Though I did not become a therapist, the concepts of psychology and neurobiology have always fascinated me. I do well when I understand how things work, and our mind patterns are no exception. I have recently been listening to several podcasts on this topic, and it has revolutionized the way I see myself, those around me, and humanity as a whole. Knowledge is power in so many ways, and I truly believe that understanding why we do what we do can allow us to break old habits, shed layers that are holding us back, and evolve into the humans we were meant to become.
The brain related concept that I wanted to discuss today is the difference between the primitive brain and the prefrontal cortex, and how these contribute to the goals that we set in our lives. Our primitive brain is our caveman brain--the one that tells us to take our hand away from the hot stove, to jump out of the way of a moving car, or to eat that extra piece of cake to really feel full. Its focus is survival and wants instant gratification and pleasure all of the time. Our prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is the part of our brain that makes informed decisions ahead of time, thinks logically and with purpose, and has intuitive, developed patterns of thought. We need both of these to both survive and thrive as people in modern life, and knowing how to harness them to our benefit is where the real magic comes in.
Most of us live primarily out of our primitive brain--we're hungry, we eat some cookies. We're stressed? We watch TV or have a few drinks. We're feeling lazy? We'll get to that project tomorrow. When we are led by our primitive brains, we do whatever we can to be comfortable. While comfortable can be nice, it most definitely does not get us where we need to go if we're looking to up our game and evolve. Change is supposed to be challenging, and our primitive brains fight this as much as humanly possible, telling us that we don't REALLY need to, because look how much more relaxing it is over here in the land of all that is already known!
This happens every single day with goal setting for people all over the world, and it is why so many big hopes and dreams stay hidden away. When we set giant, magnificent goals for ourselves with our lovely prefrontal cortex, our primitive brain immediately goes into panic mode. It thinks up all of the reasons why we will fail, how this could hurt us, and why it is just a bad idea. This is the nature of the primitive brain--it is there to protect us so that we know to run when a tiger is chasing us, but here's the thing--we're not being chased by a tiger. We're not in a life or death situation. We are simply deciding to make a change in our lives and do things differently.
So now that we have this information, what do we do with it? We observe our brains. I do this every morning when I wake up and write my goals down. That fluttery feeling in my stomach happens and my mind starts to say, "Really? You? You're going to do this? Do you REALLY need to though? Things are just fine the way they are. You probably won't even succeed anyway so what's the point?" So I sit there and watch my primitive brain do its thing and say its piece, and then I firmly and politely tell it that its presence here is no longer necessary. And then I tap into the deep excitement, planning, and confidence that is all stored right nearby in the prefrontal and continue to take those steps toward the goals on that piece of paper. And I repeat this process over and over again, and over time the primitive brain gets tired of trying and speaks a little quieter.
Every human on this planet has endless potential to make their lives anything that they want and create magic. We just need to get out of our own way. Will it be comfortable? Hell no. But will it be worth it? Absolutely. Because nothing feels better than committing to yourself and following through, thereby proving to yourself that you are in fact capable of anything.