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Remapping Your Mind

The Neuroscience of Self-Transformation through Story

Published by Bear & Company
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

A guide to retelling your personal, family, and cultural stories to transform your life, your relationships, and the world

• Applies the latest neuroscience research on memory, brain mapping, and brain plasticity to the field of narrative therapy

• Details mind-mapping and narrative therapy techniques that use story to change behavior patterns in ourselves, our relationships, and our communities

• Explores how narrative therapy can help replace dysfunctional cultural stories with ones that build healthier relationships with each other and the planet

We are born into a world of stories that quickly shapes our behavior and development without our conscious awareness. By retelling our personal, family, and cultural narratives we can transform the patterns of our own lives as well as the patterns that shape our communities and the larger social worlds in which we interact.

Applying the latest neuroscience research on memory, brain mapping, and brain plasticity to the field of narrative therapy, Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Barbara Mainguy explain how the brain is specialized in the art of story-making and story-telling. They detail mind-mapping and narrative therapy techniques that use story to change behavior patterns in ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. They explore studies that reveal how memory works through story, how the brain recalls things in narrative rather than lists, and how our stories modify our physiology and facilitate health or disease. Drawing on their decades of experience in narrative therapy, the authors examine the art of helping people to change their story, providing brain-mapping practices to discover your inner storyteller and test if the stories you are living are functional or dysfunctional, healing or destructive. They explain how to create new characters and new stories, ones that excite you, help you connect with yourself, and deepen your intimate connections with others.

Detailing how shared stories and language form culture, the authors also explore how narrative therapy can help replace dysfunctional cultural stories with those that offer templates for healthier relationships with each other and the planet.


Chapter 1
Your Mind on Story

Fiction is not defective empirical description, but a species of simulation; just as computer simulation has augmented theories of language, perception, problem-solving, and connectionist learning, so fiction as simulation illuminates the problematics of human action and emotions.

Keith Oatley,
Why Fiction May Be Twice as True as Fact

How Do We Understand Stories?

When we hear or read a story, our minds actively start recognizing words, parsing sentences, accessing our memory for all possible meanings of each word (semantic memory), understanding the meaning of the word (semantic comprehension), generating all possible associations we might have to what we are hearing/reading, making inferences regarding character intentions, interpreting the intentions of the teller, deciding on the overall meaning, eliminating extraneous information, and more.

The brain processes required for understanding story have been separated into three broad categories: (1) memory encoding and retrieval, (2) integration, and (3) elaboration or simulation. Memory is required to achieve an overall sense of coherence for a story, at least in part by allowing us to track the relations between near and distant clauses within that story. The same neurons associated with hearing a story continue to be active for a time after the story ends, supporting the idea that we hold the story in working memory. The frontal lobe is the brain region that best performs this function (Rolls 2000). Neuroimaging studies coupled with studies of brain-damaged people help us better localize the parts of the brain necessary for a given function (Cabeza & Nyberg 2000).

Retrieving personal memories that occur as associations to a story is important. These memories tend to be more actively self-oriented when elicited by what we consider to be fiction as compared to what we consider to be news (Larsen & Seilman 1988).

Why Do We Need to Understand Stories?

Human experience is embedded in stories, which we understand and produce through our brains (Mar 2008). We are insatiable consumers of stories. We find the personal stories of others absolutely compelling, whether as anecdotes or gossip, and spend considerable time engaged with novels, plays, films, and television shows. Our affinity for story emerges at a very young age, when we develop deep and long-lasting emotional attachments to the storybooks and movies that surround us. These fictional stories are not frivolous; stories have the power to change our beliefs about the world, whether or not they “really” happened. They do “really happen” in the telling. Readers’ attitudes shift to become more congruent with the ideas expressed in a narrative after exposure to fiction (Prentice, Gerrig & Bailis 1997; Strange & Leung 1999; Wheeler, Green & Brock 1999).

British neuroscientist Mark Turner situates the roots of human mental functioning in story. The way we think is based upon story devices, including metaphor and parable. “We organize our experience and our memory of human happenings mainly in the form of narrative.” We even create stories to explain the unusual experiences we have in states of psychosis, which then become delusions. We need to understand story, because story is what we use to explain our world. Story is what we use to create identity. Story lies behind our beliefs about the world.

There is no single way to understand a story. When we hear a story we look for the many possible beliefs inherent in that story. We find these beliefs by sorting through the beliefs we already have. We are not as concerned with what we are hearing as we are with finding what we already know that is relevant. Picture it this way: We have a list of beliefs, indexed by type of experience and meaning. When a new story appears, we attempt to find a belief that relates to it. When we do, we find a story attached to that belief and compare the story in memory to the one being processed. Our understanding of the new story is a function of the old story. Once we find a belief and connected story, we need do no further processing; the search for other beliefs is co-opted. We rarely look to understand a story in more than one way. The mind does not easily pursue multiple paths.

Telling Stories Back Implies Understanding

We tell stories for many reasons, one of which is to indicate to our listener that we have understood what we have heard. Our only choice for assessing how well we have been understood as storytellers may be to compare the story that occurs in response to the story we told.

We are always looking for stories to tell back to show that we have understood. When we find them, processing stops, and we wait to tell our story. We only incorporate what we have heard into memory when we feel that our own stories are inadequate in some way, for example, if our story is missing a piece. Such pieces can be supplied by other people’s stories. We may find a story inadequate when we use it to exemplify a belief that we are not quite sure we hold. We are willing to consider new stories as evidence for or against those beliefs and, therefore, to record and to remember better the stories of others.

The Paradox of Understanding

The odd paradox to all this is that we are less likely to learn directly from someone else’s story than we are to modify our own memories to incorporate aspects of those stories we are hearing. When we hear a story, we are reminded of our own similar stories. The story we heard is recalled in terms of the story of which we were reminded. Thus, we rarely recall the stories of others easily. Generally, other people’s stories don’t have the richness of detail and emotional impact that allows them to be stored in multiple ways in our memories. They do, however, provide enough details and emotions to allow them to be more easily stored than if the teller had simply told us his belief.

About The Author

Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician, associate professor at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, and executive director of the Coyote Institute for Studies of Change and Transformation. The author of several books, including Narrative Medicine and Coyote Medicine, he lives in Orono, Maine.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Bear & Company (July 26, 2015)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781591432098

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Raves and Reviews

“In this superb contribution to the field of self-transformation through story, Dr. Mehl-Madrona and Barbara Mainguy present important scientific research in approachable language as they demonstrate the intrinsic therapeutic value of story at all levels of our being. The authors have all the qualities of true ‘medicine’ people--they heal, they bless, they give thanks, they teach, they respect those who approach them for help--and so join the ancient lineage of storytellers who ensure the continuity of life giving, universal healing wisdom.”

– Jack Angelo, author of Self-Healing with Breathwork: Using the Power of Breath to Increase Energy an

“Our life is a storied life. Where we may have been thrown into an unhappy or even hostile story, we have ways to remap and re-story our lives. I have read each of Dr. Mehl-Madrona’s books, shared them with clients and students, and witnessed how his words help transform the inner and outer landscapes of our lives. He shows us how we can experience transformation and transcendence by being able to story our life differently. Remapping Your Mind satisfies in every way.”

– Julie Tallard Johnson, author of The Zero Point Agreement: How to Be Who You Already Are

"Remapping Your Mind" finally gives a clear guide to that elusive "how" using the techniques of narrative therapy and reframing to assist people in shifting perspectives about incidents and actions from their past and present. An addiction to alcohol might be reconstructed as a medicine-gone-wrong via a fairytale narrative. Running away from home as a child might be reframed as going on a heroic journey. Other methods, such as movement, language change, and conscious application of placebo all appear, complete with anecdotes and step-by-step application. These methods do, undeniably, lay a path for radical change."

– Facing North, Diana Rajchel, February 2016

"Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona and Barbara Mainguy breathe new life into helping people transform their inner landscape and inner world. Remapping Your Mind is filled with powerful case studies and tools that combine ways to reprogram the brain and peoples' lives through storytelling, art, movement, witnessing, and honoring and respecting each person's healing journey. Lewis gifts us as he shares some native teachings. This book is simply brilliant!”

– Sandra Ingerman, M.A., author of Walking in Light and coauthor of Speaking with Nature

“This must-read book sheds light on the profound relationship between storytelling and our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Through Mehl-Madrona and Mainguy’s engaging stories we learn how reframing our narratives can lead to unexpected personal and social healing. I whole-heartedly recommend Remapping Your Mind.

– Itzhak Beery, author The Gift of Shamanism, editor of Shamanic Transformations and publisher of Sham

“The work of Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, based both on indigenous knowledge and cutting edge scientific data, is of utmost importance and scope, both on the personal and collective levels. We do not live in the world, as we believe. Instead, we live in the story of the world we unconsciously create for ourselves. Becoming aware that we are story creators, and learning how to (re)create our stories consciously, as Lewis teaches, gives us tremendous power over our lives. Book after book, the author gives us the keys to becoming free of the matrix of our old inadequate stories!”

– Olivier Clerc, author of The Gift of Forgiveness and The Five Agreements Game

“Once upon a time the stories we were told about ourselves were constricted to the fact that you are what you have experienced and that you can't get away from that. In this book, Lewis and Barbara clearly challenge all these notions of lifelong ill-being, of being weighed down by the past. They use many cases from their own experience and match these with the latest experiments in neuroscience to show this not to be true. This book will infect those who read it with hope, humor and energy. This book offers to the mind, what Copernicus and Galileo gave to the sun and moon.”

– Venetia Young, M.D., coauthor of 10 minutes for the Family

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