From survival to happiness- a Nervous System Hack

Did you know that we’ve inherited a survival wiring in our nervous system from our ancestors? Unfortunately, this default survival wiring in our modern day context no longer serves us. Instead it is  ironically risking us undesirable wellbeing and health consequences.

Do you sometimes get a strong emotional reaction quite suddenly and later realise your reaction was inappropriate? This is the classic Amygdala hijack.

It is an overwhelming emotional response disproportionate to the stimulus as your body is triggered to response to a perceived physical threat such as a tiger outside our ancestor’s cave.

Amygdala hijack is the term coined by Daniel Goleman to describe the overwhelming response is disproportionate to the stimulus.

We have been for the last several hundred years victims of a response developed in us thousand years ago, what was at that time crucial for our survival. That response which has been genetically programmed in the very cells of our physical body. The scientist called this the Fight, Flight or Fright Response (“FFF” Response).

Our ancestors were hunter gatherers, they were surrounded by animals who found them delicious! So they learnt to protect themselves by running or fighting. That was useful at the time for survival. In our modern times, this FFF response is triggered by imaginary fears, by stock market, by flight delays, by emails from your boss, by things which we perceived as physical treat. That response no longer serves us.

Instead, it is ironically contributing to stress, illness and causing heart disease, compromised immune system, epidemic of cancer and many others. If what you are reading here speaks to you, perhaps you are ready to upgrade our default wiring from survival to happiness?

Imagine you are at your desk working hard on a deal, and suddenly an email comes in from your boss, complaining about the ‘unhealthy’ looking pipeline in salesforce, this might be your trigger ! So the next time you might want to notice and pay attention to a trigger, which may be perceived by our brain to be a physical threat triggering an amygdala hijack! (of course I am assuming non-life threatening triggers and no tigers at your door!) And if you notice it, pause and count from 1 to 21, you might be able to avoid it!

With the amazing discoveries of brain science, it is indeed possible to rewire our brain by consistently engaging in mind training exercises which will allow us to have better choice and control when the next Amygdala hijack strikes! One of these discoveries is neuroplasticity. Unlike what we used to think, our brain is not concrete and solid.

In fact, our brain is continuously changing and reshaping in response to our experiences, and this happening wittingly or unwittingly. Our brain cells (neurons) signal to each other forming a connection, network or roads, enabling body movements, thoughts and emotions responses.

We have existing default networks, we can grow new ones and the”sculpting” process will enhance the efficiency in our existing brain networks, as a result of frequent use.

Just as we go to the gym to train our bodies, we can also train our mind in the same way.

In the 1940s, someone jogging would look quite ridiculous as no one is chasing them! In the same way, I believe that mind training is the game changer exercise of our times. It is an essential mental hygiene habit we need to cultivate.

Cultivating mindfulness through daily meditation will certainly encourage more healthy habits of our mind, this way, through constant practice of mind training, we can transform these practices so that they become our very own internal resources, helping us to find freedom, lightness of being and balance in the midst of amygdala hijack, other neurosis or difficulties in our lives.

It will helps us shift from acting on an auto-pilot basis to responding with greater awareness, from reacting with compulsion to choosing our response with a sense of calm and certainty. This way, as we will begin to master our mind and we will also master our life.

We will no longer be a victim of our past and become a pioneer of our future.

The key in becoming the pioneer of your future is your ability to create space between a trigger and your response, as said by Viktor Frankl, ,Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

,”Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


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