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What are RCs & why do I need them anyway?

If joy is the feeling that we get when someone is glad to be with us, How come so many of us don’t feel joy in situations with people who supposedly love us?

When we learn all about this “joy” stuff, why do some of us start looking around and wondering where all the people are that can be glad to be with us so we can feel joy.

Many of us assume that no one is ever glad to be with us and that must be the reason why we don’t feel joy.

But I think we might need to consider turning that finger and pointing it the other direction.

Instead of looking at what everyone around us is “not doing”…. Let’s look at what our brain might be doing to BLOCK our ability to receive joy from those around us!

(* if you’re into all the “science” behind this discussion I highly recommend getting Outsmarting Yourself by Dr.Karl Lehman)


Without getting super technical here, I’m going to tell you about a place in your brain that can be in 3 different “positions”. It can be, On, Off, or Dim. Dr. Karl Lehman, Jim Wilder, Ed Khouri and the rest of the Life Model Works authors refer to these as Relational Circuits (RCs for short). These Relational Circuits are highly important for us to use in every relationship we have.

Here are just a few things that your brain can do when these RCs are ON.

  • Use all your senses

  • Be flexible (instead of rigid) in your thinking

  • Be self-reflective

  • Attune

  • Use willpower

  • Be open and interested in what others think, feel and say

  • Regulate emotions

  • Work with others to reach understanding

  • Focus & shift attention

Let’s stop here for a moment and consider life without the ability to do some of these things. Not a fun picture is it? Or maybe if yours are set to “dim” each of those things would feel much more difficult than they should. Now here are a few more things your RCs are responsible for.


  • Distinguish between current and past events

  • Allow for creative solutions to be found

  • Help you to join with others to form groups

  • Explore new solutions

  • Process new data or input from others

  • Respond instead of react

  • Control cravings

  • Resolve conflicts

  • Access other brain and physical resources

  • Set goals, remember goals, and enjoy reaching them

Are you starting to see why having your RCs on might be important? Here are some more reasons you might want to keep your RCs on.

They are where your brain can:

  • Develop a consistent identity

  • Control or resolve fears

  • Maintain & nurture consistent supportive, relationships

  • Be resilient

  • Be mindful

  • Recognize what others are feeling & saying & why that might be important

  • Consider that we might be wrong about something

  • Access relational memories

  • Receive from others

Okay, so there’s more than a “few” things that the RCs in our brain are responsible for controlling. Doesn’t this list have a few things on it that you’d like to be able to do?

Let’s take a closer look at that last one. “Receive from others”.

If our RCs are dim, or OFF, then our ability to receive from others is also turned off or dimmed.

I used to suffer from severe social anxiety. When invited to go to a party or other


social gathering with my husband I would begin to panic internally. At times like this, my RCs didn’t just “dim”, they would shut off completely. I could not control my fears about what others might think if they saw me, I could not do anything on that list above. But most importantly, when my husband would come into the closet where I was frantically trying on every piece of clothing I owned (and feeling like everything in the closet was just as bad as the previous thing I tried on), I could not receive his love, his support, his concern, or register the fact that he was glad to be with me.

I would send him away to go the party without me.

Then I would feel depressed because I was sure that I had no one in my life that cared about me.

I realize this is an extreme example, but it paints a clear picture of how life without my RCs on PREVENTED me from getting the joy my brain needed.

Now, with my RCs on, if I get invited to a party and head into the closet to pick out my clothes, when my husband comes to check on me, I can see the smile in his eyes when he looks at me. I can feel his tender concern for my unease about the social gathering. I can be strengthened by the way that he loves me and knows me. I can do ALL the other things on that list above.

Without your RCs on, your ability to receive joy from others is turned off. We have learned a great deal about how our brain needs joy to thrive. Without joy, your brain will begin to look for substitutes that might “seem” to fix things temporarily, but as we all know now…. Those substitutes don’t last long and they tend to hurt us in the long run.

This is why for me, keeping my RCs on is a priority. I want to be able to do all the things in that list above.

Now, the tricky part is that when our RCs are off, we really don’t care to recognize that they are off. We typically become more rigid in our thinking and fight hard against anyone telling us we might need to change our current path. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster with a broken section ahead but everything within us tells us that the gap up ahead is just part of the ride.

So, as a way of arming myself with tools for keeping my RCs on, I’ve come to recognize that certain things turn them off pretty quickly. Things like being overwhelmed with too much to do, drinking alcohol*, unresolved emotional trauma, a critical spirit, and missing my “quiet time” with the Lord too many days in a row.

I’ve also learned to start checking myself throughout the day to see whether or not my RCs are on using the RC checklist from Belonging. (which is a shorter, modified version of what Karl Lehman wrote about in his book)

I would love for you to learn this skill too. Here’s a Free Gift I made just for you! Just right click and save this image to your computer. Print it out and stick it at your desk to help you remember to check your RCs! IF you can answer yes to one or more of these, it’s a good sign that your RCs might be dim or off.


When you start with making sure your RCs are on you can position yourself to receive joy when you experience it! Don’t let some blown circuits keep you from what you need!

Here at The Open Bench we structure our private and life coaching services around training that will ensure your RCs are fully in the ON position so you can have a more joyful life. We can teach you ways to restore your RCs when they are off and practice with you so that it becomes natural over time.


Outsmarting Yourself, Dr. Karl Lehman

Connexus: Restarting, Ed Khouri

Connexus: Belonging, Ed Khouri

Joy Starts Here, Jim Wilder

photos from

*Will edit to post a link to the source that proves that drinking alcohol reduces activity in this area of the brain later! I can attest to this personally but I think the original data comes from Dr. Daniel Amen's brain scans.

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