Our brain’s wiring doesn't always help us

Our brain is constantly taking in information but its filters, formed through evolution, leave a lot of data out. This filtering has many implications on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

In the humdrum of life it is easy to forget that our brain was created over many, many thousands of years of evolution. Like a super computer humming away, our brain is constantly taking in and processing information to make sense of the world around us, and our place in it. With its limited capacity, through evolution, the brain learned to prioritize certain information above other and to filter out everything that doesn’t present a threat to our survival.

The implications of this filter are vast. It helps explain why we worry so much and may feel like we’re constantly anxious. Our brain has a bias towards these activities and feelings because they’ve helped us survive in the past (imagine a cave person who never worried...). A second implication is that our brain gives less emphasis to pleasant feelings and moments compared with less pleasant ones. While feelings like sadness and worry encourage us to slow down and reflect, higher energy feelings like joy and excitement have the opposite effect. When we’re feeling happy, we don’t want to reflect on it, we just want to experience and live it.

The filter also impacts how we behave and makes it easy for us to take things for granted. Like Victor S. Johnston writes, “we don’t smell clean air, taste pure water or see the vast expanse of the electromagnetic spectrum.” [1] We may not recognize our own small daily achievements or those of our friends and colleagues, instead we take them for granted or deem them unworthy of our consideration. But we should celebrate each small victory because they matter, and because they add up. By filtering out we also risk missing the small, early signs of trouble that may be stewing in our lives, relationships and organizations.

99% of the time I was working on Feelmo [2], I was drowning in feelings of doubt, anxiety and fear. My brain was so focused on managing these feelings that I often failed to appreciate the progress we were making and the impact that we were having. Dealing with the daily worries also meant that there was less capacity and energy to focus on the big problems that threatened the survival of the business.

Mindfulness practice can help open our awareness to more by allowing more information to seep through the filter. It doesn’t necessarily require meditation, though it helps. Instead, begin by being more observant. What’s happening inside of you? Around you? Make note of this in a journal of some sort (or Feelmo) and then go on living your life.

Notes

[1]: Why We Feel: The Science Of Human Emotions, by Victor S. Johnston

[2]: www.feelmo.com

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