The cingulate system lies deep within the brain between the frontal lobes. It is associated with shifting attention, being mentally flexible and adaptable, seeing options, cooperating, and going with the flow. Being mentally flexible is important when we start a new job or when we go from middle school to junior high. It is also important in our friendships and situations that require us to cooperate with others. People who have problems in this area are often the type who say it’s “my way or the highway.”

Problems associated with the cingulate system include: worry, being unforgiving, obsessions, compulsions, opposing others, being argumentative and uncooperative. Also in this category are addictions, feeling chronic pain, eating disorders and road rage. People with cingulate problems tend to ‘get stuck’ on an idea, get locked into a position and think the same things over and over. Some of these problems do not occur at a ‘clinical’ level, however they do negatively affect our quality of life. As with the other brain problems I have been blogging about, Dr. Amen has a checklist for this issue on page 169 of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Or you can visit his website for more information, http://www.amenclinics.com.

While there are medications that will help people with cingulate system problems, there are also behavioral approaches that work as well. Here are Dr. Amen’s recommendations: when stuck, distract yourself and return to the problem later; think through answers before saying no; write out possible options and solutions; ask others what they think; learn the serenity prayer, especially the first few lines;  and if you are dealing with someone who suffers from cingulate problems try reverse psychology.

I’m sure many of you will be pleasantly surprised that the Serenity Prayer works for this condition. The first lines of the prayer are: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Next blog: The Temporal Lobes

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