Your amygdala brain

Ever heard of your amygdala brain? Come on – geek out with me for a minute.
It is an almond shaped mass at the top of the brain stem, often referred to as our primitive or lizard brain. It has a 3-part mission – to avoid pain, seek pleasure and operate using the least amount of energy. For our caveman ancestors, avoiding pain meant don’t get eaten by the saber tooth tigers; seeking pleasure meant food to eat, fire for warmth, and a nice soft rock to sleep on; and conserving energy meant no excess calorie burning allowed, because who knew what tomorrow would bring. Kudos to the amygdala brain – the human species would have never survived without it. Yet now, when most of us gratefully don’t have to worry about immediate danger, our amygdala brains are still responsible for the vast majority of our thoughts and still want us to see everything as a threat.
Your brain also desires efficiency. When we are in a learning phase, we create and strengthen neural pathways each time an action or thought is repeated. It is the whole practice makes perfect idea but what happens when your amygdala is the creator of those learned behaviors?
Perhaps when you were young, you believed food was a necessary part of both consolation and celebration. Maybe you chose to believe someone in grade school who said you sucked at math. When your amygdala brings thoughts like those into the learning process, practice leads to anything but perfection.
Your primitive brain loves drama. It wants to control you with fear, leave you at the mercy of your urges and always, always, always wants you with your feet up on the couch. The times when you feel like you are in a spin, it is your amygdala doing the happy dance.
We all live at the effect of our primitive brains, but intervention cannot begin until we can recognize that there is a monkey driving the bus. While the goal is not to reach a place where that monkey sits quietly, if you are looking for it, you will be able to notice when your primitive brain has taken over.
We all have habitual responses or reflex reactions that go against what we would otherwise choose. Can you identify yours? Get curious about why you do what you do.
It all begins with awareness.


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