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7 Ways to Energize a Healthier Brain

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          1. Turn any criticisms into clear requests

Think of words as emotion-activating agents, and reframe criticisms into requests to produce high- rather than low-energy emotional states in your self and others. Brain fact: Low energy emotions (fear-based) block creative thinking to the extent they intensify, and even worse, activate our automatic defense strategies. When this happens, high levels of cortisol turn off our brain’s learning mode, which may explain why we stop listening when we feel attacked. Rather than saying,”You’re always angry and on the attack,” say the following: “Speak to me in a voice that lets me know you love me when you’re upset.”

2. Describe problems in solution focused language.

Use words to craft that reframe a stubborn problem in solution terms to give your self and others a fresh and energizing perspective. Brain fact: The images that positive action-oriented language energizes in our brain produce action-activating emotions emotion-command neural circuitry and associations that can move us to take action more easily and effortlessly. In contrast, problem-focused language can leave us feeling de-energized, in a rut or states of boredom, which can seem “real” after prolonged use, however, they are simply habits — neural associations — that we have subconsciously formed, stored and reinforced over a period of time. This means they can be unlearned. Rather than “You always leave me to do everything,” say “It’s a privilege to care for our house. I want to do my part to make sure you do not miss out on the great feelings of taking part as a team member in caring for our house.”

3. Replace judgements with curiosity.

Stir thoughts that spawn curiosity instead of criticisms or harsh judgments of yourself or others. Brain fact: Whereas criticisms tend to demotivate and keep us stuck in old thinking and behavior patterns (emotion-command neural circuits that activate fear), curiosity motivates us toward new thoughts or actions, and ones that inspire compassion for our self and others. Over time, finding fault thinking patterns can cause us to get cynical, and lectures and long monologues (for both the giver and recipient!) turn off our brain’s listening mode capacity. Rather than “She’s always so mean today,” say “I wonder if she needed something and didn’t ask.”

4. Use possibility thinking to break a habit.

Consider new ways of thinking to break an annoying habit or problem pattern.  Brain fact: Venting is bad for the brain and creates new neuron pathways to many  more  complaints. Instead of making statements such as, “I never stick with my fitness goals,” say “What new thoughts about exercise or nutrition would change my attitude, and thus allow my brain to associate positive emotion states with something I want it to help me make a regular habit?”

5. Encourage yourself and others often.

Think of encouraging words to say to others, and especially your self, and do so as often as possible. Brain fact: Encouragement activates positive changes in the chemistry of our brains, strengthens our capacity to make conscious shifts away from fear and, instead, toward building greater understanding of what triggers us and making wise, more informed choices. This process ultimately benefits us in many ways, among others, it: (1) takes less work (energy) to make conscious effort to change than hold onto reactivity, defensiveness, grudges, disappointments, etc.; (2) helps us heal past wounds and transform fears into assets; and (3) levels of serotonin and dopamine, which have healthful effects on your health whether you address yourself or others. Instead of “I wish I didn’t have to go to this gathering,” say “I (want to) enjoy learning to get comfortable with uncomfortable actions that stretch me in positive directions.”

6. Give the gift of forgiveness.

If you practice forgiveness for yourself or another, know let go of a grudge, etc., you’re doing your brain and body a big favor. Brain fact: Whereas anger itself is a healthy and even vital emotion (i.e., releases low levels of cortisol that propel us to take positive action to get out of a stuck place or deal with challenges in the way of our goals), holding on to anger can lead to more intense emotions of hatred or rage that release toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Forgiveness is more than a cornerstone of every major faith and tradition. It appears to be a natural ability in every infant and child before language development (where they learn to judge self and others … ); it is also an essential practice that allows us to be in charge of promoting our own personal and relational health. In contrast, prolonged toxic levels of the stress hormone damage our health and can even kill cells prematurely.  Instead of “Why me?” or “I’ll never forgive myself,” learn to let go by saying, “I let go of thoughts of retaliation or wanting another to hurt as they hurt me.”

7. Offer the gift of acceptance.

When forgiveness is not an option, such as when a hurtful behavior continues to occur, offer the gift of acceptance. Brain fact: Conscious acceptance is a learned skill that, when cultivated, brings emotional balance into life. Acceptance liberates your brain to work optimally. It focuses your emotional energy, so you may better access the amazing powers of your cerebral cortex to reflect on possibilities, opt for wise choices, make changes, etc., rather than succumb to the lures and snares of reactivity, limiting beliefs, toxic thinking and other rigid patterns of the mind, which can imprison the otherwise amazing capabilities of the human mind and imagination. Rather than “Why did this happen,” say “I don’t like (or hate) that this happened, I wish things were different, however, I cannot change the past. For my own peace of mind and health, I honor my wish to change this situation, and at the same time let go of having to change it before I can be happy.”


7 Ways to Energize a Healthier Brain

Athena Staik, Ph.D.

Relationship consultant, author, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Athena Staik motivates clients to break free of anxiety, emotion reactivity, and other addictive patterns, to awaken wholehearted relating to self and other. She is currently in private practice in Northern VA, and writing her book, What a Narcissist Means When He Says 'I Love You'": Breaking Free of Addictive Love in Couple Relationships. To contact Dr. Staik for information, an appointment or workshop, visit, or visit on her two Facebook fan pages DrAthenaStaik and DrStaik

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APA Reference
Staik, A. (2013). 7 Ways to Energize a Healthier Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Dec 2013
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