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The Breakout PrincipleReview - The Breakout Principle
How to Activate the Natural Trigger that Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being
by Herbert Benson and William Proctor
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2003
Review by David M. Wolf, M.A.
Oct 19th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 43)

For many years insights about the connection between mind and body in medicine have been regarded as unscientific mysticism or outright fraud. It is both difficult and highly laudable that Herbert Benson, M.D., the famous Harvard medical professor and cardiologist, has dedicated his research to the discovery of scientific explanations for mind/body connections that mean so much to wellness and healing. The Breakout Principle follows the line of his earlier successful books (like The Relaxation Response) and is an important contribution to everyone's health, vitality, and human possibility. Anybody who wants more out of life should listen to these tapes and find ways to apply what's revealed in them. It applies to personal wellness, creativity, business, athletics—every area where performance or enhanced functions are needed and wanted.

Some comments on the audio itself are in bounds. There appears to be one voicing, not two, that Jeff DeMunn is reading for, so it's hard to figure where William Proctor's contribution lies in this work. Listening, one gets the impression of hearing mostly about Dr. Benson's research, his anecdotes, etc. Regrettably, this entire program is not so rewarding as entertainment: it's all a bit dry and academic in the way it's written and delivered. You will find yourself drifting away into your own thoughts unless you listen with a pen and paper in your hand and treat the program as you would an SAT test. Either that, or be prepared to do what this reviewer did, continually rewinding the tape and muttering, "What did he just say?"

 But it's worth it. Truth wins the race with falsity.

There is no shortage of self-help programs or books telling us we can "breakthrough" or "brain-storm" or "see the light" or "heal ourselves" or "transform" or otherwise find the key to all things needed and wonderful. But there is a desperate dearth of any factual and empirical, much less confirmed, scientific information supporting such claims. It is the latter that Dr. Benson has published (in various peer-reviewed journals) and which he draws upon to set down his prescriptions for breakout principles here. (Google Benson's vast CV and you'll be quite impressed.) This is a program that can appeal to and interest people who want more foundation than motivational talk; it's work for serious skeptics who nonetheless are open to possibilities to improve their own lives, heal themselves, or do better work.

Benson himself says that he was surprised that he'd gradually come upon a principle of breaking out of old, stale habits of thought that amounts to an "ultimate" success principle. He sees it as the ultimate because of its many benefits and its many ways of being activated in limitless situations and contexts.

The principle itself is "an impulse that severs past mental patterns" and even (especially) in times of great emotional stress can open us to many, even unlimited benefits. That's the key, the cutting of the Gordian Knot of our usual mental patterns, our relentless commitment to the mundane nonsense of living, often without a clue. The authors call this severing, "pulling the trigger" on the breakout response. But the mixed metaphor doesn't really help understand this key moment. They should do better.

Breakout has four stages. First stage, struggle. In fact, that's where most people live all the time, never getting past stage one. Struggle generates all sorts of bio-chemical hazards in our bodies that Benson describes in detail. Struggle helps up to a point, but finally becomes self-limiting, and then destructive. Second stage, "pull the breakout trigger" letting go. Third stage, experience life in the new breakout thought patterns, reduce stress in unprecedented ways. Fourth, the return to a transformed normalcy, that is, long-term enhanced living or performance.

What makes this seemingly prosaic formula exciting and different is that it can be approached in many contexts, along many avenues, and that it applies to a diverse field from spiritual growth, to athletics, to management, to healing disease, and other areas without limit. It's the body/mind ability to sever past thought patterns, stage two, that relates to the use of meditative or relaxation kinds of activities. Someone is under stress to achieve some aim; she or he turns to conscious meditative or relaxation responses according to training or acquired experience, and "pulls the breakout trigger" response. Suddenly, in many cases, the answer or the ability or the capability is given along with reduced stress and health-affirming biochemistry inside the body. Healing occurs seemingly like magic. The mind/body connection is magic, not slight of hand, as Benson shows.

Is the breakout principle a fundamental transformative principle as the authors claim? Is it the self-help insight to end all self-help? Benson spends a few moments arguing that it is this. It wouldn't be appropriate for us to judge without trying out the work ourselves. We should be open to the possibility. To Benson's credit, he has done the work, studied and researched and applied his vast medical and scientific resources to bring forward these important discoveries.

           

       © 2004 David Wolf

 

David Wolf is the author of Philosophy That Works, a book about the practice of philosophy. His book page for orders (hardback & paperback) is www.xlibris.com/philosophythatworks ; readers can also see the first chapter there.


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