No, I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist. So, what makes me qualified from commenting on how our brain motivates human behavior? Even though I’ve been a medical doctor for more than twenty five years, still doesn’t make me more qualified than you, or a psychologist, to do the same. Simply experience life, be open-minded, and look into yourselves and you are just as qualified. After all, those experts, research has just shown, have produced major psychological studies, about how we are supposed to react, that have been either debunked or not replicable in over 60% of the cases! (Google it, it’s true). Although I point these questions at you and direct this blog to you, everything I write comes directly from looking into myself and from my personal and professional experiences. So, though what I write may not seem as though it is about me, it is!
But in this short blog, I am going to expose to you what I have found as the three characteristics of our brain that are behind every single self-sabotaging thought you have ever had, behind every single financial struggle you may face, behind every single relationship challenge you may have, and yes, perhaps most if not all health issues you face. So fasten your seat belts, because here we go!
As humans we differ from animals in the fact that we possess a consciousness—our higher mind—which I believe to be our connection with some supernatural entity, which I (and others) call God. It is my belief (and science seems to bear this out) that this mind came into existence somewhere from six to ten thousand years ago. However, that is not the part that controls most human behavior and thought. What does, is the primitive part of our brain, which has evolved over the past tens of thousands of years. This primitive part, I call the automatic brain (AB for short), and some have called the Devil. The AB is part reptilian, is completely reactive, and animalistic. The only feature that separates us from the animals is that our frontal cortex is more highly evolved and therefore this primitive brain is capable of thought. But thought or no thought, it operates the same way as animals—to do whatever it takes, but any means necessary to fight or flee what it processes as danger, threat, or vulnerability.
And here is where the three characteristics come in. Where and when do we humans learn about danger? Are we a blank slate at birth? We are not a blank slate, but our innate danger “folders” are. And these three folders are where you will find everything you need to know about all that you dislike about yourself and the world.
The three danger folders are: The One-Up, Leaving Comfort Zone, and Losing Love (more technically, losing security).
1. The One-Up Folder
We learn at an early age who, what, or where might cause us danger. Animals and smaller creatures, have the same innate folder. Do you think a spider actually knows that you can crush it? What it does “know” is that the vibration it feels when you hit up against where it has spun its web means that you are “one-up” from it and it flees or fights (bites you) if cornered. Perhaps as a child stored deep in your folder, you learned that people richer than you pose a threat to you. You will fight and flee these people as adults. This AB has us scanning the landscape 24/7 for those people, places, or things to which we may be one-up or are one-up to us, thus representing potential danger. Look at every single conflict on earth and see if you can’t find one that does not stem from humans fighting and fleeing the danger of being “one-upped”.
2. Leaving the Comfort Zone
It seems obvious that this could be a danger. But what you may not realize is that comfort zones don’t always mean a place that is right and safe for us. Since the AB doesn’t think (don’t confuse that with the generation of thoughts), if it detects something regular, usual, or expected it will keep you there because this is a hard-wired instinct, shared by our fellow animals. You may have grown up in a household where fighting, substance abuse, perhaps even physical, emotional, or verbal abuse were common. Your AB will store this in your folder so that when you venture out as an adult you may find yourself fighting and fleeing the opposite of these things because that is what you are used to—your norm, your expected, your “comfort” zone. And you wonder why you keep falling into dysfunctional relationships? For most, being comfortably uncomfortable is less dangerous than the unknown, essentially what lies outside this zone.
3. Losing Love
While in medical school, I learned of a famous experiment (and yes, one that has been replicated) where a baby monkey was taken away from its mother. The baby was given all the food it needed, yet it lost weight, did not thrive, and in some cases withered away close to death. The AB has evolved to innately detect the threat of losing love as a potential danger, threat, or situation of great vulnerability. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am as romantic as the next guy. However, this primitive instinct is really not about true love, but security. In my estimation, our dogs don’t really love us as much as they feel secure around us. Therefore, this AB, primitive folder is more about the threat of losing security and we will fight and flee anything that threatens that. Flashback to your childhood. What if your family was one where weight issues were always a challenge? I mean, everyone was overweight. You might say it is in your genes and that is why you are overweight. But what if I were to say that you have been fighting and fleeing a more fit body, because one, if you were different from your family you would risk losing their love; or two, being overweight was your families comfort zone and is now yours.
I would encourage you to first look at your own life and then the circumstances in the world and see if you can place any challenge in one of these folders. I would be surprised if you couldn’t find one that didn’t match. Some of you may think, ‘this supports what I have thought about everyone else and reaffirms how messed up everyone is’. Let me caution you to understand that ALL of us possess this brain (as well as our higher, Divine, mind). There are times where we indeed must protect ourselves from the ABs of others, but that is a (political) discussion for another time and place.
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