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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Relationship and Dating Coaches - Part 2

You can read part one of this relationship and dating coaches article by clicking here.

Do I need to hire a coach to learn to be more creative with my dating profile?


In the last installment we mentioned that nearly everyone has the capacity to be creative if you know the secret and work at it a little. Remember, enhanced creativity can help you to make over your profile and simply communicate better with other daters… it’s also a trait that others find appealing.
The secret to creativity is simple – install the right software so you can effectively flex your hardware. This combination of proper software running on well functioning hardware will make you extremely creative and productive. Software refers to what we put into our bodies (and hence our minds), whereas hardware refers to how our brains are naturally hardwired to perceive and assimilate information. People have control over both of these factors, so creativity levels are actually flexible. The goal is to manipulate our software and hardware to our advantage.

The previous article made it clear that maintaining proper software is not enough to encourage creativity. You must also learn to flex your hardware. Studies of perception, imagery, and memory all provide some evidence for a threshold that mediates unconscious-conscious awareness. Thus, many people do not realize it, but everyone has the hardwiring in their brains to increase their creative potential.

A critical key to unleashing creative potential is fostering transliminality, or the tendency for psychological material to cross (trans) thresholds (limines) into or out of consciousness

From a physiological perspective, transliminality refers to the degree of functional regulation of interaction among frontal cortical loops, temporal-limbic structures, and primary or secondary sensory areas and/or sensory association cortices. In other words, transliminality reflects how much and how well the three structures of your “triune brain” “talk” to one another. And you thought you had one mind? No, you have actually have three!  Figure 1 depicts these three components of your “triune brain.”

Figure 1. Cross-section of the human brain showing the three components of MacLean’s Triune Brain Theory

Independent evidence shows that the human brain is organized into three anatomically separate, evolutionary structures identified by Dr. Paul MacLean that can be thought of as different small minds. Each of these minds has its own sense of time and space, kind of intelligence, subjectivity, function, and chemistry. This hierarchy of mental structures is known as MacLean’s Triune Brain Theory. According to this theory, each of these three evolutionary small minds continually sends messages to the others to form one “triune brain” that operates as a whole:

  • The Reptilian Complex (R-Complex). Evolutionarily the oldest part of the human brain, the R-Complex comprises the basal ganglia, corpus striatum, olfactory striatum, globus pallidus, and satellite collections of gray matter. In animals such as reptiles, the brain stem and cerebellum dominate. For this reason it is commonly referred to as the “reptilian brain.” It is rigid, obsessive, ritualistic, and filled with “ancestral memories. In humans, this part of the brain is programmed for survival through the regulation of behavioral patterns that are mainly innate. This brain controls muscles, balance and autonomic functions, such as breathing and heartbeat.

  • The Limbic System. As therapsids evolved into mammals, neurological modifications created a group of structures referred to by MacLean as the paleomammalian brain, or limbic system. This consists of the amygdala, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, septum, cingulate gyrus, thalamic nuclei and related structures. It corresponds to the brain of most mammals, and especially the early ones. The limbic system is concerned with emotions and instincts, feeding, the flight or fight response, and sexual behavior. Everything in this emotional system is either “agreeable or disagreeable,” since survival depends on avoidance of pain and repetition of pleasure. When this part of the brain is stimulated with a mild electrical current various emotions and anomalous perceptions are produced. The limbic system appears to be the primary seat of emotion, attention, and affective (emotionally-charged) memories. It helps determine valence (whether you feel positively or negatively towards something) and salience (what captures your attention), unpredictability, and creative behavior. It has vast interconnections with the neocortex (see below), so that the brain’s functions are neither purely limbic nor purely cortical but a mixture of both.
  • The Neocortex. Recent mammals exhibit a third layer of neural tissue, the neocortex, which reaches its greatest extension in humans. The higher cognitive functions that distinguish humankind from other animals reside in the cortex. MacLean refers to the neocortex as the mother of invention and the father of abstract thought. In humans, the neocortex takes up two-thirds of the total brain mass. Although all animals also have a neocortex, it is relatively small with few if any folds (indicating surface area, complexity, and development).

It has been previously assumed that the highest level of the brain, the neocortex, dominates the other, lower levels. However, this is not the case. Rather, the physically lower limbic system, which rules emotions, can take over the higher mental functions when required or under certain psychological states Not unlike MacLean’s triune brain model, social scientist Kurt Lewin, in the 1930s, diagrammed the mind as a number of regions acting on one another, separated by divisions of various “thickness.” Others since have spoken of transliminal (“across the threshold”) processes in terms of the regulation or promotion of imagination and creativity. Lewin later went on to found the National Training Laboratory in Bethel, Maine and to become the Father of Group Dynamics – the principles that serve as an effective basis for team building and professional development workshops.

When psychologists speak of a creative mood, what is really meant is that a person’s mental boundaries are in a period of unusual permeability or “thinness.”  What is happening on a neurological level is that the three minds (R-Complex, Limbic System, and Neocortex) are intently communicating among each other. The result is a brain experience called syncretic cognition. This entails a fusion of perceptual qualities in conscious experience. Examples include physiognomic perception, the fusion of perception and feeling; synesthesia, the fusion of sensory modalities; and eidetic imagery, the fusion of imagery and perception.

Much that is written about creativity talks about “getting out of the box” or “thinking outside the box.” These ideas slightly miss the mark. True creativity involves manipulating ourselves in the boxes that are present around us all the time – and that can mean accepting, destroying, jumping out of or jumping deliberately into the boxes or  imagining that no boxes exist. Such conscious and unconscious manipulations are the hallmarks of syncretic cognition. When a person is in this “transliminal zone,” he or she will vividly perceive connections between seemingly unrelated objects, thoughts, feelings, and imaginings.

Through proper stimulation syncretic perceptions or innovative ways of thinking, feeling, and perceiving can be induced in nearly everyone.

Creative Exercises
You promote transliminality – and hence creativity – by first installing the right software (nutrition, sleep, positive mental attitude and education) and then subsequently flexing your hardware. 
People become creative when they let their minds wander and mix ideas freely. Innovation often comes from unexpected juxtapositions. That is not to say that you can be creative by sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike you.

The only way to create is to build your skills and knowledge, dig in and try out new ideas, even if you are confident they will not lead you to the desired outcome.

According to creativity experts, no matter what you do the first step to tapping creativity is to show up. The next step is to put your mind in the proper frame of reference – the state of mind where the cross-talk among your triune brain is at its peak. Below are some simple exercises of the sort that Randall used to jump-start his mind and the creative process. Exercises like these are effective, because they encourage triune brain “cross-talk.”

There are exercises that you can do to get your personal creative juices flowing, such as…  

  • Look at license plates while traveling to and from work. Consider what the plate numbers or letters might mean if the vehicle was owned by quirky characters like Big Bird from the “Sesame Street” TV show or special individuals like the Dali Lama.
  • Notice and choose people randomly and create a story in your mind based on the clothes they are wearing.
  • Choose objects you see in rooms, spaces and places you travel through and create stories about them and their owners.
  • Today, in four different rooms you spend time in, randomly choose objects. These can range from small items on tables or shelves to pieces of furniture or objects attached to walls. Next, create stories based on someone in the very distant future discovering these “outdated” objects. To make the process more challenging, alter the type of story being told – for example, comedy, drama, romance, etc.
  • Imaginatively try to turn noises you hear into musical rhythms, turn colors you see into specific sounds, and turn sounds you hear into particular odors. The idea is to experience perceptions in more than just one of your five senses at a time.

…and then there are exercises you can do to promote brainstorming or group problem solving, such as...

  • Alphabetizing can be used to help teams generate a long list of ideas when their brainstorming has become stale or stalled. Write out the alphabet, list 26 famous people names starting with the letters of the alphabet. Then, virtually ask each of the famous people how they might solve the problem you are working on. Generally this will lead to unique ideas that neither brainstorming nor logic alone can produce.
  • Assimilation is another effective technique for individual and group problem solving. Begin by putting together a miscellaneous collection of photos, photo clippings from magazines, post cards or books of photos. Compile a mix of subjects from natural to manmade images, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, etc. Have group members randomly select 6 to 12 separate photos that simply “speak” to each individual or attract their attention unconsciously.  Deliberately allow their minds to wander so they are not tempted to rationally select photos. They might even use “soft eyes” to choose images by letting their vision blur slightly.

After all of the images are chosen, have members describe the emotions that sparked the photos they selected, discuss how the individual photos describe a problem the group is experiencing now, and then look for solutions for the problem in the photos...perhaps how nature has solved a similar problem or how an artist has solved it in their piece of work.

Putting it All Together
When practiced and honed, the basic methods talked about here are effective for facilitating creativity as well as productivity. Creativity and energy feed on themselves. As you begin to perceive and contemplate information in new ways, the result is even more creative output and energy for accomplishing new tasks, including tackling online dating. Soon, you will find that approaches and solutions to your current problems and challenges can offer insights to seemingly unrelated problems and challenges.

A wonderful example of this comes from the inventor of the “Post It Note” – an individual who is exceptional at syncretic cognition – that fusion of affect, imagery, ideation, and perception. He tells the story of how he needed to walk for exercise in order to improve his general health and to help with physical therapy for a shoulder accident he had a month prior. He also had another errand that day, namely to take his car for some minor, while-you-wait work. On top of these responsibilities, he struggled to find time to objectively review some current problems, challenges and opportunities.

Rather than think of these circumstances as negative and unrelated chores, he saw them as positive opportunities that reinforced one another. He dropped his car off and then walked along the busy road where his dealer was located. It was a place he never walked before. Walking provided the exercise and therapeutic movement for his arm and shoulder, and being in a new environment provided him visual and other sensory clues that he used as symbols and metaphors for his current challenges, as well as the time and inspiration for multi-level tasking that helped keep him more objective. When he returned he wrote up a basic plan for three challenges that had top priority and began implementing his plan with the energy and creative drive that the walk and new scenery provided him.

Of course, this synergy does not always occur. Highly creative individuals are not necessarily consistently creative or can conjure brainstorms at will. Creativity is a process that must be consciously nurtured and honed. It is a skill that with time and effort can become a competency for you.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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