Do you take steps to control your thoughts, or do you allow your thoughts to control you? A good way to become aware of the point at which your thoughts start controlling you is by taking note of those ineffectual behavioural responses of yours, eg binge eating, biting of nails, procrastinating, fidgeting, chain smoking, aggressive behaviour – the list, for most of us, goes on. This is a very simple, but also a very powerful progression: thoughts-feelings-action.
Mastering your thoughts-feelings-action progression.
The first step on your journey of learning how to control your thoughts is internalising the above key insight. Controlling your thoughts will affect the alignment of your feelings with your thoughts, which will motivate you to act on these aligned feelings. It took me a long time to internalise this simple truth and this only after I was on the brink of burnout as mentioned in a previous blog. At the time my thought life was chaotic, I felt tense and fearful, my waistline started to expand from comfort eating, I was snappy and irritable a lot of the time. What I did not understand at the time was that I was desperately trying to get rid of the edginess or ‘nervous energy’ in my heart.
But once I understood the different heart-brain perspectives of my Primate brain and my Mammalian brain I finally managed to bring my thought life under control.
How do we go about bringing our thought life under control?
This concept can be better understood by first exploring our innate behavioural repertoires such as the above-mentioned Fight or Flight response that routinely gets activated in the absence of life-threatening danger. What on earth possessed my Mammalian brain to engage its Fight and Flight setting while I was sitting quietly working on my computer? The simple reason was that my Primate brain had seemingly ‘set the goal’ of controlling the multiple deadlines I was working against. My Mammalian brain, unable to obtain the set goal, defaulted to engaging its Fight or Flight response. By way of analogy you can see your Primate brain being like a rider and your Mammalian brain and body being like a horse.
The crucial principle to take to heart from the above is that our every thought effectively becomes a goal set by our Primate brains. And this goal set by our Primate brains is then taken as an instruction by our Mammalian brains. BUT if there is no clear single-minded goal for our Mammalian brains to go out and obtain, the instruction your horse (Mammalian brain and body) gets is that the situation is uncontrollable, and it immediately engages Fight and Flight behaviour with attendant release of nervous energy in the heart, because this has great survival value.
A good example of the survival value of nervous energy in the heart are soldiers at war having to be on high alert to best preserve their lives. Children growing up in abusive homes would similarly have excess nervous energy in the heart to keep them on high alert to closely monitor the mood of their parents. The sad reality is that if we have to deal with excess nervous energy in our hearts on a daily basis it will end up rewiring our brains and set us up for a lifetime of problems.
Moving from the spine to undo the dysregulation
Fortunately, this dysregulation can be undone by reversing the order of the sequence of events described above. Excessive nervous energy in the heart – that results in us losing control of our Primate brains and prompts ineffectual behavioural responses – can be reversed by way of correcting our postures and ‘moving from the spine’. This behavioural change will immediately affect changes in the chemical balance in our brain and in our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) activations. These balanced chemicals and ANS responses then help us to take back control over our thoughts.
Why then is posture and movement so important to help calm the heart and brain? It is easier to understand this by looking at its opposite: going into a collapse. A collapsed structure has the effect of putting your body and your brain ‘on the defensive’, which then activates your Fight or Flight response that increases your heart rate and hijacks your brain. If you are on the defensive you will not feel ‘safe’ in your body. This brings us back to why posture and movement are so important to help calm the heart and the brain, because it helps us to feel safe in our bodies and prevents us going ‘on the defensive’ and ‘instructing’ our Mammalian brains to engage Fight or Flight behaviour.
Two more motivated behaviours
Apart from defensive behaviour your Mammalian brain has two more ‘motivated behavioural’ programmes, ingestive behaviour and reproductive behaviour. They are ‘motivated’ because these behaviours are programmed into your Mammalian brain to satisfy your biological needs. They play out in very strict hierarchical order. First and foremost are your defensive behaviours, second ingestive behaviours and lastly, reproductive behaviours; with each behavioural response seeking to satisfy a specific biological need; 1) settled Nerves, 2) Nourishment and 3) Nurturing.
Rule #1: Don’t ever try and control these three types of behaviours with your Primate brain, because they will just end up controlling you.
If you have unsettled Nerves do not try to ease this by seeking out Nourishment or Nurturing, which has the effect of engaging either your ingestive or reproductive behavioural programmes. Note that engaging in Instant Gratification like this will only temporarily switch off your defensive behavioural response. If there is something or someone causing your nerves to be unsettled, don’t be tempted to engage in Instant Gratification behaviour. Either attend to what is unsettling your nerves or take steps to get away.
If your nerves are unsettled for no particular reason, the best way to dissipate the unease you are feeling is to use rhythmic rotational movements around the spine to redirect the energy into your spine (and movements) while your Primate brain observes and feels whether you are doing the movements correctly to thereby prevent ‘mental interference’. Mental interference is a generic term for those unproductive thoughts of ours that instructs our Mammalian brains to go on the defensive. Putting an end to mental interference will help you to calm your heart and your brain.
Please see our website for details about our workshops and one-on-one sessions that will teach you how to meet life’s challenges on the front foot, while KEEPING CALM on the inside, thereby energising your body and cultivating composure.
If you would like to take part in a 15 minutes slow movement intervention (that will help you get back into your body via rotational movement around the spine) please click this link and fill out the Wellbeing diary before and after doing the 15 minutes of movement as demonstrated on the video. This Wellbeing intervention is currently being done in collaboration with Northumbria University.