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The Plans

Dr. Michael Keane - Month One Plan

In this clip, I discuss with Niall how we can measure brain activity in a non-invasive way using EEG. With EEG, we place electrodes on the scalp using a cap and record the electrical activity that is generated by his brain. The types of brain waves that we record can give us a lot of information about how is the brain is working, and this can give us some good insights into psychological states. You can love or loathe technology, but here is some relatively simple technology that can give us millisecond by millisecond insights into what is happening in our heads. 

So what can learn from this?

1. Psychological states don't need to be in a "black box": we have the tech now to relatively easily map brain function and link it to psychological states. It's not simple, and we have so much to learn about our brains, but it's not completely off-limits either. Neuroscientists have been measuring EEG since the 1920s, but modern computing technology of course makes it more accessible and powerful. (If you are interested in the weird and wonderful side of science, look up Hans Berger who invented EEG. Guess what he was trying to prove? Telepathy!)


2. You can consciously change your brain, and learn to gain control over it: simple techniques like controlling breathing change the way your brain functions, and switches different areas on and off (in fact, even the in-breath and out-breath activate and deactivate different areas). Bressie has often talked about this as a starting point, even just for attentional focus and a way to start practising the "attentional muscle". With practice, our brains take advantage of neuroplasticity to change their structure in order to facilitate this new action. In other words, as you practise something, your brain beds it down in real wiring and firing changes. It's a physical thing and makes a new skill easier. Like tying your shoes.


3. Progress is not linear: please leave aside the notion that training your brain should be (1) easy or (2) in a straight line of progress. Neither is true. But that's OK! And that's why we are so determined to keep measuring brain changes, and why we are starting a long time before the marathon is due. Sometimes when you are practising mindfulness, for example, it will feel like you are not making progress, or you thought you were making progress and now you have lost it. Non-linearity of progress is the way humans often work, and we are determined to show you that - even when it feels like you're back to square 1 - your brain is changing. This is very validating. We are messy, not straightforward and often have 100 different factors influencing how we are in any one moment. So give yourself a break. Ignore the media and the ads. 


4. Shift your time-frame: we're bamboozled with messages now about instant this and 'three simple tips' that. Mental health, brain health and brain functioning are things that take time to change. So instead of thinking days and weeks, let's allow ourselves months and years. It takes time, so all the more reason to try to find a small moment every day to practise, rather than trying to wait until you find the perfect hilltop or beach for one week a year.


5. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves - Viktor E. Frankl

If you don't know who he is, before you go any further, look him up. This is the big one. You are not going to prevent traffic. You are not going to tell people to stop being horrid on Twitter. You are not going to go back to a tech-free life. Too often we focus on trying to change the outside. Remember in the film adaptation of The Field when, in the end, the Bull McCabe waded into the sea and waved his stick at the waves? Notwithstanding the fact that John B. Keane didn't even suggest anything of the kind in the original play, the messages serve us well. It was pointless. It's often the same with all of our worlds. Sure - we can and should work to make the world a better place. But let's not outsource our happiness or contentment to it. Happiness is an inside job as they say, and this video shows you the power you have to change yourself and take control of where your mind is going.

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