Brain Training: Activating the Amygdala

The amygdala manages connections and responses between several regions of the brain. It’s directly involved with emotional well-being, the fight-or-flight response and fear conditioning. A recent study suggests that the amygdala also plays a role in the complexity of social life.

Activating the amygdala in a positive way stimulates higher order mental processes. This can improve creativity and intelligence while elevating positive emotions. I’ll describe some exercises to promote this response in just a bit.

amygdala viewed from the front of the skull

Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). [CC-BY-SA-2.1-jp (], via Wikimedia Commons


The amygdala also processes feelings on the opposite end of the spectrum. We receive “bad feedback” whenever we perceive something as negative. It causes a strong emotional response that often leads to instinctual reactions. The emotional feedback is a good thing because it’s quite useful. It lets us know when we are consciously creating a desired outcome or just reacting. By noticing the difference in thought processes you can consciously control the direction which the amygdala sends its impulses.

We can choose to stimulate the amygdala forward, turning on the reward centers for positive emotions. When the amygdala is stimulated forward it’s sending signals to the frontal lobes. This is where the brain handles cognitive functions such as long-term decision making and appropriate social actions. These functions can play a major role in determining levels of success and happiness. When the amygdala signals backwards it’s inducing a fear response. It is a state handled by the lower level reptilian brain, responsible for base instincts. Needless to say, thinking motivated by this part of the brain is not well suited for modern society.

These responses, both positive and negative, are hard wired. However, because of how clever we humans are we can consciously control our responses, taking charge of our reactions to the environment.

Stimulating the amygdala with regular practice can help you enter a psychological state of flow. In this state you can easily overcome problems and disregard distractions. Being in flow results in single-minded focus and joy that comes from losing yourself in productive activity. Trivial issues don’t slow you down when you are actively engaged and living creatively.

Practicing meditation, living creatively and being positive are some things you can do to improve your amygdala’s responses. Certain practices may take more time and effort, but the outcome is incredibly rewarding.

There are plenty of engaging exercises you can do to stimulate positive responses. Any time you use imaginative thought processes you’re stimulating the frontal lobes. This image shows precisely where the amygdala is located in the brain. Picture where it is inside your skull, then try some of the exercises listed below the image.

rotating skull amygdala

Images are generated by Life Science Databases(LSDB). [CC-BY-SA-2.1-jp (], via Wikimedia Commons


Here are a few exercises you can do to ignite your imagination and activate those frontal lobes:

  • Picture the amygdala inside your skull. Now imagine that it’s glowing with soft blue light. Imagine the light surging into your frontal lobes and gently setting off billions of neural pathways.
  • Recall a frustrating situation. Imagine feeling relaxed and control in this situation. Can you consider another solution to your problem in this resourceful state?
  • In your minds eye imagine a feather gently tickling the surface of your amygdala.
  • Imagine meeting your idol. What questions would you ask them? Try to create a vivid mental picture of this meeting. Maybe your idol can provide some answers that will surprise you.
  • Everyone has issues in their life that sometimes seem unsolvable. What would you do if you didn’t have to deal with those problems? Imagine how you would feel if you knew how to solve those problems.

Hopefully you enjoyed some of these exercises. Get creative with them, you can come up with some of your own to achieve a similar effect.

Any time you engage in creative activity you are activating the frontal lobes. Using your imagination trains the amygdala to reward you for this positive behavior. Please continue to act on those creative impulses. The pleasure you receive for being creative is mother natures way of saying “Keep going, your headed in the right direction”.

Related Resources

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