I looked it up. There are close to one million “How To” titles on Amazon.com. There’s an instruction manual for everything. When you buy a new electronic device or ready-to-assemble furniture, it’s right there in the box, printed in at least 2 languages with diagrams. Ever marvel at the fact that there are instructions on just about everything? Step A: remove contents from package. Really? I needed THAT much direction?
Wouldn’t it be GREAT to have an detailed instruction manual to ourselves? By and large, people know very little about the functioning of these amazing bodies and even less about the care and feeding of a brain. There’s a lot of focus on nutrition and physical health these days, but that’s about WHAT to do, rather than WHY to do it, and you get 47 different opinions. Eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, eggs are poison, eggs are fine . . . who can keep up? Exercise, eat right, get enough rest – but don’t forget to work a 60 hour week, take the kids to soccerdanceandgirlscouts, and for goodness sake join a book club so your brain doesn’t turn to mush. Do all these things and no doubt you'll be happy and successful just like the model on the billboard.
The first step in our instruction manual might be to realize that our brains were designed an awfully long time ago. Think about civilization, say 1000 years ago. Life was simple. Bob, the Medieval stereotype, got up when the sun came up. When the sun went down, he rested. He worked hard all day long because if he didn’t, he starved or otherwise succumbed. No one had to tell Bob to pull his own weight because everyone knew that they had to work together or they would find themselves in the unenviable predicament of doing without. And I'm not talking about doing without TASTY food and COMFORTABLE shelter, I'm talking about doing without FOOD and SHELTER. Period. Simple: Work hard all summer to stock up enough for the winter, or punch some extra holes in your belt and hope you make it to spring. There was real danger: fire, flood, famine, plague, predators . . . a medieval wonderland. Lions and tigers and bears were what came in and ate the livestock and occasionally a small family member. Bob had 14 kids because only half of them were expected to make it to adulthood to have little Bobs of their own, who would then take care of Bob if by some miracle he lived past 40. Bob accepted things because he had no choice. I don’t recall seeing a “Black Plague” scene as I cruised through “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland. There was family, and community, and life, and death. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t safe. It wasn’t a greeting card, but it was simple.
Think about how much civilization has changed in the last 1000 years. We’ve doubled our life expectancy, had miraculous advances in science and technology, pretty much insulated ourselves against imminent disaster, and then there’s the miracle of Facebook. Things are different. Way different. There’s 24 hour everything, a zillion channels on TV and more to do in a day than can possibly be done. There's traffic and bosses and "protocol." Politics have risen (or rather sunk) to a new level. Cell Phones and I-Pads and Kindle and ... and ... and ...
Here’s the punch line: How much have our brains changed in 1000 years? That’s right, sports fans – not very darn much. Certainly not at the rate that civilization has. So essentially, our poor brains are trying to interpret this 4G world according to rules that were set in a time where perhaps the only G’s you had were goats to pull a cart, and 4G’s would have gotten you pretty far then, too. Our brains are amazing in their ability to process and adapt. But there’s a part of the brain that is still working off of instinct – and those instincts haven’t caught up with the times. Working off our instincts (read: REACTION) in today’s complex world is like taking that 4G goat cart on the interstate.
Much of my work with clients focuses on knowing HOW to work your brain. If we understand the mechanism of the action, we can stop reacting to our reactions, and start responding to things. You can learn to respond from your highly developed, logical and reasonable frontal cortex, and things that formerly were the source of anxiety, angst and consternation are now mild annoyances that barely register on the radar.
Really. You can. J