The Story of your Past

As humans, we like to tell the story about our past. It can be useful when trying to explain to the other humans and to ourselves just why we are the way we are.

We point to our past experiences as the basis for our reasoning.

We are the way we are because of what we observed, what we were directly taught and most importantly how we interpreted it. There were a multitude of variables that could not be predicted or controlled but it was up to our very young brains to make sense of it.

In case your are wondering or you care, this is the nurture side of the nurture/nature controversy.

Back in the caveman days, there were fewer variables and life was likely simpler. Good v bad, warm v cold, scary v safe, etc.

Our current world is far from simple. Yet the crazy part is that while times have changed, 12-year-olds today are still dealing with the same brain that their cave-child ancestor dealt with.

The amygdala brain, aka the lizard brain develops first and is the primary part of the brain in use when we are young. It is the instinctual center that houses the fight or flight responses, among others. Its primary job is survival and while it is a different job now compared to how life was back then, it operates in much the same way: Avoid pain, seek pleasure and expend minimal energy.

The pre-frontal cortex region of our brain is what truly separates us from other mammals. It is often referred to as the executive brain as it allows us to plan and to reason, among many other things.

Over the years, the prefrontal cortex has grown in capacity and we now are aware of the limitless quality of it’s potential. The good news/ bad news component here is that this grandiose part of our brain is not considered fully developed until our mid to late 20s.

Think about it though.

Our primitive brains are creating cognitive connections for decades with limited input from the prefrontal cortex. It is developing no doubt, but any of us who have raised kids has seen the difference between a 12-year-old brain, a 20-year-old brain and a 28-year-old brain.

Yet much of the basis of our beliefs today come from the interpretations we made when we were children/teenagers, long before we had full reasoning capacity.

The more I think about this, the more I experience the palm-to-the-forehead moment where my only response is – no wonder.

When you have a gut reaction to something and you are puzzled as to where it came from, you might have your 12-year-old self to thank for it. Not that you even need to go back to the defining moment in your past, but this awareness can be freeing.

I don’t care how brilliant you were as a kid, I am sure you ended up believing a bunch of really strange things. And while it might not fully cure your OCD behavior, it might open you up to some curiosity.

You might even find a way to cut yourself (and the others around you) some slack.

It is your life! Make it a great one.