The Applied Neuroscience Institute

Home of the NeuroPositive Method™
The Neuroscience of the UpSpiral Of Emotion, Health & Optimal Living

The Freedom of the UpSpiral
The Thinking, Feeling, Evolving Brain
Relationships 101
The Gift Of Detachment
What’s Your Stress Response?
Positive Emotion & Terrorism
Hope: Celebrate The Good
How Big Is Your “In Between?”
The Performance Boost Of Your Strengths

The Freedom of the UpSpiral


Brain Barbed

What is your personal “sense” of freedom?

How free are you?

We celebrate freedom on a number of specific holidays, but these days we can also hear the groan of tragedy.

It can make it seem less like celebrating and less like fireworks, especially for those who are most affected.

What do you do with the gigantic tragedies caused by climate change, natural disasters, or the uneasy feelings of the actions of a government that affect a part of the world so intertwined with our own?

Tragedy seems to rob freedom. The truth us that it brings it.

One of the things that tragedy brings is the knowledge that learning the “why” this or that happened, focusing on asking “why,” doesn’t solve a thing, especially not in tragedy.

The “why” doesn’t bring anyone or anything back. We may be comforted with the knowledge that lessons will be learned, but the real tragedy still confronts.

What is necessary is a very special kind of freedom.

Focus on the “why,” explanations and rationalizations, and reasons go out the window in the face of a more basic question.

What will I become? What will I do? How is it that we do not despair?

How is it that we have any kind of courage in the face of disaster that can happen in a few minutes or seconds?

How is it that we move on when we are blinded by grief or fear on any level of loss?

What we find is that the anxiety that used to fill us over what might happen is replaced by the fact that we can and we do have the strength to step up. It’s just in us.


When the chips are down, all of the time we spent worrying looks entirely futile because we are in the midst of the tragedy doing what we have to do with the strength to do it.

It was absolutely useless to worry and waste time with anxiety.


Think about it. If we could take all of the energy we spend worrying in anticipation and fearing the future, and just harness it in our present, knowing and believing that we would have the strength to face the tragedy, what difference would that make in the now?

We are most moved and brought to tears by the everyday people who do heroic things. And this is the truth. That same heroism and courage is within everyone.

We all have it when the chips are down.

What we need to learn is to play these chips of strengths, courage, and resilience, a few at a time, and allow them to teach us what they have to teach us.

Each day we can see anxiety and worry for the shadow of a lie that it is.

And so not only on “freedom holidays,” but every day of our lives, we are as free as we know this to be true about ourselves.

The capacity for celebration is a sign of our ability to make the truth about our own strength and resilience more and more pervasive in our own knowing about ourselves.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


The Thinking, Feeling, Evolving Brain

Evolution Blue


Millions of years before we were thinking organisms, we were in our evolution collectively and individually sensing, feeling, and intuiting organisms.

The brain’s frontal lobes and their executive functions emerged only much later.

In other words, we had a thalamic feeling/sensing/intuitive brain for millions of years before the thinking functions of the frontal lobes and their executive functions evolved.

We have not, however, evolved nearly so far as some science would lead us to believe. Our frontal lobes have not replaced, by any means, the feeling, sensing and intuiting functions of the thalamic brain.

However, the evolutionary task today, in which we are all engaged, involves a balance or ‘coming into alignment’ of the proficiency of the frontal lobes with the “earthy” power of the thalamic brain.

In our tendency to “over think,” the thalamic brain reasserts its claims to deeper and different functions of the integration and action process.

It is important to understand the need to quiet the frontal lobes and to listen more deeply and differently to the messages of the rest of the brain, as in meditation.

Even our science has not caught up with this balancing, evolving brain.

Thinking, as we define it narrowly today, certainly has a strong role in our consciousness.

Feelings Circle

But the emotions you are used to feeling and the emotional patterns which you are used to, and in some cases even addicted to, also affect both thought and feeling.

The core issue in addiction, for example, is recycling and being unable to let go of an emotional pattern, far more based in the old brain than managed by the new brain.

Trigger the beginning emotion of an addictive cycle and you set in motion a series of emotions that lead to addictive behavior.

Thinking has little to do with it. In fact, in the addictive process (and in other times in life), thinking is the slave of feelings and reasoning has little to do with the process.

New findings show the old brain to be much more involved in addictive behavior than previously considered.

Our emotions are the most fundamental way that we measure our lives.

We want most to “feel good.”

© Dr. William K. Larkin 


Relationships 101

Relationshops 101

A New Year… time to sort through relationships, time for a “primer” on positive connection in relationships.

For many people, the experience of family togetherness, especially at the holidays, is not wonderful. It’s painful.

It is very difficult to realize and accept that relationships in our life can be toxic. What is a toxic relationship? It is largely characterized by hostility from another person that is aimed at “rounding” you. This is the person who lets you know in one way or another that you are not who you should be for them. You are not performing your assigned role in their set of expectations.

As nice as you are, there is never a real connection where you feel as though you are understood or known. Or you can say something, and the person is quick to point out that there is a different way of seeing what you said. Time and again, your half-wrong.

Toxic people round us down to their size, or at least they attempt to diminish our individuality or accomplishments or the significance of our presence. The message is that you are either out of line, inappropriate, or uninteresting. Bottom line, you are supposed to get that you are really nothing special, you are not seen, you are not really heard, you are ignored just enough to communicate to you that there is a silent distance of separation.

You are emotionally disinherited from a sense of fitting or belonging as you are, not directly, but subtly. Perhaps all they do is shake their head when you talk, or make a comment, or turn slightly away or even leave the room. One way or another, whatever it is, they let you know without ever saying. You know it and they know it.

Detached Man

Welcome to the territory of the American idea of the value of family, regardless of the personal cost. Family is family. Family comes first.

Says who?

You are being rounded, brought into line, brought down to the level of everyone else, and often put in a position where you expect of yourself to be extra obliging to this person, to give them some kind of extra or special attention, which is noticed but not really appreciated and changes nothing.

What do you do?

It is difficult to accept that the myth “family is family” may mean very little. If you have been raised in a family system where the rule is, “family always comes first”, it’s hard to get a hold on dynamics that are year after year, dinner after dinner, holiday after holiday, unpleasant, rejecting, and actually toxic, and you feel helpless.

The first is to recognize hostility and rounding when it occurs and to know that your awareness of it is probably not inaccurate. The second is to realize that, as much as we want family to fit the myth of a wonderful place, that, for some, that is not the case. Family can be a toxic environment and if it is, you need to pay particular attention to the abuse that it fosters and admit that to be the case.

One of the most important things we can do is to leave behind and detach from relationships that are toxic. Give up the idea that every relationship in your life has to work, especially in your family. It doesn’t and may never. Your expectations of having to repair every relationship, or be willing to, is like blowing air in a balloon with no skin.

When that is the case, detach and fade. That sounds like blasphemy in today’s world of seeing family relationships as sacred. Not every relationship is and some, especially if they are toxic, need to be left behind. Perhaps the gift of this New Year’s new beginning is that you realize that detachment from toxicity and from relationships that are empty and hollow, void of real connection, need to be left behind.

Detachment is a decision to leave behind what isn’t working and hasn’t been working for a long, long time. The decision to detach from people almost sounds like a sin. But it can be the most important area of detachment in our lives, especially in relationships that round us and have no meaning. The best way to detach from a toxic relationship is to fade.

Back off, respond less, unplug, and do it gradually over a period of time. Be less responsive, stay away from toxic people, and busy yourself in living your life. What about guilt? It’s a natural part of the process that you have to look at, so write down what the guilt is telling you.  What does it say about how you take care of yourself? Or don’t, more likely.


Healthy attachment is measured by real and true meaningful connection where you have an experience of “felt feelings,” and that you are “known” authentically. Go where you find healthy attachment. Build healthy attachments and allow the fade to give you less and less attention to the person from whom you are detaching. Do not allow them access to your world.

Give yourself an unusual and remarkable gift of the awareness that you can detach and still be a good person. The New Year is a good time to sort relationships and identify which ones are worth the effort and which ones are not or close to anything like toxic. Rather than so many resolutions about what we will do, it would be good to make another list of what we won’t do, a list of things from which we will detach because the cost of them is too emotionally great for what we get from them.

Sound selfish? Be fiercely selfish in protecting yourself from rounding –ANYWHERE. Identify toxicity where it exists as hostility or emptiness that demands too much of your time and attention without giving you the satisfaction that anything you do really matters.

Scrutinize what should be left behind. Admit what is not worth your effort and good will, and clean your house of relationships that are too costly, unfruitful, and unsatisfying and really illusions of love and caring. Admit where you just don’t care and admit what is really not breathing life into you in one way or another.

Sit with this and ask yourself: where do I need to detach to open my life to new energy? What are you keeping alive solely out of a misplaced sense of obligation or an unwise promise you made someone? Where you need to detach and do the “fade”?

In a world where networking is considered something holy, and where socialization is regarded as something like a god, take a second look and find out what really gives you meaning and go for that, put your efforts there.

You have permission to fade and detach.

The Gift Of Detachment

Seen Heard 2

It’s OK.

The greatest gift may be the one you lose.

We think that the term “detachment” means from “things.”

It is much more about relationships we try to foster that are illusions, that we hold onto as though they will finally come through for us, except they rarely do with much. Especially at the holidays, we are often bound by obligations that make it even more crystal clear to us that there are relationships in our life that are not based in the reality of real give and take, or real sharing and meaning.

By obligation we blow air into the never satisfied balloon of distorted expectations and often toxic silence, or subtle or not so subtle responses that make us try harder – when what is called for is detachment.

This just may be the greatest gift of these holidays: to let go of the attachments where it is impossible to really connect in a way that gives meaning.

Who doesn’t really “get you”? Who doesn’t really “know you” and doesn’t want to, because really understanding you would have to make them rethink their own narrow world?

STOP, reflect, and do what seems like the unholy thing – let go of the illusions of relationship and energy robbing relationships that simply are myths. They have lost their meaning.

We are terribly afraid of challenging the systems and networks that we believe are so holy. They aren’t holy if they aren’t life giving, and if you cannot be appreciated and experienced as who you are, if you can’t “be seen and be heard.”

Take a step back and see where you are blowing air into the illusion of a relationship that no longer works, no longer allows and helps you “be.”

We do no favor for ourselves by pretending to be what we are not, feigning interest when we don’t care, and using enormous energy to play the role someone else requires.

Perhaps it’s time to consider that the great gift may be to let go, to detach, and to let go of the expectations of how you think you should be and have to be, and to get really clear about what you want.

What do you WANT?

The rejection you fear when you are pretending to find meaning where you are not is really like you holding a mirror up to yourself and threatening yourself with nonsense that no longer serves.

Mirror Image

You are not enough, says the mirror. You are selfish, says the mirror. You are going to be rejected and unloved says the mirror, You will be alone, guilty, and full of shame, chants the mirror.

All of that is you, afraid to look at what is real and what is not.

Detaching from what robs you, from toxic expectations, or simply the ignorance of people who cannot appreciate you and fail to “know” you may be the beginning of your greatest holiday gift.

We fill our lives with the illusions of what satisfies and wonder why we are empty.

What do YOU WANT?

What’s Your Stress Response?



“Over time, the ends of your chromosomes fray, and as they fray, your DNA stops working as well, and eventually that could wind up ‘doing in’ the cell. There are now studies showing that chromosomal DNA aging accelerates in young, healthy humans who experience something incredibly psychologically stressful. That’s a huge finding.”

Dr. Robert Sapolsky

How does stress impact your health?

Dr. Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University has identified the activity of glucocorticoids as the result of stress that reduces the size of the hippocampus in the brain. The particular kind of stress affecting aging that can cause even our DNA to age faster is related to the experience of oppression.

This oppression is usually caused by being a part of a structure or a system that causes one to feel that “things are on top of me,” that a person doesn’t have control over their life being affected in major ways by a source other than themselves. It is the sense that all or most control and one’s fate rests unpredictably outside of one’s self.

This is certainly the case with traumatic events, but it also is the case with chronic stress over a period of time that results in the sense of being “oppressed” or “it’s on top of me, I’m not on top of it.”

There are certainly circumstances of oppression that exist in systems and cultures, but oppression can also exist as a matter of perception. The perception of freedom or control can be very idiosyncratic.

If we do not have a pretty rich and deep reservoir of positivity, the cumulative small events of life become stressors in themselves, or they become cumulative and we too easily begin to feel that things are on top of us.

Stress Meter

We can talk all we want about “catastrophizing” and “awfullizing,” and while that insight can be helpful, it doesn’t produce long-terms results unless we respond differently to negative events from having lived and developed what we call a “NeuroPositive™ life.”

This means that we become, over a period of time, wired to go to the positive in both feelings and thoughts. It builds upon already existing internal strengths as our major neuropathways. These are the super highways of the real or ideal self.

This takes practice.

We are not automatically positive in the face of small or larger stressors. It usually has to be learned.

Stressors grind at us because they are continual and always present.

Our NeuroPositive™ response to stressors can be elegantly simple, if we have learned it and it is wired-in.

We can wire it in by learning to pulse positive emotion.

Most of us never learned that we can grow positive emotion intentionally. Emotions are reactive indicators, but we can also control emotions and use them by choice. We have the power to decrease positive emotion and we have the power to increase positive emotion. We have just not been taught how to do it.

We have far more positive control over emotions that it not negative denial than we believe that we do. You can train your brain to go to a positive emotion with immediacy, you can make that positive emotion last (duration) and you can increase that positive emotion for long periods of time at will (intensity).

Immediacy, duration, intensity with positive emotion.

Welcome to The Emotional Gym.™



Positive Emotion & Terrorism

Resilience Jung

We now have research about the role of positive emotions in survivors of terrorist attacks.

Researchers found that the presence of positive emotion within a person is “linear.” This means that it is a kind of reservoir that we can draw upon in the face of negative events, in fact for ANY event in our lives.

Building this reservoir of positive emotions is exactly what we teach in our “Emotional Gym,” where the stress is on the importance of “positive emotional muscle” as a buffer against persistent, routine negativity, or any sense of threat.

However, I never considered it in the face of terrorist attacks, but it holds true even there. A group of researchers applied their skills to survivors of the terrorist attacks in Madrid, Spain, where El Qaeda terrorists placed bombs in 3 subway stops, killing 190 people and wounding 1500 others.

This is what the researchers wrote in The Journal of Positive Psychology in the article, “Perceived benefits after terrorist attacks; The role of positive and negative emotions:”

“Analyses showed that positive emotions experienced on the same day or immediately following the day of the attacks (gratitude, love) fully accounted for the relation between pre-attack resilience and post attack growth, which suggest that positive emotions experienced in the after math of the terrorist attacks increased perceptions of psychological growth.”

What this means is that positive emotions residing in the person before an attack or experienced afterwards increases resilience and diminishes any likelihood of post traumatic stress reactions and related illnesses.

This is very significant stuff.

Positive emotion, what we call “positive emotional muscle,” has great power to be a buffer to negative emotion and events.

It also speeds up recovering from negative emotion: you just don’t spend as much time being fearful, worrying, and being anxious.

If that can happen in the face of terrorist attacks, consider what positive emotion does in the face of our everyday encounters with the things in life that cause us fear and worry and dread.

* The research cited from the Journal of Positive Psychology appeared in an article by Carmelo Vazquez and Gonzalo Hervas., Volume 5, Issue 2, March 10, 2010.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 



Focus Feelings


As we tune into how we focus and how we manage our attention, we learn a great deal about what real intelligence is. It is certainly not just an IQ number. It is the application of knowledge to a challenge that requires focus and attention.

If you can’t focus and you can’t attend to a task over a period of time necessary to reach the solution, you dart from thing to thing and task to task.

What we need are validated measures of our strengths.

We think nothing of tests that tell us what’s wrong with us, but miss taking those measures that tell us who we really are. Everyone, yes everyone, takes his or her strengths for granted.

They are often the last things we learn to focus upon, yet they are the very things that will reveal our intelligence and our genius. And most importantly, the use of our real strengths, honed with attention and focus, is the core of our level of happiness and satisfaction in life.

The danger is that the only thing that begins to hold our attention is what we observe, what we watch on television or on a smartphone screen. Our attention span and focus begin to be directed by the message, rather than by our own inner ability to focus and attend to a task.

What is often overlooked is how much FOCUS is dependent upon feeling state. Our feelings are where we live, and we focus from our feeling state or in reaction to it. Regardless of how the brain functions and handles the physiological process, we are FOCUSING from feelings.

FOCUS and FEELINGS could very nearly be the same thing. Oftentimes we are so much on automatic pilot that we don’t know what we’re feeling. What are you feeling right now?

Can you tell me in words that really describe to me where you are in such a way that I could feel it with you?

You are not your feelings until you can decide which ones you want to have, and direct your FOCUS to have them.

FOCUS is a choice if we make it a choice. But always the power of that focus is largely defined by what we are feeling.

Before you label yourself ADHD, consider what you are feeling. Before you decide that you can’t focus on something, consider what you are feeling.

Mindfulness of FEELING STATES enhances FOCUS.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

Hope: Celebrate The Good

Hope NEW

Love, peace, gratitude and joy have always comprised the basic building blocks of the Emotional Gym. Not too long ago, I added a 5th feeling to those basic 4. And it is HOPE. As the research emerges, the construct of hope continually pushes forth as a major and robust predictor of happiness and joy.

Working with the first four, I began to believe that I had a hold on getting people to experience the emotions of hope. What I learned was that hope depends upon the experience of the other four emotions.

As you feel gratitude, peace, love, and joy, your capacity for hope increases. When any one of the previous four emotions is blocked, then feeling hope is affected.

“Feeling ourselves” into the future is very delicate. Consider this: getting people to dream, visualize, imagine, and to vision their future can also be very challenging.

Sacred texts describe faith as “the hope of things unseen.” And that is what we especially need right now. Hope is that which we cannot yet see, yet know will come into being. Hope is definitely a feeling and a significant issue in dealing with doubt, worry, anxiety, and fortune-telling (that’s imagining and projecting negativity into the future.)

So begin to pulse hope. Find a few cues that will remind you to feel hope and “pulse” it. Every time you hear negative economic news from another “talking head,” pulse hope.

Hope Inside

Suffice it to say that there is enough research indicating that hope is a very significant indicator of living in an UpSpiral. It is also a very difficult emotion to feel if you are clutching and afraid on almost any level.

It is much easier to feel hope if you can feel gratitude, peace, joy, and love first.

Let me say it again-the very best way to feel hope is to feel all of the other emotions first, and to get good at them. Then go to hope and you will find that it is there already. It has sneaked its way into your emotional repertoire. You can find it and you can practice it and grow it, just like you have all of the others.

Your brain is designed to be more hopeful than less; it’s just built that way.

One very basic rule is to celebrate the good, make it last, and spread it around. When something is negative, don’t make it so permanent or lasting, and don’t let it affect everything in your life. We have a great deal more difficulty experiencing hope when we pass over the good too quickly, and dwell on the negative.

Whenever your mind wanders and begins to worry about what will happen, pulse hope and let it build, even more strongly.

Hope is the foundation of the State of Mind of Certitude.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

How Big Is Your “In Between?”



This is not a reference to your physical body.

It’s a reference to the swing and sway of your everyday moods or states of mind.

The top of our Emotional Scale is feeling very good, resilient, optimistic, grateful, and that is at a score of 100. The bottom is feeling oppressed, overwhelmed and despairing, and that is a score at 0. The mid-point is 50. The in-between, where most people are, is a range between 35 and 70.

So on a scale of 1-100, where are you?

If you are, in part of your life, in this “in-between” state, yo-yoing up and down and back and forth, or just fixed at a 60, then consider moving that mid-range to over 70 –to the “feel-good” range.

This in-between state is where many folks live, thinking that it’s just them, just their life as it is. But we guarantee that you can live at a higher point on this scale and experience feeling good more and more and more often.

We even guarantee that you can get to feeling very good 95% of the time.

It starts with feeling positive emotion. We are heading into the holiday season, which can be a good test. There are folks for whom this season raises their mood, but there are others who dread it and feel it as an imposition.

Every time you think of the holiday season, and perhaps feel dread or overwhelm, and even if you don’t, turn to the feeling of gratitude.

Think of something you’re grateful for and pulse the feeling of gratitude 25 times.

And while you’re at it, find some more cues that you can use to feel grateful, both for this holiday season and beyond.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 

The Performance Boost Of Your Strengths

Boost Strengths

Are you too optimistic?

Can you be?

Some studies claim that too much optimism can be dangerous and cause too risky behavior.

You can always find a study somewhere that will take the air out of your balloon.

So is the answer to be more pessimistic or more effectively optimistic?

How’s this?

Is it better to DownSpiral until you feel more negatively, find things wrong with most everything else in the process, and narrow your focus and your options?

Or claim that positive energy, and be more effectively and efficiently optimistic?

Pessimism or more negativity is not the answer. Your brain is more naturally optimistic than pessimistic; it’s necessary for evolution.

The answer to the research that shows the dangers of optimism is not that you need to be more negative but that you can be more effectively positive. You don’t have to check your optimism at the door in favor digging for a little pessimism.

You don’t have to move from safety to feeling threat to manage your optimism.

If you are building castles in the air, use the same creativity and imagination to put foundations underneath the ones that mean the most to you.

Pessimism narrows your options and full access to your strengths.

And here is the key issue: do you know what your strengths are?

Optimism, especially high levels of optimism that might have a tendency toward impulsiveness, need to be grounded in one of your positive strengths that provide a balance for you in your life.

And you can be sure they are there if you know your scientifically tested strengths.

Your strengths are your performance tools. You use them when you encounter challenges. They are like the fuel in your car. In certain situations, you may need to accelerate and use more fuel to increase your speed.


Your strengths provide you with that “performance boost” in any and every situation of your life.

How you regard your strengths and what you are willing to do with them is like the decision to eat or not eat good food. You can get by on the junk food of your weaknesses, but what builds your sense of self and very directly the happiness you experience, is your decision to flex the muscles of your strengths, to use them more and more, and to put yourself in situations where they are used.

Strengths move you toward life and aliveness. Playing to weaknesses moves you toward deterioration.

It starts with feeling disconnected and moves to feeling disengaged, disenchanted, unappreciated, unseen, unnoticed. Feeling unappreciated appears as the State of Mind of loneliness.

That’s usually the place where we start looking for someone else to fill the absence of ourselves that we have created.

When you engage your strengths in an UpSpiral of feeling good, you are meeting challenges head on, from the higher ground of your real self.

© Dr. William K. Larkin 





Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute