In Getting to Know Your 3 Brains Part 1, WU World Changer Hilary Jacobs Hendel shares how external events can affect your 3 brains in 3 different ways!
Learning a few simple basic things about the brain can make all the difference in how you understand yourself and others.
I like to think of us as having three brains instead of one: a thinking brain, an emotional brain, and a body-brain. Our thinking brain gives rise to our thoughts, beliefs, judgments, and values. Our emotional brain gives rise to our emotions. Our body brain communicates with our internal organs which is why, for example, when we feel scared, our hearts beat faster. Our brains also generate pictures, still snapshots or movies. Sometimes we are aware of the pictures in our minds like when actively fantasizing. Most of the time we are not aware of the images our three brains concoct.
To clarify, here’s a simple example of how I used my knowledge of my three brains in everyday life:
I was invited to a party but I was getting more and more nervous about going by myself. I started to doubt my decision to go. “Maybe it is a mistake,” I started telling myself. My mind started looking for excuses not to go.
Knowledge of my brain taught me that external events, such as going to a party by myself, could shake up my three brains in three different ways causing me to have several simultaneous experiences.
How did becoming aware of these factors help me?
Learning to actively look for my thoughts, beliefs, images, emotions and physical sensations helped me realize I was having them. Once I knew I was having these semi-conscious experiences, I could do something to help myself. Moreover, not only could I work with my thoughts, images, emotions, physical sensations and beliefs, I could manipulate them in a wide variety of creative ways for better (or for worse). The way I work with my mind is all governed by the science I have learned about how brain cells move, make new connections, or stay more entrenched.
As I was dressing for the party, I turned my attention to my three brains to see if I could help myself:
I noticed two visual images in my mind, one positive and one negative. In the positive one, everything was going well. I saw myself talking to people and having fun. In the other, I saw myself standing alone feeling awkward. I was unable to penetrate the many conversations going on around me.
The emotions I was having were varied and conflicting, which is not unusual for the brain. I was excited about the party, and I was scared I wouldn’t fit in. I was also palpably anxious.
Physically, I noticed my stomach was now clenched and my breathing was shallow.
I was aware I had two conflicting beliefs about myself. When the positive image was in the forefront of my mind, I saw myself fitting in and having conversations with others. My belief when I had that picture in my mind was “I am fine and I can go to this party and survive no matter what happens.” My negative belief went with my negative image of not fitting in. My negative belief was: “I am different and weird and no one will be interested in talking to me.” I noticed that when this upsetting image popped into my brain, it made me feel ashamed.
How did I use my knowledge of the brain to help myself?
I mustered up all the mental energy I had and focused on the positive scenario. I wanted to be courageous and try going. I actively pushed my mind in the direction I decided I wanted it to go. I allowed my fear about going to the party to exist, but I chose not to act on it. Additionally, I repeatedly reminded myself that if I felt embarrassed for any reason, I would get over it, and ultimately be glad I at least tried.
So, to review, what does learning about the brain give us?
- Power to work with our thoughts.
- Ability to accept and channel emotions wisely.
- Ability to recognize and control impulses.
- Ability to calm emotions and the accompanying physical sensations they produce.
- Ability to challenge our negative beliefs about our Self and others.
- Enhanced ability to think through the best course of action that is in sync with what we want in the long-term.
Just as we have the power to enhance well-being in specific ways, we can interfere with well-being in other ways. Knowledge of the three brains and the Self will help ensure we don’t worsen our problems by:
Reinforcing negative beliefs and worries by replaying them over and over again in our mind, which strengthens the wiring of those negative brain cell networks and makes us feel worse.
Not calming our emotions. We can choose to actively calm our emotions and work with painful feelings so they diminish. Alternatively, we can amplify negative feelings and feel worse.
Engaging in self-destructive behaviors, which predictably lead to more negative feelings, which make us feel emotionally worse, which adds to physical stress and pain.
Being aware of the ways we further our distress, such as the three examples above, gives us the opportunity to stop our brain from going to those automatic places that make us feel worse. In essence, the brain-work I am advocating gives us power and control over our mind as we honor and accept ourselves fully.
Most of us live day to day by blocking aspects of ourselves that cause us pain or conflict. But, we all know that blocking, defending, or burying things inside leads to symptoms, psychological pain, and avoidance of life experiences that might build confidence, like failing or struggling yet trying again. Understanding how to use the various parts of the brain to deal with problems as they arise helps us live well.
We, humans, are complicated and nuanced, but our brains behave predictably. I find this very reassuring — there is a reliable path to wellness. How long it takes to change the brain and how to achieve the changes we want varies widely for each of us. But, the basic principles are similar for us all. I hope to pass on practical and simple brain knowledge in the next four parts of this series.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, “The 3 Brains and The Self.” I will shed more light on what each of the three brains does and how to use them to help feel better.