The human brain is a problem solving machine. Or at least that’s how our species has been using it so far.
It’s constantly looking for dangers around us, and it dedicates its impressive computing power to help us stay alive.
There’s no doubt this survival mode was once necessary when we lived in caves, with saber-toothed tigers as immediate neighbors, but it makes much less sense in the city, even if threats still manifest in the form of a gas bill or a meeting with an ex.
In fact, our faithful but archaic brain poses a problem: it’s operating system hasn’t had time to adapt to modern reality. Like a cat in a mall, it fails to decode what constitutes a hazard and what doesn’t. That’s just too much information delivered too quickly.
And to make matters worse: it won’t stop. The human GPS is a fail safe unit: it stays on all the time.
The result of this adaptive issue is a constant inner conflict: a series of archaic responses from our lizard brain that trigger panic mode for any reason.
- Your train is late > Panic mode
- Your presentation scheduled in a month is now due next week > Panic mode
- TV announces another mass shooting in a neighboring state > Panic mode
It’s tough, because that bug in our design generates most of the first world’s problems: struggling with anxiety, depression or experiencing a permanent sense of frustration.
Of course, there are solutions, we all tend to use them, but they only offer a temporary relief, and they often make things worse in the long run:
- Drugs (legal or not)
- Comfort food
- Digital immersion (social media, TV)
All these methods are diversion strategies: they consist in keeping the mind busy with a pleasant stream of information, or to numb it down chemically. I tried pretty much all the above methods, and I still use them randomly, but as entertainment, not solutions.
There are ways to address the dissonance our mind suffers from, these approaches are more demanding in terms of discipline, but of course deeply effective:
Cutting down on the noise
Visuals and sounds give work to our brain since it needs to process whatever comes to the gates of our senses. Give it a break: shut down the media, whatever they are (Facebook, phone, TV, Radio if you still have one). Get a walk in a park, or try a flotation tanks if the price is not a turn-off for you. The response will be a great relief, and further insight on solutions that media saturation had concealed so far.
Developing the connection with your body
When the mind becomes aware of the body, it calms down, even if your body hurts.
The body-scan is the most famous meditation to help you reconnect your body and mind, you can try it here.
There are many reasons why I’d recommend daily routines, one of them is that it reduces the number of decisions you have to make, and therefore helps the mind take a rest.
If all the above hasn’t helped, exercise will. When mind is under stress, the body follows (high body temperature, racing heart). If you work out, you give body and mind a huge opportunity to release stress, said differently, you offer that lizard brain the physical response it asked for: fight or flight.
Those who’ve followed me for a while may have noticed that mind management is most of what I talk about. My obsession is only getting worse as months pass. And let’s be clear I don’t consider myself an expert in this field, I’m just a dude who’s slowly realizing the power of mind over every aspect of our lives.
Maybe I should’ve started earlier, but I feel lucky enough to open my eyes to this reality anyway. BTW, I just discovered this speech, I think it brilliantly expands on the topic of what a human mind can do:
David Foster Wallace Kenyon Commencement Address.
As always, your thoughts are welcome below.
The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.
Picture by Carolyn Speranza