To “Think Well”, you have to have access to the neural circuits which enable you to be:
- Feeling Good
Quite often, these are hidden from our conscious thoughts. However hidden, though, they profoundly affect us. These are fascinating, groundbreaking ideas that impact our thinking and our wellbeing. It’s what is called Neuroception.
These hidden neural circuits influence how we act, feel and behave. Our aim for Mindsways is to highlight for you all aspects of the science behind these ideas, making them understandable and illustrated through Mentalism, and translating them in to the everyday applied principles we call ‘Thinking Well’.
Our days also have several mentalism demonstrations (what we like to call ‘mini-mental plays’) that you can add to your repertoire. I am confident you will be inspired by these ideas and make use of them in across all areas of your life. Many of these thought provoking ideas, and the psychology that lies behind the effects we teach you, are explored on both of our live courses:
Psychological Artistry Live! – http://www.mindsways.com/PA/
Project Mindfoolness Live! – http://www.mindsways.com/PMFL/
The mentalism effects are both entertaining and engaging, but they also have a purpose beyond that; they show you the many complex ideas that go into Thinking Well.
The Hidden Doorway to The Secret Garden
When I was little, my mother would walk myself and my two older sisters to school.
The school was a small Church of England school on the outskirts of our little town, and to get there, we would have to walk through a graveyard. It was mostly well kept and quite light for a graveyard, but in the darker months of the year, it would become shrouded in grey, and the colourful greens on the trees would turn from their once bushy hands to creepy, crawling fingers.
But there was always this one place that kept itself bright and colourful; The Secret Garden.
Now, I know most of this isn’t real. It’s half remembered glimpses into a corner of the little world I grew up in. It’s a confabulation of bygone cartoons that my sisters used to watch on stormy Saturday mornings and wildly imagined stories I would overhear on the way to and from school. But for me, the Secret Garden was real, and I like to think it still just might be.
There was an ancient oaken door that stood to the side of graveyard, built into the Anglo-Saxon masonry that surrounded the church, the graveyard and the school itself. We would walk past it every day. And every day, no matter how grim the weather or how bright blue and clear the skies, I would imagine what was behind it.
Always what stood behind the door was a beautiful paradise; small, but airy, with exotic plants and bushes from across the world. A calm pond with crystal clear fountain in the middle, where all sorts of woodland creatures would flock. There were stone columns, taller than the tallest buildings and older than the church and my headmaster combined (which, to a 6 year old, was very old indeed).
But what’s more, there were things in there that adults wouldn’t even believe; fairies, gnomes and mischievous little imps. Where they came from, I have no idea, but they called the Secret Garden home, and that’s why we could never knock and go into the Secret Garden. You wouldn’t want people barging into your home, now, would you?
So, many years later, I still think about this door. Not what’s really behind there (my adult mind presumes it’s some kind of utility shed, possibly a back entrance to the school – I never want to know for sure), but how, for so many years, I knew there was a secret world sat there, hidden behind a door, just waiting for someone to knock.
Your Mind, Invisible
This is how I think about Neuroception: A doorway to a hidden place in our minds. A secret that only you may know, half-remembered, maybe mostly imagined, but you are utterly convinced it’s real, somehow.
The term “Neuroception” describes how neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Neuroception occurs reflexively, without our awareness. It’s an invisible process that we have evolved over millennia to help us decode the world we live in.
Neruoception contrasts with our perceptions, which require a degree of conscious awareness and interpretation. Neuroception is not a cognitive process, but rather a neural process with a dependency on awareness. The neuroceptive process triggers shifts in our autonomic state, allowing us to adaptively deal with cues from our environment.
We are constantly scanning our situation and others in an attempt to decode these cues; to decide if we are under threat or safe, to see if we should fight or flee, whether we are in a state of defend or discover. This is completely involuntarily, but changes everything.
Our state is the filter by which we experience our world, and the results of this neuroceptive process are what determine our state. In short: Our neuroception is what makes the difference between being cringeworthy and creepy or charming and charismatic. Our neuroception is what makes the difference between seeing a goal as completely mad and impossible or seeing it as achievable and fulfilling. Our neuroception is what makes the difference between finishing the day flat out and exhausted, or finishing the day feeling as if we’ve been working to accomplish our dreams.
The Three Stress Systems
Classically, we think of the two systems that make up the Automatic Nervous System as a parasympathetic one balancing a sympathetic one. Through our education and culture, we have been structured to think that we have only one defense system: one that increases fight or flight (otherwise known as ‘mobilization’). See the table below for an illustration of this:
|Sympathetic Nervous System – “Fight or Flight”||Parasympathetic Nervous System – “Rest and Digest”|
|Heart rate increases||Heart rate slow and steady|
|Raises Blood Pressure||Decreases Blood Pressure|
|Releases Sugars/Fats into Bloodstream||Promotes Energy Storage|
|Inhibits Digestion||Stimulates Digestion|
|Facial Muscles Flattened||Facial Muscles Activated|
|Decreases Vocal Prosody||Increases Vocal Prosody|
|Middle ear muscles turn off, better to hear extremes of high and low frequency sounds||Middle ear muscles turn on, better to hear the Human Voice|
|Dilates Pupils/Decreases Eye Contact||Constricts Pupils/Increases Eye Contact|
However, there is a third state that is not always recognised or worked with: the freeze system. This is a state that kicks in when we perceive our position as threatened; when our ability to escape the situation or physically defend it is severely limited or non-existent.
In this state, we recruit the ancient unmyelinated vagal circuit (found in the brain-gut axis; the wiring between our brain and our gut) and shut down our bodies and our brains or kick in to demobilization. We shift physiological state. This has many implications for how we deal with a whole range of thinking disorders.
The Big Freeze – 21st Century Problems
One of the biggest problems we face in the 21st Century is stress. We’re surrounded by stressful activities, stressful work colleagues, stressful ‘pings’ when our phones go off and we just know who it is and what ‘favour’ they’ll be asking from us.
We are constantly putting ourselves into this defense mode, and compounding the problem by a lack of exercise, terrible sleep patterns and a fast-food diet, not to mention our dependence on ‘social’ media and technology.
The problem is that when we use the immobilization circuit for defense, when we freeze, our nervous system does not have an efficient pathway to get out of it. Many people end up stuck in this loop: faced with stress, our neuroceptive processes telling us to freeze and our body mounting high levels of defensive manoeuvres that include:
- Spiking blood-sugar levels – leading to high levels of insulin resistance, the cause of diabetes
- Storing fats – leading to weight gain, low energy processing and long-term obesity
- Locking off our leptin receptors – leading to lower levels of satisfaction, a slower sensation of
- Suppressing the levels of melatonin – leading to disturbed sleep patterns, disrupted circadian rhythms and insomnia
- Opening holes in our protective gut-lining – leading to all manners of gastrointestinal diseases and a damaged, disbalanced and malfunctioning microbiome
- Boosting our cortisol production – leading to even more stress, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of defence
We are faced with a major issue: we don’t have an exit strategy.
When we are locked into defensive mode, we can get locked into a cycle of feeling threatened and seeing threats everywhere. Our nervous system is detecting risk and threat when there is no real risk or threat, and this can produce an internal narrative that provides justification for socially disengaging: for not loving, trusting or engaging with life.
The issue here is that these states are physiological ones and are not voluntarily selected. They are a result of us scanning our situation, the result of our invisible neuroceptive processes and the accumulated result of poor lifestyle choices adding up over years of bad habits.
Understanding this can not only inform our responses to others but can assist us in thinking how to break these cycles for ourselves and the people we care about the most.
Mindfoolness and 9 Aspects of Neuroception that impact you:
- Neuroception acts as the filter we experience the world through.
- Situation cues can transform your physiology and how others perceive you.
- Neuroception is automatic, but we can control and influence it once we know how.
- Thinking disorders are both physiological and psychological.
- Feeling safe is necessary for thinking well, living a good life and bonding with others.
- Bonding with others is imperative for our good health and our ability to think well.
- When we don’t feel safe, we don’t think critically and our decisions are distorted.
- The simplest way to make people like you is to use facial muscles and speak with prosody.
- We can change. We can fix these things. We can get ourselves and others out of these loops.
We are using Mentalism as way of breaking into these cycles of defensiveness. When we are social and engaged, we are reducing metabolic demands on our stress systems, which in turn produces a state conducive to thinking well, as well as facilitating health, growth and restoration.
We use mentalism to help put people at ease and in the discovery/freedom state, away from the defend/freeze state. Mentalism’s main role is to be entertaining, but also helps us engage you with these ideas.
Mentalism is more than just performing tricks. What else do you do when you perform? You’re delivering a script, remembering what to do with your hands and when to do it, listening to your audience, for their reactions and responding with your actions. All of this increases your cognitive ability to remember and recall information, your awareness of the situation and your social experiences.
What else are you doing? You’re keeping track of what your audience is witnessing, and what’s really going on – by doing this, you’re expanding your visual and spatial skills and developing an ability to think in parallel. What else is going on? Through your script and your performance, you’re using the most ancient and effective methods of communication: Storytelling.
What else are you doing? You’re guiding your audience’s attention, knowing that you need them to be looking at and thinking about a particular element at this precise moment, and knowing that you need them to be in a certain state of mind by the end of the performance for them to enjoy it.
If you’re performing for a group of people, then you’re social referencing – you’re engaging others. So, performing mentalism, especially to a group of three or more people, is an amazing neural exercise of the social engagement system. Functionally, performing mentalism touches every aspect of the social engagement system.
And it does not stop there, any act of creative performance (acting, singing, dancing, improvisation, public speaking etc.) involves all of the above.
We choose to focus on mentalism and magic, because that’s where our passion lies and that’s the field we have studied for decades, but the truth is there are elements of the social engagement system that interweave themselves across all acts of communication.
Mentalism and Neuroception
Neuroception may be outside of our awareness, but just being aware that it is influencing us and others means that we can change it. To do this when interacting, we can generate cues and change it through:
- Our breathing – we can breathe slowly and steadily. I highly recommend the 3-4-5 method: breathe in for 3, hold for 4 and breathe out for 5.
- Speaking with smiles and full range of prosody – Think of a balloon tied to the top of your head, pulling your head and spine up straight, pulling the corners of your mouth up along the way.
- Making eye contact – Gentle and relaxed, you’re not trying to win a starring contest!
- Creating a safe situation, one of discovery and freedom – Place yourself into a discovery mind-set by focusing on novelty, curiosity and newness
- Building social bonds with the people around us – There’s no tip for this one above just working to keep an open mind and being honest
There are, of course, many ways to achieve all of these cues. For us, we use Mentalism and our mini-mental plays to illustrate these ideas and facilitate this. The strength that mentalism has is in its range of topics, it can embrace its novelty and the fact it is founded on our psychology.
Mentalism can act as a way to stimulate spontaneous engagement behaviours. Mentalism and its delivery can trigger the social engagement system. More on this next week.
Mentalism and Thinking Well
Thinking well is part of having optimal health, including aspects of being physically, mentally and emotionally fit. Thinking well also includes social wellbeing, having high energy levels, peak vitality, personal performance and high productivity. This may be based on biology, but biology does not have to be our destiny. Our aim is to stimulate discovery of new concepts and approaches, not one of defending outdated but accepted ones.
Your neural network can only work with concepts you have. So, why not add some new ones? That is what we do with mentalism. You can make deliberate choices to change your concepts. Your concepts are not predetermined by evolution, your genes or your biology. They are due to your social circumstances and your situation. We have a responsibility to change these for the better, for ourselves and others.
You can take steps to influence your future. By Thinking Well, you can change your:
- Emotional experiences
- Conceptual fluency
- Perceptual fluency
You can take steps to sculpt who you will be tomorrow using the new ideas from scientific research right now. These ideas not only allow you access to new concepts, but they can change yours and others life paths.
I am constantly in pursuit of exploring new areas, new ideas and working on understanding important issues around our thinking.
I find that ideas emerging from research papers etc. are not just challenging classical scientific beliefs, but they are also showing us new ideas and providing us with paradigm shifts in our understanding of our thinking processes. There is a convergence of evidence from many fields of study. Neuroception is just one of these ideas.
I would love to meet you on one of our sessions, to hear from you or chat about the ideas etc.
George and Alex
07941 521 469
P.S. “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl