Yeah, I’m talking the brain. Specifically, two parts of the brain: the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
Without getting too scientific, let’s call the amygdala your caveman/cavewoman brain. It’s been around a long time. You might know it as the part of the brain that helps you determine whether you should fight, run away, or freeze in the face of danger. The amygdala’s job isn’t to make you happy; it’s to keep you alive. And when our amygdala is chronically aroused, our brains become hypervigilant, often sensing danger where it doesn’t truly exist. Believe it or not, the amygdala doesn’t even need ACTUAL danger to get aroused. When’s the last time you responded to an email ping or other notification on your phone or computer? How many windows do you typically have open on your computer? When’s the last time you were on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest or TikTok, or maybe all at the same time? When’s the last time you were in the middle of some work project and suddenly found yourself doing a Google search, shopping on Amazon, scanning news headlines, checking stock prices or sports scores, or watching a YouTube video? When’s the last time you were doing something on your phone while you were walking, driving, or sitting on the toilet? It’s bad, folks.
The prefrontal cortex is the newest part of the brain, and it’s the part that makes us decidedly different that other life forms. And it has an unlimited capacity to learn and grow. It thinks big-picture, long-term and high-level. It’s responsible for true and lasting progress, joy, and happiness.
Using the amygdala, we are driven to act compulsively. Our actions are outside of our conscious control. As a result, our bodies experience increased stress and cortisol levels that inhibit our prefrontal cortex. When we do the work to change our minds, we increase our use of the prefrontal cortex and increase our ability to make conscious choices. It’s in our ability to choose consciously that we find our freedom.
What are the distractions you’re tolerating that are pulling you away from using the executive function of your brain? It’s worth making a list of those distractions so you can start working to eliminate them. Then, what are all of the activities, tasks and projects you must complete each week? Make a list of those as well. Be as exhaustive as possible, because I’m going to ask you to do something in my next post to help you figure out how you’re spending your most precious resource, your time.