If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s happening in my brain when I draw?”

Then this blog is for you…

This topic was inspired by Glen Stevens – a business leader that Angie met while attending a Made Simple Summit – and he’s shared his incredible insight with us this week to help us understand what’s happening in your brain when you draw. Plus, how to use drawing to strengthen your mental fitness and lead with positivity in your life!

Glen Stevens is the Mental Fitness Guy from Fargo, North Dakota. He’s a former pastor turned spiritual entrepreneur – dedicated to helping business leaders close the gap between their business intelligence and their mental fitness in order to reach their goals.

While he’s not a neuroscientist or clinical psychologist, he’s got a lot of great training from Positive Intelligence Inc, where he attended intensive training over the course of a year and a half to become a mental fitness coach. He also loves to learn – so he’s pulled his own research from training and his other experiences to better understand the nature of the brain, and how to think more positively by becoming mentally fit.

So what exactly is mental fitness? 

It’s the practice of strengthening your mind (just like you would workout your muscles at the gym).

Mental fitness is a combination of neuroscience, positive psychology, cognitive behavioral psychology, and performance science.

Those 4 disciplines have led us to understand that we all have 3 core “mental muscles” (more on those in a second).

Staying mentally fit means learning how to turn your brain towards positivity, and how to cut out any tendencies you might have to think negatively!

In other words, it’s all about neuroplasticity.

Now that might seem like a big, confusing word. But to put it simply….

The thoughts in your mind are the result of your neurons traveling across your synapses to form a pathway in your brain.

At any given point, your neurons can fire in any direction to reach different areas of your brain where you store different emotions.

Over time, your neurons develop pathways they more consistently take in your brain.

Think of your neural pathways like a highway…

First, it’s like a gravel road. Your neurons are starting to create a faint trail where they typically travel.

Then, your pathway becomes more like pavement. Your neurons are more consistently taking this same path.

And finally, it becomes a super highway that your neurons are using all the time.

So… If you:

  • Have a tendency to be critical of yourself

  • Feel frustrated by small things

  • Doubt your abilities

  • Or are quick to anger…

Your neurons have most likely formed a strong pathway to where negativity lives in your brain, and they’re taking that pathway consistently when challenges arise.

Now here’s the cool part.

Glen shares that you can rewire your brain and create NEW neural pathways.

There are different techniques you can use to create new pathways so your neurons reach the parts of your brain where your positive thoughts live instead.

When you work towards strengthening your mind, you create these stronger pathways to more positive states of mind such as joy and happiness, where you can thrive in life and in your interactions with others.

Aaaaaand you might have guessed it….. Drawing plays a role. 😉

So let’s go over those 3 core Mental Muscles, and you’ll begin to understand what’s happening in your brain when you draw, and how it creates more positive pathways!

1. The Saboteur Interceptor Muscle

Your brain’s main goal is to keep you alive. Any negative emotions that we experience are meant to alert us of danger. They’re helpful thoughts for survival when they are present for just a few seconds.

The problem becomes when we LIVE there.

These negative thoughts are called your Saboteurs. They are centralized in the brain stem region and parts of the left hemisphere in your brain. They are the negative, critical self-talk that generates negative emotions. They’re what plagues you when you’re experiencing guilt, anger, anxiety, stress, shame, frustration….

So if you’re feeling one of those, you’ve been hijacked by your Saboteurs.

Your Saboteurs are taking the neural pathways to where negativity lives. So what you want to do is start starving those pathways, and instead reinforce the pathways that lead to the parts of our brain where positivity lives.

To foster the positive pathways, strengthen your Interceptor Muscle by frequently asking yourself, “At this moment, am I feeling any negative emotions?”


 Take regular breaks during your day and do a body scan check. Scan your body to see if you’re holding any stress and tension anywhere.

 At this moment, are you feeling any negative emotions? Just by stopping to ask the question, you will be able to better identify if you’ve been hijacked by a Saboteur.

 Calling it out as, “I have a lot of tension in my neck,” or “I have a lot of anxiety about this meeting coming up,” will decrease the Saboteur’s hold on you.

2. The Self Command Muscle

This is the muscle you’ll use once you’ve labeled your Saboteur using your Interceptor muscle.

The Self Command Muscle is going to help you calm down and activate the parts of your brain where you can experience the positives.

You can accomplish this from doing a “pause – reset” by focusing on your senses, such as sight, sound, hearing, smell, touch, and even your breath.

This is where the Simple Daily Drawing community really lives 🙂

When you’re drawing, you are using those senses.

You are focusing visually, and you are physically drawing with tactile senses (feeling the pressure of your pen, the feel of the paper, etc).

As long as you are not getting analytical with yourself about what you’re producing (questioning whether it’s “good” art or not), and continue to draw for the joy of drawing, you’re strengthening your Self Command Muscle.

All of that focus helps calm the brain where your Saboteurs are living – and warms up the part of your brain where creativity, joy, empathy, compassion, purpose, and meaning live.

The simple fact of sitting down and drawing is a way to build your Self Command Muscle.

Everyone in the Simple Daily Drawing community is doing that every single day.


During your breaks throughout the day, consider doing a “focal point focus” as well.

Focus on one point in your room, or close your eyes and focus on your breath. That will move you to the regions of your brain where the good stuff happens – parts of your right hemisphere and central prefrontal cortex.

3. The Sage Muscle

Your Sage Muscle is what will reinforce your positive pathways. It helps build new neural pathways to the parts of your brain where all the good things happen.

Any time you find yourself in a situation that you’re labeling as “bad” or “neutral” – it’s time to pull out your Sage Perspective. This simply means being able to identify how the circumstance you’re perceiving as negative can be turned into a positive.

In other words, it’s putting the control back in your hands whenever you find yourself in a situation you’re unhappy about.

You have the choice to think on how you can make that circumstance better.

When you consistently practice that mindset – when you live in that frame of mind – you can’t fail because you’re able to turn every failure into something good.

Glen says the way Simple Daily Drawing was born out of the Covid pandemic is the perfect example of The Sage Muscle at work.

He says, “Simple Daily Drawing started based on the fact that drawing was a happy place for Angie’s family. She used her Sage Muscle to ask herself how she could turn the crappy situation of the pandemic, and the negative impact it was having on her family, into something better. And she leaned into drawing, which also helps build the Self Command Muscle.”


If something frustrating happens during your day, or anything you don’t like, learn to stop and ask yourself, “How can I turn this situation into a gift or opportunity?”

 Just asking yourself the question makes you use the part of your brain where the positive emotions exist.

Glen has seen the power of art in his own practice as well… Like for one participant of a Saboteur Workshop he was running.

As part of this Saboteur Workshop, Glen has the participants create a Saboteur “Wanted” Poster based off of which Saboteur they are going to tackle.

There is a free, online resource from Positive Intelligence, Inc where you can take a saboteur assessment and it will tell you what your top Saboteurs are. Everyone has what’s called the “Judge” Saboteur – where we judge ourselves and others.

Participants were given 10 minutes to work on filling out their “Wanted” posters, and they didn’t have to draw an image for it if they didn’t want to… But a particular participant with the “Victim” Saboteur did draw. He drew the grim reaper wearing a smiley button with a line through it.

In the feedback form he provided about creating the “Wanted” poster, he said, “creating the poster, and especially the drawing, provided me with a lot of calm and peace.”

Lastly, Glen notes a few other important aspects of Simple Daily Drawing when it comes to strengthening your 3 core Mental Muscles…

He says:

“Outlawing negative critical comments in the Facebook community allows for safety and vulnerability. There’s no room for Saboteurs. The guidelines basically say, ‘Saboteurs are not welcome here,’ and that gives people permission to use their Self Command muscle and really enjoy the drawing – without getting in their head and becoming critical.”

“When Simple Daily Drawing posts the prompt for the day, and the community starts visualizing a starting point image – it takes you into the areas of the brain where good stuff happens. When you do that, you reinforce those neural pathways and create new ones. In fact, if you were to do a sensory perceptive focal exercise like that for just 10 seconds – and your brain was hooked up to a functional MRI machine – there would already show a slight difference in your brain. Regions of the left hemisphere and brain stem would calm down (where the Saboteur is) and regions of the right hemisphere (where your Sage Muscle is) lights up. When you draw, you’re lighting up those good parts of your brain to help you feel positive emotions.”

So there you have it!

That’s what’s happening in your brain when you draw…

Incredible, new neural pathways are being created.

The positive parts of your brain are being activated.

And you become happier!

We knew it 😉

Want to learn more from Glen on what’s happening in the brain when you draw?

Click here to watch Glen’s video on “What happens in my brain when I draw”

Want to learn more about Mental Fitness?

Click here to visit The Mental Fitness Guy website.