What if you understood the cause of your doubt, distractions and weak decisions? They’re what take away from your performance. If you could put your finger on exactly what limits your progress so you could achieve more, would you do something about it?
This blog post provides you with an understanding of
- The three main parts of the brain and their functions
- How your brain has evolved to instil fear in you so that it protects the status quo
- How you can overwrite that evolutionary process by engaging a small yet sophisticated part of your brain to achieve more.
Before that, let me share a quick story taken from Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself. It illustrates what recent advances in the understanding of the brain’s ability mean to you and me in our everyday lives.
Cheryl Schiltz felt like she was perpetually falling. When she stood without support she’d wobble uncontrollably, arms flailing desperately trying to stabilise herself.
Cheryl’s balance system didn’t work because the sensory organ (her vestibular apparatus) had lost more than 95% of its function.
Her case was deemed a hopeless one. The conventional view at the time was that the brain was like a machine; divided up into different compartments to form specific functions. So given the diagnosis of the damage, her condition was deemed permanent.
Cheryl was desperate. So she worked with a neuroscientist and a biochemist to explore breakthrough solutions.
In one experiment they inserted an accelerometer into a construction helmet. They connected it to wires that hooked up to a thin plastic strip. This was placed on Cheryl’s tongue. The accelerometer measured Cheryl’s movement. It would send tiny electrical signals to her tongue that felt like champagne bubbles. If she tilted forward, she felt the ‘bubbles’ at the front of her tongue.
Amazingly, it worked for Cheryl. She was able to orientate herself in space. She could balance without support.
What was so significant about this was that the tingling on her tongue had bypassed its usual destination (the sensory cortex) and made its way through a new pathway in the brain to the area that processes balance. This contravened the idea that brain function was localised.
There was more. After Cheryl used the device, there was a ‘residual effect’. This demonstrates what is called neuroplasticity.
In other words, by repeating new practices you can help the brain grow in new ways and perform in new ways to achieve more. It can overcome disability. So what does this imply about your potential and performance?
You can change your conditioning in any aspect of your life and achieve more if you so choose.
So what’s stopping you? Do you doubt your ability? Or do you fear failure?
We all do both. It’s how we’ve evolved as a species. Let me explain why first and then I’ll elaborate on how you can overwrite your DNA.
1. The Basics of Brain Function
Think of the brain’s functionality consisting of three parts. The three parts are easy to remember as they track the evolution process.
The Reptilian Brain
The brain stem, positioned at the top your spine, is called the ‘reptilian‘ because it is similar to that of a reptile! It covers basic functions such as breathing. It’s like the life support system. Reptiles have a fight, flight or freeze response capacity, but no real emotional complexity.
The Mammalian Brain
Just as mammals evolved from a group of reptiles called the synapsids, this aptly named function mirrors that evolution. Also called the emotional brain, it is tremendously powerful and influential in relation to your performance.
It releases neurotransmitters in response to stress (real or perceived) which causes you to feel doubt, fear and anxiety. This is what limits your progress. It is there to protect the status quo.
The Thinking Brain
The ‘cerebral cortex’ is responsible for consciousness and cognition. It’s capable of focus, concentration, learning and observation. In humans, it makes up 35-40% of the human brain.
The average person loses focus an average of seven to ten times every minute. This area allows you to block distraction from your consciousness and focus on what you want and achieve more.
2. How Your Brain Has Evolved To Instil Fear In You
What causes this fear we all have hardwired into us? Why did we evolve this way?
Our brain is designed to scan this world and find what is dangerous to us. That’s how mankind has survived. It has been passed on to us through our ancestry. This is how we avoided being eaten by the good old sabre-toothed tiger and how we learned not to eat the poison berries.
As we evolved, not only was nature dangerous but other humans became dangerous too. So we developed a heightened ability to read microexpressions (squinting of eyes etc.) The old brain (reptilian and mammalian) was tuned to find danger and if not disciplined it will find danger for you.
In modern times the sabre-toothed tiger represents other people’s opinions.
Our fear of other people’s opinions can manifest themselves as a fear of failure, being wrong, success or acceptance. These cause doubt. Doubt creates distraction. That’s what sends us off course.
What’s particularly tricky (but there is a way around it) is that we’re unaware of the doubt and fear working against us most of the time.
3. How Do We Overwrite the Evolutionary Process and Achieve More?
In order to pursue a path of our personal best, we overwrite the evolutionary process. This is how it’s done.
By using the smaller, more evolved parts of your ‘thinking brain’, you can maintain focus on what matters most to you. It’s called the prefrontal cortex. You can improve its power through mindfulness. I personally use a mix of meditation, visualisation and reflection – all centred around the success that matters most to me.
If you’re not focused on your success, present or future, the hardwiring will kick in again. This explanation should be useful and encourage you to take appropriate action.
The Reticular Activating System (RAS) filters the 2,000,000 bits of data that your senses are exposed to at any one moment. It sorts through all the information your brain receives and it asks itself one simple question:
Is this something important?
If it isn’t important, your RAS won’t make you aware of it. You won’t become conscious of the information.
If it is important, it will make you aware of it.
The evolutionary process, millions of years of man running from scary things, means you’re hardwired to worry about stuff. If you’re worried about something, your RAS will find it for you. In that sense, it’s quite binary.
I remember a friend of mine was worried she was pregnant when we were in university. Suddenly, she saw pregnant women everywhere. The same function is the reason you’ll hear your baby’s faint cry during your sleep when far louder noises wouldn’t wake you. That’s the RAS in action.
You’re literally tuned into a specific image or sound.
So how do you put this to work in a positive and productive way to achieve more?
Think of your RAS like a computer search function in your brain. It can scan your files and folders for the information you enter into it. But you then need to take action on the back of the search result or don’t expect any results to change. Only you can do that!
TAKE ACTION NOW!
This isn’t some woo-woo, candle-burning, crystal-gazing nonsense. You have to take action to achieve more.
So here’s what you can do:
- Pick an outcome/result/goal you want to achieve over the next month – write it down, see it in front of you and keep it front of mind.
- You don’t need to worry about how you will achieve it, just be clear on what you want to achieve and why.
- Write or sketch out a detailed picture of what success looks like. Bring it to life;
- how does it make you feel?
- what do you hear and see?
- who is around you?
- where are you?
- Brainstorm a few things you can do immediately that can help this become a reality.
- Decide on the best option, the one action you need to take next. Commit to it. Go do it.
- Before you go to sleep, look at the written outcome/result/goal. Remind yourself of why it’s important.
- When you wake up, look at the written outcome/result/goal. Remind yourself……
- If you’ve any brighter, new ideas, write them down.
- Then commit to the best option and take action.
- Repeat the process. Enjoy the results.
Start small. Even when you don’t realise you’re thinking about your goal, your RAS is filtering information for you, making note of things that are important. That’s how you suddenly remember your password for something long after you were trying to recall it.
Get familiar with the process. Once you do and you start to trust in it, you can think about bigger and longer-term goals. Achieve more.