"The Power Behind Your Thoughts" Series | 1. Where the Pattern Begins
A lot of people forget how simple changing our lives can be; how simple it is to change how we see ourselves and the world. As we have spoken about before, simple does not mean easy. However, I am going to hopefully show you how to take control of your thoughts, harness them and shift your mindset to be one that helps you feel more empowered and ultimately, become more empowered. This will be a short series on how to better understand our thoughts so that we can fully begin to control them, without allowing them to control us.
Let's start at the very beginning...
We have discussed our "three brains" a little bit in this post here , but the gist is that our brain operate in three segments, concentrically. First igniting to reptile brain, then the mammal brain and finally the human brain. Where am I going with this? Well, you see, in order to understand where thoughts stem from you have to understand the raw biological responses they're tied to, the emotions they evoke and the responses you then take. This becomes a cycle, a pattern...and that is crucial to understand how this all works.
Where were we? Oh yes...
...in the beginning
There is what we call a triggering event. A triggering event is ANYTHING that happens around or to you (external stimulus, not internal). This means that a triggering event cannot be a thought or imaginary scenario (internal) stimulus) even though that’s where it may have appeared to start from). External stimulus is any outside influence such a your environment, an event, an interaction, etc. It is also something that interacts with any of your 5 senses (hearing, sight, touch, smell and scent). Why is it important to understand this, because these external stimuli interact with your reptile brain. This portion of your brain controls all of your involuntary bodily functions and reactions necessary for survival and nothing else. Adrenaline, reaction time, heart rate, breathing, etc. are all present in the reptile brain (the base of your brain near your neck).
This interaction between your reptile brain and whatever external stimuli, causes a reaction you may be familiar with: "fight, flight or freeze".
These are our INSTINCTUAL reactions. Do we go on the offense, the defense or do we feel paralyzed by fear or indecision? Our initial reactions are based here.
Once our body responds (we may become hot/sweaty/clammy, racing heart, cold, heavy breathing, etc.), our brain quickly transition into the mammal brain where our emotions are. This is when we start the beginning stages of processing the event by assigning emotions to it. Sometimes, we get stuck here (more often then not) and we react on emotion--often doing, or not going, things we might later wish we did/didn't. This is where our thoughts become muddled and making rational decisions about handling the matter becomes difficult.
We often get stuck in a tornado of these emotions: sadness, anger (that’s a tricky one we will address later as well), fear, embarrassment , pride, elation or joy, and so many others. For most of us, this is where the buck stops. This is where we make our choices, never progressing to the human brain where we experience greater rational thought and judgment skills.
**We interrupt this programming to bring you a fun fact**
Does this sound like a particular person to you? Maybe say...a toddler or a teenager? That's because this is biologically all their brain has to offer them for skills right now--developmentally. This is why they are so highly emotional and lack decision making skills. So when you ask them "what were you thinking?!" the answer is, they weren't. But it's not entirely their fault because they're missing a huge portion of their brain where those skills are stored.
**Back to your regularly scheduled programming**
Can you recall a time in your life where you were stuck in a whirlwind of emotions and reacted during that time? Yeah...me too. Don't worry, I also cringed a little.
But there's great news! As we develop into adults we begin to form the prefrontal cortex or the "human brain", where we can now all be rational humans with rational thoughts right?! WRONG!
You see, our brain is so intelligent that it can often work against us if we let it take the helm and we, as the captains, go on autopilot.
Our brain is a creature of comfort and it's also a problem solver; it needs to make sense of things once that prefrontal cortex is fully accessible (not necessarily fully operational). Notice how certain things that didn't bother you as a child, now bother you the more you try to rationalize them or understand "why"? This is because it recognizes signals from your mammal and reptile brain and strings them together to create patterns tied to similar rationalizations.
This means that when your body experiences similar emotions and responses, it ties it to similar rationalizations whether they're true or not.
Here is the Cliff Notes breakdown of how that cycle goes:
Someone early on in your life put you down and belittled you, you had a biological response (fight, flight or freeze), you had emotions about it (maybe you felt unlovable, rejected, cast out.) and thought "I am unlovable, I am a reject, nobody wants to be my friend/partner, I am worthless, etc.).
Now when you experience these same biological responses in your reptile and mammal brain, your human brain defaults rationalizing it with "I am unlovable, I am not worthy, I am a reject, etc" sometimes even in areas in which it may not even apply! Obviously these thought patterns vary depending on our struggles, but they follow the same pattern.
This is why practicing mindfulness is very beneficial. If you haven't read the post on mindfulness, you can do so here to learn skills on how to interceded with these destructive and negative thoughts.
Mindfulness disrupts this thought pattern, removes you from the past and grounds you in the present. Most of our thoughts are rooted in the past, even when they are anxieties about the future. How is that? Because our brain seeks to avoid discomfort like we talked about above an so it will try to tell you that what has happened before will probably happen again, so its best to avoid it.
Future posts within this series will discuss how to disrupt those negative thoughts and replace them so we can begin newer and more positive thought patterns. You will also learn the important role our thoughts play in our emotional state and behavior. We started to learn this today by briefly discussing the roles of each "brain" but that was scratching the surface.
Stick around to learn more about how you can begin living a more fulfilled life by simply changing your thoughts.
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