Blue Sky: Create a Lightness of Being
What is the DLPFC ?
Why does it matter ?
It matters because, by using your DLPFC, you enable a mastery of self-created actions by creating a pause. This pause opens up your opportunities for greater lightness of being.
Delayed gratification is one of the keys to success. I was talking to my dear friend SJS today about pleasure versus frugality, responsibility, and doing the mundane tasks at hand.
You may ask, what does this have to do with success?
A lot. Those who can delay gratification are often more successful at achieving goals that have great resonance in their lives. That enable future and greater freedom than if delayed gratification had not been in play.
Although the famous marshmallow test was later attested by Tyler Watts and colleagues, there was still a correlation between those who waited longer before taking a second marshmallow, than those who did not, in terms of creating future success (1,2,3). When children learn delayed gratification of at least 20 seconds earlier in life, they can then use this for success later in life.
This is the importance of impulse control. Achieving your dreams happens both by what you say No to, as well as what you say Yes to. As one of my coaches once said to me, we only have so much energy and time, and we must spend it wisely.
THE DLPFC & IMPULSE CONTROL
When you control your impulses, you enable a pause where you can then choose. When you choose your actions with ease, you create a lightness of being, a freedom, a lilt to your steps in the world.
The DLPFC is the area that acts to stop cravings from happening. When you crave something, whether that is sugar, gambling, netflix, sex, or what have you, you get a surge of dopamine in the brain.
This little surge of dopamine leads to activity in the brain that starts obsessing about the thing you are craving.
But, the DLPFC can put a pause on that craving. In rTMS studies, placing a 2 Tesla electromagnetic field next to the DLPFC creates a pause long enough for the people being studied to stop craving gambling (4,5,6). It’s interesting that more recent research shows that even placebo of a sham placement of rTMS can reduce cravings - this shows that the placebo effect of believing that your brain is being changed is powerful enough to reduce cravings (7). And guess who has enough power to create a placebo effect?
HOW DOES THIS CREATE LIGHTNESS FOR ME?
. . . you might ask. Well, you can try to create lightness by engaging your DLPFC indirectly. By practicing the blue sky meditation below, or a mindfulness practice, you can engage the DLPFC by creating a “pause” for yourself.
As your mind starts to feel overwhelmed by obsessing, you can choose to take a moment where you sit still. Then deep breathe, becoming a bit more calm by pushing your belly out on the inhale, bringing it in on the exhale, to trigger your relax system. As the parasympathetic nervous system comes online more, you will start to feel some calm.
However, you may still feel agitated by the emotion that you are feeling - the drive of the dopamine, the frustration at feeling overwhelmed or that you have lost self control, the anxiety - keep being still anyways.
The next step is to bridge your feeling state into a state that is more calm. Then, perhaps, the electromagnetic field of your heart may start to become more coherent and have a positive effect.
How do you bridge into the calm?
BLUE SKY MEDITATION
Imagine that you are seated on a gorgeous meadow or plain in a natural setting. Somewhere that you are safe. Take in this setting in your imagination. Notice it with as many senses as you can bring in - imagine the feeling of the ground, the heat of the sun, the sound of the wind moving through grasses, the smell of pine trees . . . etcetera.
Then, look up at the sky with the sun behind you, so that you can easily gaze into a clear blue sky.
Start to notice some clouds appear and disappear. Then, let them all disappear. Next, allow a cloud to appear that is a little bit bigger than the cloud before. On this cloud, send the agitation that you are feeling, as if it was a cloud of colour that could come off you, onto that cloud in the sky. Notice what it looks like. Notice if there are other images that appear on the cloud.
Then start to see if you can feel neutral about that feeling. That the feeling is neither wrong nor right, bad nor good. That the craving is not wrong or right, bad or good. It’s just a feeling. That is all. And feelings naturally fade in time.
Perhaps you start to notice the cloud start to dissipate, fade into the distance, evaporate, or move over to the other side of the sky and disappear into the horizon.
Notice if you feel any different.
Wishing you the best, always,
~ Dr. M.
Shoda et al. 1990 Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology. 26:978–86.
Watts, T et al. 2018. Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes. In: Psychol Sci Jul;29(7):1159-1177. Link Watts
Gay et al. 2017. A single session of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduces cue-induced craving in patients with gambling disorder. Our Psychiatry Mar;41:68-74 Link Gay
Luerssen et al. 2015. Delay of gratification in childhood linked to cortical interactions with the nucleus accumbens. In: Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. Dec; 10(12): 1769–1776. Link Luerssen & Luerssen PDF
Drobetz et al. 2014. Structural brain correlates of delay of gratification in the elderly. In: Behav Neurosci. Apr;128(2):134-45. Link Drobetz
Sauvaget et al. 2018. Both active and sham low-frequency rTMS single sessions over the right DLPFC decrease cue-induced cravings among pathological gamblers seeking treatment: A randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled crossover trial. In: J Behav Addiction Mar 1;7(1):126-136 Link Sauvaget