Meet Your Brain: Thoughts Dictate Reality
Contributed by Idea Collective Member:
Our brains are fascinating, complex structures.
They keep our lungs pumping, keep our hearts beating, and convert our food into energy, all without our conscious input. Our brains give us the power of imagination, dreams, and creativity.
Our brains can also be real bastards until we learn how to keep them in check.
Though our brains do a ton of great shit for us, its number-one priority, above everything else, is to keep us alive. The best way to do this is to constantly be aware of risks to our health and safety. To do this efficiently, our brains are set up in a certain way: the lower brain, the brainstem, is our “lizard brain.” It’s in charge of physiological functions such as breathing, swallowing, and maintaining blood pressure. The top, or upper brain, is the neocortex. It makes up 80 percent of the brain and is responsible for reasoning, emotion, and processing vision.
The middle brain is the limbic system, responsible for scanning our environment for threats. The limbic system is touchy. Its responsibility is to be alert for danger and keep us safe. With such a weighty responsibility, the limbic system can be too overzealous and perceive danger where there isn’t any. This is the cause of overthinking and anxiety. It’s our fight, flight, or freeze instinct overreacting.
To our brains, whatever we’re perceiving or thinking…is what’s really happening. Our brains aren’t capable of distinguishing fact from fiction. It’s why horror movies have jump scares. It’s why the news cycle is so driven by negativity: frightening news triggers our animal instincts of fight, flight, or freeze. We hear bad news and our brains continue to scan for it (dwelling on it) to keep us “safe.”
What you put into your mind is what you get back out
Heat-of-the-moment thoughts aren’t necessarily our best or most useful. They’re often an underdeveloped product of the stress of survival mode – reactionary, Band-Aid fixes. So how do we overcome our thoughts and retrain our brains to accentuate the positive?
By responding instead. This is different from reacting as it adds the element of time. In 2014, I had the opportunity to attend the Master Resiliency Training (MRT) course. The course, developed by the United States Army in conjunction with the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, was designed with two goals in mind: to promote mental resilience in Soldiers and to encourage their odds of effective decision-making (and thus, survival) in high-stress situations. The MRT course trains six core competencies to build mental endurance:
Each competency asks students to separate themselves from their knee-jerk reactions to events and situations occurring around them. They ask students to slow down and notice their own thought patterns. When you’re responding instead of reacting, you choose your words and actions with care.
Responding considers circumstances, surroundings, and perhaps most importantly, how we want to feel going through and exiting a situation. It sends the information to the logical part of the brain. When we choose to respond, we give ourselves more outcome options. Instead of fight, flight, or freeze, we get Dr. Bill Crawford (Life from the Top of the Mind)’s 3 Cs:
When someone cuts you off in traffic, a reaction might be to get agitated, swear loudly, and flip your middle finger. Imagine the rest of your drive home after swearing and getting agitated and flipping the bird. Is it a relaxed, peaceful drive? Or do the emotions that accompanied your actions in the moment persist? A response is to breathe deeply, say a mental thank-you that no traffic accident occurred, and choose to set aside the incident and continue with your day.
When you gain control of the language your brain uses, you change the story you’re telling yourself. Thus, our thoughts dictate our reality. When our words are weak, self-pitying, lazy, angry, etc., our brain believes those states to be our reality. You decide whether your day is stressful or fulfilling, boring or challenging.
When your internal language is strong, confident, peaceful, and grounded, you’re less susceptible to damaging, inefficient, even manipulative external influences. When you’re less beholden to these influences, you can begin to develop a clearer picture of what your life’s goals are and live your desired reality.
Green Up Solutions
A Veteran of the U.S. Army, Andy sets the bar for leadership, monitors and improves operations, and provides the blueprint for the overall direction of Green Up Solutions, LLC. The vision and work ethic exemplified by the Cardinal Stritch graduate gives Green Up Solutions and its related endeavors a competitive edge and a defined path to success and sustainability.