In Part 1 of this brain mini-series, I hoped to excite your desire to learn more about the brain. In this post, you will learn what you need to know to enhance your well-being.
To begin, think of yourself as having not just one brain but three brains:
- your thinking brain;
- your emotional brain;
- your body brain.
Although they are all connected, they act and are very different. The thinking brain conjures your thoughts. The emotional brain is where emotions and impulses arise. The body brain causes changes in the body when emotions trigger.
The body brain, therefore, controls changes in breathing, heart rate, muscular tension, stomach and gastrointestinal tension and so on. The job of the body brain is to ready our bodies for survival actions.
You can see in the picture above how the body brain extends downward. It connects the brain to the whole body through the spinal cord.
Along with the three brains, we also have a Self. The Self is the core “you.” The Self is how you were born before the challenges of life shaped you for better and for worse. It is the part of you that, when fully accessed, says, “I feel like me!” People who have had excessive hardship may feel very disconnected from their Self. That is because the Self can hide if it feels threatened.
The Self notices what’s going on inside the mind and body, and frequently the two do not communicate. For example, the Self could say about the thinking brain, emotional brain and body brain respectively, “I am aware that I am thinking about what the weather will be tomorrow,” “I am aware that I am angry at my boss and I feel an impulse to call him names,” and “I am aware that I have butterflies in my stomach as I think about public speaking.” I strongly encourage you to practice using your Self to notice your thoughts, feelings, impulses and body sensations. The Self assimilates all the information to use for our greater good.
Why am I encouraging you to spend the emotional effort to notice what your three brains are doing? Because when the Self takes the time to notice what’s happening in three brains, change happens. The mere act of focusing attention on what you want to change, scientists theorize, causes brain cells to fire. Brain cells that fire, in turn, cause brain cells to rewire, leading to changes from small to transformational.
The Self can learn to question the three brains. Questioning leads to understanding, and understanding tells us what to do next to help ourselves. When the Self questions an emotion, it would ask, “What happened that just made me feel_________?” When it questions a thought, it would ask, “What made that worry-thought about ________________ (fill in the blank with a worry-thought) come up right now?” When it questions a physical sensation, it would ask, “What made my stomach tighten up now?” When we listen to the three brains, we have a better sense of what to do next. Building awareness, questioning, then working with what we learn always leads to growth and change.
Here is a simple metaphor to help illustrate how your three brains and your Self work together:
Picture an orchestra with three sections: horns, strings, and percussion. The sections correspond to the thinking brain, emotional brain, and body brain. Now add the conductor, who represents the Self.
The orchestra sounds much better when the conductor leads. Of course, the instruments can still play if the conductor is absent. The problem is that without the conductor, the instruments don’t play so well together because they are not coordinated. But when a maestro steps in, he or she creates the most beautiful and harmonious music. I want to help you all become maestros of your mind. As a maestro, you will have more power and control to help yourself and others during hard times.
To be a maestro, we need to be very familiar with the three brains. To start, our Self needs to learn to recognize the difference between a thought, a feeling, and a physical sensation. We work with each one differently. Then we must practice communicating effectively with the three brains. By befriending them and communicating with them in moments of distress, we can gain power and control to help ourselves. People who work with their three brains in this way feel more organized, and experience greater peace, calm and confidence.
In summary, awareness of the three brains allows us to work with them purposefully. When we are in touch simultaneously with thoughts, feelings and body sensations, it is easier to meet life’s challenges. When we know what we are feeling and can use our emotions and sensations the way nature intended, we function better and feel more vital, energized, and alive. All of us can, at any time in our life, learn to conduct the three brains with expertise pulling the best from them and showing them how to work together for our benefit.
Part 3 of this series will give you an actual experience of your three brains and your Self, making everything I have shared more obvious.