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Don't Believe Everything Your Brain Tells YOU

My in-laws were visiting us recently, and they brought their dog, Charlie. Charlie is an adorable, chocolate, mini-schnauzer. He is about 4 years old, and probably doesn't weigh more than 13 lbs. For such a tiny thing, he has a piercingly loud bark that is impossible to ignore.

Charlie thinks that it is his job to protect my in-laws from ALL danger. He is constantly on alert for anything that could pose a threat. He deems anything new or different as a risk. Charlie believes that any unfamiliar sound, or even a change of clothes, could signal the end of life as we know it.

As I observed Charlie, I realized that he is the perfect embodiment of our primitive brain. This is the oldest part of our brains, and is wired to be constantly on alert for anything that could pose a threat. It is watching out for our good and trying to keep us alive. But, like Charlie, our primitive brains sometimes (often) get it wrong. Our primitive brains believe that emotional discomfort is life-threatening; that trying something new is a recipe for doom; and that hard conversations could signal the end of life as we know it.

Well, if Charlie embodies our primitive brains, then my in-laws could represent our prefrontal cortexes -- the part of our brain that can reason, and plan, and make informed decisions. You see, my in-laws did not run for cover every time Charlie barked his warnings. They did not freeze in terror. They did not start yelling or throwing things at us, or the delivery man, or our neighbors, or at my change of clothes. Rather, they acknowledged him, and reassured him that nothing had gone wrong. Likewise, we have the ability to reason through the danger signals our brain sends to us, and to take reasoned, informed, intentional action.

For many years, I allowed my primitive brain to call the shots. I avoided hard conversations. I people-pleased. I passed up challenges, adventures, and opportunities. All because I believed the well-intentioned, but misinformed, warning “barking” of my brain.

So, today, I would like to thank my prefrontal cortex for helping me to not be ruled by a paranoid, loud, over-protective primitive brain. "Thanks for your warning, Brain. I know you're trying to keep me alive, but I've got this."

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