Keeping the reptilian brain in check

February 14, 2023


Written by UJJI Team

Keeping the reptilian brain in check

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you stop to look fear in the face. You can say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you ever carried actions out of impulse? And by that, I don’t mean breathing, sneezing, yawning and the likes. Rather, I mean actions that you carried out in situations that needed a more rational approach before attempting to do something about it. Well, at one time or another, we may have gotten the “What were you thinking?” remarks for our actions, and if you ever wondered where that came from, let’s look at what a neuroscientist called Paul MacLean had to say about it.

We learned that man evolved from more primitive species in elementary or high school, who also evolved from less complex beings. However, it was more of an addition than shedding-off when it came to the brain’s evolution. So, MacLean proposed a hierarchical organization of the human brain based on their activities called the Triune brain model. And it says that three kinds of the brain run the mind; the reptilian which controls our primal instincts, it’s in charge of fight-or-flight, doesn’t think, purely instincts. Then we have the mammalian brain, which controls our emotions, and the neomammalian or Homo sapiens brain, which controls our rationality.

If you go back to some of those “what were you thinking?” situations, you will realize that we probably let the wrong brain handle the rational brain’s matters from what we have above. Hence we got such remarks. The thing is, real-life situations will always present a fight-or-flight situation. Still, we aren’t always expected to let the reptilian brain take care of things because the results are often a lot less desirable.

One of the major things that trigger our reptilian brain is fear. Now, it is not every time you experience fear that you are in danger, and that is where our work starts because of the reptilian brain; the only reason to fear is flight. However, if you were to give a speech at work, but you have stage fright, are you in danger? Or if you had to try out a business idea, is it life-threatening? I guess the answers to these questions will be “No,” which is the rational brain talking.

Therefore, the next time you feel nervous or think you’re getting afraid of something, remember: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

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