Two Books That Can Change Your Brain

a15 LincolnshireOur brains are powerful things.  They tell us all sorts of stuff and most of it is not true.  A great example of this is when I drive to my home town of Lincoln from Manchester.  In order to do this I have to drive down the A15.

If you’ve never experienced the A15 it’s one of those roads that goes on for miles and; this being Lincolnshire, is often backed up with tractors and slow moving vehicles.  This results in many people getting frustrated and overtaking dangerously.  As a result the road has chalked up a huge amount of casualties and deaths; one of the highest death counts in the country.

Our brains are powerful things.  They tell us all sorts of stuff and most of it is not true.

But what’s this got to do with my brain you may ask?  Well, when I’m driving down the A15 at 50mph my brain often tells me to drive straight into the huge lorry coming in the opposite direction.  Alarming I know; it alarms me just to write that down, but it illustrates my point well.  This is just shit my brain is telling me.  I would never in a million years carry that thought out, but it’s there never the less. Our brains are good at telling us stuff and it’s up to us to decide whether we go along with it or not.

This idea that you are separate from your thoughts is a key concept of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  It’s normal for you to fuse with your thoughts and believe what your brain is telling you and you can hugely benefit from learning to separate yourself from those thoughts (de-fuse).  One of the best books I have ever read on how to do this is The Happiness Trap (Based on ACT: A revolutionary mindfulness-based programme for overcoming stress, anxiety and depression)* by Russ Harris.

The Happiness Trap

The Happiness Trap clearly and simply explains how you get trapped in your thoughts and gives you defusion techniques to separate from them.  It also discusses all of the other ACT ideas in an easy to understand way that can make a huge difference to the way that you think.  The six core processes of  ACT, explained in the book are:

  • How to contact the present moment – live in the here and now
  • Defusion – stepping back from unhelpful thoughts and watching your thinking
  • Acceptance – making room for unpleasant feelings
  • The observing self – how we are separate from our thoughts and feelings
  • Values – living in a way that takes you towards what really matters to you
  • Committed action – doing what matters even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable

I love ACT and it’s made a huge difference to my life.  I’m much more able to do what matters and sit with the feelings that this brings up than before I learnt about it. I have seen a similar transformation many of the clients I have used this theory with.

The second book that can change your brain fits neatly with  The Happiness Trap*and is …

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic worldby Mark Williams and Danny Penman explains how you can learn and use mindfulness techniques to “help break the cycle of unhappiness, stress, anxiety and mental exhaustion and promote genuine joie de vivre. It’s the kind of happiness that gets into your bones. It seeps into everything you do and helps you meet the worst that life can throw at you with new courage.” (Williams and Penman).

The book comes with a CD containing the mindfulness meditation practices, most of which last about 10 to 15 minutes.  This is an eight week program that takes you step by step though the practices and explains how they work and the research behind the theory.

I’ve dabbled with meditation for many years and as a result of this book have now established a daily practice of meditation that has made a significant difference to the way I feel about life.  It’s weird and I have to believe the research findings of Williams and Penman as an explanation, but I definitely feel calmer, more in tune with my feelings and more relaxed on a day to day level as a result of the practice.

This is hard to explain in words, but if you imagine my background anxiety level before reading the book was 3, I have now fully dropped down to level 1 without really knowing how it’s happened.

So there you have it:  two books that can change your brain if you let them.  I now recommend these books as required reading for any individual client that comes to me for therapy; especially if they are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress.  If you want to change your life for the better why not get them ordered too, then come back here and let me know what your thoughts on the books are.

(* indicates affiliate link.  If you buy the book after clicking this link I get about 10p.  My hope is that ten million people do this and I become rich beyond my wildest dreams – more shit my brain has told me!)

8 Comments

  1. Tania Dakka on June 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Very cool! Thanks for the suggestions! I’m DEF checking them out!

    • Ian Tomlinson on June 29, 2013 at 10:58 am

      You’re Welcome Tania – they will change even your brain!!

  2. Rory Lees-Oakes on June 29, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Great article Ian.

    A few years ago I was delivering a lecture to a group of students about intrusive thoughts.

    I mentioned that as you have alluded to that we all have them and that it is how we interpret and act on our thoughts that is the most important thing.

    At this point one of the learners let out a shriek, I asked her if she was OK and she replied that the sense of relief at hearing my lecture was immense.

    She believed that her brain telling her to do strange things ( in her case jumping in front of a bus) was a sign of madness !!!

    I then went on to tell the class of a interview I listened to on Radio 4, in which a psychiatrist was asked about ‘intrusive thoughts ‘ .

    He replied that on the way to the studio , while waiting for the Tube , his brain had told him to push the women in front of him on to the line as the train came . Thank fully for both of them he realised that his brain was being a bit ‘shitty’ that day and took no notice.

    Intrusive thoughts eh , well I am going of to put my finger in an electric light socket…. Oh hang … no I am not!!!

    Rory

    • Ian Tomlinson on June 29, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      Thanks for the comment Rory, you illustrate the point effectively. I’m using mindfulness work extensively with many of my clients and they are often relieved that they are not going mad just like the student in your class. People suffering from anxiety, jealousy, depression and stress tend to “buy in” to their thoughts the most. Realising you are not your thoughts can be life changing.

  3. Achtsamkeit München on September 17, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I read a lot of books an ACT therapy. It’s a very good approach to watch inner processes and not to follow them … mindfulness training is a core element of ACT as well as a redirection of your live towards an orientation on personal values.

    • Sim on August 27, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Hi Ian, great article – thanks. I came across your site whilst trying to choose between these two books – both have been recommended to me. I’ve read so many ‘self-help’ books that I’ve lost count and I’ve rarely managed to complete one as I get so frustrated by them -probably says more about me than the books though…. Anyway, in terms of ease to follow (I like structure) and effectiveness for someone with moderate depression and anxiety, which would you recommend I try first? Perhaps putting your planned millions to one side, that is? Thanks so much. Sim.

      • Ian Tomlinson on August 27, 2014 at 12:23 pm

        Hi Sim
        My advice would be to read The Happiness Trap first. It’s a great book and will introduce you to the ideas of ACT in an easy to understand way. I find that it is one of those books that has a real impact on my clients when they read it – it’s a totally different way of looking at things. Give it a read and come back here and tell me what you think!

        • Sim on August 29, 2014 at 11:40 am

          Thanks for the quick reply Ian! Got the book today and will let you know how I get on with it.

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