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Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.
December 3rd, 2019
[This episode extends from Episode 591, Emotional Regulation Part I. This will be a casual, ongoing series with an experimental attempt to group some of the themes that appear on Tinkered Thinking regularly.]
Every action is predicated - in fact - dictated by an emotion. Just like a good question which can generate the emotion to draw us into a quest to find an answer, even the smallest action, like grabbing one more potato chip has at its root, in emotion.
Success, or even just progress, in any area is determined by the kinds of actions that we take. This process of action selection and execution gets a lot of the fanfare in the noisy world of productivity hacks. But if we agree for a moment that all action is derivative of an emotion, then why is this emotional component not part of our focus?
Tinkered Thinking has previously spent some time exploring the symmetrical nature of both vicious and virtuous cycles. The vorticular structure of these cycles, like a whirlpool, seems to be everywhere, from the shape of galaxies, to the rotation of a hurricane – even to the way it feels when things are falling apart in life. Think of the wording we use around this instance. “I’m in a downward spiral”. Terrible emotional experiences like depression and anxiety seem to have a self-reinforcing nature. It’s as though they are primed by default to get stronger for as long as they exist. All of us, aside from perhaps the psychopathically happy, have experienced this sense of being drawn down into a funk. To put it lightly.
We might even wonder if there is a neurological pattern or structure upon which this whirlpool process is hosted, and if the Default Mode Network plays a crucial role in the particular polarity such cycles propagate, whether they be geared toward happy and productive or depressed and passive. Of course, this is mere speculation and is far beyond the scope of Tinkered Thinking’s aim here.
The underlying point is that our brain propagates this process, no matter what we shove into the machinery.
Think of it like any other piece of machinery. It’s built to do a certain function, and when that machine is turned on, it’s going to try and do that function, no matter what you put into it. Let’s take something basic as an example:
Say a garburator, which is used to tear up food scraps so they will wash down the drain. It’s built for food scraps, but it’s not build well enough to know if someone drops a fork down the drain. Either way, it’s going to try and process whatever is thrown into it.
The brain is much the same way. Give it an emotion, any emotion, and it’ll run with it, make it grow.
Thinking about yourself, and your brain upon which some sense of self operates on top of, as a slippery slope casts everything else in a new light.
For example, just think about how we are all so reactive. How we turn on the news and purposely expose ourselves to negatively framed information. And then that material gets fed into a brain which seems designed to amplify things emotionally.
With each and every waking moment, we are presented with a test. That test can be phrased as a simple question: which emotions are you willingly going to entertain?
When something goes wrong and there’s the opportunity to get angry or defeated over it… will you let those emotions define the moment, and potentially inform how you move into the next moment and onward into the future? That’s the test.
If instead you can regulate these emotions to the point of redirecting helpful emotions and misdirecting useless emotions, then progress will naturally arise. The test is simply how we choose to feed our internal emotional environment.
There’s that old parable about the two wolves that live inside of everyone. The good one and the bad one, and they are constantly battling one another for dominance. The question arises: which one will win? The answer of course, is the one you choose to feed.
The entry fee to progress is this emotional test. After that, success is a function of time, consistent effort, and attention.
How we actually pass this test effectively, and consistently is the real trick.
The tool that has the most ROI here is a dedicated meditation practice centered on concepts of mindfulness. How it works, is meditation gives you a pause button. It’s during this pause that you can make a conscious choice about which emotion you’re going to feed to the meat grinder.
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