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You Are Not Your Brain: Book Review

Book Review: You Are Not Your Brain, The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey Schwartz, M. D. and Rebecca Gladding, M. D.

You Are Not Your Brain is a brilliant guide to understanding and transforming what the authors call “deceptive brain messages” – our well worn repetitive stories that lead to fear, worry, bad habits, low-self esteem, unhealthy behaviors, stuck patterns, and other dysfunctional impulses, feelings, and actions.

While it’s not groundbreaking news that it’s possible to change unhealthy beliefs and dysfunctional habits, most people still find it extremely difficult to do so.

What makes this book stand out is the way the authors – two neuroscience experts – describe in clear, lay person terms the precise brain biology that creates these faulty messages and how the very way the brain functions makes it extremely difficult though not impossible to change them.

Having this knowledge in hand coupled with their well explained set of research-proven techniques, empowers you to conquer these unhelpful messages and harmful behaviors once and for all.

You Are Not Your Brain:  Key Messages

Here is a summary of the key messages presented in You Are Not Your Brain:

  • Deceptive brain messages may be running and ruining your life or at least impinging on your happiness.
  • The brain reinforces whatever internal messages we innocently focus upon repeatedly.
  • These faulty messages become strongly entrained in the brain at a physical and survival level.
  • As these untrue messages grow stronger through repetition, they solidify dysfunctional behaviors you use to relieve the uncomfortable feelings and sensations that are triggered.
  • Since these faulty messages become the preferred pathway in the brain, you are literally compelled by the brain to repeat them again and again.
  • Although you may rightly feel – in one sense – that you are at the mercy of your brain, the good news is that you are not your brain.
  • According to the authors, the brain and the mind are two distinct entities. You don’t have control over the arising of deceptive brain messages, but you can choose how to react to them.
  • When deceptive brain messages arise, you can learn how to use your mind to veto them, refocus your attention in positive ways, and work around the untrue messages.
  • Gradually, through using the 4-steps provided, you will physically rewire your brain. In so doing, the deceptive messages lose their force and are replaced with positive, life-affirming ones and positive behaviors.

Up Against Intense Brain Biology

This 4-step program is based on the idea the brain is not a static, fixed structure, but is highly dynamic and changeable. This quality – called neuroplasticity – describes how the brain can change structure, circuits, chemical composition, and functions based on a person’s changing needs and actions.

In fact, neuroplasticity is occurring constantly in the brain. So much so that our repetitive behaviors get entrained in the brain as being essential to our survival. So whatever we focus upon repeatedly becomes the preferred modus operandi and the brain generates strong impulses, thoughts, cravings and urges compelling us to perpetuate whatever that might be. That’s how we get stuck in unhealthy and unhappy behaviors, and why they can seem and actually are extremely difficult though not impossible to change.

There’s no need to lose heart because we can harness the power of neuroplasticity and redirect it in a constructive way to actually rewire our brains and defeat these untrue messages. This process of retraining the brain is called “self-directed neuroplasticity.”

The authors describe the science of neuroplasticity in a user-friendly way. Instead of medical language, informal terms are used like the Uh Oh Center, the Habit Center, the Assessment Center, the Self-Referencing Center and so on to describe how the brain develops and solidifies unhelpful messages and how we can change them too.

The Brain Is Not the Mind

One of the crucial points in this book is that we need to make a distinction between the brain and the mind. The authors argue that it is the brain that generates these repetitive negative thought patterns, not the mind. The mind, they say, is a separate entity that can be your greatest ally in counteracting these troubling and incorrect messages.

The mind – in this context – is defined as that which helps you to constructively focus your attention. This is extremely important because it is repeated attention in positive, beneficial ways that rewires the brain to perpetuate more rewarding actions and habits.

In short, the brain processes information and presents it to the mind or conscious awareness. But, the mind can ultimately decide what it will focus upon and help us to align with our true self and real goals, values, and interests instead of deceptive brain messages.  It’s a question of consciously directing the mind rather than functioning on automatic.

However, this is not an easy task. You are up against powerful brain biology in what the authors call “the Habit Center” of the brain. You can succeed in retraining your brain, but it will require effort, consistency, and perseverance.

What Are Deceptive Brain Messages?

So what are these deceptive brain messages? There are probably as many variations as there are people on the planet, but here are just a few common ones:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • There’s something wrong with me.
  • I don’t deserve to be happy.
  • No one likes me.
  • I have no control.
  • I don’t matter.
  • My worth depends upon taking care of others.
  • My value depends upon being perfect.
  • My wishes or goals are unrealistic or unattainable.

As you might guess, deceptive brains message typically get implanted and reinforced in childhood. This may occur due to a dramatic or traumatic event or childhood, but it can even happen as a result of a casual comment or confusing situation. Children are very sensitive and receptive to the messages they receive from their caregivers and the other significant people in their environment.

Thus, you may have had a relatively healthy childhood, but the seed of an odd message may have been planted. Then, unknowingly, through innocent repetition the brain circuits involved multiplied and grew stronger until today, when you may feel particular messages are an inseparable part of you. They may even occur so automatically that you no longer consciously notice them or sense how strongly they impact your life.

Who This Book Is For

Almost all of us are up against deceptive brain messages. The authors emphasize that you are not a disorder, disease, or problem. Most of us just may have a few wacky brain circuits that need rewiring. You don’t need to have a diagnosis to benefit from the self-help program presented in this book. This self-treatment program can help people with mild to moderate recurring problems like:

  • excessive nervousness
  • worry and anxiety
  • stress and tension
  • depression
  • anger
  • addictive behaviors
  • relationship problems
  • overeating avoidance
  • over-checking (compulsive behaviors)
  • over-thinking and over-analyzing getting
  • easily distracted

Generally, it will not work on its own for people with debilitating symptoms. People with severe symptoms usually do not have the ability to focus their attention well enough to use the 4 steps on their own without medication and therapeutic support. In addition, it may be difficult for them to discern that the deceptive brain messages are false.

The effectiveness of the 4-Step Solution presented in this book has been scientifically validated. A research study on the effectiveness of the 4-Step Method was conducted with people with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Brain scans demonstrated actual positive changes in the brains of people who had used the 4 steps over a 10-12 week period. These brain changes were equivalent to the changes that take place in people who take medications to treat OCD.

The 4-Step Solution

The 4-step self-treatment program presented by the authors helps you to refocus your attention in beneficial ways. It starts with identifying your deceptive brain messages and then applying the four steps outlined below:

  • Step 1: Relabel
  • Step 2: Reframe
  • Step 3: Refocus
  • Step 4: Revalue

These 4 steps are explained in detail so that you will be able to apply them successfully on your own. Simple, useful exercises are provided to help you identify your deceptive brain messages and integrate the 4-steps into your daily routine. Practical advice is offered from clients who have used the 4 Steps successfully to overcome debilitating emotions and habits.

An Overview

Here’s an overview of the chapters to give you a bird’s-eye view of the content.

  • Chapter 1: You Are Not Your Brain
  • Chapter 2: Using Your Mind to Change Your Brain: The Power of Self-Directed Neuroplasticity and Meaningful Goals
  • Chapter 3: Why Habits Are So Hard To Break
  • Chapter 4: Why These Sensations Feel So Real: The Biology of Deceptive Brain Messages
  • Chapter 5: A New Sense of Self: Overcoming Your Deceptive Brain Messages with the Four Steps
  • Chapter 6: Ignoring, Minimizing, and Neglecting: How Deceptive Brain Messages Distort Your View of Yourself
  • Chapter 7: Moving Forward with the Four Steps: Tips and Recommendations
  • Chapter 8: You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: The Power of Awareness and Step 1: Relabel
  • Chapter 9: Changing Your Relationship to Deceptive Brain Messages with Step 2: Reframe
  • Chapter 10: Reframing Your Thinking Errors
  • Chapter 11: The Power Is in the Focus: Step 3: Refocus
  • Chapter 12: Progressive Mindfulness and Step 4: Revalue
  • Chapter 13: What Is Going on Here? Is this a True Emotion or an Emotional Sensation?
  • Chapter 14: Using the Four Steps to Help You Move Forward in Your Life
  • Chapter 15: Putting It All Together

There is a revolution occurring in neuroscience that has profound potential to transform our lives for the better..  The lines between ancient wisdom traditions, neuroscience, and psychology are melting as highly-effective treatment techniques like the one presented in this book incorporate mindfulness and awareness at the core of their strategies.

I found the material in this book highly informative, practical, and empowering. You Are Not Your Brain is an exceptional guidebook to transforming limiting thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.  It is a book that offers hope, encouragement, and support.  I’m looking forward to returning to the book to engage in its series of life and brain-altering exercises.

Are you aware of deceptive brain messages in your own life?  Do you have a systematic way of addressing them?  I would love to hear from you on this topic.

Note:  This article contains affiliate links.  Thank you to TLC book tours for the opportunity to review this book and giveaway a copy to one of my readers.  Brain image:  Wikimedia Commons.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra



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  1. Stella

    This is a very comprehensive review of what looks like an interesting book for all those people like me whose lives are ruled by the anxious thoughts that are ever present in our lives.
    I’ve yet to find anything that really helps, but I think that my first step can only be to significantly minimise the level of stress in my daily life. Easier said than done!
    Good luck to everyone out there who is trying to do the same.

    • Dear Stella,

      I feel for you and everyone whose lives are ruled by anxious thoughts. I’ve certainly have my share of them. There’s no magic bullet, that’s for sure. That’s why I liked the way the authors of this book acknowledge that we are up against strong brain biology and that it really takes focus and dedication to change these streams of thought. The authors don’t speak about genetics or about brain chemistry. These are two factors that I consider important influences that contribute to whether someone is trying to climb a hill or Mt. Everest when trying to retrain their brain. That helps give perspective.

      I agree that minimizing stress is extremely important. Chronic stress alters the brain and can help to further entrench anxious patterns. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Stella. I always appreciate hearing from you!

  2. Nice review Sandra. I liked the 4 step solution. Very well done.

  3. Thanks for the review, Sandra.
    It sounds like an interesting read.

  4. You know I this post! You did such a great job here of explaining all of the neuroscience in a simple, understandable terms. I am going to keep this handy for reference. Thank you so much for the link to my blog!

    I cannot believe I have not heard of this book. I can’t wait to read it. I have read Jeffrey Schwartz’ other books. I used the 4 steps to rewire my brain to recover from depression and a brain injury resulting from a suicide attempt. I had reminders of the steps taped on my bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, on the dashboard of my car, and in my meditation corner. Every time one of those pesky, deceptive brain messages would pop up, I would persistently do the process. It does take time and diligence, but IT DOES WORK!

    It amazes me that I found all this and did all this on my own with no guidance.Well, I do think I had some spirit guidance. Anybody can do it. It is so powerful and allows you to take control of yourself and your life! Unlike drugs, it is a permanent solution that actually changes your brain and behaviors.

    • Debbie,

      How wonderful to have your personal testimony of how this type of 4-step process actually works for depression. Your stellar recovery gives hope and encouragement to all of us. This is a brand new book just released this month so that’s probably why you haven’t heard of it. One of the reasons that it was easy to explain the basics of neuroscience in this article is the fact that it’s so clearly explained in the book. This wasn’t my first exposure to the idea, but the authors make it very user friendly.

      It is amazing and so fortunate that you found the right pathway for healing without any guidance. I hope that everyone who needs this type of help will be able to find it and apply it in their life.

      Thanks for giving us a glimpse of your personal story in your comment. It verifies possibility!

  5. Great book review Sandra. I’m a big believer in neuroscience.There were studies/mri’s published on serious meditators (forest monk types). Fascinating results. I don’t know why there isn’t more literature available on this avenue of research.

    • Hi Riley,

      The neuroscience research on meditation is fascinating. Thanks for mentioning it here. One of my favorite books is The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. He’s one of the meditators whose brain has been studied in research studies. This book weaves the basics of meditation and compassion with key principles from neuroscience, highlight the overlap and differences. Thanks for your comment.

  6. I’m glad they include the idea that the brain and the mind are separate. Definitely an important piece of the entire puzzle. Would love to get my hands on this one! Thanks for the review.

    • Hi Dean,

      That is the crucial point! They aren’t able to explain what “mind” really is [as is well explained in Buddhism, for example] but it’s a huge leap to recognize it’s not the brain!

  7. Thank you for reviewing this book! I’ve been enjoying Debbie’s site, The Best Brain Possible, and I’m fascinated with neuroplasticity. Those pesky recurring messages are easy for me to see but so hard to change. I like using visual reminders, but sometimes that just doesn’t do the trick and a deeper solution is needed. This 4 step process looks like a powerful, practical tool. I like Debbie’s comment above about using the 4 steps in combination with visual reminders. Great book review — it’s definitely going on my reading list… thanks :~)

    • Hi Sue,

      You seem on a good track with this, but it’s true those deep messages are challenging to change. Like the book says, we are up against intense brain biology. But we can do it! Finding the right skill set always helps. That might vary from person to person because we are all different. But I was very excited by this book and plan to go back and engage in the exercises and work with the 4-steps. Glad you liked the review.

  8. Sandra, thanks for such a thorough review! The book sounds fascinating, I’m sure it could help me out.

    • You’re welcome. I was very excited by this book. I think it’s a good and doable plan and intend to work with it myself.

  9. Excellent and comprehensive review of this book. I hadn’t heard of this book before, and I’m now anxious to read it. I believe all of us could benefit by understanding how our brain works and how to make positive changes. I know many of my clients could benefit from learning a technique like this….so many people have negative beliefs controlling them. I am considering including an educational piece about the brain within the career transition process I use.

    Thanks for sharing the info about this book.

    • Terry,

      I’m glad you like the review. I believe that neuroscience is creating a revolution in personal development and transformation. Many of these ideas are clearly explained in ancient wisdom traditions, but not everyone connects with a spiritual focus. Neuroscience, mindfulness-based treatment, and other approaches like NLP are definitely changing the landscape. I think it would be so helpful for you to include an educational piece about the brain within the career transition process you use. So many of our negative messages come to the forefront when we are in career transition. Knowing you are not your brain or these messages brings a feeling of liberation. Thanks for your thoughts.

  10. The idea that the brain is not the mind seems so simple yet it is something I often forget.

    I’m glad you found the book to be so helpful. Thanks for such a thorough review and for being a part of the tour!

    • You’re welcome, Heather. I think most of us identify strongly with our thoughts and emotions; we think they are us. But this is so far from the case. It’s liberating to realize this! Thanks for your kind words.

  11. I think the reason why habits are so hard to change is because these false thoughts and believes are based on survival…, and there’s a lot of fear there (more negative thoughts and believes!). It’s always interesting to me to read about “spiritual growth” in a scientific context. Deepak Chopra for example does a magnificent job with that. I’m intrigued.

    • Maya,

      You’ve highlighted such a key point > how these habits get connected to the survival aspect of our brain. No wonder why they are so hard to change! This book doesn’t bring in spirituality directly but there a substantial amount of time devoted to mindfulness because you can’t change your thoughts if you are not aware of them. Thanks for your comment.

  12. Wonderful review, Sandra.

    Life is much better when we remain mindful of our thoughts and remember NOT to believe everything that we think! When we re-program our mind to ignore self-defeating thoughts, we have far more enthusiasm and energy to think positively. 😀

  13. Nancy, That’s exactly the essence of this book. It’s a big mistake to believe everything we think. More enthusiasm and energy sounds good to me!

  14. Rebecca Gladding, M.D

    Dear Sandra,

    Thank you for the wonderful review – it is so comprehensive and true to the book and its messages! I am so happy and honored you found the book user-friendly, informative and helpful!

    Debbie – it is so inspiring and heart-warming to hear that you used the Four Steps to assist with your depression. I hope many more people are helped just as you were!

    Best wishes to all – may you be well,
    Dr. Gladding

  15. Hello Dr. Gladding,

    Thanks for your kind words! I hope many people are able to read your book and use the 4-steps to breakthrough their challenges. There’s so much more to life than being stuck in dis-empowering brain loops!

  16. Sandra, thanks for the book recommendation and the Best Brain Possible suggestion. I’m especially interested in anything that gets more into the nitty-gritty of brain functions.

  17. Hi Sandra,
    I’ve been meditating for nearly two months now and this month I started creating the habit of taking time to be creative after dinner. I’m so excited about what I’ve learned about new habits. I’m creating a new life one habit at a time. woo hoo!

    • Woo hoo, for sure! You’re a pro when it comes to all this. You could lead the habit-changing throngs any day with fun, joy, and courage. So happy about your new enriching habits!

  18. First I love your new blog layout. Easy to navigate. I can see how this book is helpful to all of us at various stages of our lives. When there are times of insecurity and doubt. We all need help sometimes.

    • Thanks, Sonia! I’m pleased with this new layout and will probably stay here awhile. Yes, we all need help sometimes. I’m looking forward to the unveiling of your new blog design too!

  19. Thanks so much Sandra for this review. I wasn’t familiar with this book. Good old Cognitive Therapy. I read Schwartz’s other book that you referred to on OCD. It was helpful and would recommend it. He uses the same 4 steps in the OCD book–and it helps that I always appreciate illiteration. Thanks again!

  20. Thank you for sharing all this great information about the book. I have used techniques to overcome my self-defeating thoughts in the past, but I have let negative thoughts have free rein of late. I am very interested in reading this book and devising a strategy to overcome my worst intentions again.

    • Hi Tammi,

      It’s great to see you here! I’m glad you like the review and resonate with the topic. It’s so encouraging to see how you have been successful at overcoming self-defeating thoughts in the past. They can sneak back in, can’t they! I like the strategy these authors offer. I hope you find one that works well for you whether its this one or another one. Thanks for your comment.

  21. Hello Sandra ~
    Thank you so much for the time and energy you take to create this blog! It’s wonderful. I’ve been passionately reading neuroscience books for the past many years, as I’m continually intrigued by how our brains and minds impact our business and personal relationships. I loved your review of this book. It spoke to me because I’m drawn to those who are offering tools to change our brains, versus just telling people it is possible. This book looks very promising!

    There are two tools that have profoundly impacted myself and those I work with in terms of brain plasticity and resilient relationships. They are the State of Grace Document—Designing and Building the “Blueprint of WE.” ( and The Work of Byron Katie ( The State of Grace Document is a collaboration process used to build healthy neural pathways, and thus healthy relationships. It is being used in 100+ countries in multiple languages and is often referred to as “mindfulness meditation for relationships.” The Work of Byron Katie is a profoundly simple tool used to question your stressful thoughts and change your neural pathways. It comes highly recommended by Dr. Daniel Amen.

    I am the co-creator of the State of Grace Document with my husband and co-director of the Center for Collaborative Awareness in Asheville, NC. We have woven these two tools together for many years in both corporate/organizational settings and personal settings with profound results. Check out this video my daughter made about how I interact with the world in a very different way. It’s a good example of the change in neural pathways.

    Thank you again, Sandra, for a great review and a wonderful blog!

    Maureen McCarthy
    The Center for Collaborative Awareness

    • Welcome Maureen,

      Thanks for appreciative words. I’m very keen on neuroscience too and I also respect the work of Byron Katie. Your work and vision looks fascinating. I look forward to diving into your site and learning more. The idea of “collaborative awareness” is entirely new to me, but certainly resonates! It does sound like the next step on the horizon as there is so much at stake now in the world. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I wish you well!

  22. lms

    I’ve been a proponent of theories like the ones laid out in this book for awhile now. I’m excited to read and share this book…..pick me!!! 🙂 thanks for your thorough review!

  23. This looks such an interesting book. I loved the review

  24. Bob

    Great book summary!

    A warning about the Kindle edition of this book: many of the charts and tables are not visible so buy the paper version.

    • Hi Bob,

      Thanks for the warning about the Kindle version of the book. That’s important to know as there are quite a few charts and tables in the book. Be well!

  25. Melissa Welsh

    This book sounds like a solid mind-changer!

  26. Edith

    It is the possibility that we can change our patterns of habitual thinking that is so inspiring and hopeful. Yes, life can be better, but not necessarily because anything outside of me changes, but rather that my perception and understanding alters. Your review was wonderful as usual Sandra! Thank you. I shall definitely be adding this to my list of books to read!

  27. heather

    I have read Brain Lock and was really glad to hear about this book. I downloaded a copy from i-tunes already. The methods in this book are very helpful for dealing with bad habits and obsessive thoughts. When I try other methods I never get the same results that I do when I practice the four steps on a regualar basis. Thank you for putting out this important book.

  28. mina

    I am going to buy this book. I have suffered with OCD for awhile. The OCD is not the physical one where one has to touch or turn something on/off etc but mine is mentally. I have had to
    take some medication because the anxiety was 24/7 and not sleeping for months. Through
    reiki treatments with a wonderful person has taught me many things. I have changed my pattern of thinking alot but I am still left with the “habit thinking” that I continually ignore and refocus
    at the end of the day its mentally exhausting. I now have had at least up to two months of peace
    but if a trigger goes off that “habit pattern” starts again. This book sounds good because it can help me understand why the brain is wired that way and how I can rewire it back. This book seems to think like my brain does so it makes you feel like there is nothing wrong with you.

    thanks for sharing Mina

  29. Hello Mina,

    I’m so sorry for your suffering. I am happy you have met up with Reiki and have received such healing benefits. It takes time to unwind these patterns, but it seems like you are making great progress. I hope this books takes you further. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Wish you smooth healing!

  30. MImi Sternberg

    Hi Sandra, Hmm, I guess I missed this blog, but it is a good one. So are the quotes on Fear! I’ve been aware of fear this morning-that this is what most of us experience many days, in our life.
    I am so grateful for practice, Sogyal Rinpoche and dharma for giving me a path I can follow. Slowly I can change. Now that I am home, I am facing my “being home” demons. It feels really right to be here.
    I”m not sure this will be sent, so I’ll not write more, now. I tried, another time, to communicate, and it didn’t work.
    I’m glad things are well with you. All my love, Mimi

  31. porscha

    hello sandra,
    i only readed two chapters from the book, but the book helped that much. i have a question though i believe it was in chapter one the story about ed. The book says that ed had deceptive brain messages, but they were all wrong cause everyone had positive feelings towards him and thought of him postively, but i get the same deceptive brain messages but i dont feel as if people view me as a positive person but i am not negative . so my question is how can two people have deceptive brain messages when one person is viewed postive by others but has negative thoughts but all the deceptive brain messages i have are followed real life actions

    • Hello Porscha,

      We’re all different, aren’t we? So naturally our deceptive brain messages and experience in the world will be different. People may have judgments about you, but their judgments are not necessarily true or who you really are. That can be painful sometimes, but ultimately we have to find our own self, our own values, and be who we really are. I hope you are able to read the rest of the book and that the methods are useful to you. I wish you the very best, Porscha.

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