After our podcast on neuroscience, we asked if anyone wanted more on how your brain works and why we do the things we do. We got a lot of feedback saying, yes please tell us more. So today we have another English listening lesson that talks about your brain, while we use the knowledge about how your brain works to deliver another interesting English conversation that improves your English language.
Now that is a brain twister. You're learning about how your brain works, and the lesson uses our understanding of how our brain works to help improve your English language fluency as you learn. I think that’s a 3 for 1, or “win, win, win” lesson.
As usual, the lesson will contain interesting English vocabulary, and lots of interesting insights into how the scientific and professional world of studying the human brain works.
The key to maximising the benefits of our lessons, it listening to them several times. We keep them short and interesting so you can blast through them over and over. Ideally, you will listen to them at least 20 times spaced out over time, and get to a point where you understand (without referencing the transcripts or Google) 80% or more of the conversation. Listening multiple times will help store the information you are hearing in your long-term memory, which is exactly where it needs to be for automatic recall.
If you are only listening to a podcast once and you expect your English listening and comprehension skills to improve, they probably won’t be. We explain why repeat listening is so important in this podcast, so listen & learn why here.
Sceptical Mood Anxious Personality Contentious
Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. We’re here to help you with your English language learning, by providing you with interesting listening material. Sometimes our podcasts are on language learning itself, like the psychology of language learning, how your brain learns – or what conditions to give yourself so that you learn a foreign language in the best or the easiest way.
Sometimes the podcast is about what blocks people face – what stops people, what gets in the way when you’re learning a language. Sometimes our podcasts are about actual grammar – how to use it, what’s correct English grammar and what’s incorrect in a particular part of the language.
Sometimes the podcasts are topical – news, current affairs. And sometimes, it’s a bit what I might call ‘random’ – which means in English, ‘Ooh, the podcast can go anywhere!’. Sometimes when I write material for a podcast, I don’t know where it’s going until I’ve written it! But I aim to give you variety, so you’re learning English, but it’s interesting at the same time.
That’s my goal, my aim. And don’t forget – the latest 75 podcasts are available for free on our website at adeptenglish.com. But if you’d like to improve your English even further, well visit our podcast download page on the website.
We’ve got a whole lot of other podcasts to choose from. You can buy them in groups of 50 podcasts – it doesn’t cost very much at all. And just think how much better your English would be, if you listened to a whole 50 podcasts?
So recently I gave you a podcast on neuroscience – partly because I love neuroscience. It’s a fascinating subject and I learn a bit about through my psychotherapy work. And I did it partly because I wanted to see whether the people who listen to our podcasts – that’s you - were interested in knowing more about neuroscience.
So I talked about BDNF – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor – and this is in podcast number 369 if you’re interested. BDNF is said to be like ‘fertiliser for the brain’ – it helps you make new neurons, new brain matter.
So my area professionally, my training and my way of working is psychotherapy, which means working with personality – working with the character of the person. It tries to answer questions like why do we behave as we do? Why do we make the choices in life that we make? What influences us? What has influenced us in the past and shaped our characters?
Often people have problems because of the context, the situation they live in now – things about their lives now are problematic. That might be jobs, relationships, habits – all of these can be a problem. So the problems can come from ‘out there’, bad situations, like someone they love has died or they lose their job or they have no friends. But equally people’s problems can come from within the person themselves.
Sometimes people have problems because of what we call their mood, M-O-O-D – that means whether they’re happy or sad, whether they tend to be high or low in mood. Other people have problems because they’re anxious, A-N-X-I-O-U-S – they worry about things. We say ‘they can’t cope’ – so lots of psychotherapy work is with anxiety, which is fear and worry, I guess.
The mind is like an iceberg, it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water.
⭐ Sigmund Freud
Why do some people have more anxiety than others, and what we can do about it? So often what’s important in my work is understanding personality. The personality, P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L-I-T-Y means all those characteristics which are….[which] those people around us know us for. People know us for how we feel, how we behave. Other people see us a certain way – the sum total of that is our personality.
So we might hear ‘Oh, she’s very jealous’, or ‘He’s quite patient’ or ‘She can’t seem to stick at anything’. So our personality is the way that we react to other people, and our behaviour. The patterns in our behaviour affect our relationships with other people. So sometimes personality itself is the problem and you can get extremes of personality.
So of course psychotherapists study these extremes – and how to work with them. What psychotherapists find also – the more they work, the more experience they have, the more they can see how childhood experience affects everything else. I started out sceptical about that. ‘Sceptical’ is an adjective, S-C-E-P-T-I-C-A-L – and if you’re ‘sceptical’, it means you’re not sure you believe something. So I started out my training back in 1995 – I trained young, I’m not that old! Sceptical about childhood experience shapes personality – that’s where I was.
[Laughs] But now, 25 years later – I’m beyond doubt about that – it does! And in so many ways, ways you could never imagine! Every person is different because they have a different history, a different childhood experience – and this is why I find my work so interesting. I’m probably even more interested in it now, 25 years on from when I started than I was at the beginning! And I’m still hearing people’s stories that are different, unique, not like anybody else’s!
So I’m enthusiastic about psychotherapy – you can probably tell! But the more common subject that people are drawn to, that people move towards, when they want to understand human behaviour - is psychology. And I was originally drawn to psychology too. But for me, some very interesting studies have been done by psychologists, but I find it less helpful when you’re faced with real live people to work with, people with difficulties, whom you’re supposed to be helping! Psychology is the science of human behaviour.
So psychology studies operate rather like those studies I was talking about last week for the corona virus vaccine. To ‘prove’ something is true scientifically, you must try to take everything else out of the experiment, so you’re just focused on one thing. You have to narrow everything down, so you’re just testing one thing – and have a placebo part of your study as well!
A photograph of a male patient on a couch with a psychologist. Female doctor writes notes in notepad, professional psychology.
The problem is human behaviour and human minds are so complicated that this is nearly impossible or you have to make your study so narrow in its focus that the results perhaps aren’t that useful. You have to be asking a specific question, so of course, you only get answers to that question. You have to follow narrow rules, you’re not able to sit back and observe, and see what’s there that might be more interesting.
So psychology tends to look at tiny, isolated pieces of human behaviour, when it’s doing research. It also seems to imagine that human beings are the same, or behave in similar ways in these experiments. They don’t – one person thinks, feels and behaves very differently to another. So some psychological experimentation may be interesting, but I’m not sure that it gives us the sorts of answers that are that useful.
I’m not against psychologists by the way! Psychologists do really good work – they’re out there dealing with difficult human beings. But for me, psychology as a discipline didn’t give me that many answers about human behaviour.
Psychotherapy has, until the last few years, perhaps been more of an Art than a Science – that’s probably contentious, but I think that’s true. Psychotherapy works by observing patterns in human behaviour, seeing patterns and trying to make sense of them, partly by relating past experience to current behaviour.
We have a lot of theories – it started of course with Freud and Jung, but there are so many more theories developed since, which are even more useful than those original ones. I’m still learning new theories all the time – they’re really helpful when you’re working psychologically with people. But they’re difficult to prove scientifically.
So what’s brilliant for me about neuroscience is that we have a science finally, which backs up, gives evidence for, many of the theories, the ideas we use in psychotherapy. And neuroscience has advanced a lot since I first trained – it’s starting to give fascinating insight, answers – and there’s much more to learn! How does difficult childhood experience affect development of the brain?
Well, we’re starting to explain that, or science is. Some of it can even be seen on an MRI scan! We learn about neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, cortisol, noradrenaline, testosterone, glutamate, GABA, opiates – where do they come from, what influences their level and what effect do they have on our behaviour? How does the brain use them? How do they relate to personality, personal history and to your life now? And how do we influence them to help people feel better?
This is the material that keeps me up at night, reading and learning and full of enthusiasm. When one area of knowledge, one discipline grows and intersects and meets up with another area of knowledge, you suddenly get a rush of answers, a lot of progress!
This is why I don’t read much fiction, I don’t read novels – because I find reading about this other material so much more interesting! So if you’d like some podcasts on theories of human behaviour, podcasts which explain theories from psychotherapy and understanding from neuroscience, let us know.
If you’d like podcasts about personality, what we understand about how it’s formed, just ask. You might be wondering why are people so different to one another. If you’d like to better understand anxiety or depression, I can talk about that too. And all while you’re learning the English language. This is called in English ‘killing two birds with one stone’.
That’s not a particular nice idiom – but the idea is that one action can achieve two entirely different goals. So let me know whether this is of interest to you. And don’t worry, I’ll continue to do podcasts on all our favourite subjects, like grammar and British culture, news and health and random things!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.