Max Your Mind: The Owner's Guide for a Strong Brain

Max Your Mind: The Owner's Guide for a Strong Brain

by Sandra Sanquist Stanton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781630475512
Publisher: Morgan James Publishing
Publication date: 11/03/2015
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sandra Sunquist Stanton NCC, LPC, BCC is an author, speaker, professional counselor; board certified coach, parent, wife, and grandma to nine amazing kids. Her alphabet soup translates to Nationally Certified Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Certified Coach. She has been helping people of all ages make the most of their amazing brains through her business, Connections of the Heart LLC. She was invited to set up a guidance program at Kunming International Academy in Yunnan, China, published over 50 articles and book chapters and has presented over 100 workshops in 8 states and in Canada since retiring from school counseling.

Read an Excerpt



What's your next step? ... I bet it involves choosing something that already lights you up. Something you already think is beautiful or lasting and meaningful. Pick something that you aren't just able to do; pick something that you feel that you were made to do and then do lots of that.

— Bob Goff

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.


Your brain is a custom-designed gift, created by God, which allows you to learn and save information from your senses. With this data it goes to work developing your unique package of gifts and experiences. Your brain is not like anyone else's.

During our careers, to-do lists and expectations may have been imposed by "business interests," and retirement brings welcome new choices! It's time to find out what you were made to do! In this chapter, we will look at the ways some people have found fulfillment and have improved others' lives by recognizing what lights up their brain.

How Does My Brain Light Up?

Lighting up my brain? How is that possible? Since science has given us technology to look inside our brains, we can actually see what happens when we are excited about something we're doing. When we love what we're doing, our brains "light up." Researchers can now insert radioactive dye that migrates to the active parts of the brain during a given activity. They then conduct brain scans, using functional magnetic resonance indicators (fMRIs), to show increased blood flow in the areas we are using at that time. Those active areas appear to "light up" on scan results. Nope, our brains aren't really glowing — good thing!

God had a purpose in mind when he created us. When we stay tuned into him, he provides everything we need to accomplish that purpose. We could say that we were each "made to do" something special. When we discover and develop that God-given talent, we can feel the excitement that goes with fulfilling his purpose for our lives.

Creative Journeys

Discovering what you truly love to do may begin with looking at choices made by others in our lives. I've been inspired by the creativity of friends and relatives and the joy it brings into their lives. My friend Sue loves photography and painting with watercolors. She gave me one of her framed soft pastel paintings, which "happened" to perfectly match the colors of our bathroom. Another friend, Mary Jo, makes beautiful jewelry and knitted gifts. Her husband, Tom, retired Navy, discovered watercolor painting while we cruised together on the Seine River through France; his painting prowess continues to grow, and he loves it.

My brother-in-law Jerry says being "downsized" from his corporate job freed him up to do his own thing, which he calls "Interpretations in Hardwood." Jerry creates abstract eagles, wolves, and owls from hardwoods — bird's-eye maple, cherry, black walnut, ash, mahogany, western cedar, and others. A Harley-Davidson devotee, he and his wife Jill love open-air rides on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and their son has one, too. When Jerry showed his work to the iconic motorcycle company's decision makers, they chose him to create Harley-Davidson's commemorative centennial bronze eagle wall sculpture. That piece has been reproduced and sold around the world.

Working with fabric while enjoying the company of friends has brought peace to women in particular for centuries. Mickey's brain lights up with her many quilting projects, and she and her group of quilting friends enjoy time together on their annual retreats. Another friend, Anne, has a designated quilting space in her home where she can focus her attention and energy on sewing while her stress melts away.

Close friends and retired educators, Pam, Ellen, Jane, and Jessie, have been embroidering and sewing together since I've known them. At Indianhead Embroidery Guild meetings, they taught me Hardanger embroidery, and I experienced the joy of exploring a new aspect of my Norwegian heritage. Their intricate needlework graces their own homes and those of many people they love. I was delighted to learn the craft and create small Hardanger baptismal keepsakes for my grandchildren.

Spinning and knitting is another way to "play." Barb and her husband Randy have raised Suri alpacas since she retired from teaching. They chose alpacas because of their silken, cashmere-soft fleece, which is warmer than wool. Working with the sweet, gentle animals and their high-end fleece brings her peace, and the rhythmic motion of spinning the fleece into yarn soothes her body and mind.

I interviewed another spinner, retired audiology professor Nan Weiler, who lived at the time in Wisconsin's north woods. "Every human being has his or her own way of expressing creativity; we need only to find it," Nan said. "Mine is spinning and working with fibers, but each person's search is different. ... Sometimes you admire a piece of art and would like to create something similar. Sometimes you just want to improve on something you got somewhere else. Playing is very important for us mentally and physically. In the woods, we find that we can play all day. All this work with fiber is very productive play, but healthful play just the same."

Diann, a retired counselor, plays the flute, and creates beautifully crafted papers and books. Her current passion is designing and making pottery. Friends don't mind waiting for the specially designed items she creates. As gifts or personal possessions, they carry the joy and peace she feels while making them.

Other retirees find joy in mentoring individuals beginning their career journeys, helping with nonprofit causes, or, in my case, writing. One of my first and still-favorite resources is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Following the exercises in her book, I write "morning pages" at the start of my day when my thoughts are fresh and free. Stream-of-consciousness, longhand writing for three pages is best, she says, without our inner editor. This is great exercise for my creative right brain. Neuroscientists agree. Activating eye/hand coordination, fine motor muscles, and the brain's creative process simultaneously develops strong connections between each of these mind-based functions. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and they become a team.

Writing is something I need to do every day. When I don't take the time to download my thoughts onto the page, my mind gets sluggish and foggy. Not everyone would understand, but it feels good to spend time with those who do. My first nudge to study The Artist's Way and endless other writers' tips came from Western Wisconsin Christian Writers Guild where I found kindred spirits and the encouragement to keep trying.

Since 2006, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and my critique group have helped me develop my picture-book writing skills to reach the younger crowd with brain coaching stories. Two of my favorite creative writers, Anne Lamott and Ann Voskamp, inspire me to dig deeper and let my heart come out to play or cry. Writing can be an exercise in self-discovery. I'm often surprised at what I see on the page.

We don't have to save the world. Discovering what lights up our own brains is enough to get us started down a path of discovery or rediscovery.

Lighting Up Your Brain Can Light Up Others' Lives

But sometimes creativity does lead to lighting up someone else's life. Bob Goff, lawyer, speaker, and author of Love Does inspires me and many others to "Love God, Love People, Do Stuff," as he wrote in my copy of his book. As the keynote speaker for the Second Wind conference at Peace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, he spoke with delight of "leaking Jesus in whimsical ways" and enjoyed calling his work a series of "capers" for God.

He shared a bit of background that helped us understand his passion. Bob Goff, of Goff and Dewalt, a West Coast law firm, is the father of three. After the World Trade Center 9/11 crisis, he asked his children what they would do if they had five minutes with a world leader. His seven-year-old wanted to invite the world leader to a sleepover. His nine-year-old wanted to ask what the world leader's hopes were, and perhaps pass his or her dreams on to other leaders. His oldest daughter was into video, so she wanted to ask those who weren't able to come for a sleepover if the Goff children could visit them in their home country and videotape interviews asking about their hopes.

The children wrote and sent personal letters to leaders of every nation, inviting them to the Goff home for a sleepover. Most sent kind regrets. Thirty-two leaders came for sleepovers to visit the children. Bob and his wife, whom he calls "Sweet Maria," served as observers and hosts.

Bulgaria was the first of twenty-nine invitations the family received, inviting them to their home country for an interview. As promised, Bob took his children on a whirlwind trip to these twenty-nine regal homes, and the kids got the chance to ask their questions.

During their tour of nations, they discovered children being sold as commodities on the black market to slave camps in Mumbai, India. Bob and his children wanted to make a difference for children who were the same age as they were.

Similar travesties showed up in African nations, leading Bob and his family to focus their attention on Uganda, where the average age was 14 after the loss of many lives during a violent war in the northern part of the country. The country was experiencing an enormous backlog of court cases. Hundreds had been accused and had to wait two to three years in prison before they set foot in a Kampala, Uganda, courtroom.

In response to the incredible need, Bob and his colleagues created Restore International to defend and rescue the children. Lawyers and law students from Pepperdine University and Seattle University took up Bob's charge. Together, they worked within the Ugandan legal system and freed seventy-two children, returning them to their parents. After several months, all charges had been dropped or otherwise resolved.

In 2007, they built the Restore Leadership Academy, a secondary school for the children in Gulu, Uganda, many of whom were former child soldiers, orphans, or victims of sex trafficking or extreme poverty. At first, they struggled to get students, opening the school with eighteen teachers and nine kids. On October 27, 2009, all 230 enrolled students attended the school's graduation of seventeen students.

Their efforts were so appreciated that Uganda's Prime Minister, Apolo Nsibambi, ultimately named Bob the Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda to the United States. He travels to Uganda every one hundred days to try more cases and free the innocent.

During his live presentation at Peace, Bob shared another true story of Ugandan witch doctors who had been mutilating young boys as sacrifices. Restore International has successfully rescued hundreds of boys, and the Goffs adopted one of them and arranged for his reconstructive surgery. This led to the creation of Bob's Witch Doctor School, which uses only the Bible and Love Does as curriculum. In his "capers" following God's nudges to help others, Bob also lights up others' lives on a grand scale!

Of course, not everyone can expect to have this kind of impact. In an interview Bob did for 60 Minutes, he said, "It just sounds like you're blowing sunshine at people, saying: 'You can do anything.' And it's ... true, in a sense, but it just sounds unrealistic. What I think anybody can be is engaged. And so, we're all given this unique wiring harness — you have one, I have one, everybody has this unique wiring harness. And so then you think, how could you live into that?"

Seeking and identifying our "unique wiring harness" may take time and energy, as well as an understanding that our everyday tasks are truly important. Retirees may find it easier to observe others' gifts than to zero in on their own. Many of us are caregivers for family members with health issues, and our responsibilities seem overwhelming. We try to help others when they need it, but we haven't given any thought to lighting up our own brains. It somehow seems selfish. Not so!

When we find and enthusiastically pursue our passion — even in daily chores — our energy, health, spirit, and relationships benefit. To echo Bob Goff, who uses a chess game analogy, "Take the smallest piece and move it one square toward Jesus."

What if you haven't taken the time to develop your gift — and frankly, you're not very good at it? Is it too late? The answer is a definite no, thanks to the magic of neuroplasticity.


What a relief to discover that my high school biology teacher was wrong! Of course, he taught us from current science that our brains peaked at age nineteen — which felt like the distant future to us at the time — and everything would go downhill from there. In his defense, he didn't have the benefit of the growing body of information we have today.

Our scientific understanding of our God-created human brain has come a long way. A National Geographic article, "Secrets of the Brain," helps us understand what's going on inside our heads. Ancient scientists first thought the brain was made up of "phlegm," then "vapors." Eventually, they discovered the electrical nature of the brain, with its 100,000 miles of nerve fibers connecting brain cells and other components.

In recent decades, researchers have been able to use fMRIs and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans to study the inside of the brain while it's working. Researchers now hope to create maps of the brain, which will eventually help doctors diagnose and treat cognitive diseases. One of the concepts that has developed from this increased understanding is neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is an odd term for most people. It has nothing to do with food storage or recycling efforts. It's actually one of the most hopeful concepts I've run across in a long time. Dr. Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher, defines neuroplasticity as the brain's "ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity — our thoughts."

It means we're not stuck with our nineteen-year-old brains. Our brains are capable of producing new neurons and connections throughout our lifetimes. Any time we find a new way to connect our existing brain cells, we build new skills. With repetition and consistent effort, we can fulfill our dreams! A recent news item featured a woman who wrote a book at age ninety-nine and is planning a book tour when she's one hundred.

Bottom line — neuroplasticity gives our brains the opportunity to continue to create new cells and connections throughout our entire lifetime, as long as we give them what they need. Like the muscles in our bodies, our brains need to be stretched and challenged to stay sharp.


When we can't remember an actor's name or the person who referred us to a particular restaurant, it's easy to panic. "I'm losing my mind!" we think. "Maybe I've got Alzheimer's!" Actually, as we grow older, the connections that reach from one brain cell to another may simply be getting weaker from lack of exercise or from not being "switched on" as much. This phenomenon has more in common with physical exercise than we might expect. Just as we need to exercise many different muscle groups for optimal physical health (known as creating "muscle confusion" — the principle behind circuit training), we can keep our brain cells and dendrites in optimal by using them in new ways. Lawrence Katz calls this kind of brain exercise Neurobics. The similarity to "aerobics" is no accident.

Dr. Katz's book Keep Your Brain Alive gives us eighty-three simple ways to keep our brain cells communicating with each other and creating new connections. Writing with your non-dominant hand is just one example, but there are many more. According to Dr. Katz, Neurobic exercises have three criteria:

1.Use one or more of your senses in an unusual way or combination. For example:

• Get dressed or brush your teeth with your eyes closed.

• Combine two or more senses in unexpected ways. Choose a scent to pair with a particular piece of music.

2. Trigger your full attention. For example:

• Wear a wrist or knee brace to work for a day to wake up your kinesthetic sense.

• Search for keys in a purse using only your senses of touch and hearing.

3. Switch up the way you accomplish a routine activity. For example:

• Take a completely new route to work.

• Shop at a farmers market or flea market.

Neurobics, then, refers to any brain exercise that can either wake up sluggish neurons or create brand new connections.

Another more challenging exercise is to focus on our body's senses in the present moment, which can help manage our negative emotions. Many of us get caught up in feelings about events and actions of the past or fear of what may be ahead. We may need a nudge to shift our focus from those feelings — which are not facts — so we can tune into what's actually happening in and around us. We'll talk more about that in chapter 4. For now, here are some personal stories to illustrate the process based on my own experiences.


Excerpted from "Max Your Mind"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Sandra Sunquist Stanton.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction Good News for the Maturing Brain! ix

Part I The Brain 1

1 What Lights Up Your Brain? 3

2 Brain Basics 18

3 Memories under Construction 33

Part II The Body 49

4 Your Body as Stress Buster 51

5 Input for Output 64

6 Move It! 75

Part III The Spirit 91

7 Connecting with God through Prayer 93

8 Gratitude and Trust 104

9 Humor Does a Body Good 116

10 Music Makes Your Spirit Sing! 127

Part IV Relationships 143

11 Gender Matters 145

12 Friends, Empathy, and Those in Need 160

13 The Gift of Family 172

Part V What's Next? 187

Max Your Mind: Reflections and Applications 189

Resources for Memory Loss and Alzheimer's Disease 197

Looking for More? 201

Acknowledgments 205

About the Author 211

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