Even though our company slogan is that happiness is a choice, a lot of people tell me they have things in their lives that make them unhappy and they did not choose them. This is true! I have things like that too. While we might not always be able to choose to have things that make us happy, we all have the choice to decide what to do with the things we have.
I think the question of choice is very sensitive. Mainly because lots of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs are formed in the subconscious mind, the part of the brain that is hidden from us and seems like a complete mystery. Our minds are like an iceberg. The conscious mind is just the tiny tip sticking out of the water, while the subconscious is the massive body underneath that is in charge of 90% of our actions. How can we choose to control something we have no access to?
All we need to do is change our perception of our subconscious. It is actually within our control to change. We have a lot of access to our brains. In fact, we access our subconscious every second but we do it so fast and naturally that we do not even notice. Slowing down and noticing what is happening to us, can help greatly make good and happy choices.
In order to notice what is going on with our brains, we need to know how it works and how it is wired. There are 3 parts in the brain:
The Primitive Brain
Also called the Reptilian Brain. This part of the brain is the oldest part and is mainly used for survival. When you think of it, think of a snake, searching for food. It bites when it thinks there is danger.
The Mammalian Brain
Also called the Limbic Brain. This part of the brain was developed a bit later in our evolution and is in charge of our connections, our ability to care, relationships, intimacy, pleasure, spirituality and emotions. When you think of this brain, think of a puppy that goes around looking for adventure and wagging its tail happily as a sign of attention.
The Analyzing Brain
Also called the Neocortex Brain or the Thinking Brain. This part of the brain was developed later in our evolution. This part of the brain is the most complex part and is in charge of abstract thinking, analyzing and making decisions. When you think of this part of the brain, think of a calculator, which always calculates to find the right answer, the right choice or the right way.
Each part of the brain has an essential function and they work together. However, in some situations, like in stress, the primitive brain takes over. At our house, we call it the Lisa Doolittle syndrome (from “My fair lady”) – no matter how much you learn and evolve, when you are stressed, you revert to your primitive instincts.
The Superior Snake Brain
The snake of our primitive brain, uses pain and pleasure to function. It has two main things in its “mind” – food (yummy, yummy!) and the thought of biting at the first sight of danger. If it is full, everything is nice and happy, but when the snake sees a possible threat, it is ready to bite everyone around. In our modern lives, this snake perceives danger in every discomfort. Danger is immediately translated to an increase in heart rate and high alert functions. We find ourselves getting jumpy at shadows.
Understanding the relationship between the three brains is essential to understanding our subconscious. When we are under pressure, the snake brain takes over. After how many stressful situations have you found yourself saying, “I should have done this” or “I should have said that”? But it is too late. In these situations, the reptile brain thinks you are under threat and automatically shuts down the puppy/mammalian brain. Because this is not the time for connections and relationships. It is too dangerous. It also shuts down the calculator/analyzing brain. Because who has time for thinking right now? You are in danger! This means our feelings are out of balance and it is very hard for us to think and make good decision.
Is it the calculator saying, “Well, Lion, let’s talk reason. If you eat me now, you might have indigestion due to my medication overdose. The smartest thing to do would be to eat the monkey and I suggest doing it early in the morning when the monkeys come to drink in the pond”?
Is this the time for the puppy brain to say, “Listen lion, I had a bad day today, I had a fight with my wife this morning. She told me I snored last night and hurt my feeling. I am not in the mood for your attempt to eat me alive. I have a bit of an issue with your morals. Why can’t you be a considerate lion and leave me alone? Can’t you see I am busy feeling sorry for myself now?”?
Probably not that one either.
When you see a lion in the jungle, the snake takes over and shouts either, “Attack” or “Run”. It does it so loudly you do not even have time to turn on the calculator or feel sorry for yourself. Whatever happens, when our stress levels are too high, the other parts of our brains are completely out of the picture. We either bite or run as hard or as far as we can.
Join me next time for the next part of Wired for Happiness, when I explain how the wiring in the brain happens and how wiring in our past, determines how smooth the ride will be today.
This post is part of the series Wired for Happiness:
- Wired for Happiness: The Three Brains
- Wired for Happiness: Wires and Highways
- Wired for Happiness: Changing Wires and Strengthening Highways