Day 11: Putting the addled brain in its place…

Today I want to write about how much shit me we give ourselves.

Have you ever found yourself wondering things like the following:

“Why am I not further along?”

“Why do I suck so much?”

“Why am I so bad at [insert area of life]?”

…Or other such  supportive, brilliant lines of questioning?

I have been giving myself shit pretty much my whole life, so I feel that I am qualified to write about this topic.  To paraphrase something I heard along the way, “No one else will be as hard on you as you are on yourself.”

Can you relate to this? Thinking back on most of my adult life, it seems I was always playing some game of catch up, where I believed I was behind others and needed to do something to compensate for that deficiency.  This mind state was stressful enough.  Beyond that, it often led me to take actions based on trying to “fix” that deficiency that I imagined I had.  I brought upon myself all manner of pain and stress as a result.

Not fun.

Thinking about it now, I am realizing that it never was about others at all.  People do what they do.  Sometimes they can try to draw you into their plans with convincing sounding arguments ( “Do as I do and you’ll be happy!” “Sign up for this course so that you won’t suck as punch!” “Feeling miserable?  I’ve got the answers!” etc).  Yet I think that the quality of our lives, and the quality of our choices, comes down to our self-talk.  And specifically, what self-talk you believe.

Our brains are survival-based chatterers.  In other words, they chatter at us constantly in order, they think, to help us survive.  Yet is the brain trying to help you by criticizing you?  By demeaning you and putting you down?  That doesn’t make any sense, does it?

I’m no neurologist, but the gist of it, from what I know, is that the brain thinks that being negative is more helpful for survival than being positive.  In other words, from a survival standpoint, maybe the brain thinks it is better to avoid a lion that isn’t there than to get caught by a lion that is.  It is better to be wrong and pessimistic (as in, worried about a lion that isn’t there) than wrong and optimistic (as in, not worried about a lion that is).

So the brain is a machine that is highly inclined towards the negative.  It wants to point out possible flaws in ourselves or areas of danger, reasoning that by doing so, it will help us keep on our toes and avoid more pain.  This may be a nice strategy when you are running for a lion.  But what about when you are a 21st Century, highly-functioning (hopefully) adult trying to self-actualize and live a life you love?   Then this mechanism of the brain starts to look a lot more like our enemy than our friend.

Yet which is it?  To me, the brain is my friend, but a friend who takes a lot of observation to keep him in check.  Let’s pretend my brain is a friend named John.  John is a well-meaning friend, a loyal friend.  Yet he is also highly emotional and easily spooked, with a limited perspective.  He is constantly looking backward for all of his ideas. In other words, he lives in the past!  He can’t reason beyond the familiar, and beyond what helped him avoid pain and gain pleasure in the past.

In other words, he’s a scaredy pants.

Yet he’s still my friend.  I just have to remember who is really in charge here: I am.  And I have to put my friend John in his place.  He often is not qualified to grab the reigns, although he will try.  Sometimes he can be helpful.  Often he is running from imaginary lions.

It’s okay, John.  I know you can’t help yourself.  But just so you know, I’m the one running this operation.  I don’t mind if you hang around, maybe you will even do some good once in awhile, yet don’t think for a second that this is your roost.  I’m in charge here!

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