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Habits of a Happy Brain with Dr. Loretta Breuning- Ph.D

August 30, 2023

Invigor Medical hosts a discussion with Dr. Loretta Breuning, a retired California State University Professor and founder of Inner Mammal Institute. An Author of many incredible books, she shares her profound insights into human motivation and understanding mammal brain chemistry. Her groundbreaking resources shed light on the intricate connections between brain chemistry and behavior, revolutionizing our understanding of personal growth and transformation.

Time Stamps:

  • How did you get started in the field of neuroscience? 0.00
  • Differences between the animal and mammal brains. 3:21
  • How much time do we have to learn? 9:55
  • Why pursue for the dopamine hit? 14:41
  • How do you trigger a healthy dopamine response? 16:38
  • The importance of making a to do list. 21:37
  • Oxytocin as a herd behavior. 27:29
  • Maternal oxytocin in reptiles. 33:01
  • Oxytocin and social hierarchies. 35:00
  • What is serotonin and why does it matter? 40:28
  • The correlation between depression and cortisol spikes. 46:53
  • What is an endorphin high? 53:24
  • How do you stimulate your dopamine? 56:35
  • Ways to trigger change in our mindsets. 1:03:23
  • Visualizing the pathways in the brain. 1:09:35

  •  Loretta  0:00  
  • I started reading about the animal brain and animal behavior. And I stumbled on the fact that animals have the same brain chemicals that we have. And the chemicals that we always hear about that make us happy, like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, they’re the same in animals. 
  • Intro 0:18  
  • Welcome to the Invigor Medical podcast, where we sit down with medical professionals, and discuss a full spectrum of health related subjects. It all starts in 3-2-1.
  • Natalie  0:30  
  • Thank you so much for being with us this morning, Loretta, how are you doing?
  • Loretta  0:34  
  • Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks.
  • Natalie  0:36  
  • Oh, my gosh, I’m so excited for this conversation. Just learning a little bit about your background and the seven books you’ve written, I think is what you said, is just fascinating to me. And this conversation, I think it’s a really important one. And you know, here at Invigor, medical, we’re really focused on health and longevity. And so much of that is mental and what are the connections? And how do we get ourselves to do the things that we know we need to do, but we don’t do them and just dig ourselves in these holes. So I’m really excited to kind of dig in with you and learn all of the information that you are clearly just a well of knowledge. So first, I’m, I’m kind of curious, how did you get started in this field of brain hormones? And what sparked your interest in this area of study?
  • Loretta  1:26  
  • Sure. Well, like many people, I was surrounded by a lot of unhappiness when I was a child. And I was always trying to figure out what is everybody so upset about? And then when I went to college, and I learned academic psychology, I thought, Oh, this is it. And now I have the answer. And now I’m going to do everything by the book, and everything’s going to work out. Right, right. When I raised my own children, and how 1000s of students then I thought like, this is not really working. So I was skeptical about academic psychology and looked for deeper understandings. And when I stumbled on I started reading about the animal brain and animal behavior. And I stumbled on the fact that animals have the same brain chemicals that we have, the chemicals that we always hear about that make us happy, like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins, that they’re the same in animals. And in animals, they produce a specific behaviors that are like eerily familiar. And yet, you don’t hear much about that. And animals can’t cover up their responses. So they’re a much better way to understand how our chemistry works.
  • Natalie  2:44  
  • Oh, that’s so interesting. I wouldn’t have even expected that that animals are similar in that way. Yeah.
  • Derek  2:52  
  • So I know that you’ve talked about in preparation for this podcast, I listened to some of the other podcasts you were on and watch some of the materials that you have on your YouTube, which are all fantastic. I encourage our listeners to check those out. One of the things you talked about was the difference between like the reptilian brain and the mammalian brain, and then like the verbal cortex. I’m actually not super familiar with with the differences between each one of those. So could you dive a little bit into like, what is the reptilian brain and the mammalian brain? What is it? What is it major differences between those?
  • Loretta  3:24  
  • Sure, well, um, I’ll I’ll explain them the way I understand it, which is not the same as what you hear in academic psychology, or in a lot of the alternative psychology either. So to me, the important thing is that the animal brain cannot process language. So it can’t tell you in words, why it’s releasing a chemical. And so we’re always feeling these strong chemical responses, both pleasant and unpleasant. But we don’t know why. Why our brains turning them on. So we try to explain them with the verbal part of our brain, which is influenced by other people, what you hear other people say and how they explain their chemistry. And by the formal instruction that we get that says, Oh, you’re happy because of this, or you should be happy because of that. Sure. And so we’re not connected to what really stimulates our positive and negative chemistry, until we see what stimulates them in animals. And then we say, Oh, wow, that that’s not what I want to think. But that really explains things. So that’s one whole answer, then another whole separate answer is that the what’s called the reptile brain is connected to your body, and what’s called what I call the mammal brain, which is the limbic system that controls your chemistry that’s connected to your reptile brain. Which is more of just what’s called for the basic metabolic functions are controlled by the lizard brain, that sort of social interactions are controlled by the mammal brain because mammals are social, and then the cortex, which is the pink fluffy thing on top that we see in images of the brain that controls language and analysis and abstraction, but it’s not connected to the body. So the only way you can get yourself to do anything, is by going through your lower brains. So when you hear people say, Oh, you shouldn’t be in your lower brain. That’s just foolishness. You can’t function without using your different brains together.
  • Derek  5:33  
  • So a quick question to touch on that. So when I say people saying you don’t want to be in your lower brain, I’m guessing that’s probably because it has more to do with like the fight or flight states, because those are very basic to survival. And really, nowadays, it’s very easy to get triggered to be in a state of anxiousness. Do you think that that’s kind of what they’re talking about?
  • Loretta  5:53  
  • That is what they’re talking about. But they are not getting the big picture. Because if your animal brain is creating this fight or flight state, then if you say, Well, I’m just not going to be in my animal brain. So that’s not really the solution, the solution is to soothe your animal brain, because what isn’t really looking for is, I want to be safe. And I know, I want to know that my needs will be met. So creating peace with your mammal brain is more valuable than pretending that you could ignore it, because you can’t. And it just alerts you more and more if you try to ignore it. So the analogy I use is a horse and rider. So if a rider says, Well, my horse is irrational, so I’m just going to ignore the horse. That’s just not a realistic prospect. So again, so that’s one whole part of it. But then the other part of it is, when you say, Well, I’m just going to stay in my rational brain. So I don’t go into that emotion. But your rational brain is just as programmed by your past experience as your mammal brain is our we were born with billions of neurons, but no connections between them. And we build those connections from experience. So your verbal conscious brain is still a sort of very controlled by your past experience. And I call this the.. Oh, no forgetting again. Oh, I say that, instead of thinking it’s rational, is that it rationalizes so much is verbal brain is always rationalizing and coming up with stuff that makes you sound good. Despite the fact that you’re having all these reactions that you can’t understand.
  • Natalie  7:47  
  • Right? That makes sense. And it’s just such a interesting way to kind of look at it. Because I feel like in today’s world, we’re having more conversations around mental health and what’s happening when you’re in that, you know, alarm state and how to get out of it. And I think it is really important, as you said, to note that like that part of your brain, it will rationalize away things and they you still need to find a way to soothe that reptilian part of your brain? Is that what I’m hearing you say?
  • Loretta  8:19  
  • Yes to the reptilian and mammalian, which yes, I just generalize that because all mammals have a reptilian brain inside them.
  • Natalie  8:27  
  • Gotcha, gotcha. So, in one of your books, habits of a happy brain, I’m guessing this is something that you talk about a lot. And so maybe we could, we could dive into that a little bit a bit and like break down the hormones that are responsible for happy feelings, and maybe tell us what are the main hormones that are responsible for us to have that happy brain? 
  • Loretta  8:50  
  • Sure. I focus on dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins. And each of these is a different feeling that meets a different survival need, and let’s say rewards you for a different behavior. 
  • Derek  9:04  
  • So, with that being said, you know, I was watching, you have a whole series about this on your thing. They’re like five minutes long, and they’re very simple, which I appreciate. And it’s kind of like, I felt like I was getting a lecture from my mom when I was in elementary school again, and it’s just like this. This is very basic understanding and like, I enjoyed it a lot. But each one of those hormones that you talked about the dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins. I feel like society as a whole has heard these words before and you hear these words like “dopamine hit” and you know, oh, oxytocin is the cuddle hormone and all these different things. I’m sure there’s a lot of misnomers and myths around that. Can you dive into like, Are there any myths about any of those specific chemicals that just drive you crazy?
  • Loretta  9:55  
  • Oh, thank you for asking.
  • Natalie  9:58  
  • She’s like how much time do we have.
  • Loretta  9:59  
  • Exactly. So this is the topic of my new book. So I’ll go into it in detail, my new book will be out in January 2024. It’s called “Why you’re unhappy biology versus politics.” Where can I start? So each one, what’s out here, the the common perception is that these chemicals should be on all the time for no reason. And other people are getting them all the time for no reason. It’s just not true. First, nobody is getting them all the time, because they’re designed to turn on in short spurts. And then they turn off once the need has been met, or the action has been taken. And it wouldn’t really benefit you to have them on all the time. Because they’re designed to convey information about specific moments when the behavior would be beneficial. The other thing, nobody’s getting them all the time, and nobody’s getting them without effort. Because they design, they’re designed to reward you for making an effort to meet a survival need, rather than just sort of blissfully sitting on the couch. And then the final part of this is the idea that if you don’t have them all the time, that you have a disorder, because when you believe it’s a disorder, then you feel like you’re broken, and someone else should fix you. Rather than saying, These chemicals are triggered by certain actions, and I can build the skill of taking those actions in healthy ways, rather than unhealthy ways.
  • Natalie  11:42  
  • Okay, so tell us what are the actions that we can take to have those hormones and this happy brain and get that natural flow and release of those happening?
  • Loretta  11:52  
  • Sure. So first, it’s again, complex. And this is going to be extremely condensed, it’s not something simple, like eat turmeric and take a hot bath.
  • Natalie  12:02  
  • Ah man, I was really hoping for an easy fix like that.
  • They can’t, you know, and it’s, fortunately say, I’m not selling anything. So most people are selling something. And then there’s like, Oh, it’ll all be solved if you buy my handy dandy sound. So that’s why I very much don’t want to sell anything except these books, which are really cheap. So what it takes is a behavior that meets your needs. But how do you define meeting your needs? It is the animal perspective, to understand what an animal wants to meet their needs. Plus whatever turned the chemical on in your past triggered the chemicles because that’s what wired your expectations about what will turn them on today. So I’ll just give you some simple examples. So dopamine is the expectation that you’re about to meet a need. So if you’re a monkey, and you wake up in the morning, and you’re hungry, you have to look around for food. And when you see food in the distance, that turns on your dopamine, and you say, Wow, that’s a way to meet my need. So the monkey takes steps toward the fruit. And each step closer stimulates more dopamine. And then when the monkey finally gets the fruit, then it’s dopamine stops, because the need has already been met. So in the world of our ancestors, they had to look for food all the time. And that’s the way their dopamine worked. But in the modern world, when you could easily get enough calories to meet your needs, with very little effort, we have all this energy left and all of this desire to meet our needs in some other way to stimulate it. And that leads to you know, all various problems that people can think of. But the main solution is that in the modern world, we focus on meeting social needs. And when you understand that your dopamine pathways or expectations are built by your past experience, it tells you why you get excited about this or that and if you are pursuing things that you would rather not be pursuing, then you just need to pursue something else. Because your brain just uses the pathways you have. So you’ll just keep pursuing whatever worked before until you build a new pathway. 
  • That’s super interesting because as you’re talking I’m trying to think about like well, what do I pursue like for that dopamine hit. I personally love.. like I always say I’m a new experiences junkie. I love trying new things. That’s why I love to travel. And so that like, gets me really excited, like going to a new place going on a new hike, getting something new. You know, those are things that, yeah, so is that is that like what you’re saying those will be things that like my brain has been trained to get that dopamine hit? To go after those things?
  • Yes, exactly, exactly. And those are relatively healthy ways. Now if you’re not paying your bills, and obviously traveling, that is a problem. But once you’ve done enough of the new and improved in the context of meeting real needs, then we look for additional stimulation because the dopamine feels good. And if you don’t look out further than the other, more unfortunate ways that listeners could possibly be thinking of is like eating a pint of ice cream, ordering a pizza, looking for a bar that’s still open, for example.
  • Derek  16:02  
  • Yeah, well, and I feel like a big thing that’s been an issue across the United States is attention deficit disorder, and another situations that are like that. And I know that a big drive for people with that condition is like things that spike dopamine, at a very large level, right. And so people that have these attention deficit disorders, I know a lot of times it leads, they also are in tandem with very addictive behaviors. Can you talk a little bit about dopamine roll and addiction and like if there’s any kind of good strategies for being able to counteract those?
  • Natalie  16:38  
  • Sure. So let’s start with the simple idea of like, if a person goes on vacation and leaves their dog a week’s worth of food, that the dogs probably going to eat all the food on the first day. Right. So we’re all born with this animal brain. And we’re all born crying. So we’re all born with this sense of urgency like I have these needs to meet, and I don’t know how to meet them, and I’m gonna die. So what happens gradually, slowly, over time, we learn new ways to manage that sense of urgency, and new ways to give ourselves the feeling that I can meet my needs. But then, like, I can’t meet my needs by just eating the whole pint of ice cream. Because once I’m done with that pint of ice cream, then what you know, so I’m gonna eat another pint. So that’s why it’s always a challenge to manage this animal brain that we’ve inherited. Now, the other important thing is, so we’re born with very few connections between our neurons. But whatever connections we build, when we are young, those become the like highway system of your brain, because of something called myelin, which paves neural pathways and makes them super efficient. So my myelinated pathways for my work from when I was young, tell me how to manage my attention and my reward seeking behavior. So in the past, let’s just say a child grows up on a farm, and they can’t eat butter unless they milk the cow. They can’t eat, period, you know, they can’t drink unless they walk to the well and carry water. But today, you know, you have a toddler who tantrums for food, and you maybe give them candy because they tantrums and you want them to stop tantrum. So they’re getting rewards without managing that inner mammal, and their myelinating pathways for behaviors that aren’t not helpful in adult life.
  • So what are some examples of things that people can do in order to trigger a healthy dopamine response versus you know, what we’re talking about are probably more typical things in the day and age that we live in.
  • Loretta  19:17  
  • Sure. So the way I talk about it is to have a long run goal, a short run goal and a middle term goal. So the idea of a short run goal is that you always have some excitement in your daily life. So you always set a goal that you can reach a goal that you could reach, you know, before bedtime, not save it till the last minute and maybe do it before lunch, and something that feels good. And I try to use a goal that gives you some sense of pride and accomplishment. So what I say is, if your desk is a mess, choose a six inch square of your desk and and sort that out before lunchtime, and you get like a dopamine reward like I, I did something. And it’s something that’s small enough that you’re sure you can accomplish, but still big enough to excite you. Now, a long run goal is what unfortunately, our education system has called, like your passion. And the trouble with following your passion is that your brain doesn’t give you dopamine, unless you actually see yourself getting closer to the goal. So when people have these grandiose dreams, today’s version is I want to be a YouTube influencer. You know, my generations, I want to be a rock star and right you know, 200 years ago, I want to go to California and find gold. Every generation, I want to discover a new continent, by sailing around the world, every generation has that thing. And you get excited when you think about it. But if you don’t find a way to get closer to that goal, you stop getting the dopamine. So that’s sort of why like middle term goal is like, dividing your desires into manageable chunks that you can actually take. So that lets say, every month you can celebrate a certain accomplishment, and every day of the week, you’re spending at least 10 minutes working toward that goal, so that you’re getting a little bit of dopamine from it every day.
  • Natalie  20:59  
  • That makes a lot of sense. I was just thinking about whenever if I start my day really well. One of the things that I’ll do is kind of lay out my day and make a to do list for specifically for work most of the time, because a lot of times you know, you get to work, things start swirling around. And then next thing I know it’s 3:30. And I’m like, What the hell did I do today? I have no idea. I know that I’ve been busy all day, but I have no concept of anything accomplished. And then I leave feeling defeated, you know, and a little bit worried about the next day. But if I start my day, and like just kind of brain dump and make a list, every time I cross something off, it feels like a little hit to me. And when I if I can leave for the day and I crossed everything off. I feel like a gladiator. I’m like who wants to fight me? I’m a rock star. Look at me go. And so as you’re explaining that, I’m kind of thinking I’m like, oh, that’s dopamine. What I’m doing is I’m setting myself up for a healthy dopamine response. Is that right? 
  • Yeah! Very good. And one thing you could even add to that is if anyone finds themselves lying around at night, feeling bad, because of all the woulda, coulda, shoulda, you can start the list the night before. Because all those things are on your mind. I wish I did this. And I could have done that. And I urgently am worried about whether I’ll do that. And make the list the night before. And the other thing I always say is, like, you don’t want to have more than like three big things on the list. The three hardest things, the three most frustrating obstacles, do them first thing in the morning before you do anything else.
  • Eat the frog, as I say.
  • Yeah, yeah. And then if you have more than three, then put them off to the next day, knowing that by the end of the week, you’ll have eaten 15 dogs you could say.
  • And so I’m curious, what should people kind of be aware of and watch out for? Because I think that, you know, even just thinking of my own experiences, people are probably continually,, unintentionally or unknowingly falling into patterns of like dopamine response, or some of these other hormones that that aren’t good. They’re not they’re not aware of what’s happening. So what might be some triggers that people could watch out for, to and then you know, what would the the the flipping of that switch then be? Does that make sense?
  • Yeah.  So is it’s highly individual, because each of us is wired by our own past experience. So one person sort of has an unfortunate dopamine habit in this direction, and another one has it in that direction. Like a simple example would be one person over works while another person never gets anything done and spends a lot of time playing video games. You know, one person eats too much, and another person eats too little and spends our whole day obsessing over their diet, you know, so we all need to understand our own individual dopamine pathways and look for patterns. I explain all of this in my books, and then look for the early experience that built our patterns. And the early experience is not necessarily a conscious memory or conscious intent. But if you look for the pattern, you will always see an early experience that fits the basic pattern. And you’ll say, oh, that’s why I’m always obsessed with this. Because at some point when I was young, I got rewarded for that. And that builds a pathway that says, this is the way to get rewards.
  • Mm hmm. That is really interesting. It sounds like it’s just really takes a lot of awareness and paying attention, which is good. And it’s important because I think it’s really easy to just kind of go through life and be in a pattern and not realize it at all. And then just keep repeating the cycle over and over again. And so I think this is something that’s really important, you know, for people that are trying to get into new habits to better their health and longevity in this instance, which is again, something that we talk about a lot.
  • Derek  25:52  
  • Yeah, definitely.
  • Natalie  25:53  
  • Yeah. And a good way to think about these patterns is in a spirit of self acceptance, because there’s so much like, what’s wrong with you kind of memes going around and self incrimination that makes a person not want to do this. So a method I suggest in all of my books. It is set your alarm to stop three times a day for one minute, and sort of trace, like, what was I thinking about? And I have specific exercises for this. So that’s a way to sort of extract your patterns of finding where you’re going, what excites you, what upsets you. And then you could look for the patterns in your early experience, not in a blaming kind of way, but just what was I rewarded for? And what rewards did I observe around me when I was young? And how did that teach me that this is the way to go? And how could I honor that, but find maybe a healthier way to redirect it? 
  • Yeah, that makes sense.
  • Derek  26:59  
  • You know, this has been a fantastic conversation about dopamine. And I feel like we really dove deep into it, I kind of want to dive into the next hormone. I almost, and you can tell me whether this is a good analogy or not, I almost view all of these hormones as like different actors. And the brain is a stage, right, and they all kind of have their separate parts that they have to play. And once they’re done, they move off stage. Right. So that being said, can we talk about oxytocin and the and the role that they play in the mind?
  • Natalie  27:28  
  • Great, yeah. Okay. So oxytocin, as you mentioned, often called the cuddle chemical. And from an animal perspective, we could call it a herd behavior. So in the animal world, you feel safe, and you lower your guard, when your herd is around you. If you are isolated, you’d be so busy looking for predators that you couldn’t put your head down and eat. So in order to meet your survival needs, you look for that nice safe feeling of I’m surrounded by others, so I can relax. And we are often encouraged to see this in a glorious, virtuous, altruistic way. But it’s fundamentally selfish, that I want you to protect me so that I can fill my belly and predator will see you first.
  • Derek  28:21  
  • There’s a there’s a post by the National Park Service. That was like, if you’re running away from a bear, don’t push down your friend, even if you feel like your friendship has run its course. Just thought that was hilarious.
  • Loretta  28:38  
  • It is..I’ll have to look for that.
  • Derek  28:43  
  • I’ll send it to you, I’ll find it and send it to you.
  • Natalie  28:46  
  • But in the animal world, they will just run you know, Knock into a friend except for the friend might have antlers. And they might get poked, which is once again self interest. So if you have this glorious, heroic vision of animals cooperating and supporting each other, then daily life feels rather disappointing. Yeah. So that’s why I think it’s so important to understand how it really works. So what we really want than that what really triggers our oxytocin is the feeling that I am protected, and therefore, I can lower my gaurd. Lowering your garden relaxing, that’s what feels good. So how do I know I’m protected? Well, I’ll never feel protected. If I find fault with everyone. I’ll never feel protected. If I have unrealistic expectations, like a child gets protection that you don’t get in adulthood. So if an adult expects the kind of we call it unconditional support that’s not realistic for adulthood. So then you end being disappointed all the time. So the key to oxytocin is really having realistic expectations. Now, it’s valuable to understand that shortcuts to oxytocin are pop popular, because the facts of life are so challenging and uncomfortable. So one famous shortcut is going to the pub where everyone knows your name. That’s why you feel like you can’t have the good feeling unless you keep drinking or partying or right. Now, another example is when people go to a stadium with 10,000 people, whether it’s entertainment, or politics or sports, you get that feeling of being in a big herd with a common cause, even though none of those people will be there for you in the morning. So that’s another example of a shortcut.
  • Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I never thought about that. But like, I love to go to the Gorge amphitheater, which is, you know, here in Washington. It’s just an hour and a half from where we’re sitting right now. They call it God’s amphitheater. And it’s absolutely gorgeous. And whenever I go to some shows down there, especially if I’m down in the front of the stage with this group of people, and everyone’s like, in the energy of the show, and it is really one of my favorite places to be. And I hadn’t really thought about about like that, like a herd experience. I’ve always thought of it as like energy, but I guess it also is hormonal. And that’s crazy to me to think about it in those terms.
  • It’s the sense that you have a giant herd. Yeah, so you are sharing something. The sharing part is the intellectual part of your brain and the herd is the mammalian part of your brain. So each of us defines, like, what does it take for me to have this sense of protection? So it my brain defines it with whatever turned on my oxytocin in my past, and your brain defines it with whatever turned on your oxytocin in your past.
  •  Hmm, interesting.
  • Derek  32:03  
  • That makes a lot of sense. You know, I was just thinking about it. I was thinking about the moniker, the cuddle hormone, right? And how that how it got that name. And I know that there’s a couple of pretty key stages where oxytocin gets released. A lot of people I’m sure are familiar with Mother Child bonding, milk letdown, birthing. There’s huge spikes in oxytocin. I know, that post a couple having intimate relationships with each other, that there’s a huge post sex spike of oxytocin, right. Can you talk a little bit more about like, what is the role that oxytocin plays in those types of conditions?
  • Natalie  32:44  
  • Sure, this is the fascinating thing. One chemical can have a wide array of functions. And that’s best understood from the perspective of cortisol which we can talk about later, the stress hormone. I have a lot on that my books and my website. So let’s start with the maternal oxytocin in mammals. So the thing that amazed me is reptiles.. This like clarifies everything. A reptile does not have oxytocin, except for during sex, which lasts for 10 seconds. 
  • Derek  33:20  
  • Wow.
  • Natalie  33:24  
  •  Sorry. I just realized I made a ridiculous face, but I just wasn’t expecting that.
  • Derek  33:33  
  • So guys, if you’re feeling bad about how long it takes, just know that you’re not as bad as an alligator. If you are, you might need some help. 
  • Loretta  33:42  
  • It’s even shorter in birds.
  • Natalie  33:44  
  • Even shorter in birds? Yeah, okay. So oxytocin, your reptiles only when they’re having sex and only for 10 seconds, I suddenly feel bad for reptiles. I mean what an existence, but I mean, I guess they don’t know differently. 
  • So that is the other thing. Yeah. So when a female reptile is laying an egg, oxytocin triggers the contractions of the egg laying muscle, which is the exact same thing as anyone in the medical field knows that oxytocin triggers labor contractions in all mammals. And so apart from it also triggers lactation, but before that, it triggers uterine contractions that cause labor and delivery. So you could see that it’s the same basic muscle. Now, the bottom line though, is that you get little bits of of oxytocin when you feel safe in a group, but reptiles don’t get that at all. And reptiles haven’t every reptile for itself lifestyle. They never stick together. Mammals stick together, but not all the time, They would prefer to go their own way. Because when they’re too close together, the only food that’s accessible to them has already been peed on and trampled on. So they would rather trot off to greener pasture. But when they do that, they smell a predator and then they go back to the herd. So oxytocin motivates you to stick with the herd, despite the fact that they get in your face and their antlers are poking you all the time. So that’s why we’re always making that difficult decision between how much do I want to tolerate other people’s antlers? And how much do I want to go off my own way? When you take all to the couple relationship..oh my gosh, so that’s complicated. But so yeah, so sex is a big spike in oxytocin. But then the next morning, you might have no oxytocin at all. So that offers different solutions, let’s just say.
  • Derek  34:08  
  • Definitely, well, and that’s kind of elaborates as well as like, kind of this tension between dopamine and oxytocin, where it’s like, yeah, you want to be able to go out and do these things. But in fact, you see this in a lot of like personality tests, where you have people that are wanting to get things done, and they trample over people to get it done. Then you have the other people that are like, no, you have to respect the feelings of other people. And, and then a lot of times, they they don’t end up getting anything done, because they’re too busy trying to get all these things figured out. So that’s a really interesting tension that I’ve never really thought about before.
  • Loretta  36:41  
  • And it’s natural, that’s the important thing, it doesn’t mean that something has gone wrong. And the tension is natural. And I explain, every Gazelle is making this decision every minute. Should my next step be toward the herd? Or toward the greener pasture? And after that they make the same decision with the next step. So if the gazelle brain is designed to deal with that, then we can deal with that.
  • Derek  37:07  
  • Definitely. I had another question that you’re talking about with oxytocin, how hormones can have various roles throughout the body, depending on where they are. There’s a study that I’m familiar with, I’d have to actually like pull it up and send it to you as well, so that you can review it. But were men who took intranasal oxytocin actually had reduced appetites. Do you know anything about that? And why that might do it? Oxytocin might trigger that response. Yeah, I will say
  • Loretta  37:34  
  • So the brain is designed to focus on the unmet need, doesn’t waste energy on needs that have already been met. So the oxytocin tells them, okay, that needs already been met. Now, let’s move on to the next thing. That’s the way I would interpret it.
  • Derek  37:50  
  • That makes a lot of sense.
  • Natalie  37:51  
  • That’s really interesting. Okay, so we’ve talked a lot about dopamine. And now oxytocin. What were the other two?
  • Derek  37:58  
  • Serotonin and endorphins, right?
  • Natalie  38:02  
  • Yeah, yeah. And okay, so let’s talk about how serotonin levels affect mood. And what are some ways that people can boost their serotonin naturally, or in a healthy way?
  • Loretta  38:15  
  • Sure. So I have a very different perspective on serotonin from the disease model that’s widely accepted in today’s world. So what I stumbled on and what changed my whole perception of life and my career was studies from the 1980s, that an animal a monkey serotonin was boosted by rising in the hierarchy of its troop. So this whole idea that mammals and monkeys and apes have a social hierarchy in their troop that had been understood for almost a century. And it’s like, wow, nobody ever told me this. And yet, it’s it’s like the after that I collected all the books and library on this. But so it’s understood that there’s mammalian social hierarchy in every group. And rising in that hierarchy stimulates your serotonin gets you more food and more bathing opportunity, which leads to more surviving copies of your genes, which is the simple message of any class in evolutionary biology or any introductory textbook on evolutionary biology. We teach you this, but it’s not so popular today, because it’s not politically correct. So we have this strong urge to rise in status, because our mammal brain rewards us with serotonin when we do and it’s important to think that serotonin is not aggression, but it’s a relaxed feeling of saying, I can get enough bananas, even though all these other monkeys around me are grabbing bananas because Ames, I’m strong enough to get the banana. And in the animal world, if you ever watch nature videos, you see that the big monkey still have bananas from Little Monkeys all the time. And little monkeys are scared to even put their hand out and reach because they get bitten and it can do permanent damage. So you don’t put your hand out and reach and assert yourself until you first make a social comparison and see that you’re in the one up position. And then your brain releases the serotonin. And it’s so easy to see that this is what we’re driving ourselves crazy all the time is making the social comparison and reacting to our own conclusions about it.
  • Derek  40:42  
  • As you’re describing this, I almost feel like serotonin is in this might be a good label, maybe not you can tell me Is it almost like a hormone of self assurance of “I can handle the situation” Whether that’s in the status of who you’re around, or just like, facing with the situation that you’re facing. And so that if you have a lack of that serotonin, it’s like, you’re going to be anxious, you’re going to have increased amount of cortisol, you’re going to have all these really anxious feelings. So that being said, what can people do to make sure that they have a healthy amount of serotonin? Obviously, you don’t want to put all the people around down and say, “No, I’m better than you.” That’s not really a good thing. And it kind of works again, here we are talking about these actors. And it’s acting contrary to the to the actor oxytocin, right, saying like, no, no, I’m better than the group. And the Oxytocin is saying, like, No, you got to maintain your relationship with the group to be able to survive. So yeah. How do you how do you balance all that?
  • Loretta  41:47  
  • Yeah. So like you said, with confidence in your own strength is whenever you think I have the strength necessary to meet my needs. So that’s built on a realistic interpretation of what your needs are, and a realistic interpretation of your strength. And when I say realistic, that includes not dwelling on the social comparison of, like, so many people are in this belief system of like, other people get things easily. And it’s not fair.
  • Derek  42:20  
  • The social media portrays that like, big time, and I’m guessing that’s a huge problem with a lot of people that I’m sure you’ve interacted with.
  • Loretta  42:29  
  • Yeah, so a simple way to explain it is, if you think I’ll be happy forever, if like a young person wants to be an actor, and they think I’ll be happy forever if I get a part. But then when they get a part, they’re not happy, because it’s not a big part. And they think maybe bigger actors are looking down at them. And then finally, they get a big part. And they think they’ll be happy forever. But they’re not because then they think, Well, I want to win an award. And then I want to be a director. And so then they see that other people are winning awards, and other people are getting directors roles. So there’s no achievement that can ever be good enough, that can give you guaranteed serotonin for ever. It can only come from inside you by saying, I’m safe because I have enough strength to meet my needs, whether or not I get this particular role or that particular role.
  • Natalie  43:25  
  • I would have never thought of it being described that way. Serotonin is kind of like I don’t even know how I thought of it before of like, what was giving me that boost. But it’s really interesting to think about it that way. And, and honestly, I’m still kind of like processing the differences, because I think it’s easy to like, see or feel or me personally being unaware of how I kind of, you know, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin kind of all bleed together in my mind, if it’s like, oh, it just feels good. Like, it’s feel good feeling. Yeah, you know. And so this is just really interesting. And you brought up cortisol a little bit ago, too, as well. Which, of course, is the stress hormone. Can you explain a bit about the impact it has on our  bodies, and maybe share some strategies for managing our cortisol levels? A little better?
  • Loretta  44:21  
  • Sure. And first, um, when you said, you know that you never thought of serotonin this way. This is not reported anywhere, except in my books. But I got this all from research in the 80s and 90s, where it was sort of widely reported or not widely, but in quite a number of books, which I’ve collected. And it was reported in the New York Times, and it’s based on research done by the National Institute for mental health, and UCLA Medical School. So I’m not making it up. And the idea of this social hierarchy was in just decades and decades of both So this is all disappeared, because partly, it’s uncomfortable. And partly, it’s because it conflicts with the disease model of mental health. Now moving on to cortisol. So I find it helpful to focus on the positive job that cortisol is there to do. So, you know, you would get, you would walk into the street and get run over, if you didn’t have your cortisol system, creating that sense of caution when you do something that you realize is a threat, based on the neural pathways you built from past experience. Now, it’s easy to worry too much about too many threats. Because we have such a big brain that is able to abstract and our brain and our cortisol is designed to anticipate threats in time to avoid them. That’s why we have a big brain is like, instead of touching the hot fire, and then pulling my hand away is I anticipate that the fire will hurt and pull my hand back before. So with such a big brain, we’re just anticipating every possible threat. And we’re aware of our own mortality, which animals or not, but we don’t know what will kill us. So we’re just going crazy anticipating every possible threat. Now, in addition to that, we’re feeding this this natural inclination by watching the news and bonding with other people who share our sense of threat. So we’re just feeding that that threat machine all the time. And we’re not realizing that we’re creating it ourselves. And then when this is defined as a disorder, that suggests that you don’t have control over it, so you don’t do what it takes to control it.
  • Derek  46:53  
  • Right. Yeah, I know that there’s a pretty clear correlation between depression and having spikes of cortisol in the afternoon, which Andrew Huberman who’s I’ve talked about a lot on the podcast is I’m a total fanboy. One of the things he talks about to ensure that you don’t have as a massive spike of cortisol in the evening, is to make sure that you go and basically view the sunrise first thing in the morning, and that that actually causes this cortisol spike that gets you going. It’s also part of the reason why like I work out first thing in the morning, because, you know, I put myself under a lot of that stress of a barbell or whatever, as it’s about to come down and crush me that I have to push up. Can you can you speak a little bit more about, I guess, why? How much? I’m trying to think of how to phrase this question. Is cortisol a finite thing in the mind? And like I’ve, because I’ve heard that if you spike your cortisol heavier in the morning, there isn’t as much for you to affect you in the evening. Is that in a correct? Is that a correct understanding of that? Or how does that exactly work?
  • Loretta  47:59  
  • Well, I don’t doubt that there are people who have studies that say that, but if I just look at things from an animal perspective, okay, so when a won’t, when a monkey wakes up in the morning, it’s hungry, and hunger is cortisol, cortisol gets you going and says, You’re gonna starve to death if you don’t find foods soon. So That’s its job. So cortisol always has a job to do. So I’m not really a big fan of like spiking it artificially. Especially this current fad about putting yourself in cold water. I’m sure somebody has done studies that you know, find something. But so in the monkey world, in animal world, if you wait until you’re so starving, that your energy is low, then you’re even less likely to be able to chase something down and fill your belly. So cortisol is that advance warning system that says, You better get going to meet your needs. Now how we interpret that is individual like one person is, I better not be late for work, or my boss might fire me, I better not let my kid have a breakdown, because then I’m not going to get them to school on time. Or maybe an entrepreneur who’s completely self directed and said, You know, I better get going on this because I’ll have a great sense of pride when I accomplish it. That would be like a self directed way to look at it. So having done all that, I think you could still have plenty of cortisol at night for so many reasons. So one of them is that stupid thing of watching the news and bonding around cortisol. But another one is something that Roy Baumeister calls ego depletion. So ego depletion is this idea that I have self control role in certain circumstances, but then other times my self control goes to hell. When do I have self control? When don’t I have self control, a lot of it is learned. And maybe I’m better at it in this situation than that. But a lot of it depends on my level of energy. So at the end of the day, when your energy is lower, it’s harder to resist things. It’s harder to resist the pint of ice cream. And it’s hard to resist the negative thinking about, everything’s going into hell, and I’m going to die and all my loved ones are going to die. 
  • Derek  48:57  
  • Another term for that. You say the news, I think that millennials have Doom scrolling. They scroll and they say the world’s on fire and someone died in a submarine.
  • Natalie  50:46  
  • Whales are attacking fishing boats.
  • Derek  50:48  
  • Yeah, exactly. And so you know, they’re just scrolling. And they’re just spiraling downward.
  • Loretta  50:52  
  • And you feel it through your mirror neurons. This is like this toxic empathy, where you, everyone Who feels bad, and the whole world that your duty is to merge with their bad feelings. If you do that, with your downtime, you can end up with cortisol, you’re not going to sleep. And lack of sleep is really a problem. Because sleep is when you manufacture your happy chemicals. So if you don’t get enough sleep, you can’t feel good. So it’s really valuable. Like, especially like at night, don’t watch movies about buildings falling down and slow death of cancer. 
  • Derek  50:52  
  • So you’re telling me that I shouldn’t watch Schindler’s List tonight, it was on my list, but I guess I’ll just leave that for another day.
  • Loretta  51:39  
  • Or maybe watch it like before nine. And then something relaxing.
  • Derek  51:45  
  • Okay. Sounds good.
  • Natalie  51:46  
  • So it sounds like you’re saying finding ways to avoid things that are triggering for cortisol that might increase cortisol before bed, and finding things to add in, that will invest in your relaxation, and going into that state of quiet, and we’re not in alarm, and now we’re ready to you know, wind down and get to bed. And I’m guessing it could look like different things for different people.
  • Loretta  52:14  
  • Exactly. It’s very individual, and not just before bed, but throughout the day. Anytime you have something stressful. So cortisol lasts in your body for about an hour. Well, during that hour, if you your brain is just looking for evidence to prove something is wrong, because that’s how the brain works, right? When a gazelle smells a lion, it looks for evidence of where’s the lion. So you don’t want to be doing your problem solving. While you’re searching cortisol, you need to have a little downtime then. So that’s why again, having some things that are prepared that are ready that you can use for your decompression time.
  • Natalie  52:58  
  • Hmm, that’s a good idea. I was just trying to think of like, because we’re talking about stress, what is your opinion on like, obviously, we talked about exercise. Like, if I am feeling stressed like that and trying to get out of it going and doing a workout or going for a walk. I know that it stresses your body. But that’s different, right going and doing something like that is a useful way to kind of get out of the stress mode.
  • Derek  53:24  
  • Yeah. I almost think this might be a good segue into endorphins as, because like when you work out, you’re essentially intentionally causing these micro traumas to your muscles. And your body wants to release these endorphins to kind of help blunt the pain. Is that right?
  • Loretta  53:40  
  • Yes. But this concept of an endorphin high caught on some years ago, because endorphin was the first of these chemicals to be widely studied and understood, which is why people talk about runner’s high or endorphin high. I mean, people talk about endorphins as a synonym for happy chemicals in general, even though it’s not. So the important biological fact is that endorphin is chemically the same as opioid and our body evolved to release it. When we’re in pain. It’s not meant you’re not meant to intentionally try to stimulate it to feel good. It’s there for real emergencies, because in the state of nature, if you’re injured, but you still have to run to save yourself. Endorphin gives you a 15 minute window, where the good feeling masks pain so you could save your life. And then you need to feel the pain so that you could protect your injuries. So it’s really not the path to happiness. In my opinion. The other chemicals were designed to seek but endorphin is designed to be there for emergencies only. Now we do need to exercise in the modern world because in the state of nature animals don’t consciously exercise. But people who get into these sort of loop were chasing that endorphin high is the only path to happiness. I don’t think that’s that’s a good solution. So the solution to me is to understand the other chemicals. And then exercise is one way. But even like when people say, like, if you are exercising, but you’re having negative thoughts in your brain while you’re doing it, you’re not really getting that reward level. The same. I say, like if you do yoga, and you’re stressing while you’re doing the yoga by comparing yourself with others, and etc. That’s not like this kind of full, positive moment that you need to create for yourself.
  • Natalie  55:51  
  • So what is the feeling that you get, after you get a good word like the runner’s high, or you’ve gone for just that walk in nature of like, what chemical is that that’s happening in that moment?
  • Loretta  56:02  
  • Yeah, so they’re different. So the workout where you’re pushing past your limits, to the point of pain, that’s endorphin. The walk in nature, you get maybe a little bit from just moving your circulation if you’ve been sitting still too long. But then other things in nature. I know that there are other views of this, that people have sort of spiritual metaphysical views, but from an animal perspective there’s a few things. So one, dopamine is stimulated by variety, like when I scan my horizon, and I take in surroundings that are different from my normal, that stimulates dopamine, because you could see that our ancestors were foraging and they were always looking for new opportunities, and variety created nutrition and things like that. So that’s the dopamine part of this walk in the woods. Then, you know, nobody wants to admit it but the serotonin part of the walk in the woods is like, I did it, I got away from my desk. I’m blazing a new trail and I’m getting to see this fabulous woods and you know, my friends at home are stuck at their desk.
  • Derek  57:24  
  • And if you happen to go on that walk with a friend, then you get the little oxytocin hit. So there we go. So really, what you’re telling us is that if you can incorporate a walk out in nature with your friends, and this is actually something that I do pretty much every day with the guys that I work with, we go on a walk every day. I take a rucksack with me and every every time I take that rucksack off, it’s very heavy rucksack. And so I’m like, I did that I feel good about that. So there’s the serotonin, get the dopamine from the walk and get the oxytocin from hanging out with my friends and going and doing that, and it might get a little bit of endorphins, because the rucksack is really heavy.
  • Loretta  58:03  
  • Yeah. Whereas the person who gets let’s say, you get in a fight with someone, and then you go for a walk, but you spend the whole walk replaying the fight in your head and getting angrier and angrier about, well, if I say this, then they’ll say that and that, and then you get madder and madder. Or if you spend listening to the news, then it’s not going to do its job. So that’s why it’s individual.
  • Derek  58:29  
  • So how you break out of those negative cycles. 
  • Natalie  58:31  
  • Yeah.
  • Loretta  58:32  
  • So first is to be aware of it. And second is to understand your needs, the way you just enumerated with the job of each chemical. And then what I suggest is creating a list of like. I call it filling your pantry with healthy snacks, so that you always have something available when you’re in a bad mood that you can go to quickly. Because when you’re in a bad mood is not a good time to be shopping for that. And, um, a simple example that I always use is comedy, because I find that comedy is very uplifting to me. However, I really have to do my shopping for comedy in advance. Because there’s so many things that don’t appeal to me. So I have something that appeals ready.
  • Natalie  59:18  
  • I love that idea of comedy. It’s what I talk about with my kids about introducing play. Like if we’re kind of in the kids are in this like, and then I’m in there too. And we’re all you know, or it’s one on one with the kids and it’s just like you just feel like you’re banging your head against the wall because everybody’s frustrated. Probably everyone’s tired or hungry or something. And I even just find it for myself. I’m like, Oh my gosh, I’m just stuck in this loop with them. And so we talked, it’s time to introduce some play and sometimes we don’t even verbally say it out loud. But one of us will kind of do something silly or kind of make a joke about the argument that’s happening. And it kind of it unless it’s like really high level for one of us. Usually it just kind of like cuts through everything. And it resets and we’re like, Huh, oh, yeah, we’re being dumb. We don’t even, like what are we even really mad about? Right? 
  • Loretta  1:00:10  
  • That’s what I mean about finding the pattern.
  • Natalie  1:00:12  
  • Yeah, yeah. And so I think that’s, you know what you just said about comedy. It sounds like just just making it finding a disruption, right? A disruption of the pattern, so that you can like, reintroduce, or start moving forward in a different way. That’s healthy.
  • Loretta  1:00:31  
  • So yeah, so when you talk about disruption, here’s the thing, I call it healthy distraction. Okay, so if you are a gazelle, you only worry about lions when the actual lion is there on the prowl. If they worried about lions all the time, they wouldn’t be able to meet their survival needs. But the big human brain is able to activate this image that a predator is about to get you even when the predator is not there. So that’s how we drive ourselves crazy. So when you’re having an argument with your family, you’re thinking, Oh, my God, if my kids keep doing this, something terrible is going to happen. 
  • Natalie  1:01:09  
  • They’re gonna hate each other forever. They’ll never get along.
  • Loretta  1:01:16  
  • Yeah, so we’re all creating this in our heads. But when you have a healthy distraction, it interrupts this mental image that you’ve created, because your electricity is no longer flowing into that old pain pathway. But you’re just giving it a new place to flow. But it will only flow into a new place if you create the place. Because the electricity in your brain flows into the big pathways. So you have to build a big relief pathway in order to have a healthy alternative.
  • Natalie  1:01:50  
  • Sounds like it’ll take a lot of practice, right? It’s not just like doing it once and all of a sudden, fixed that never gonna be a problem. Again, when I’m arguing with my eight year old.
  • Loretta  1:02:01  
  • Well, and you may notice that you’re having the same arguments with your eight year old that you had with someone in your past, could be a parent could be a sibling, but everyone when you know, when I encourage them, they’re like, Oh, my God, it’s the same pattern.
  • Natalie  1:02:16  
  • That is, that is so crazy, too. Because sometimes I’ll be like, Why am I dying on this hill? Like, is it really that important to me? Like, what is this actually about? And I know, and I’ll realize how similar the engagement between me and my children is in that moment to what it was with my parents and myself. And I’m repeating this pattern, just like what you said. And so sometimes I’m like, you know it, no, this is something that’s really important. And I do want to die on this hill. And other times, I’m like, wow, not the hill I’m gonna die on today. And then I have to kind of reframe, and come back and be like, hey, you know, I’m sorry, I was wrong. Let’s try this instead. Whatever. But yeah, gaining the awareness. I will say it’s, it’s difficult, it also not always pleasant to get to get to look at some of those patterns and be like, Alright, okay, I’m gonna be honest about that.
  • Loretta  1:03:09  
  • Rather than reliving forever, that’s in conflict with your parents, then you get to say, Oh, it’s just a neural pathway that got myelinated from early experience, and my electricity is flowing there, because it’s there. Right? And that’s all it is. And what really amazed me that I understood this, because, you know, my old pathways, they were so painful that it felt so real. But then I hear that other parents were getting totally upset over a totally different issue. That didn’t bother me at all right but it was relevant to their story. And that’s helped you see how you know.
  • Derek  1:03:49  
  • I think that this ties into a concept that we’ve talked about a couple of times here on the podcast, neuroplasticity, obviously, these the the myelination, and the and all the axons kind of firing and wiring together. It’s all about like, trying to get our brain to rewire in adaptive ways. Do you have any thoughts on on good ways to trigger change in our mindsets and how we view these things? Like how we can actually change these patterns?
  • Loretta  1:04:20  
  • Sure. So the first thing I emphasize is to accept that it’s hard. I say it’s as hard as learning a foreign language while quitting smoking. Oh, wow. Because learning a foreign language is effectively repetition, building new pathways, and quitting smoking is that emotional pull to the old pathway? Sure. So what creates new pathways, I call it repetition, emotion and youth. Youth means you have more myelin when you’re young, so that builds the pathways easily. So Once you’re older, well that’s gone. So then emotion, what about emotion? Well, if something great happens, that wires it in, if something awful happens, that wires it in. But for those things that are related to higher values and small steps, they there’s not always an easy way to to add emotion to it. So that’s why repetition is our main tool. So dividing something that you want to do into small chunks that you’re sure you can take, and then taking in every day, and then rewarding yourself after each step. Because that’s how animal training works. Animals learn new behaviors, because they take a small step and and get a reward. So you can create like, again, a pantry full of healthy rewards that you can give yourself for taking these new steps to build new pathways.
  • Derek  1:05:56  
  • Definitely. You touched on something that I had a question about which you talked about how the the major factors with neuroplasticity is youth? What were the what were the other two, youth, emotion, and repetition. The nature of youth, I know, it’s kind of like the axons are kind of spaghetti, and they’re kind of all over the place. But what other factors go into that? Are there like nutritional things, because I know, for example, B 12 is a major major component for myelin health and making sure that there’s that that the myelin is able to form and I know as as people get older, B 12, is something that is very, is a very, very common deficiency. So how much of that is nutritional? How much of that is just like, strictly structural of the brain? Can you can you speak to that just a little bit?
  • Loretta  1:06:45  
  • Sure. Um, like I said, I’m not. I don’t focus on individual nutrients, because, and maybe it works for people. But it’s not fully known how much what you ingest goes to your brain. So that’s why I don’t focus on that. But what what’s useful to know.. animals have a very short childhood, and a monkey has a childhood of about two months. So they could be a parent, you know, by two months, and a grandparent by four months. Wow. And so the human childhood is tremendously long, because we have a tremendous amount of neurons to organize. And so evolution worked for like, 8 million years between the common ancestor of apes and humans. So we didn’t spend that 8 million years to build this big brain, and wire it up in this long childhood. And then just to say, Oh, I’m going to just ignore everything I learned when I was young, right. So those giant myelinated pathways are, are like a huge, a huge accomplishment of our species. So we’re not just there to delete them. Now, this myelination we have is we have a lot of myelination before age eight. And then again during puberty, because that’s a time when humans often and mammals often shift to new environments to find meaning opportunity. And they have to rewire themselves to find resources in the new environment. So that’s why we get a little reprieve during puberty to rewire our patterns. But after that, you have much less myelin, because in the state of nature, you started having babies right away, and you were putting so much energy into just finding enough food to keep them alive, that you didn’t have the energy to rewire yourself. The way adults today think, Oh, I’m gonna just forget everything I learned as a child and rewire myself. So in the end, what little myelin I have in adulthood is spent just repairing, repairing the myelin that I already have. And it’s not really available to build new pathways. The benefit of being a mature adult, is that I can say, I’m going to take this new path, and even though it’s not a big pathway, that I’m going to take it anyway even though it takes more effort to slash a new trail through my jungle have neurons and blaze the trails in the back roads of my brain. And the example I use of that is if I study a foreign language, and then I let’s say I go to Mexico and tried to order a beer in, in Spanish, and I get so nervous, trying to speak a foreign language, even though I’m trying to get a reward. Whereas if I say it in my native language, it’s effortless, because that’s a myelinated pathway. Sure, whereas a new language, I’m using a new pathway, but I can have the courage to speak the new language. And then I speak the language, I get my meal at my Mexican restaurant. And that reward reinforces my, my confidence in my ability to build my new pathway.
  • Natalie  1:10:39  
  • Yeah, I love the visualization. I’ve always loved the visualization of that sort of neuroplasticity in the pathways in the brain. And thinking about these pathways being like highways, and sometimes major freeways, depending on how early in life they were developed. And how often they’ve been reinforced and used, and how when you’re trying to create that new pathway, it’s like going through the, you know, the jungle, there’s no path and you’re, you’re out there with your jungle, ninja sword, or whatever kind of tool you took. Maybe you don’t even have a tool, I don’t know, hopefully, you have some tools in your toolbox. And you’re just, you’re hacking through everything, and it’s gonna take time, it’s going to take work, and every time you go through it again the path becomes clearer. But you know, it’s just like a trail up on badger mountain or wherever else it might be. The first time they cut it, it’s like, keep cutting the weeds, keep cutting the grass, keep cutting the weeds, keep cutting the grass, and eventually, they stop growing back as much. Because it’s continually that process. I love that visualization. And you know, and it’s just a reminder, it’s like to not give up. You know, and that it’s worth it to try to create these healthy pathways in the brain. It gets easier, right? It’s kind of also just like working a muscle, right? When you’re going to the gym. And it’s like the first time you try to curl those 25 pound dumbbells, it doesn’t feel good. Start with a little bit less and keep building up and it will get easier.
  • Derek  1:12:11  
  • That’s great. 
  • Loretta  1:12:13  
  • Yeah. And the other thing is, if you blaze a new trail through the jungle, and then you go back the next day, the trail grows over. So you have to do it every day to get us here. 
  • Derek  1:12:27  
  • That’s great. Well, hey, Loretta, this has been a wonderful conversation. I know that there’s other books that you’ve written as well, can you give us a little bit of a breakdown on what those are and where people can find you and find those books?
  • Loretta  1:12:39  
  • Sure, my website is So I have lots and lots of free resources that explain all of this. And you could sign up for a free five day happy chemical jumpstart to get an email on each of the chemicals. My other book, so I have a book called Tame Your Anxiety- Wiring Your Brain For Happiness. I have a book called The Science of Positivity- Stop Negative Thought Patterns By Changing Your Brain Chemistry. And,  Status Games- Why We Play And How To Stop. Which is about the serotonin aspect of life and how to get command of it. And I have a course that helps you apply all of these things to yourself with videos.
  • Natalie  1:13:32  
  • And you can find all of that at
  • Loretta:
  • Natalie: Okay, perfect. Awesome. Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I think this has been a really interesting look at these really important hormones and functions in the body and in the brain. And I’m sure that people will be able to take a lot from this and apply it into their lives to have a better happier, fuller life, which is what we’re all about here at Invigor medical. So thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. It’s really been it’s really been amazing.
  • Derek  1:14:06  
  • It’s been a pleasure, Loretta.
  • Loretta  1:14:07  
  • Thanks for the great questions.

Podcast Guests

Habits of a Happy Brain with Dr. Loretta Breuning- Ph.D

Loretta Breuning


Podcast Hosts

Habits of a Happy Brain with Dr. Loretta Breuning- Ph.D

Natalie Garland

Habits of a Happy Brain with Dr. Loretta Breuning- Ph.D

Derek Berkey


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