To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). If we miss out on something pleasant its not an imminent survival issue but if we get attacked/killed its not a great way of ensuring we pass on gene copies. Therefore the brain is biased towards negativity as a survival mechanism and not towards our happiness.
So why is this a problem now?
Because in our modern world this prehistoric brain is responding to life events as if they are in fact mortal dangers and our drive to survive and multiply is killing us. For example
- Not enough likes on social media/relationship conflict/that big chat with your boss about being late again and the brain kicks into fear of social exclusion which back in our prehistoric mammoth times likely meant death . Or at least a nasty clubbing.
- Our drive to forage and not starve means we are constantly striving for the next promotion, the better car,higher family expectations or reaching scholastic ideals.
Our brain is geared to be not only be on guard but also be negatively biased.
Now for the good news.
Neuroscience has progressed so much in the recent decades that we can now take advantage of new knowledge through understanding neuroplasticity. This suggests that it is possible “re-wire” the brain, change unhelpful habits, cultivate positive thoughts and awareness, thereby building up brain muscle in a same way we train our bodies. By learning to reduce “negative commentary”, become less obsessive about “being busy doing stuff” we can in fact have a slice of life not the entire Gateau of Catastrophe.
Mindfulness is the key.
Mindfulness is the current buzz word but its actually been around for a very long time. It is not just about being present (as opposed to just resting or emptying your mind) and it does not require you to bend into a pretzel or become a Buddhist unless you want too.
The following 3 steps are easy to use anywhere, anytime tools. The aim is not a rapid intense halting, rather to gently coax our brain and nervous system into a more chilled out state. Practice makes permanent and remember our brain has been fantastic at being in catastrophe for millions of years so it will take time to rewire!
- When you catch your brain going through endless scenarios take a moment to “switch” the focus to your breathing. Notice if its rapid ,slow or deep. You arent trying to change it just notice
- Take a moment to take 3 measured breaths in the nose for a count of 4 and then out the mouth for a count of 6. If you get distracted dont worry keep coming back to counting in and out until you get to 3 full “in and outs”
- Describe SLOWLY AND IN DETAIL 3 things you can visibly see, 2 things you can hear and one physical sensation ( not an emotion ).
Article posted 20 August 2018