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Meet Your Reptilian Brain

"we have three brains, not just one"

How are you managing your personal list of goal & resolutions? If your list of ‘misses’ is longer than ‘hits’, do not despair, for your reptilian brain might be to blame. Once you make peace with it, and understand its role, making changes in your life will become easier. So, how do we ‘manifest’ what we desire in our lives? By expanding our level of awareness, and prioritizing which old patterns (bad habits) we want to change, we would be well on our way to affecting those changes.

According to the triune brain theory, developed by Dr. Paul MacLean, Chief of Brain Evolution and Behavior at the National Institutes of Health, we have three brains, not just one. The brain stem or reptilian brain which is the oldest and smallest brain of the evolved human remnant of our prehistoric past, and similar to the brain possessed by reptiles that preceded mammals, roughly 200 million years ago.

Then there’s the limbic stem or mammalian brain (the cerebellum) which developed later on and enables us to process emotion on a more sophisticated level, and the neocortex (cerebrum) which is the most evolutionary advanced part of our brain.

The brain stem, responsible for self-preservation, is located at the base of the skull emerging from our spinal column and rules basic emotions as love, hate, anger, fear, lust and making quick survival decisions without thinking (irrational), like ‘fight or flight’.

Any change, including a rational and positive one, can be perceived as a threatening and a fearful one, by our reptilian, or irrational, brain. This is because the change is perceived to endanger an already familiar state, such as an old habit. Our reptilian brain overrides our rational, or more developed, brain to protect us from that threat. Dr George DeSau, a prominent psychologist and Certified Silva Method Instructor, gives us some insight into why resolutions do not work.

He suggests that there are three things necessary to use in addition to knowledge and action-skills. First is a change in self-image, without this there is no permanent change, second is a technique that can help you to eliminate and change limiting beliefs, and lastly a means of handling the resistance of the old reptilian brain, the part of all of us, that powerfully resists change.

This can explain why some lottery winners, do not change their lifestyle after winning millions. He argues that an inability to accept self-image changes results in regressing back to former conditions. A resolution, or a change of habit, sets in motion the same “survival” dynamics and can be perceived by the reptilian brain as a moving into new territory and therefore a threat to survival. A change in behaviour (self-image) such as smoking, over eating, procrastination, exercise, etc activates this primitive survival response. The reaction is to return to the old familiar behaviour and self-image.

So how do we change? Instead of just rationalizing our desire to change, we need to change, or engage, our intellectual and emotional ‘brains’ in that process, otherwise we may find that desire poses a threat to our prehistoric, self-preserving’ brain!

making change happen

  • Prioritize and make a short list of changes which are most important to you.
  • Keep a journal, or a scrap-book, where you can express your goals in writing as well as in images that symbolize your desired goals. Images of the goal desired goals, communicate with the emotional brain. Writing and working on belief systems communicates with the intellectual brain.
  • Familiarize your ‘brains’ with the new desired goals, by using and viewing your scrap-book frequently.
  • Eliminate negative beliefs and doubts by setting realistic goals. It is not good setting a goal logically, if emotionally you do not believe you can achieve it!

note that quote

“ The quest for the good life is still the central task for mankind. Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.”
Meredith Garmon, professor of philosophy, University of Virginia.

© Copyright Sahar Huneidi

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About Sahar Huneidi-Palmer (74 Articles)
<p>Author, Columnist, Holistic Therapist & Personal Development Coach focusing on Personal Resilience. Helping my clients achieve the life they are meant to live since 1992. I am a published poet in literature magazines in the UK; and play the piano. My friends and those who know me describe me as a “wise woman” and a “pathfinder”. I am passionate about demystifying the abstract, writing, teaching, brand-management, podcasting, and love Turkish coffee!</p>

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