Taming Your Inner Reptile: Meg’s Tips for Controlling Brain Chatter
We all live with ‘Brain Chatter’. You know, those times when your attention is held hostage by a loop of negative thoughts or emotions, sapping your energy and productivity.
After some research, I learned that how we allocate our attention depends on the interaction between two very different parts of the brain: our older lower brain, also known as the ‘reptilian brain’; and, our more recently evolved upper brain layer, known as the neo-cortex.
Our reptilian brain evolved to ensure survival and is wired to trigger the adrenalin surge that our ancestors relied on to outrun a charging rhino. The circuitry in this part of the brain remains much the same as it was for our ancestors.
Then, we have our more recently evolved upper brain layer. This is the source of our voluntary attention. It enables us to screen out distractions, focus on a task, to innovate and think; however, it operates at a laggard’s pace compared to the reptilian brain. So, when Brain Chatter takes hold, and we find ourselves obsessing about an impending job review or an argument we had with someone, guess which part of the brain is winning the race for our attention?
The good news is that we can take steps to reduce Brain Chatter by paying more attention to how we pay attention.
You Have a Choice
Consider the grocery store. You are in the express check-out line when you notice that the person ahead of you has 12 items in their cart and the sign says in big bold letters: ‘8 Items Maximum’. You can choose to fret over their disregard for the rules, and let the Brain Chatter take you hostage; or, you can Shift Your Perspective and focus your mental energy by letting go of the negative thought or emotion, taking a moment to observe what is going on around you, or think of something you are grateful for. And if all else fails, reach for that shiny edition of Vanity Fair!
So, try to be mindful of your Brain Chatter and how your unconscious reactions are intervening to take hold of your conscious thoughts, words, and actions. If you don’t like what you’re thinking, don’t be afraid to talk back to your mind: “I’m not interested in these thoughts! I am going to stop the loop!”
Greater self-awareness can help us hit the mute button on the Chatter and in the process lead us to more productive and fulfilling lives.
In the end, it’s not about what happens to us – it’s about how we react to what happens to us!
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