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Kathy Marshack News

How to Rewire Your Brain to Learn More Easily

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


Keep your love of learning alive, even if you struggle with learning new concepts, by using this proven formula for fully engaging your brain in the processOne of my clients, a 10 year old boy, wanted to beat me at Scrabble. Secretly he'd started playing an online word game that he called "Scrabble on steroids." He didn't beat me last time, but he came darned close. His score jumped from an average of the low 50s, to 151! Furthermore, he knew the meaning of the words.

As a psychologist, I use a variety of less formal techniques such as playing board games with my young clients. My goal is to put them at ease and level the playing field so that they will open up about their problems. I had no idea that this child would develop an interest in words and in competing with me. By the way, he has shown disinterest in reading and is falling behind at school. We shall see if his new love of Scrabble portends improvements at school this fall. I hope so.

This just goes to show that, by sparking desire, any of us can improve the way that we learn. To further illustrate this, a recent New York Times article reports on how Dr. Oakley, co-creator of the popular course, “Learning How to Learn,” has helped more than a million students from 200 countries.

Dr. Oakley’s lessons are rich in metaphor, which she says helps get complex ideas across, because metaphors use the same neural circuits in the brain as the underlying concept does. It gives your brain a pattern to follow so you can understand the difficult concept more rapidly and easily.

Cognitive scientists show that your brain has two modes of thinking: task-positive networks (“focused” so you can concentrate) and default-mode networks (“diffuse” so you rest and let your brain make connections and attain insight).

To fully engage both modes, Dr. Oakley recommends you set a timer for 25 minutes of “focused” work, followed by a break for “diffuse” reflection. Use the break for taking your mind off the task. Listen to a song, take a walk, do anything that helps you relax. This allows your brain to subconsciously connect the new knowledge with what you already know.

Over time, we all create a mental library of well-practiced neural “chunks” (Dr. Oakley’s term for the patterns we impress into our brains). For example, we work hard to learn how to ride a bike or play a musical instrument, and once we know it, we don’t forget it. We can do it automatically.

You can build and connect new chunks on previous chunks, so your neural network of automatic patterns keep growing and expanding into more difficult information. For example, elementary math is the building block for Algebra and Calculus. With enough practice, they too can become a breeze for you.

We never want to lose our joy of learning because it contributes so much to our joy of living. If you’d like to learn about how to enhance your potential, consider scheduling an online NLP session with me. It’s an efficient technique for being more successful in your chosen endeavors. It eliminates the guesswork as it gives you a time-tested structure to follow for understanding emotions, goal setting, negotiating, problem solving, creativity and more.

Read more on my website: Gifted Adults and NLP.

Researchers Find Insomnia Isn’t Just a Night Disorder

Tuesday, September 05, 2017


Insomnia is not just a night disorder1 am… 3 am…. 3:47 am…. All night long you toss and turn, not getting a wink of sleep. Why can’t you fall asleep? You’re tired beyond tired. If you can just get through tomorrow, you’re bound to sleep better tomorrow night. Right? Not necessarily.

Do you think of insomnia as solely a night disorder?
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that. Contrary to this popular belief, scientists are finding that insomnia is a 24-hour condition. It’s not just your sleepless night causing you to have a bad day. It’s your day causing your sleepless night. It’s a loop that your brain gets into that needs to be broken.

Psychology Today has an informative article by Michael J. Breus Ph.D. on a number of recent studies on insomnia. Using EEG, researchers measured brain activity during wakeful, resting states, both with eyes open and eyes closed. They found that people with insomnia displayed:

  • Less powerful alpha-wave activity in the frontal and temporal lobes (with eyes open). Alpha waves indicate restfulness.
  • More powerful beta-wave activity throughout the brain (with eyes closed). Greater beta wave activity indicates hyper-arousal.

In a nutshell, daytime hyper-arousal of the brain carries over into nighttime, resulting in insomnia.

Scientists at the University of Michigan found that daytime alertness and anxiety were the only predictors for the use of prescription sleep medication. However, they also note that, “insomnia patients who used prescription sleep aids showed no significant improvement to their sleep at the one-year follow up compared to people with insomnia who didn’t take sleep medication.” And according to researchers at Penn State University, this 24-hour hyper-arousal can start at a young age.

Will easing your day-time anxiety help you overcome insomnia? It can certainly help. Many people have also found relief from CBT-I (Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia). It breaks the cycle by retraining your brain.

If you suffer from insomnia, check with your physician. If no physical causes can be found for your insomnia, it’s time to enlist the help of a mental health professional. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Do You Talk to Yourself Out Loud? Science Shows Why It’s a Good Idea

Monday, August 07, 2017


Do You Talk to Yourself Out Loud? Science Says That’s GoodHave you always thought that talking to yourself out loud means you’re going crazy? Well, science is showing that it’s actually a good way to see a situation more objectively.

Psychologists call talking to yourself out loud “external self-talk”. And it can take two basic forms: instructional self-talk (walking yourself through a process) or motivational self-talk (“I’ve got this. I can do this.”)

Interestingly, studies have shown that motivational self-talk works best if you refer to yourself in the second or third person (“You can do this. Insert-your-name, you’ve got this.”) It distances you further from the experience, enhances your self-control and lowers your anxiety more. As a result, it helps you to be more objective and less emotional. (Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan has published a pdf of his findings. Click here to read it.)

A recent New York Times article gives further insight on how instructional self-talk benefits you. For one thing, it blocks out distractions so you can focus better. It also employs the feedback hypothesis, namely by hearing it out loud you can visualize the object, which makes your brain connect to its “file of information” on that object.

For example, in their experiments, they asked people to locate a specific item out of series of random items. Those that spoke the name of the object out loud located the object more accurately and quickly, because their brains retrieved the visual image of the object.

So, no, you’re not going crazy if you talk to yourself out loud. It’s a smart thing to do – with one caveat – make sure your self-talk is always positive and encouraging. Negative self-talk is very damaging. It can even change your brain chemistry.

When you’re controlled by habitually negative patterns of thinking, it’s time to seek professional help. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my Jantzen Beach office and schedule an appointment. I also offer online therapy if that works best for your busy schedule.

Does neuroscience fascinate you? Why not review some of my past articles. Simply type “Brain Science” into the Search Box on this page and enjoy!

Take a Deep Breath – You’ll Feel Better

Monday, July 10, 2017


Woman sitting on park bench relaxingWhen you were a kid, did your parents tell you to take long, deep breaths to help calm you down when you were upset?  As an adult, you may have noticed that popular practices like meditation, yoga and mindfulness, incorporate deep breathing. Even if you’ve never consciously thought about it, do you find yourself controlling your breathing when trying to combat anger or anxiety?

Why is concentrated deep breathing such a big deal? Our breathing patterns do much more than simply keep us alive. Here are just a few of the things deep breathing can do for you:

  • Strengthen the immune system and detoxify the body

  • Relieve pain

  • Reduce stress and blood pressure

  • Strengthen abdominal and intestinal muscles

  • Aid in healthy sleep patterns

  • Increase energy levels

It is fascinating to see how the different systems in our minds and bodies are so intertwined. Deep breathing releases endorphins, those feel-good, natural painkillers created by your own body. When practicing deep breathing, the movement of the diaphragm helps remove toxins from the organs, promoting better blood flow. Better blood flow and deeper breaths mean more oxygen coursing through the body. Oxygen provides energy, so that increase in oxygen in your body equates to a higher energy level for you!

Why is it that taking a deep breath is so effective in relieving stress and anxiety? Researchers recently conducted a study on mice (check out the New York Times write-up on the research study) that showed taking deep breaths is calming because it doesn’t activate the neurons that communicate with the brain’s arousal center. In contrast, shorter, shallower breaths activate neurons that throw the brain into a state of anxiety.

Breathing slowly and mindfully, activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out chemicals that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body. Hormones are also secreted that decrease blood pressure and heart rate.

Are you ready to start breathing deeply now? As simple as it sounds, breathing mindfully takes practice. When under stress, we often take shallow breaths, not using our full lung capacity.

You want to breathe from your diaphragm. Try this exercise:

Sit up straight and place your hands on your belly, just above your belly button. Let your fingertips touch lightly. Exhale fully through your mouth. Breath in deeply through your nose and into your belly, so your fingertips start to spread apart. Hold your breath for two to five seconds. Exhale slowly through your mouth. Match the length of the inhale with the length of the exhale. Continue breathing in this manner for five to ten minutes.


Try to practice your breathing technique daily. The secret is simply to breathe, deeply and often. In addition, focusing on your breathing during physical activities, such as exercise, can help you become more mindful of your body.

Sometimes you need more than deep breathing to combat your anxiety. I can work with you to reduce your anxiety and get the most out of your life! Please contact my office to set up an appointment.  I have an office in Jantzen Beach where we can meet in person or I offer online therapy for those residing in Oregon or Washington states if that is more convenient for you.

Neuroscience in the Court System - Are 18 Year Olds Really Adults?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Neuroscience in the Court System Do you think an 18 year old is an adult? It’s commonly accepted that by the age of 18, a young man or a woman is an adult with adult privileges and adult consequences. For example, if you commit a crime at the age of 18 you’ll be tried as an adult in the court of law.

Yet, neuroscience shows that the brain is not fully developed by then. The process for making new connections and pruning unnecessary neurons continues well into the early twenties. Surprisingly, there’s an explosion of connectivity occurring after the age of 18. No wonder these young adults often make unwise decisions!

Earlier I wrote about Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University, who found that “cognitive skills usually form by age 16 while psychosocial maturity — measured by impulsivity, risk perception, thrill-seeking, resistance to peer influence — doesn’t begin until age 18, steadily increasing through the early 20s.”

A recent New York Times article considers the impact this is having on the criminal court system and what alternatives we might have. According to the article, “Young adults 18 to 24 make up 10 percent of the population, but they account for 28 percent of all arrests (2.1 million in 2015), a rate higher than that of any other age group.”

The article also reports on a new experiment based on neuroscience. A number of cities are now hosting Young Adult Courts – a hybrid of adult/juvenile justice systems. (San Francisco was the first. Now there are more across the U.S. as well as in England and Wales.)

The court staff is trained in neuroscience by a clinical psychologist, so they can apply this science to offenders between the ages of 18-24. They follow up by providing these immature “adults” with supervision, education, and support as they weekly check in and report their progress.

Rather than having a permanent black mark on their record, which can adversely change their entire future prospects, these young adults are getting help to mature and develop better decision-making skills. This a definite WIN!

Understanding how the brain works is fundamental to solving many of the issues young ones face today. I’m fascinated especially by how empathy is formed in some individuals while it isn’t formed in others. I’ll let you in on a secret…I’m in the process of writing my next book on the topic of empathy. I’m anxious to share with you what I’ve learned.

Did you know I provide online education specifically for how entrepreneurial couples and families with ASD can apply neuroscience and psychology to improve their relationships? And if you have personal issues you need help with, you might qualify for online therapy as well. In our busy, hectic lives, the Internet can make counseling easier and more accessible. Why not see if it’s right for you?



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