Each individual comes factory equipped with the most sophisticated and advanced piece of computing technology that the world has ever seen. Yet, most people don’t use it to its fullest potential. It’s easy to almost forget to use our brains because, in reality, we are always using them. Because we understand that our brains are working relentlessly, we believe that we have no need to push them or direct them. We are under the illusion that leaving our minds to roam around on autopilot is the best way of living.
This all stems from the fact that few people have a good enough understanding of how the brain itself works — it’s a very complicated piece of hardware and its sheer complexity is often enough to scare away even the most curious of persons. Because we don’t have a clear understanding of how the brain works, we are unable to utilize it in the proper manner. Why is this a big deal? Because without utilizing our brains' capabilities fully and correctly, we can never reach our full potential. The world is worse off for it and we are unhappy because we feel that our lives and even we ourselves are sometimes completely out of our control.
I won’t pretend to know all there is to know about the brain and its functions. I’m not a neuroscientist of any sort, but I do know enough to be able to say confidently that most people aren’t aware of who they really are. Let me clarify: we are under the illusion that the voice that we hear inside our minds is us; we believe that that voice — our consciousness — is our very being.
We all have this voice. We hear it throughout the day commenting on this and that as we take in sensations and process them from the world around us. Some people refer to this voice as their conscience. This voice is basically a commentator; it sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells the reality around us and comments on it on impulse. It senses and it reacts by saying things like, “Wow, is that woman beautiful…” or “That piece of chicken sure does look delicious,” or “I hate this song playing on the radio.” It’s the voice that we hear that comments instantly on what we experience in our lives.
However, this voice is not “us.” We can relate to it because it seems to be in line with our emotions, likes and dislikes. Yet, it isn’t actually “us” — it’s only a part of us, a part of our brains. Our brains are split into three general areas (please don’t hate me for the oversimplification): the forebrain, the midbrain and the hindbrain — also known as the “lizard brain.” This voice that we are hearing is most closely associated with our hindbrains or lizard brains.
It acts out of impulse. It experiences and it comments almost instantly with minimal processing and mulling over the information that was taken in through our senses. The hindbrain is the oldest part of our brain; it is the part of our brain that is at the bottommost layer — the part that we share with other animals, such as lizards. It is the brain that doesn’t process information, but rather acts on instinct alone. This voice is your instinct, but it is not actually you.
You see, you are not just that one layer of your brain. The brain itself is not you — it’s a tool for you to use to make the most out of your life and out of your experiences. While your hindbrain deals with the sensory information and then comments on it instinctively, we have the forebrain that allows us to process and to analyze the information the hindbrain is picking up on from our environments, and we have the midbrain that connects the two.
If you have ever experienced the sensation of having two conflicting voices inside your head, it’s your hindbrain and forebrain in opposition. For example, your hindbrain could be telling you to grab that extra donut while your forebrain will be arguing that you promised yourself to keep a strict diet. Or, your hindbrain will be telling you to jump the bones of the very handsome fellow you run into while your forebrain is telling you to stay faithful to your boyfriend. These are the angel and devil sitting atop of your shoulders.
So if you’re not your hindbrain then you must be your forebrain, correct? No — actually, you are the person behind the curtains orchestrating the whole circus. The hindbrain is filled with survival instincts, such as eating in order to avoid starvation or lusting in order to guarantee procreation and the continuance of our species.
Fortunately, we have evolved past these basic impulses and are capable of higher-level reasoning and rationale. We don’t have to give in to the voice of our lizard brains because we have the voice of our forebrains to keep us in check. The problem is that our forebrains don’t always win. Because our hindbrains urge us to act on our most basic needs, the results of those actions result in instant gratification that is rather pleasant — at the moment at least.
However, if we come to understand that our forebrain was created in order to further our species, that it was adapted in order to bring about the further evolution of the human race, then we will have to come to understand that listening to our forebrains rather than our hindbrains is what will get us the results that we want.
Only by first understanding why you have conflicting feelings about a situation can you proceed to make the best possible decision. If you have ever had trouble quieting the voice inside your head, had trouble slowing down enough to be able to actually think clearly, you now should understand that it’s because you never thought that there was more than one voice inside your mind. Moreover, you never even considered that neither of the voices are actually you yourself. Your brain is only a tool for you to use to make the most out of your life.
You don’t have to listen to your hindbrain if you choose not to — you have a forebrain that is willing to make the decisions for you allow it to. Once you can distinguish between these two voices, you will be able to make decisions more readily and — most importantly — you will be able to shut off that annoying voice that so often second-guesses your decisions.
If you begin to address your hindbrain directly, hear it out, and then have your forebrain process the information and initial perception offered by the hindbrain, then you will be able to literally tell your hindbrain that you heard it out and that you disagree. Reasoning with your brain in such a way will help it quiet down and will relieve much of the anxiety that you feel. Practice this enough and you will become much more in tune with who you actually are — the illusion of those voices being our person will disappear and you will find your true you.