Using Your Brain's Plasticity to Increase Your Serenity
A new brain-friendly book offers guidance for self-healing.
Posted Feb 28, 2021
Christophe Morin, following on his own life travails, discovered a method based on recent research, “to understand and practice self-love habits that will change your life and help you achieve more serenity” (Morin, 2020, p. 20). His book, The Serenity Code: How Brain Plasticity Helps You Live Without Stress, Anxiety and Depression (SAD), offers a compendium of self-help tools and information about how the brain functions and how to improve it, reducing stress and increasing wellbeing.
Morin describes the brain as having three aspects, primal, rational and spiritual. His book aims to help you access the spiritual, which is where true happiness resides, while controlling the unhelpful aspects of the primal.
Morin identifies three factors that decrease stress and support feelings of calmness: self, love, and habits (self-love habits).
Stress, anxiety, and depression affect about 30% of people worldwide. Self-love involves practices to overturn SAD. Morin offers self-assessments for each SAD aspect that can be used as pre- and post-tests for his techniques.
Self-love habits that he endorses are different forms of connection, that he supports with some research studies. To calm the primal brain, connect with nature, pets, and breath. To enhance the rational brain, connect with laughter, music, and stories. Connection to spirit enhances spirit.
To develop each of these habits of connection, he offers a picture and a video clip to watch and several self-love mantras. (You can find the video clips at www.theserenitycode.com/habits.) He suggests that readers view the pictures and video clips every day for a week. Before or after watching, the mantras should be repeated. The aim is to prime your brain to enhance feel-good biochemistry.
When the primal brain calming connections are practiced, the individual will reduce stress in multiple body and emotion systems, release oxytocin, enhancing positive brain and body states (e.g., alpha brain waves; vagal tone.
When spirit connection is practiced, there will be greater peacefulness, health, serotonin production, and cognitive clarity.
After a week of these practices (15 minutes/day), he suggests how to make self-love a long-term habit.
Critique and Conclusion
Morin lumps a lot into the “primal brain” category that neuroscientific research would separate (e.g., emotion systems of fear and anger are separated in the limbic system from love and play emotion systems). He lumps together depression (general sickness behavior) with anxiety, which can be rooted in fear or panic, and does not attend to the affective neuroscience research that shows the benefits of the play and love emotion systems for happiness (Panksepp, 1998).
He advocates using the rational brain to relieve oneself of SAD, without noting how too much focused attention or detachment from emotion and “intellectualizing” are also signs of less-than-optimal functioning. What he calls “rational self-dominant traits” include well-functioning emotion systems (which are shaped in early life; Schore, 2019), not just neo-cortical aspects.
Though the book is for adults, Morin leaves out information about how our early life experience shapes our propensity for depression, anxiety, disagreeableness, as clinical studies show, making it sound as if we are born to be depressed or disagreeable. He is missing the epigenetics of development.
Although he mentions my triune ethics meta-theory (Narvaez, 2008), he does not include its operationalization in everyday life (Narvaez, 2014). When you feel threatened, you activate self-protectionist mindsets which change affordances (action possibilities) in the world, either guiding you to withdraw or aggress. When you feel safe, assuming good early experiences whereby you developed social capacities, you attune to others cooperatively in prosocial ways (social engagement). Either of these modes (self-protection, social engagement) are enhanced by abstract thinking which is then used for one or the other, towards controlling others or towards communal imagination. Early experience matters, but healing practices can revamp tendencies toward protectionism.
Morin, C. (2020). The Serenity Code: How brain plasticity helps you live without stress, anxiety and depression (SAD). Honolulu: Depth Insights.
Narvaez, D. (2008). Triune ethics: The neurobiological roots of our multiple moralities. New Ideas in Psychology, 26, 95-119.
Narvaez, D. (2014). Neurobiology and the development of human morality: Evolution, culture and wisdom. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. New York: Oxford University Press.
Schore, A.N. (2017). All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk. Infant Mental Health Journal, 38(1),15-52. doi: 10.1002/imhj.21616
Schore, A.N. (2019). The development of the unconscious mind. New York: W.W. Norton.