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As I've suggested, the latest research shows us that what's going on in your gut influences what goes on in your brain--not the other way around. So, if the evidence shows us that the brain is responding to messages sent by the gut, primarily through the vagus nerve, then it makes sense to start at the root of the messages if we want a lasting solution. Self-assurance is a strange thing, mostly in that it's incredibly hard to attain and hold on to. When you set foot in public, the first thing you do is wonder what other people will think. Why? Is it because you're worried what they think or because you want validation of your actions? What pushes you to worry so much about what other people have to say about you? Finding the strength to stand up for yourself and essentially say "I am important and what other people think of my opinions is not important" is hard. However, affirmations make it a lot easier! You'll need to practice, and eventually there will be tests for your new attitude, especially when you come across people you respect and want to know more closely. For now, think of it this way - you are the center of attention at all times. Other people are guests in your reality and they need to act accordingly, which means if anyone should be worried about how they are perceived, it is them. The effect will be that you feel surer of yourself and that other people will feed off that confidence and show interest in what you have to say more readily. Before we go any further I want to make it very clear what I mean by "communication". It's not just talking to someone, or even clarifying a point. Really, it's 90% listening and maybe 10% talking. If you're not a good listener, you're not a good communicator - pure and simple. But, it goes beyond that. We hear cliche jokes and insults all the time about people who "just don't listen". That's not really what I mean, though it can definitely be a problem for a lot of individuals trying to engage with a new friend or romantic interest.

In your case, what's happening is slightly different. You're uncomfortable around people, unsure of yourself and generally very self-conscious. So, what happens? You get worked up and start running through a million scenarios, reminders to "stop doing X" and constant negative self-talk. I've tried to emphasize that the best way to improve our thinking and deciding is to take a skeptical and critical approach. Unfortunately, we are quick to believe things on the basis of incomplete or inappropriate evidence--critical thinking does not come naturally to us. As psychologist Alfred Mander stated back in 1947, "Thinking is skilled work. It is not true that we are naturally endowed with the ability to think clearly and logically--without learning how, or without practicing.".... People with untrained minds should no more expect to think clearly and logically than people who have never learned and never practiced can expect to find themselves good carpenters, golfers, bridge-players, or pianists."1 One thing, above all, must be kept in mind. We humans are believing creatures--we want to believe things. But as Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn noted, if we have a good reason to question a belief, we can't accept it as true. Wanting something to be true will not make it true, no matter how hard we try. The best we can do is proportion the extent of our belief to the extent of the evidence for that belief. And if the evidence doesn't strongly support a belief, a leap of faith will never help us know that the belief is true.2 Amazingly, one of the paradoxes of human nature is that we hold some of our strongest beliefs in areas that we know the least about. We want to believe things because we want certainty in life. But life can be very complex and unpredictable. While we might find it more comfortable to be certain in our beliefs--to think in terms of black and white--we must learn to accept how much we don't know. Sometimes we have to live with the various shades of gray in our knowledge. This is particularly significant because erroneous beliefs can cause more problems than not believing at all. As psychologist Tom Gilovich said, "Sometimes it's not the things we don't know that get us into trouble; it's the things we know that just ain't so."3 We have to be, therefore, stingy with our beliefs--to withhold a belief in something until compelling evidence exists in its support.

While this may go against our deeply ingrained predispositions, it is, without a doubt, one of the most important things we can do. On a personal level, and as a society, we will benefit from this skeptical stance, and make more informed judgments and decisions. As you continue to observe these changes and you see how it all fits together, you become aware of the intimate connectedness of all mental, sensory, and affective phenomena. You watch one thought leading to another, you see destruction giving rise to emotional reactions and feelings giving rise to more thoughts. Actions, thoughts, feelings, desires--you see all of them intimately linked together in a delicate fabric of cause and effect. You watch pleasurable experiences arise and fall, and you see that they never last; you watch pain come uninvited and you watch yourself anxiously struggling to throw it off; you see yourself fail. It all happens over and over while you stand back quietly and just watch it all work. Out of this living laboratory itself comes an inner and unassailable conclusion. You see that your life is marked by disappointment and frustration, and you clearly see the source. These reactions arise out of your own inability to get what you want, your fear of losing what you have already gained, and your habit of never being satisfied with what you have. These are no longer theoretical concepts--you have seen these things for yourself, and you know that they are real. You perceive your own fear, your own basic insecurity in the face of life and death. It is a profound tension that goes all the way down to the root of thought and makes all of life a struggle. You watch yourself anxiously groping about, fearfully grasping after solid, trustworthy ground. You see yourself endlessly grasping for something, anything, to hold onto in the midst of all these shifting sands, and you see that there is nothing to hold onto, nothing that doesn't change. You see the pain of loss and grief, you watch yourself being forced to adjust to painful developments day after day in your own ordinary existence. You witness the tensions and conflicts inherent in the very process of everyday living, and you see how superficial most of your concerns really are. You watch the progress of pain, sickness, old age, and death. You learn to marvel that all these horrible things are not fearful at all. They are simply reality.

Through this intensive study of the negative aspects of your existence, you become deeply acquainted with dukkha, the unsatisfactory nature of all existence. You begin to perceive dukkha at all levels of our human life, from the obvious down to the most subtle. You see the way suffering inevitably follows in the wake of clinging, as soon as you grasp anything, pain inevitably follows. Once you become fully acquainted with the whole dynamic of desire, you become sensitized to it. You see where it rises, when it rises, and how it affects you. You watch it operate over and over, manifesting through every sense channel, taking control of the mind and making consciousness its slave. In the midst of every pleasant experience, you watch your own craving and clinging take place. In the midst of unpleasant experiences, you watch a very powerful resistance take hold. You do not block these phenomena, you just watch them; you see them as the very stuff of human thought. You search for that thing you call "me," but what you find is a physical body and how you have identified your sense of yourself with that bag of skin and bones. You search further, and you find all manner of mental phenomena, such as emotions, thought patterns, and opinions, and see how you identify the sense of yourself with each of them. You watch yourself becoming possessive, protective, and defensive over these pitiful things, and you see how crazy that is. You rummage furiously among these various items, constantly searching for yourself--physical matter, bodily sensations, feelings, and emotions--it all keeps whirling round and round as you root through it, peering into every nook and cranny, endlessly hunting for "me." If the network of neurons reaching between our brain, our gut, and the rest of our bodies is a highway, then the chemicals traveling along it may be thought of as mail trucks carrying messages from one part of the body to another. These mail trucks come in two basic varieties: neurotransmitters and hormones. These messengers have a lot in common, but there are some distinct differences worth noting. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that travel through the nervous system and across the gaps between neurons to attach themselves to specific receptor sites. Hormones, also chemicals, are produced by the endocrine system (glands) and travel through the blood to interact with target organ cells. Both chemical types are intimately involved in regulating everything our bodies do consciously and subconsciously, including how we think and feel. The primary chemical related to mood disorders is serotonin (a neurotransmitter), so anything that affects the body's ability to produce serotonin or keep more of it around for longer is going to have a serious impact on depression, including, and especially, when it's happening in the gut. Scientists have already discovered that oral ingestion of Bifidobacterium infantis (B.

infantis) in test rats leads to increased levels of tryptophan, a critical ingredient in the manufacturing of serotonin; several other strains have been found to produce serotonin outright. Likewise, when insufficiently produced in the brain, other chemicals associated with depression, like the neurotransmitter GABA, seem to lead to negative, obsessive thought patterns linked with depression. Researchers have found that certain gut microbes, including Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains, actively secrete GABA. Other bacteria produce the hormone norepinephrine and the neurotransmitter dopamine, two other chemicals you've likely heard of. These elements are associated with a host of bodily functions, including those impacted by depression, such as memory, alertness, motivation, arousal, and general feelings of well-being. Still other bacteria increase levels of oxytocin, the "feel good" hormone that washes through us when we experience positive physical contact like hugging or sex. Besides bacteria that directly produce chemicals, some strains affect nerve cells like cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are involved in regulating mood and are often a cause in a vicious circle of contribution. Other receptors tell the brain through the vagus nerve to increase its production of GABA receptors (helpful when partner bacteria are secreting more of the stuff!). Have you ever tried to remember what someone was saying to you when that tempest of anxiety whirls through your brain? It's pretty freaking hard. And as a result, it's impossible to feel engaged (or look engaged) to someone you might actually be interested in getting to know. I had a problem for years where I would never remember anyone's name when I met them. I couldn't figure out why, but it would constantly put me into uncomfortable situations trying to jog my memory or sneaking aside to whisper to someone "what's the guy's name again". Eventually, I figured out what I was doing. I was so worked up and focused on worrying about the conversation I was about to have that I missed the beginning of that conversation, instantly making it WAY more complicated than it needed to be. So, I started consciously clearing my mind when I met someone, using mnemonic devices to memorize their name immediately and focusing all of my energies into listening to what they were saying. It was incredibly hard at first, but in time, I learned that I was pretty dang good at listening to people...if I stopped worrying about the little things that would so easily distract me. Fast forward a few years and I'm in a completely different place in my relationships. I don't just memorize people's names; I file away tons of little details about them for later use.