How to Tell if Your Decisions are from Your Evolved or Primitive Brain
Decisions can be motivated by thoughtful consideration from our higher mind (frontal lobe/ executive functions), or fear-based survival instincts (amygdala, impulses) from a more primitive mind. When decisions are informed by our higher mind, they are more likely to lead to positive outcomes. Alternatively, decisions driven by survival instincts from the past can hold us back.
John, a successful engineer, had episodes of procrastination, doubt, and panic when making decisions. He would ruminate indecisively.
Growing up, John’s dad was anxious and opinionated. Fearful of his dad’s criticism and anger, John tried to stay under the radar, or figure out the “right” answer. As an adult, he re-experienced the fear of a boy facing high stakes and lacking the resources to cope.
Here, the cause of John’s paralysis wasn’t his anxiety, but the loss of access to his higher mind reflective capacities and perspective. Re-experiencing is like an emotional flashback, or dreaming — in that we’re embedded in the story — and lack awareness that it’s only a state of mind.
The effect of hidden fears on decision-making
Compartmentalized fears from childhood can intrude into present-day reactions without our awareness — complicating decisions and clouding judgment. Ingrained reactions, behavior patterns, and inner dialogues — shaped by attachment experiences growing up — are childhood adaptations that develop for emotional survival that can persist out of context, into adulthood.
Similar to an oversensitive smoke detector, alarm reactions can be activated in the absence of actual danger, triggered by situations that unconsciously resemble anxiety-producing situations from the past. When this happens we re-experience overwhelmed states of mind, believing we’re in trouble when we’re not and underestimating our present day ability to cope.
Typical fears from childhood include fear of: