Show Notes - Using Your Brain to Make Decisions

Hello, my friends, Peggy Moore here with the Discover your personal power podcast. As a former Trauma ICU nurse, I love pathophysiology.  I love learning how the body and mind work.  And I especially love talking about the brain. Today, I am going to talk about how we can train our brains to help us live a life of peace, purpose, and power.   Understanding how your brain works can help when targeting new behaviors and trying to change bad habits. 

Let’s learn together how to manage our minds or control our brains.

We make decisions with two parts of our brain, the lower brain or the higher brain.  The lower brain is also known as the primitive or emotional brain. The higher brain is the prefrontal cortex or executive functioning part of the brain. 

Let’s talk about the lower brain for a minute. 

Lower brain, primitive brain, or emotional brain is the part of our mind that is dominated by emotions. We have an emotion, and that emotion tells us to act. We’re afraid, so we hide. We’re happy, and we sing. We’re angry, we hit something. Someone says something we don’t agree with and we start to argue.  We feel a little tense, we reach for a piece of chocolate. 

The bigger the emotions get, the more prone we are to use our emotional brain to make decisions. This is what’s known as impulsive behavior. A big emotion arises, and along with it comes an urge to act. If the emotion is big enough we act without thinking. 

The emotional/primitive brain is the place of taking risks, being impulsive. And it can kind of run like the accelerator in a car. During the teenage years, this part of the brain is on fire and that is why, we often see teenagers making decisions that are risky, and impulsive because their higher brain is not fully developed yet. 

This part of the brain is the ancestral hardware of the brain that primes us to react appropriately to threatening environments. This lower or primitive part of the brain contains the hard-wired biological function of the flight or flight system that helps us survive.‎ The emotional brain also works out of habit or personal comfort. 

 This emotional part of the brain also plays an important role in creating memories and pathways for pleasure.  Our emotions or emotional responses are pathways in our brain that have been trained by years of experience. 

The lower brain is dominated by habits or impulse. 

When trying to form a new habit it can feel like you are trying to ride an elephant. 

Johnathan Haidt uses this analogy in his book The Happiness Hypothesis.  An elephant is big and strong and can be difficult to control. The rider can steer and pull the elephant in a particular direction, but ultimately, the elephant is going to go where it wants to go.  “The balance of power between the rider (your rational brain) and elephant(emotional brain) plays a large part in shaping your daily choices. 

by the time we are 24 our prefrontal cortex or our executive functioning higher brain is fully developed.  This part of our brain is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior.  The prefrontal cortex or frontal part of the brain is like the brain’s chief's executive officer and can be likened to the brakes in your car. Your primitive brain is always a few milliseconds faster than your frontal brain, remember its the accelerator on the green. That is why it is so important to pause before responding to highly emotional situations with your prefrontal rational brain or brakes. 

 It helps you differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, deliberate between future consequences of current activities, and work toward a defined goal. 

Living a life dictated by the unpredictable feelings of the moment is your elephant or primitive brain by default.  To live a life of peace, purpose, and power is using your rational higher brain to make decisions that are in line with your values and goals. This may take a little practice but is so worth it. 

To use your rational brain to make decisions all you have to do is start paying attention.  Don’t respond immediately to situations.  But as you start to incorporate your frontal brain and pay attention to your thoughts and your emotions, 

Be curious.  Discovering your personal power is about learning about yourself. Paying attention to your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors in a nonjudgement way.  Just being curious. 

When you find yourself feeling angry or sad or upset.  Try to stop and use your rational brain to think about the situations.  What thoughts contributed to these feelings?  What is the context where I am feeling these emotions? 

By consciously monitoring our thoughts, emotions, and related behaviors, we can create the life we want. 

I hope you guys enjoyed learning about your emotional/ primitive brain the elephant and your prefrontal cortex/executive brain or rider. 

Our brain is so powerful. Our brain controls all our emotions.  We have the ability to choose what kind of emotions we want to feel.  I am not saying it is never appropriate to feel sad or hurt or angry.  What I am saying is you have the power to choose. You have the power to train your elephant to go the direction that you choose.  You have the power to create the life that you want to live. You have the power to decide how you want to show up in the world. 

I hope you loved learning about the brain as much as I did.  Spend some time this week just being curious and paying attention.  Use your journal and discover your personal power. 

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Until we meet again my friends

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