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90 Seconds to a New You

The Stop Watch
Creative Commons License photo credit: Jofus | JoeTheDough

We are wonderfully made.  We were created to survive in a hostile environment and are designed for quick reactions to new or unfamiliar situations.  These reactions take place in our limbic system.  This is the instinctual part of our brain and it serves us well for knowing when things aren’t right and we may be in danger.

In [amazon-product text=”My Stroke of Insight” type=”text”]0452295548[/amazon-product], Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor explains that physiologically speaking, reactions by this part of our brain occur very quickly.  What this means is that we perceive something, our limbic system changes our physiology to deal with the perceived situation, flooding our system with the appropriate chemicals, and just as quickly, our body drains those chemicals from the system.  The entire cycle takes 90 seconds.

What’s Next?

Most of us aren’t aware of the many subtle shifts that take place in us during an average day.  Especially when we’re busy, we tend to just put one foot in front of another and keep moving.  In reality, we are noticing things subconsciously and reacting emotionally to what is brought to our attention.  The fascinating part of this is that our reaction may be to something external or to something that we’re thinking.

Throughout the day we are having internal conversations with ourselves and the origin of those conversations is the verbal part of our brain.  When Dr. Taylor had her stroke, one of the first things that she noticed was that this conversationalist was quiet.  Because her injury was to the left side of her brain, which is the location of verbal skills, she was blessed with a quiet sense of peacefulness.  As her brain repaired itself (with her help), she was able to choose how much attention to give to this chatterbox.  She learned how to choose her thoughts.

We’ve all had the experience of extreme emotional reactions.  For me, it happens when I’m flying.  All of us are more alert in new situations.  If it has been a while since I’ve been on an airplane, every unidentified sound and every little bump are read as a reason to react.  My hyper-alertness results in lots of limbic reactions to minor events.  If I’m not careful, I will spiral into a panic which lasts the entire flight and leaves me feeling out of control and “stupid” on top of that.  (After all, no one else seems to want to run up and down the aisles screaming.  They just don’t understand.)  The evolved me is not in control.  For the first 90 seconds, my limbic system is in control.  After that, as Dr. Taylor learned, it’s up to me.

You Get to Choose

For the past week or so, Ellie and I have been writing about techniques that help us to choose our reality.  We hope you’ve been trying these techniques and have come along on our journey.  If you have felt that what we’ve been discussing may be a little too new age-y, here is the science to back up our premise “You can choose your reality.”  Your limbic system only controls you for 90 seconds, after that, it’s up to you.

Just because your limbic system has ceded control over the chemicals in your body after 90 seconds, doesn’t mean that everything is hunky dory again. (I find it really scary when Word’s spell check knows how to spell hunky dory.  Who puts that stuff in there?)  While your body was flooded with chemicals, your left brain was busy composing a story to support the panic or anger or fear.  So although your body is designed for a quick reaction, your left brain is still “justifying” your physical reaction and, by putting a story to it, feeding the reaction to enlarge it.

Recently, I avoided a nasty auto accident.  I was driving through a major intersection near my house and narrowly missed being side swiped by a car that hadn’t noticed that the light was red until it was too late to stop.  The other driver slammed on his brakes (I could tell by the awful screeching noise).  He ran the light, but he missed me by thaaaat much (picture thumb and index finger very close together).  Believe me, my system was FLOODED with adrenaline.  There was so much adrenaline in my system that I was shaking (I’m sure you’ve been there).

All of that is perfectly normal.  The limbic system did its job, noticed the danger and reacted with a flood of chemicals to help my reaction time, sharpen my vision and escalate my decision making.

What happened next is what often happens, but doesn’t have to.  I GOT FURIOUS!  The danger had passed.  It was over.  We hadn’t even stopped to exchange information.  There was no point.  He (actually, I don’t know if the driver was male or female) was an IDIOT.  He could have KILLED me.  WHAT was he doing?  Talking on his cell phone… yeah, I bet that’s it.  My left brain story teller was fast at work, explaining WHY we’d just missed being hit.  And, oh, by the way, it was all HIS fault because he was an IDIOT!  Why are there so many idiot drivers?  Their licenses should be taken away…  You get the idea.

Really, You Do Get to Choose

Two realizations come out of this example for me.  First, long after it was all over, my left brain was still stirring up trouble.  For several hours after this, I would flash back to the incident and the accompanying anger.  Second, our brain doesn’t discriminate, it tirades about whatever is in its sights.  One moment it may be tirading about other people, and then the next moment, it picks something you’ve done and proceeds to go to work on you like it did on my almost accident driver.  The left brain is an equal opportunity abuser.

So today, choose how you want to feel.  Pick one of the techniques that we are sharing with you to achieve that goal.  [amazon-product text=”The Talent Code” type=”text”]055380684X[/amazon-product] and My Stroke of Insight both provide compelling evidence that our brains are much more adaptive than we ever imagined.  With the right tools and training we can learn to choose our thoughts.  We can choose to be happy.  We can choose to admire and leverage our ability to develop new habits rather than focusing on our old habits.  We can choose our reality.

2 comments to 90 Seconds to a New You

  • Yes, you do really get to choose. Reality is what we perceive it to be. In the end it’s all perception. That’s why we love movies, TV, theater, and doing art. While doing art, whether it be doing a watercolor, making a pie, arranging a room of furniture, etc. is all about expressing and revealing our perceptions. It gives us a sense of control over our lives. Yet in many ways we really have little control. If you really think about all the laws and rules we feel the need to follow, we are but puppets esp. when you think of our political environment. This is also where religion comes in handy. It makes us feel as if someone competent is driving the bus of life.

  • PattiAnn

    Thanks for contributing. What I really love about all the new research into how our brains/minds work is that where as before it seemed as if we were victims of our emotions or moods, it seems that we just didn’t understand how it all worked. Other cultures have been more in tune with their right brain/creative side. They believe in the power of prayer and meditation far more than we do in our “logical” Western culture. Hopefully, over time, more of us will understand and value how we are built and use it to achieve wondrous things.