fight-or-flight response is necessary to keep us safe. In these sorts of situations, the brain reacts, and then returns to normal when the situation is no longer threatening. However, when we have felt powerless in the past because, we could neither fight nor escape the negative situation, the stress response is triggered over and over, creating a series of significant neural pathways going back and forth from the middle brain to the lower brain.

Unfortunately, these negative neural pathways have become habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are re-triggered whenever the brain senses any situation that is similar to what happened in the past, and we find ourselves thinking, feeling, and acting in ways that are more reactive than purposeful, and more problematic than supportive.

While understanding this process can be helpful in minimizing the fear that we are “damaged goods,” or that we are doomed to feel this way for the rest of our lives, it doesn’t change the significant neural pathways that have been created and reinforced, to date. Put another way, “When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.” 

What we need to do is rewire the brain by creating and reinforcing new neural pathways that connect the middle brain, not the upper 80% of the brain (the neocortex, what I call the “Top of the Mind”). This is the part of the brain where we have access to our clarity, confidence, and creativity, and where we can make more purposeful decisions about how we create our experience of life.

The good news is that the brain is always rewiring itself through a process called neuroplasticity, and if we can learn how to influence this process, we can shape our present and future in ways that help us have more influence in every aspect of our lives.

Of course, this is easier said than done, and must be practiced a lot in the early stages of the process in order to be successful. This is why, in my seminars and books, I encourage those committed to having this sort of influence to identify the best of who they are (qualities and characteristics of them at their best) and make practicing being this way the most important thing in their life. I call this process identifying their “Highest Purpose”— using life as a practice field. This means starting the morning with clarity about the qualities and characteristics that you want to bring to the first part of the day, rebooting around lunch time in order to go in to the afternoon clear about what you want to practice, and doing this again on the drive home from work, or around dinner time.

The good news is that anything that we practice will become a habit. The bad news is that we have been practicing responding to life with worry, stress, resentment, and frustration, and in order to change our lives, we must be willing to change our practice.

This is what I teach in my books and seminars and if you believe that you, or those in your organization (workplace, school, church, or family) would benefit from learning how to access the best of who you are, especially in challenging situations, by rewiring the brain, I suggest that you contact me. Until we shift from retracing the old neural pathways to creating and reinforcing new ones, we will continue to react in ways that are much more congruent with our past than our desired future.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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