How To Run Your Brain Better
Your brain may be an amazing thing, able to process millions of bytes of information per second and make lightning-quick decisions, but did you know that your thinking tackle has only evolved by 10 per cent in the past 50,000 years?
Evolutionary psychologists reckon that 90 per cent of your brain is still responding to messages from long ago which are no longer relevant to the species. This may help explain why your brain seems somewhat rebellious. It sometimes thinks things you don’t want it to think and develops unhelpful obsessions, phobias, fears and fantasies.
If only 10 per cent of your brain has evolved to cope with the world we live in today, it’s no wonder that our brains seem to boss us around sometimes. When we weren’t top of the food chain and didn’t live in houses where we could lock the door, our brains’ primary consideration was looking out for dangers in our environment.
The main purpose of human beings 50,000 years ago was not being successful, living harmoniously, challenging ourselves or making money – it was staying alive long enough to reproduce and bring our little ones up safely. So our brains are always on ultra-high alert for threats and sometimes mistakes thing as innocent as spiders, wasps, shadows, your manager, public speaking, gossipy people and the like for terrible dangers that could bring your life to an end.
Your old brain is therefore naturally risk averse; while it would like to go and catch dinner, it tends to stick to tried-and-tested ways of doing so. This is why human beings tend to avoid risks and have a small comfort zone. Security was a main concern for ancient man.
Let’s not diss our cerebellum too much – the brain has started to see the value in things other than survival, sex, and staying part of the tribe. But so many of us are unaware of how much our ancient reactions still dominate us, that it is difficult for us to overcome them.
Start taming your brain
So the first step to taming your brain and helping you to run it better is by acknowledging its false alarms and then saying something soothing to our poor puzzled brain, which wonders why we aren’t running away from that shadow that looks just like a sabre-toothed tiger.
This can be as simple as saying to yourself “Okay I hear all the alarm bells ringing. But we’re okay. It’s just a shadow.” By using the plural “we” you’re acknowledging to your brain that you have your precious human body’s interests at heart, rather than that you are being needlessly reckless and foolhardy. It sounds daft, but it does help.
When you’re doing something unfamiliar, the same rule applies. Your brain hasn’t experienced giving a speech before and you already feel your knees knocking? That’s okay. Say to yourself. “Okay, I notice I’m feeling a bit anxious, but we’re okay.” Once you’ve done a speech, reward yourself with something and next time it’ll be easier for your brain to remember that getting up on stage is not a threat, but may be followed by a treat.
Become more mindful
But sometimes we don’t even know or acknowledge how quickly feelings overtake us. The part of our brain that is out to protect us is much faster than the reasonable part that tells us to slow down and take stock.
A great way of starting to become more aware of how our brain is overruling us and sending messages to the body to react in certain ways is to become more mindful. Stop for a moment and notice how your body feels.
If your stomach feels tight, try and work out what your old brain might be stressing over. If you suffer from insomnia, really stop and look at what thoughts are running through your head. Don’t engage with them – just look at them and see if they are anything to do with your ancient apparatus, or if they really are things you need to be concerned about.
Practising Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful way of learning all about how your brain and body are responding and gives you a chance to correct that old mindset by soothing the brain and not engaging with thoughts that are based on a long-gone environment.
Because we already have 50,000 years worth of old programming in our brains, being truly mindful and thinking, feeling and acting in new ways doesn’t come easy, but every bit you practice will help you to run your brain better.