Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: You Are Not Your Brain

Jeffrey Schwartz, the author of Brain Lock, is back with a new book. He's the co-author, with Rebecca Gladding, of You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Breaking Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life.

For the most part, I would say this book functions as an extension of Brain Lock. The 4 steps are the pretty much the same, but this time, the focus is not on OCD. It's on breaking any kind of "bad" behavior, although negative thoughts and anxiety are discussed extensively.

In Schwartz's world, bad habits are the result of false messages that our brains send us. Then as we act on those false thoughts, those bad habits get hardwired into our brains. Once that happens, it's difficult to stop them, but it can be done.

To do it, you need to follow the 4 steps: relabel, reframe, refocus, revalue.

Relabeling means to attribute those thoughts we have to a false message, not a real emotion or an action you really must take. When you reframe, you acknowledge that the thoughts and action are the result of a false message, not an inherent part of who you are. In the reframe section, he goes into the "cognitive distortions" we see in OCD, such as catastrophizing, all or nothing thinking, magical thinking, etc. Next, you refocus: basically, you process your thoughts in a healthier way. Rather than doing a compulsion, you go for a walk, for instance. He stresses that the goal is NOT to distract yourself, but to keep yourself from participating in your bad habit. Finally, you revalue, whereby you learn to differentiate between real emotions and "false signal" emotions.

The big picture of his approach is to let your true self, your underlying values, guide your actions, not the false signals you're receiving from your brain.

Schwartz has long been somewhat controversial in the OCD world. Some people feel that he promotes avoidance with his "refocus" step. In addition, many of his readers end up with an "it's not me, it's my OCD" mantra, which can turn into its own compulsion. While I agree somewhat, I also believe people should do what works for them; active exposure is too much for some people, especially early on. In addition, as I noted, in this book the authors are careful to note that you should NOT be avoiding when you refocus, but should be processing the emotions you feel as you do it.

There's just a TON of information in this book. The overall focus is that your brain can send you false information, but your mind has veto power, and you can retrain your brain to react in a more healthy fashion.

Overall, I think it's a really useful book, although as I noted, OCD is not the focus. There was only one piece of the book I really hated. It's the part, fairly brief, where the authors suggest that people develop these faulty brain messages because in our childhood we didn't get enough attention, acceptance, affection, appreciation, and/or "allowing." I don't think any of these were true for me, and I resent what feels like a step back into blaming bad parenting for OCD.

Despite this, I feel it's a worthwhile book. I checked it out from the library and didn't have time to read it as closely as I'd have liked. I may just buy it for my collection so I can take a closer look.


  1. Thanks for doing this book review. I was not aware Schwartz had come out with a new book.

    I have gotten a lot of help from "Brain Lock." I don't see the refocus step as avoidance, in the sense of avoiding exposures. To me, the exposure has happened. The refocus step is a way of NOT following the exposure with compulsive actions.

    As you say, different things work for different people. Thanks again for this review.

  2. Hello!
    Thanks for review, I centraily buy this book.
    But I would like to share with you this interesting article about Obsessive compulsive disorder