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Neurofeedback, Growth, and Habit

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Lincoln Stoller, Ph.D.

Copyright 2010, Tenger Research. LLC


I describe a holistic approach to changing addictive behaviors based on neurofeedback with elements common to the therapies of indigenous cultures.

What Is Normal?

"Your relationship to your psyche is like an addiction. It is constantly making demands of you, and you have devoted your life to serving those needs." 1
-- Michael A. Singer

We focus on learning about things, and we're not accustomed to considering ourselves as things that need learning about. We're taught to recognize problems and seek solutions, not examine how we recognize, or what it is to seek. We take these processes for granted and assume they take care of themselves.

Autonomic processes, like breathing, seeing, and hearing, are supposed to take care of themselves. Yet if you examine these processes you'll find we habitually over breathe -- raising blood alkalinity and depressing oxygenation2 -- misuse our visual system -- resulting in restricted awareness, dulled perception, repressed emotion and degenerative vision3 -- and fail to listen as a conscious, active process -- resulting in deficient hearing, speaking, reading, and communication4. Even our heart's rhythm may require our attention to achieve healthy variability5, not to mention the function of our bones, joints, and vascular systems, which also require participation.

So it should come as no surprise that using our brains, and the myriad processes this involves, requires attention lest these processes fail to grow or maintain. Yet we have little awareness and practically no training in exploring, sensitizing, exercising, and expanding our neural capacities.

Add to this the list of processes over which we exert conscious control and struggle to manage, such as eating, sleeping, moving, and planning our lives, and the workload becomes overwhelming. In the end we consider personal growth to be a luxury. It is no wonder that we are fall apart as we age, and that our societies do too.

You cannot consciously monitor every process, system, and function in your body, but you are aware and do monitor them semi-consciously. Maintaining and enhancing your health is not accomplished by juggling more balls, but by juggling less. Use your attention to train these semi-autonomic systems -- your senses, metabolism, and cognition -- and they will take care of themselves, like the skilled managers they are.

To enhance your life you need a deeper awareness of self, not just of your conscious mind and emotions. And you certainly don't need more facts. With awareness you can develop the acuity to sense and rebalance all the systems of which you are composed. It is not a conscious activity, but it is not an entirely unconscious one either. It exists in that middle realm of the subconscious, in which also resides spirit, love, insight, inspiration, healing, ancestry and culture.

The Person

How far does a person extend in time? The forces that form one's personality extend over generations with trauma passed down through the actions of parents, and though social context. A person's strengths and weaknesses are a summation of their individual and cultural conditions. You cannot isolate a person from their culture, even those who are unaware that they are influenced by their culture.

Of how many parts is a person composed? Our emotions, inclinations, and presentations turn like gears in the clockwork of our personalities. Some of one's guiding voices are quiet, even unrecognized, yet they vie for control of the one person who most of us think we are. This illusion of integrity breaks down under duress where confusion is more a matter of dissociation than of indecision. Who comes for therapy, what parts of them do not come, and what constitutes reintegration? As a therapist are you even speaking to the right characters?

It is a mistake to think that you, as one person interacting with another, are speaking with one voice. You speak with many voices, some of which you are unaware. These elements of your personal, family, and cultural character simultaneously interact with similar elements in the character of others. Some of these voices reflect habits and assumptions of which we are unconscious, and many we could not recognize even if they were pointed out to us. They range from spirits, to moods, traits and aptitudes, and while they are not cataloged, some have electrical signatures that we glimpse in the EEG brain waves.

Therapy is a growth and learning-oriented dialog that goes on within the mind of the person seeking growth and between their mind and the minds of those around them. Therapy strives for physical change, both within the body and in the environment, but the changing of minds is where it must begin. The critical changes occur in the seeker's mind, but you can instigate change if you can change your mind in such a way as to make clear the seeker's path. To do this you must grow yourself.


Enhancing your sensitivity and balance is the first of two goals of feedback training. Think of yourself as a smart car that is able to adjust its' own suspension. When the road is rough the car raises its chassis and dampens its springs to ride over rocks and ruts with less vibration and more control. When the road is smooth the suspensions tightens and lowers for greater speed and sensitivity. This system interacts with its environment, and to do this successfully it must sense and respond to changes in the surface of the road ahead.

You are an interactive system but you are not a smart car, you are more like a poorly trained smart car. Where a smart car always responds, you do not. Sometimes you go too slowly on patches of smooth road letting your emotions oscillate when you should be focusing at a distance. At other times you're going too fast when your life hits a rough spot and you'll be lucky to escape with only a dent. The key to making you a smarter car is the improvement of your sensitivity and your ability to change.

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My interest is in advancing health, insight, and function on personal and community levels. My training is in clinical neurofeedback with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and experience with computers, shamanism, education, and indigenous cultures. (more...)
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