Freedom of choice and zero certainty
Imagine we were born in the seventeenth century. Not so long ago. From an early age our future lives were clearly laid out before us: marriage to a village boy or girl in the marriage of families, engaging in our father’s occupation as men, or if we were women – pregnancies and raising children (those who survived). We would get up at sunrise and go to sleep under cover of darkness. Living among a relatively small, very conservative community. Very little freedom of choice, very much certainty.
But we were born in the twentieth (or twenty-first) century and to our delight we chose what to study and what to engage in. We also chose the couple from quite a few random and selected encounters, or by scrolling left and right, from infinite potential on the e-commerce sites and shopping cart of the loves. We chose if and when to bring children and also some (and they survived, tap tap tap).
We understand that even today the moon will sit and become the eighth continent. That cars will drive themselves, that robots will live among us (they already are) and that our future home will be printed on a 3D printer.
But most of the time we have no idea. We have no idea where we’ll be working in a decade, we do not know if our children will hold a driver’s license. We take into account that in their time they may no longer study at the university. We know we do not know what they will do. To be honest, even the gender experience of our babies we can not yet decide. Everything everything changes. At an exponential rate.
The modern world has made a trade off. He dropped the ground below values like certainty and security and raised the levels of freedom and choice. In the modern world the only constant is change. Our brain is the only thing that has not changed. Our evolution is slow, and we are very similar to our great-grandparents from previous centuries and even to our ancestors from thousands of years ago. Our brain is not a big fan of change, it favors stability and the ability to predict. Where does that leave us?
The heavy price that perfectionists pay
Amygdala vs Anterior cortex. An electrifying story
The amygdala is the primitive, ancient part of the brain that is common to us and other developed animals. Thanks to her we survived. When the amygdala receives a warning of danger (from the thalamus responsible for gathering sensory information), it produces stress in the body, thus synchronizing the physical state with the chosen survival strategy. The amygdala has three survival strategies for quick selection: escape, fight, freeze.
Suppose you encounter a tiger, your amygdala receives a danger signal and acts in your favor without delay or thought. It will distract from your immediate escape, and it will secrete adrenaline, muscle glucose, increase blood pressure and heart rate and flatten your breathing. At the same time, it slows down other systems that are considered privileged in time of war. There is no time for luxury. Then we will return to a state of relaxation, now we need to make sure that the body survives.
So you ran for twenty minutes, you ran for half an hour. Your strongest, fastest. And you did it – you came to a safe place. relief! You survived, you can breathe back. Regulate pulse, blood pressure, return to digest at ease. Tachles, genius no? But what happens if you run away from a tiger for thirty years?
But why did we run away for thirty years, why did we run away at all? There are no tigers here!
So it is, that modern man, we, encounter more tigers than those met by our ancestors. In terms of our brain – if we do not have the ability to predict and recognize the next step – we are in danger. And every danger is a tiger. The phone call from the kindergarten teacher, the angry boss, the tasks that pile up and fill the time tank, the minus in the bank, the waiting for the phone call from the last date.
Professor Robert Spolsky, a researcher in brain and behavioral evolution at Stanford University and author of The Why Zebras Have No Ulcers, explains that frequent encounters with strangers are also a source of increased stress. Whereas in the past we lived in communities of 150 items at most, we belonged to the tribe and knew everyone in it, today we live in huge cities and every day encounter countless strangers, enemies or friends. Behind the scenes, our brains are ready for a quick judgment: What is the motivation of the stranger in front of me? Come in peace or get up to kill?
In other words, our system is constantly alert to dangers, it is looking for them, it is surveying the area to make sure it is clean, that there is no breach in the fences now, so that we can exist later.
How do you turn off the shelter of stress and turn on the lights of creativity and imagination?
The tigers that our amygdala recognizes are fiction, deception, ancient wiring, they are not really tigers. Most of the time our existence is not really in danger. Even if we do not get the job done, even if the date does not call, even if they write a talkback sucks – we are still here to stay! One must not run away nor fight and not even freeze and avoid.
In a world where the only constant is change, there is another constant that we are commanded to recognize – me. Who we are? What are our thinking patterns? What is wired with us as a danger? What do we want? Dreaming? What intrigues us? What makes us really good?
Affirmative action to the brain
Our sense of happiness is affected by 50 percent of our genetics (yes, some people are born with a higher potential to feel satisfied than others). The circumstances of our lives, the cards dealt to us (our social or economic status, the color of our skin, our state of health, etc.) affect our sense of happiness by only ten percent. And forty per cent, are attributed to our approach. Think about it, forty percent (!!) in our control.
Do not change access during the day. And there is no magic. Just like not improving physical fitness on a one-time visit to the gym. But you can start with three simple exercises, which turn off the amygdala and turn on the prefrontal cortex. Like a mental gym.
As much as we are willing to observe the good and benevolent moments that have happened to us during the day – we rewire our minds, ask it to expand a prism of gaze, and glean sweet cherries. A study that examined people in a depressed state, divided them into two groups. One, went through an individual psychological process, while the other group was asked to practice gratitude every day. After several weeks, it was found that participants in the second group showed a significant improvement over their counterparts from the first group.
All it takes is to write down every night (by staining ink in a notebook or typing on your cell phone) three things that happened to you today that were good for you, that are worth being proud of. Small, concrete things: an exciting song you heard on the radio, a good conversation with a friend, a hug from the child, a task you managed to complete. Be sure to write (actual documentation effective from thinking it through in your head), pay attention, mark concrete things that happened today (and not general thanks for the children’s health or for the beating heart, atonement for it).
No wonder the West imported this ancient technique from the Eastern worlds. A fast-paced world demands from us slowing down tools. Thousands of studies have been collected in recent years, and have found a significant association between meditation practice and stress reduction, increased focus, creativity and productivity, and improved health metrics. The definition of John Cabette Zinn, a professor of medicine and one who coined the language of attention (mindfulness) defines meditation in a simple and concise formula: non-judgmental attention to what is happening now.
In order to stop the disharmonious cacophony that the amygdala establishes with all the horror scenarios it presents, we are required to stop and observe – what is really happening now? We use an anchor, one that is always with us like a shadow – the breath. When we focus on breathing, thoughts float and we have the opportunity to recognize them, to pay attention to them. When we pay attention to our thoughts, a distance is created between us and our thoughts. This gap produces change over time: I am not my thoughts.
3. Imagination games
Our ability to imagine is inherent in us. When we were toddlers, we played imaginative games, and present our hidden desires. Over time, this skill eroded with the external requirement to stop daydreaming, to ground, not to fantasize. We imagine automatically. And if the amygdala takes command – we will imagine what we will send, what we do not want to happen, what is scary, dangerous, that may excite us. When we imagine an optimal reality of what we want to happen in detail – we magnetize its fulfillment to ourselves.
Once my own amygdala in me, I was pessimistic, imagining the worst of all, presenting it and believing that this was how I was kept from it. In practice, I distanced myself from a pleasant, positive, quiet life experience. Today, there are times when stress is overwhelming, but most of the time I am optimistic. My attitude has changed. Every evening I write gratitude, when I recognize restlessness, fear, stress, I stop the inner indulgence and breathe. Once in a while I imagine, sketch a vision, invite into my life the objects of desire. I have adopted into my life a sober definition of optimism. I do not believe that everything that will happen to me will be for the good, positive and happy, but no matter what the future holds for me – I have the resilience and tools to deal with it.
Dana Regev explores happiness and genius On the website, on YouTube, in the podcast and in the “Ma’ale Batov” community On Facebook