(Image By peshkov, via Adobe Stock)

HOW LIFE WORKS — or at least it Can!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Please note: the links between the headings of this Table of Contents and the corresponding sections in the story do not work with I-phones. However, they do work with most other devices, IOS or otherwise, including Android smartphones

(Using the links, you will be able to navigate back to Beginning or Middle of the Story as well as to headings listed in the table.)

EPISODE 1

PROLOGUE

This is a story that I cannot write by myself. I will begin the story and continue adding episodes.

Exactly how the story develops and whether it even ends (and my goal is that it not) is not yet certain.

It will depend on participation and contributions from those who are interested enough to comment and respond. In effect, they will become co-authors and co-developers in the refinement and extension of this manual.

LIVING YOUR DREAM CAN BE DANGEROUS

Following one’s dream requires taking risks. Sometimes, big ones. And sometimes when you do, really bad things can happen.

(Image from Corpus Theme, Mudthemes.com lifetime subscription)

Like make-it-or-break-it investments that break and leave you penniless.

Crucial projects that fail.

Emotional Armageddons in personal relationships.

Setbacks that seem impossible to overcome.

Believe me. I have lived them all. More on that score in other stories.

For now, what you are reading here — and that it is here to be read at all— is the result of what this manual teaches.

I hope you’ll find it can help you as much as it has me. It had to.

GOAL OF THE MANUAL

This manual includes description of a very specific, clear and highly teachable methodology that enables you to live as a Real Adult.

Meaning not be confined to the more typical Pseudo-Adult status that most of us develop and believe is “normal” and “as good as it’s going to get”.

Being a Real Adult means being able to live effectively regardless of feelings and circumstances.

In essence, Real Adults are a living force to contain and displace unnecessary “drama” in life. They displace it with Real Thinking and discernment about What’s So/True versus how we feel about What’s So.

When faced with upset, they always begin by Containing/having their feelings rather than be had by them.

They can then use Real Thinking to determine what the real/actual problem is that’s generating the feelings. And use Real Thinking to address the real problem rather than only how they feel about it.

They can then consciously choose an appropriate action, and act accordingly.

The next step can be quite challenging. LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY. And if they don’t mangle or kill you, use the same process to address those chips.

As I noted earlier, this is a clear description of a methodology that is NOT simple to implement. The goal of being a Real Adult is to be able to apply this methodology as consistently and effectively as humanly possible. That means they will never be able to apply it all the time. And they understand and accept this.

I will explain more about Real and Pseudo-Adults later in this episode. For now, I just wanted to identify our destination.

And, I hope, whet your appetite for reading further.

LIVING EFFECTIVELY

It’s important to understand what I mean by “living effectively”.

I do NOT mean always getting what you want. I DO mean getting what you want more often than you might otherwise expect.

I also do NOT mean that you will always look effective and successful to others. Others don’t know the realities and constraints you are dealing with.

What I DO mean is the ability to stay in effective action regardless of whether or not it looks like you will succeed.

This means being able to sustain useful effort

regardless of how sad, discouraged, frightened, fed up, (pick your emotion of choice) you may become.

Not all the time.

And much more than you could otherwise expect.

This in spite of whatever obstacles, delays, setbacks, catastrophes, etc. may occur.

In fact, this story might be even better titled as, “How To Live Effectively — Regardless of Circumstances, No Matter How You Feel”.

A BRIEF EXAMPLE

When someone says something nasty to you, you probably have a lot of strong emotions, all at once, and none of them pleasant. (image ©milanmarkovic78, standard license via Adobe Stock)

When someone says something nasty to you, you probably have a lot of strong emotions, all at once, and none of them pleasant.

What would your life be like if you could Contain how you felt as the sound waves registered in your brain? And then calmly say to yourself, “Gee, air just passed over someone’s vocal chords.”

And you could therefore consciously Choose

what importance/relevance/value/urgency you were WILLING to give those words — and respond accordingly.

In short, upsets are available every day. What would your life be like if, much of the time, you could actually

choose

which upsets you are willing to give enough importance to even deal with?And then deal with the ones you choose effectively?

This example may seem rather bland.

But what if you allow “upsets” to include everything and anything that are especially challenging and important to you? Then use of the methodology could change your life in powerful and positive ways.

DISCUSSION

For example, what might become of your relationship with your primary other (boss, children, you choose) if you could respond in this way? That is, without the typical “knee-jerk” reaction of either counter-attacking or shrinking away.

Instead, suppose you take time to do Real Thinking about what has your partner coming at you this way. All the while Containing your feelings, whatever they might be, without having to take any action until you consciously chose to.

And when you did respond, you could remain calm, able to say the words you consciously chose. As opposed to blurting out something you would regret and would be certain to make things worse.

This would enable you to come from a space of “empathic shift”. That is, relating to the offending person from a space of genuine concern about what has them saying something the way they are. Rather than just from anger and judgment about the hurt they are causing you.

Responding this way can be extremely powerful in helping calm things down and potentially generate productive discussion. The more typical “default” response often escalates things to one more all too familiar fight.

How many times of being able to respond in this way might radically alter your future relationship with this person? I’ll leave the math to you. The point is, using the methodology, you would gradually be able to more and more times.

And even further, what if that “other person” was also learning how to use the methodology?

Imagine being in a relationship that was a partnership between two Real Adults, both committed to handling their own stuff and supporting each other in doing that.

What then becomes possible is like having the best “foxhole buddy” possible. You don’t have to keep saying things like “Would you please watch where you point that damn thing?!”

I can tell you from personal experience. It’s magical.

HOW LIFE USUALLY WORKS

SAFETY MACHINES

Humans are fundamentally obesessed with two things:

  1. Physiological Survival
  2. Safety

It’s built into our genes.

This was well described when these two were positioned at the base of a pyramid illustrating Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human needs. (1)

(Image By FireflySixtySeven [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s fair to say that physical safety is (relatively) less of an issue now than it was in cave man days. So we have turned our “danger vigilance” more and more toward emotional and psychological safety in our daily lives.

This being the case, emotional survival and safety form an ever-present gateway in our approach to living.

This being the case, survival and safety form an ever-present gateway in our approach to living. (Image by Arvind shakya, via Pexels)
Emotional survival and safety form an ever-present gateway in our approach to living.

Everything we think and do must pass through this gate before it will be allowed to proceed without triggering a very loud and effective alarm.

And until we feel safe enough, our attitudes and behaviors will automatically stay geared toward self-protection only (think “defensive”). (Image by Bertrand99 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

And until we feel safe enough, our attitudes and behaviors will automatically stay geared toward self-protection only (think “defensive”).

This is why it is especially important to understand how our we develop our criteria for safety, and how we apply them in everyday life.

SAFETY TEMPLATES AND SAFETY RADAR

Metaphorically, beginning in childhood, we build a template of how safety and danger look and feel. (Image via Avatar Abyss)

Metaphorically, beginning in childhood, we build a template of how safety and danger look and feel.

This Safety Template is created by what I call our brain’s Safety Radar. Meaning that the brain is constantly comparing our current experience with emotional memories of safety and danger from the past.

These emotional memories are stored in a part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is a central part of the of the brain’s limbic system or what has traditionally been know as the emotional “part” of the brain.

The Limbic System (image by By OpenStax College [CC BY 3.0] , via Wikimedia Commons)

Our Safety Radar depends on the amygdala’s ability to recognize a “match” between powerful emotional memories and something we perceive in the present.

When a match is found, the amygdala triggers an IMMEDIATE alarm for three powerful and uncontrollable things to happen:

  1. Thinking is physiologically blocked or “turned off”,
  2. A completely irresistible demand for action takes charge of our behavior, and
  3. We either fight or flee — because our immediate “survival” is (perceived by us, at least) at stake.

Daniel Goleman, who wrote Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, nicely dramatizes this process. He emphasizes the overwhelming physiology involved by calling it an “Amygdala Hijack” of the brain. (2)

VULNERABLE TO ERROR

(Image CC0 Public Domain, via Pxhere.com)
Unfortunately, there are at least 3 built-in sources of potential error in our Safety Template

Unfortunately, there are at least 3 built-in sources of potential error in our Safety Template (6)

  1. The initial bias of our assumptions about life:

a. Do we generally see things as “glass half full or half empty”?

b. Either determines the “spin” our brains automatically give to everything we perceive.

2. Errors in understanding and perception that are unavoidable in a child’s view and understanding of life.

3. The physical process by which emotional memories are stored in the brain results in sketchy and impressionistic data being recorded.

When an emotional memory is recorded in the amygdala, lots of information is recorded about the emotions involved and their strength . And very little about who or what caused that emotion. (3)

So matching an emotional memory of danger requires only that something barely even resemble the memory.

And if the resemblance is strong enough, no matter how vague, it triggers reacting to the present as if it is “just as bad” as the past.

And suddenly, our very survival is at stake. At least it feels that way.

Then we act that way, without questioning it.

And we feel completely justified in doing so.

EMOTIONS PERCEIVE FIRST

There is another reason why it is so important to understand how our emotions work.

…incoming data to the brain always reaches our emotions before thinking about the same data is even possible. (Image Creative Commons CCO, via Pxhere)
“…emotional brain activity processes information milliseconds earlier than the rational brain, so in case of a match, the amygdala acts before any possible direction from the neocortex can be received. “ (5)

Meaning that incoming data to the brain always reaches our emotions before thinking about the same data is even possible.

This, in turn, means that because of the brain’s circuitry,

we ALWAYS perceive EVERYTHING through our EMOTIONS

FIRST.

So much for “purely” rational perception.

Further, our safety radar is always on. And because the brain is efficient, the conclusions we draw about safe versus dangerous become automated.

The default “pull” is to always go with what the Safety Template says — without even thinking about it. (Image by Victor Freitas, via Pexels)

The default “pull” is to always go with what the Safety Template says — without even thinking about it.

So when it’s REALLY important, our views on safety as adults depend mostly

on a child’s unchallenged views of safety .

We become virtual juggernauts plowing our way through the seas of perceived and real dangers in life using a map and rudder constructed by a child.

And we tend to live by,

“I know what’s safe and what’s dangerous! Damn the torpedoes of error and misperception. Full speed ahead!” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Van Nuys via www.defensenews.com)
“I know what’s safe and what’s dangerous! Damn the torpedoes of error and misperception. Full speed ahead!”

SUMMARY THUS FAR

It is worth summarizing what has been presented so far, most of which has to do with the “mechanics” of how the brain works.

  1. A felt sense of Safety is one of the most basic elements that shape our behavior.
  2. As adults, we tend to navigate the world of safety and danger by reference to a Safety Template that was built in childhood.
  3. And that template was built by a process that has multiple built-in sources of potential error.

It only gets worse from here.

NO CONSCIOUS CHOICE

…both Real Adults and Pseudo-Adults have NO conscious choice about having or not having knee-jerks (Image © BillionPhotos.com via Adobe Stock)

Because of the way emotional memories are stored, the thinking mind literally does not have access to the amygdala’s ongoing process of comparing emotional memories and current reality. (3,4) Nor can it recall memories of the emotional memory having been stored or recognized. (3,4)

So even though an emotional memory has been successfully stored in the brain,

the matching process between that memory and our current experience

happens outside of conscious awareness.

Meaning that

these mental processes that we are not consciously aware of can independently generate (“trigger”) thought, feelings and behavior completely outside of our conscious awareness.

As a result, when we have emotional reactions linked to safety, we do not consciously question them. We may not even recognize that our reactions as have anything to do with perceived danger.

So we typically give no thought to whether they are accurate or justified. Instead, we hold these thoughts, feelings and behaviors as “our own”, meaning that at some level, we have consciously chosen to react this way.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking only about physical reactions. More importantly, I’m referring to the subtle and not-so-subtle shifts in attitude, preference, bias, etc. that occur in us daily and that go completely unquestioned by our rational mind. Especially if a (perceived) threat to safety is involved.

This leaves our conscious mind with the need to explain what these feeling are about in current reality. That is,

we tend to come up with reasons (rationalizations) for our reactions in the present after the fact.

And often without ever consciously knowing what actually triggered the feelings and behavior in the first place.

KNEE-JERKS

(Image by William Richard Gowers, via Wikimedia Commons)
In this sense, our faulty reaction process is the equivalent of “knee-jerk” emotions and behavior

Like physical knee-jerks, they are mechanical and involuntary.

They occur just because some part of our nervous system has been stimulated — not because we thought about it and decided to jerk our leg. Meaning that we sometimes experience powerful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are initiated by our Safety Template

completely outside of our conscious awareness.

This is important, because far more than just moving our leg is at stake here.

EXAMPLE

Consider someone meeting a stranger for the first time.

Suppose that the stranger happens to look or act in some way that even remotely resembles someone who cheated that person when he was a child.

The Manager’s Safety Radar automatically flashes “We’ve got a match!”

And boom!

Off and running with unreasoning suspicion toward a stranger they know nothing about.

“I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I just don’t trust him!” (Image from Amtec Creative Commons Assests)

Ever heard someone say, “I don’t know what it is about that guy, but I just don’t trust him!”?

This may seem a rather insignificant example. But what if this is an interaction between a potential employer and a job applicant?

The employer might easily feel justified in refusing to hire the applicant despite their excellent work record and recommendations.

Because the feeling of suspicion is firmly and unconsciously linked emotionally to actual experience of having been cheated in the past.

But the employer does not consciously know or remember that linking happened, nor when the linking occurred.

He is only conscious of the strength of his emotional reaction

(so he thinks)

to the present.

So conscious reasoning does not stand a chance of swaying his decision. Because what is really just a feeling has become (emotional) “Truth”

despite nothing “real” to support it.

PSYCHOLOGICAL DEFENSES

(Image by Max Halberstadt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Psychological defenses are another part of our Safety System. . They can be seen as another form of knee-jerk reaction. They are automatically triggered by threats to our emotional well being.

And they operate outside of conscious awareness. So they are neither recognized or challenged by conscious thought.

They typically come into play after the knee-jerk has occurred. And when they do, they interfere with our ability to recognize or think logically about our knee-jerk reaction after it has occurred.

Psychological defenses operate by hiding (in the unconscious) the fact that we feel bad — or what would make us feel bad — if we were aware of it consciously.

Psychological defenses operate by hiding (in the unconscious) the fact that we feel bad — or what would make us feel bad — if we were aware of it consciously. (Photo Credit: IDF, via jewishpress.com)
Psychological defenses operate by hiding (in the unconscious) the fact that we feel bad — or what would make us feel bad — if we were aware of it consciously.

But rather than help us recognize and react to EXTERNAL threats based on past experience, psychological defenses work primarily to protect us from INTERNAL threats in the form of bad feelings, often about ourselves.

These are feelings like anxiety, sadness,worthlessness, shame, guilt, fear, grief, anger, etc.

EXAMPLE

An example of a psychological defense is Denial. It is often seen in patients initially diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer.

For some people, to immediately acknowledge the reality of the diagnosis would be overwhelming.

So the brain is able to protect the conscious mind from this overwhelm

by simply denying that the threat exists.

Even in the face of rational evidence that it is does.

Said another way, the brain literally “hides” from the conscious mind what is known to the mind — but only subconsciously (read “subliminally” or “emotionally”).

This is clearly irrational, but it also very real.

And it protects that person’s psychological well-being in important and powerful ways.

By the way, it doesn’t always take something as drastic as a diagnosis of cancer to trigger this protection.

Ever seen someone completely deny having done what they “obviously” just did?

It’s the same process. Because to recognize or acknowledge what they did would cause pain, or even overwhelm.

A TRICK

(Image CC0 Public Domain, via maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com)

However, there is something of a trick here that is important to understand.

Since psychological defenses are designed to protect us from feeling bad, the defense can only work if we don’t consciously recognize that we are protecting ourselves.

Because knowing we are protecting ourselves means knowing that there is a threat to protect ourselves against.

And that would cause anxiety.

So in order for a psychological defense to work, we literally cannot consciously know or recognize that we are defending ourselves.

This also applies to our knee-jerks when they occur as part of our Safety Template.

A knee-jerk occurs when our amygdala “believes” something in the present matches something bad or dangerous that we actually experienced in the past.

But if we consciously knew that we are protecting ourselves from something in the past,

we would experience

in the present

the bad feelings from the past that caused the knee-jerk in the first place.

That is, we would consciously remember or “relive” that past experience in the present, including the bad feelings that went with it.

So if our unconscious defenses are working, we can’t consciously know they are.

And if we do, then the intended protection isn’t working.

The kicker is that we are always protecting ourselves outside of conscious awareness

regardless of whether we consciously want or think we need that protection.

EMOTIONS DON’T KNOW TIME

There is also another source of mischief that makes it hard to recognize our own knee-jerks.

It can be expressed as “emotions don’t know Time”.

That is, by themselves, our emotions and knee-jerks do not distinguish between past and present. (Image © Laszlo Konya, via Dreamstime.com)
By themselves, our emotions and knee-jerks do not distinguish between past and present

That is, by themselves, our emotions and knee-jerks do not distinguish between past and present.

What‘s’ required is Real Thinking about whether our feelings and the strength of our feelings

accurately match

and are in proportion to

the reality in front of us.

If not, Real Thinking says the source of what we are feeling now is not in the present. Rather, it is most likely in the past.

Simply put, we always need to answer the question,

“What‘s’ the actual time frame of what I am feeling?”

Because with no conscious explanation for what set off the alarm system or when, our conscious mind logically assumes two things:

  1. That it was triggered by the present.
  2. And given it wasn’t (consciously) triggered by us, then someone or something around us is to blame.

Without questioning it’s time frame, we remain convinced that what we feel is true and real NOW.

So we react accordingly.

And suddenly,

with no conscious awareness that it is happening,

we are interacting with the present as if it were the past.

Without questioning it.

THE ADULT COAT STORE

We like to think that the majority of children in our culture have happy (or at least “normal”) childhoods and healthy parents to bring them up to be healthy adults.

And this may be the case.

However, many children lack healthy Adult models of behavior around them. For them,“becoming an adult” means piecing together some internal image of how an adult is supposed to look and act.

And the pieces come from things like movies, TV shows, advertisements, and (we hope) adults they admire.

It is as if the child has to go to a store full of costumes labeled “Adult” and walk around trying them on. (Image by T. Eaton Co. fonds [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

It is as if the child has to go to a store full of costumes labeled “Adult” and walk around trying them on.

The problem is, no matter which one they choose, none of them fit.

They are always too big.

So these children have a problem. They can’t go around looking like a child obviously dressed in a too big costume (Image CC0 Public Domain, via pxhere.com)
It is as if the child has to go to a store full of costumes labeled “Adult” and walk around trying them on.
The problem is, no matter which one they choose, none of them fit.

So these children have a problem. They can’t go around looking like a child dressed in a costume that’s obviously too big.

Metaphorically, they must stand on a stool so the costume doesn’t drag on the floor.

Now stools don’t typically have wheels.

And if they do, they fall over easily when moved.

So figuratively, the child has to stand on an immovable stool and pretend that the Adult costume they are wearing actually fits.

So they can’t allow themselves any flexibility about “where they stand” in life.

They just have to do things like,

“Be a man! Just buck up and stand tall!”

( but always in the same “place”, lacking any empathy from others, for example)

and be the adult their costume says they are.

Because the Pseudo-Adult’s creed is:

“Once an adult, always an adult. And proud to be that way!”

PSEUDO-ADULTS

Both Real and Pseudo-Adults can be driven to action by unrecognized “knee-jerks” or, to review, automated emotions and reactions that were generally formed in childhood and were based on survival needs at that time.

Pseudo-Adults neither recognize nor “manage” these automatic reactions and behaviors. Often, they can only react rather than respond rationally or effectively to the reality in front of them. (Image © everettovrk via Adobe Stock)

However, in contrast to Real Adults, Pseudo-Adults neither recognize nor “manage” these knee-jerk reactions and behaviors.

Often, they can only react rather than respond rationally or effectively to the reality in front of them.

Meaning that Pseudo-Adults often “respond” to reality with defensiveness or unreasoning suspicion (Remember the manager in the interview example?)

And they cannot understand why everybody else doesn’t get that their response is completely justified.

They are held hostage by an unrecognized but powerfully identified similarity to a past emotional experience.

They are held hostage by a vaguely but powerfully identified similarity to a past emotional experience. (image by U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Douglas Ellis/Released via Moody AFB)
Pseudo-Adults are held hostage by an unrecognized but powerfully identified similarity to a past emotional experience.

So they can’t distinguish between a “mock” saber tooth tiger and a current real danger that demands action.

So they can’t distinguish between a “mock” saber tooth tiger and a current real danger that demands action. (Image by Mastertax (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

And they don’t question whether they might be wrong.

Further, Pseudo-Adults may recognize they are reacting “inappropriately” or “childishly”.

But they do not have the flexibility of allowing themselves not to act when it would not be wise.

Their internal conversation might go something like this:

“After all, Adults are always decisive, always know what to do, and behave like John Wayne.
And god forbid anyone should know — as I do (in my unconscious) — that inside, I’m just a child wearing an ill-fitting costume called ‘Adult’.
But I must at least look like an Adult, so I always have to act.
And if I’m not thinking so clearly about what I do, it’s just because everyone else is making me so upset that I can’t think!”
“…But I must at least look like an Adult, so I always have to act.” (Image © crestajohnson via Adobe Stock)

Get the picture?

Even further, in the eyes of a Pseudo-Adult, acting inappropriately (like a child) means not being an Adult.

Whenever their behavior does become inappropriate or childish, they still must fill the role of adult dictated by their adult costume.

So they must justify their behavior and attitudes and defend them as fully adult and “normal”. And they must do this in some way that sounds rational

and, most importantly, is external to themselves

“No wonder I can’t think! It’s because you/the situation/the lack of money/etc. have gotten me so upset!!”

They do not take into account the possibility that they are contributing to or even creating the problem themselves.

STAGGERING IMPLICATIONS

This all has rather staggering implications for our ability to consciously recognize and manage knee-jerks on our own.

Our brain’s circuitry, our Safety Template and our psychological defenses all work to keep (protect) us from recognizing our emotional knee-jerks.

The more there is at stake, the stronger the protection and the greater our ignorance of self-protective reactions.

So increased importance means decreased ability to recognize the damage we may be causing or to do anything about it

strictly by ourselves.

To recognize and intervene on our knee-jerks, we require

external feedback

that can somehow break through our self-protective ignorance.

I will talk more about the crucial importance of this in the next episode. Briefly, it is the core reason for the goal of creating a virtual commuity of real people supporting each other in working to become and live as Real Adults.

For now, the bottom line is:

Until we know that knee-jerks exist and are the “norm” — in everyone —

and until we are able to recognize our own with practice and help from others, whether as a Real or a Pseudo-Adult

The ONLY point at which we can gain conscious choice is AFTER our knee-jerks happen and after we recognize that that’s what was happening.

The takeaway message is:

Our brains are designed foremost to protect us, so our Safety Radar is always at work. And we cannot consciously know when it’s generating the behavior we thought was our conscious choice.

And even with conscious awareness of an error in our Safety Template, the Unconscious does not change its criteria for danger. It can never be “convinced” that it is wrong.

So even in the “best” of worlds, we will NEVER stop having knee-jerks.

We can only learn, with input from others, to recognize and manage them by not letting them be the sole basis of our actions.

Meet Lonnie Lizard-Brain, Humanity’s (unconscious) Champion of Safety (Image CC0 Creative Commons, via maxpixel.freegreatpicture)

MEET LONNIE LIZARD-BRAIN

It’s time now to put all of this in terms that mean something to us in real life.

So I’m going to introduce you to Lonnie Lizard-Brain — Humanity’s (unconscious) Champion of Safety.

His name comes from the fact that he grew up and lives mostly in the so-called “reptilian” part of our brain.

This is physically the lower part of our brainstem which we have in common with all creatures with a “brain”. This part is mostly concerned with basic survival needs and physical functions of our body.

Over time, the brain evolved into the “human” brain as we think of it now. It did this by adding layers on top of the primitive brain. But this earlier part is still present and still functions in the same old unsophisticated way it always has.

You will remember the “limbic system” which consists of areas of the “reptilian” brain, and its centerpiece, the Amygdala. Again, the amygdala has traditionally been thought of as the source or seat of our emotions.

But current research says it’s wrong to see emotions and thinking as limited to only certain parts of the brain.

Because parts of the brain mostly involved with emotions

are also complexly involved with thinking.

Similarly, parts of the brain mostly involved with thinking

are also complexly involved with emotions. (3,4)

This has been recognized since research discovered there are actually two-way circuits between these thinking and emotional “parts”. (3,4)

These circuits serve as feedback loops through which both parts are constantly influencing what the other part does or doesn’t do. (3,4)

The point is that we don’t have thinking and emotional “parts” of the brain.

We have two types of brain:

  1. the Emotional Brain and
  2. the Thinking Brain

Each is an independent system of mostly emotional or mostly thinking processes.

But they also interact with each other.

And each can and does influence how the other functions.(3,4,6,7) Much more so than we had ever thought.

Lonnie is our Emotional Brain.

Lonnie is our Emotional Brain (Image CCO Creative Commons, via Pixabay)

As you can see from his picture, he is somewhat shy. He tries to stay out of our conscious awareness.

Just like our unconscious (mostly) remains outside of our conscious awareness 

You can also see that he’s a Lizard-Brain with a mission. His sole goal in life is to keep you safe. (Image CCO Public Domain, via PxHere)
Lonnie is a Lizard-Brain with a mission. His sole goal in life is to keep you safe — on his (Safety Template) terms

You can also see that he’s a Lizard-Brain with a mission.

His sole goal in life is to keep you safe — on his (Safety Template) terms.

Anytime you do something that he thinks is too dangerous

— like trusting someone or taking serious action on your life’s dream —

Lonnie sets out to convince you that you are making a BIG mistake.

“How stupid can you be?! You know that…
…women, men, parents, bosses, friends, are completely untrustworthy!
…you’re just being naïve. You can’t really do that!
Haven’t you learned ANYTHING yet?”

Sound familiar?

Recall for a moment a time you attempted something and failed, especially if it was out of your comfort zone.

Can you remember any of the “debriefing” conversations in your head in the aftermath?

Were they kindly and consoling? Berating? Devastating? Somewhere in between?

Whatever they were, most of the voices you heard were Lonnie’s

— or at least Lonnie’s orchestration of the voices.

…Lonnie is a psychological chameleon, morphing through his repertoire of ways to try and convince you: “Look, jerk, can’t you see how dangerous and wrong this is?!”. (Image CC0 Public Domain, via Pxhere.com

Because Lonnie is a psychological chameleon, morphing through his repertoire of ways to try and convince you:

“Look, jerk, can’t you see how dangerous and wrong this is?!”.

ESSENTIAL TO CONSCIOUS FUNCTIONING

As I noted earlier that Lonnie (our Emotional Brain) functions as a “separate” or independent system.

He can “secretly” initiate ideas and behaviors in us without our Thinking Brain knowing that he is their source.

MAKING RATIONAL CHOICES

At the same time, Lonnie and our Thinking Brain do interact.

So much so, it turns out, Lonnie’s input is now recognized as essential for our Thinking Brain’s ability to do certain things.

To put it scientifically,

“Attention, perception, memory, decision-making and the conscious concomitants of each are all swayed in emotional states.
The reason for this is simple: emotional arousal organizes and coordinates brain activity. “ (7)

For example, Lonnie tells our Thinking Brain about our preferences, likes, dislikes, etc. These depend on the emotions stimulated in Lonnie’s primitive “pleasure and pain centers”.

Without the distinctions between various possible choices provided by Lonnie’s input, the Thinking Brain simply cannot make choices and decisions, no matter how much additional information it gathers.

Because without emotional signals about what is or isn’t important to us, all options are equal to each other. (4)

Result?

The Thinking Brain literally cannot make a choice.

The reality of this has been demonstrated in research on patients with damage to the two-way connections between the Emotional and Thinking Brains. (4)

These patients could accurately identify and discuss things that were relevant toward making a proposed choice.

But they were incapable of actually making a definitive choice. Because they had no input from Lonnie to help them know how one choice was any different than the other in any meaningful way that really “mattered”.

MULLING THINGS OVER

Consider another example of Lonnie’s value to our Thinking Brain.

Even potentially dangerous or damaging things in the present don’t always trigger Lonnie’s alarm.

When we feel angry, we don’t typically just slug the other person automatically. (Uh, granted, there are exceptions to this…)

Typically, we “mull it over”.

(Image by U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Erin R. Babis/Released, via Royal Airforce Lakenheath)

It’s as if the Thinking and Emotional Brains are playing tennis, changing the ball a little each time they return it.

It’s as if the Thinking and Emotional Brains are playing tennis, changing the ball a little each time they return it (Image by Madchester, via Wickmedia Commons.
It’s as if the Thinking and Emotional Brains are playing tennis, changing the ball a little each time they return it.

In that process, Lonnie benefits from rational input beyond our emotional memories.

And our Thinking Brain gets hints from Lonnie’s stored memories of bodily signals (“feelings”). It’s that “gut” feeling we call intuition (6):

If we can recognize it, it signals, “Maybe I’m unconsciously recognizing more than I consciously realize.”

As result of this mulling process, we can use our intellect to curb our emotional impulses.

And we can use our emotions to inform and strengthen our intellect.

So we feel more confident — or at least more comfortable — about the choice we ultimately make.


“…Lonnie is also the source of our childlike curiosity, inventiveness, enjoyment and sense of wonder.” (Image © Blueximages, via Dreamstime.com)

FUN, CREATIVITY AND ZEST FOR LIVING

Most of the discussion thus far has focused on “Bad Lonnie”. Fortunately or not, “it ain’t that simple”.

There is also a “Good Lonnie” that goes beyond the more practical benefits just mentioned.

It is emotion that puts the compelling imperative into social duties, the ought into morality, the feeling into respect, and the sting into conscience”.(4)

Lonnie is the source of our “childlike” curiosity, inventiveness, enjoyment, and sense of wonder at life.

He’s the one that wants to go on an adventure, take risks, experiment…

And he’s the one who takes charge when we “fall in love”. (Of course, he’s also usually in charge when we “fall out of love.”)

He’s the one who can break into a hearty belly laugh at a good joke, or wants to go out dancing, and just can’t get enough of your favorite music.

So Lonnie (our Emotional Brain) is the source of our interest and enthusiasm for life (and of course, you do have these, right?).

And in all of that, he’s the one who tells us what we want, hope, and wish for with all our hearts.

Or what we hate and despise and can’t stand with a passion.

Or what we love and live for as our passion.

Without Lonnie, Columbus would be out of luck.

Our world really would be “flat”.

(For a thorough and very readable discussion of interactions and interedependencies between the Emotional and Thinking Brain, see Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Be More Important Than IQ (2))

In the next episode, I will have more to say about the need to include “good Lonnie” in our efforts to deal with “bad Lonnie”.

But for now,

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

(Image By NASA Scan by Kipp Teague (Apollo 13 Image Library (image link)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

No matter how important he is to the Thinking Brain, or to our happiness and zest for living, Lonnie has his own priorities.

Above everything else, he is committed to protecting us no matter what.

And when he’s frightened enough, he has complete power over our Thinking Brain.

On top of that, what he does out of fear is hidden from our Thinking Brain when he’s doing it.

Further, if Lonnie considers what we are doing is dangerous, he is convinced that he knows the Truth about what we are doing and that we don’t.

And he won’t ever give up trying to convince us of that.

The more you ignore Lonnie’s warnings, the more he will try to convince you that you are wrong.

As they say, “What we resist persists.”

This is why we can initially feel so clear and confident about taking a risky action. And 10 minutes later, we start doubting ourselves and what we are doing. And once we actually take action, Lonnie ups the ante even more.

So as we get closer to achieving a goal that happens to frighten Lonnie enough, the more anxious we get.

Lonnie then uses this as even more evidence that you really shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing because your just getting more and more anxious, and you really shouldn’t have even started it in the first, and what were you thinking, yada.

OBJECTION!

“Now wait a minute,” you might say. “We aren’t completely controlled by our emotions all of the time. In fact, we use thinking most of the time!”(Image © Hurricanehank, via Dreamstime.com)

Now wait a minute,” you might say. “We aren’t completely controlled by our emotions all of the time. In fact, we use thinking most of the time!”

I agree. Only I would say “much” rather than “most: And when Lonnie isn’t driving, there’s no problem.

In this story, we are only talking about when emotions make the difference between things like war and peace, marriage and divorce, success or failure, etc.

At the same time, this is not only a story about the misadventures of Lonnie.

It is also about managing our emotions in the face of real current dangers, catastrophes, losses, defeats, setbacks, failures, etc..

We might say it’s about managing our emotions in the face of Life Doing Life.


IS THERE ANY HOPE?

Are we condemned to just keep repeating the same history-based errors in judgment that Lonnie makes for us?

Is there any hope of ever getting Lonnie to stop giving us knee-jerks? (Image by thecrazyfilmgirl from USA (Stop Sign) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)
We can’t stop something we don’t even consciously know is happening or affecting us.
Instead, all we need to answer is, “How can we manage Lonnie (as best we can)?”

Is there any hope of ever preventing our knee-jerk reactions from occurring?

Fortunately, that’s not a question we have to answer.

Because it’s the wrong question.

As Frank puts it,

“…the usual cortical controls of emotion are rendered useless when we are not aware that there is anything to control .”(4)

That is, we can’t stop something we don’t even consciously know is happening or affecting us.

Instead, all we need to answer is, “How can we manage Lonnie (as best we can) by:

1. intervening on our knee-jerks (You can read more about this in ta future episode)

2. Reducing their negative impact as much as we can while

3. Still benefitting from the good things Lonnie has to offer.

For now, the point is that we can’t overcome, prevent, ignore, or “control” Lonnie’s inevitable knee-jerk reactions.

We have no conscious choice about that.

YES, THERE IS HOPE

The “simple” answer to managing Lonnie and ourselves as best we can is:

Read further episodes in this story and learn how to become and remain Real Adults.

Because being a Real Adult means being able to live effectively regardless of feelings and circumstances.

Including Lonnie!

FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW

  1. Begin paying attention to your attitude throughout the day. Glass 1/2 full, or 1/2 empty?
  2. Be curious about how Lonnie shows up in your daily life
  3. Be on the lookout for Lonnie sightings. These may take different forms. A flash of enjoyment, a moment of playfulness, an urge to listen to music. Or even full blown Lonnie Events (e.g. “knee-jerks”)
  4. Introduce yourself to Lonnie — respectfully, as if he were a knowing and intelligent child. (Because he is.)

5. Tell him you’re glad to discover he’s there, and you look forward to getting to know him better.

WHAT’’S NEXT

In the next episode I will give some additional information needed to better understand “ — at least how Life CAN work”.

Following that, I’ll talk about what we can do to become Real Adults, managing both Lonnie and ourselves effectively.

In the mean time, whether you want to read more or not

— and maybe even more if you don’t —

I would really appreciate your reactions, comments, thoughts, good or bad, about what you have read here.

And to those of you interested enough to read further, I look forward to the possibility of hearing from you.

Because again, we sure could use some Real Adults out there!

EPILOGUE

If you are curious to know more about what’s coming, here are tentative outlines of some future episodes.

EPISODE 2 (tentative)

  1. HOW LIFE CAN BE
  2. FEELING SAFE VS. BEING SAFE
  3. REAL FEELINGS VS. REAL-LIKE-GRAVITY-IS-REAL
  4. REAL THINKING VS. RUMINATION
  5. REAL ADULTS VS. PSEUDO-ADULTS
  6. RECOGNIZING OUR KNEE-JERKS
  7. CONSCIOUS CHOICE AFTERWARDS

EPISODE 3 (tentative)

  1. WHAT WE CAN DO
  2. FILLING YOUR BANDWIDTH
  3. MENTAL DISCIPLINE
  4. DON’T ARGUE BACK
  5. TAKING THE REINS
  6. CONTAINING AND SELF-SOOTHING
  7. CONTAINING OTHERS
  8. CONTAINING OUR OWN EMOTIONS
  9. SELF-REPARENTING

9. REFUELING CYCLE — BACK TO THE SECURE CONTAINER

10. THE METHODOLOGY ITSELF

11. SIMPLE VS. CLEAR

12. INVITATION

13. EPILOGUE


BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Maslow, A. 1943. H. A Theory of Human Motivation, “Psychological Review”, , 50:370–396.
  2. Goleman, D. 2005. “Emotional Intelligence:Why It Can Matter More Than IQ”; Bantam Books, 10th anniversary addition, Chapter 2, pp 13–29.
  3. Phelps, E. A. 2004, Human emotion and memory: interactions of the amygdala and hippocampal complex: Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 14:198–202.
  4. Phelps, E. A. 2004, Human emotion and memory: interactions of the amygdala and hippocampal complex: Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 14:198–202.
  5. 1. 2018, Amygdala Hijack, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In “Definition” section (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack)
  6. Sterret, E. J The Science Behind Emotional Intelligence 2014, HRD Press, Inc. 22 Amherst Road. Amherst, MA 01002
  7. 1. (LeDoux (2000:225) “Cognitive-Emotional Interactions: Listen to the Brain.” pp 129–155 in Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion, edited by R. D. Lane and L. Nadel. New York: Oxford University Press. Cited in Ref. 4, (above), pp 40.