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Thursday, October 20, 2016

"The Rewired Brain" (Dr Ski Chilton)

TITLE: The ReWired Brain: Free Yourself of Negative Behaviors and Release Your Best Self
AUTHOR: Dr Ski Chilton (with Dr Margaret Rukstalis and A.J. Gregory)
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (288 pages).

Many of us have heard about the left brain and right brain distinction when it comes to understanding the brain. Others look to the use of neurological concepts and scientific tests to determine how the brain functions. Some would use the different ways namely: brain, mind, experience, learning, and memory. Still, others would segregate the brain into forebrain, midbrain, and the hindbrain. Then there is the outer brain and the inner brain, and so on. In this book, Dr Ski Chilton, a Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine has come together with an addiction psychiatrist, Dr Margaret Rukstalis, to propose two systems of thought within our brains: a "System 1" and a "System 2" brain.

  • System 1: Limbic and Reptilian systems that deal with human emotions, survival instincts, memory that deals with protection, and base functions like breathing, heartbeat, and main physiological functions of the body. This resides in the inner brain regions.
  • System 2: Neocortex: executive oversight, thinking, planning, visualizing, and decision making that matures around 25 years of age. This resides in the outer brain regions.

The key thesis in this book is that when both systems are balanced and optimal, we will be able to manage our negative behaviors and grow our best selves. The author believes that our brains can be rewired and we can become better people as long as we are conscious of our two systems. Using scientific data and research evidence, readers learn about the way the two systems work; how they interact; how they need each other; and how complex the brain is despite the simplified explanations. It is written in three parts, namely: Reflect; Reframe; and Rewire.

In "Reflect," we are asked to think about how we regularly let our emotions get the better of our decision making. We are reminded about over 25% of the American population having some form of mental illness. Before we can do any change, we need to be first convinced that something is wrong in the first place. We learn the importance of "differentiated parts of the brain" that enable us to maintain some self-control. We learn about the dangers of letting fear dictate our actions. Due to plasticity of brain functioning, both genetics and the environment can play crucial roles in rewiring the brain.

In "Reframe," we learn about what it means to be human; the biblical and the scientific perspectives of human behaviour; and how feelings can render us hopeless and helpless. Chilton also tackles the difficult topic of morality and the roots of what right and wrong means. He believes that morality breeds positive change. Tragedy can be very crippling to one's emotional development. Sharing about his own broken marriage and relationship struggles, he argues for the need to come to terms with our situations and ourselves. Acceptance may very well be the hardest but most necessary stage to arrive at. Apart from that, parenting may very well be the most difficult challenge one would encounter. He applies the System 1 and 2 paradigm to the parenting equation, arguing that parenting by guilt and over-parenting are essentially over-stimulations of System 1 brain functions. A well-differentiated person will be one who knows oneself; able to express appropriate emotions; and manages emotional dysfunctions at a timely and proper manner. He allocates a chapter on sex and intimacy to describe how our brain functions can impact our sexuality and our most intimate relationships. Practiced well, it is a gift. Abuse it and it becomes a liability.

In "Rewire," we have some self-discovery and self-exploratory exercises to stretch our understanding, our learning, and our self-awareness. The question of our own identity helps us to remember our most significant positive and negative moments of our lives. We are challenged to get others to share about their opinions of us. We learn that surrender is a healthy emotion and acknowledgement that we are not always in control. Gradually, we are encouraged to seek forgiveness for our weaknesses, and to find freedom in acceptance.

So What?
The single biggest takeaway for me is how Chilton describes the world of two minds. While admitting that the brain is a complex structure that cannot be hemmed down by any one theory or concept, he argues convincingly that we can still try to understand in broad strokes. These broad strokes cover only a small fraction of the potential of the brain and yet can bring about powerful and beneficial changes. If the brain is changeable, why not change it for the better? Why let ourselves be enslaved by reptilian behavior that can easily unravel our base emotions? Why not learn about positive ways to be a better person?

Each chapter ends with a set of questions for readers to reflect and to discover oneself more. At times, the book does appear to over-simplify aspects of the brain. This is a necessary step because not all of us are neurosurgeons or brain scientists. Neither are we trained to psychoanalyze ourselves. This System 1/2 manner of thinking helps us in ensuring we do not become imbalanced in the use of our brains. Only through practice can we improve and rewire our brains. As relational people, we need others to help us along this journey. Thus, the way forward with regard to practicing the principles of this book is to read it together with someone else. Whether it is one's spouse, friend, or colleague, it has to be done in an environment of trust. I can think of no better place than a community of faith where members are committed to help one another grow and flourish.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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