34: Building A Badass Brain Pt. 1: The Neuro-Science Behind ‘Self-Sabotage’, Accessing ‘Flow State’ & Personal Transformation

The human brain fascinates me.

How this lump of tissue between our ears has the ability to control everything in our lives – our thoughts, our actions, our behaviours.

It’s incredible!

And it’s for this reason that I believe it is crucial we learn to understand the brain and how to look after it in the best way possible if we want to truly look, feel and perform like a badass.

Because, as we all know, you can have all the information in the world written down in front of you…

The blueprint to being a millionaire.

The recipe for getting the body you want.

The steps to optimal health.

But many of just end up… getting in our own way.

And becoming caught up in a whirlwind of procrastination, shiny object chasing, brain fog, unproductivity and self-sabotage that leaves us stuck and unable to do the things we know we ‘should’ be doing.

How to Build a Badass Brain

So I wanted to share my thoughts on how to build a badass brain and overcome all these things.

For ease of reading/listening, I’m going to approach this in two parts.

Firstly, here in this post I’ll go more into the neuro-scientific side of things to explain how to access parts of the brain that allow us to thrive and achieve greatness.

Then next week I’ll go more into the physiological side of things that will give you some epic info on how to give your brain exactly what it needs to perform optimally from that perspective.

By the end of these two parts I want you to have a greater understanding of the inner workings of your brain, how to get out of your own way to achieve what you want in life as well as how to fuel that bastard and make it physiologically immense.

I know that sounds like a tall order, but let’s give it a good fucking go anyway.

Ready? Here we go…

Triune Brain Theory

I’m going to use the neuro-scientific principle of the Triune Brain theory developed by Dr Paul Maclean to explain some of the shizzle going down in our brains.

This is the theory that we, as humans, are actually operating within a three brain system in our everyday lives.

These three brains have been given a variety of names over the years, but I know them as the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the human brain.

The Reptile

This is the most basic of our brains and its only requirements are survival and reproduction.

It is constantly on the lookout for immediate danger and how it can stay safe, obtain food and, once these are satisfied, continue the species going.

Think how a reptile lives. As soon as their eggs hatch, a reptile is fully able to go out into the world by itself. There is no connection, no ‘upbringing’ period and a mother will even eat its offspring if she was that desperate for food.

Your brain has this at the very basic level – a primitive need to survive, be safe, eat, excrete and reproduce.

The Mammalian

This is the ‘next brain layer’ or ‘second brain’ that we, and all other mammals, have been blessed with.

It’s the home of emotion as well as social, family and tribal connection and the reason why, in stark contrast to the reptile, a mammal would sacrifice itself in order to protect its young.

This is all down to a part of the ‘mammalian brain’ called the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), which has more opiate receptors than any other part of the brain.

This large number of opiate receptors means we get a huge ‘buzz’ from feeling connected socially.

So our brain has been wired up for us to literally become ‘connection junkies’ in order to have this innate desire to hang around in tribes and, as a result, stay safe.

The Human

Now this is the part of the brain that makes us human.

It is what allows us to start moving away from basic ‘survival mode’ and towards self-actualisation, considering and striving for goals and generally tapping into ‘consciousness’.

It’s also the brain we access when achieving that all so elusive ‘flow state’ where we just seem to get shit done and everything aligns purposefully.

A key player in the human brain is the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC), which is the only part of the brain that is considered to be ‘the mind’.

Once we’re in ‘the mind’, we’re able to think clearly, behave ‘logically’ and take actions that align with some future goal or desire without having to think about basic survival.

The Problem?

The problem (or potential problem, at least) is that this is a hierarchical system!

We all want to be in that human brain where we can make awesome, logical decisions, be ‘in flow’ and consistently grow and develop the Self.

But we need to satisfy the more basic brain before you’re able to ‘access’ the higher ones.

And many of us are attempting to achieve goals in life while constantly being pulled back into the more primitive brains by perceived ‘threats’ making an appearance in our lives and the environment around us.

There’s A Gunman in The Room!

Think about it…

You’re in line at the bank and all of a sudden a dude breaks in with a gun and holds it up to your head.

In that moment, it’s going to be pretty difficult to do anything other than think about the bullet that could be making its way towards your brain at any moment.

Forget creating and growing an awesome business.

Forget spending time on nurturing healthy relationships.

Forget preparing your healthy smoothie.

Your focus is on dealing with that threat of this douchebag with a gun to your head.

But we are, unknowingly for most, going around trying to do things in our lives with perceived threats going on that constantly pull us back into our more primitive brains and keeps us more concerned with ‘survival’ as opposed to growth.

That bill you keep ignoring and aren’t sure how you’re going to pay.

Seeing the ‘state of the economy’ on the news and worrying you’ll lose your secure job.

The judgment you’ll receive from others if you do anything that will distance you from your current circle of people.

These are all threats that pull us back into reptilian or mammalian brain and prevent us from accessing the ‘logical’ human brain.

So these ‘threats’ – these little aspects of our lives that seem so menial – create just as much havoc in our brains as having a genuine, real-life dude pointing a gun at our head everywhere we go.

Why Does ‘Threat’ Occur?

In simplistic terms, the brain is wired up to asses our environment, identify patterns within that environment, create predictions based off those patterns, come up with a response for the prediction and then create movement to carry out the response.

Assess – identify – predict – respond – act.

If any part of this chain is hindered or unable to be carried out, we see it as threat.

A reduced ability to predict what will happen in the future means we move into threat.

An inability to create an appropriate response to the environment, again, means we move into threat.

The reduced ability to predict whether the gunman is actually going to pull the trigger leaves us in threat.

The inability to create an appropriate response to a prediction of losing a job in the ‘bad economy’ leaves us in threat.

The inability to create a response to being cast out of our social group or ‘tribe’ leaves us in threat.

Perception is the Key

It’s key to point out at this point that I have used the term perceived threat at several points.

It’s very rare that we are actually under threat in the present moment. That we actually have a tiger chasing us or a person pointing a gun at us.

Yet we still create these predictions of potential threat and react as if we are experiencing the actual threat throughout most of the day.

So it’s our failure to satisfy this prediction and response mechanism of what might happen in the future that keeps us being pulled out of our human brains.

The Pre-Defined Reaction to Threat

Once our brain recognises a threat, we cannot help but react in one of three ways:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Freeze

Whether it be the bill we can’t pay, the fear of social exclusion or a genuine gun to our head, we always will react to threat in one of these ways.

We will fight it, run away from it or freeze and hope it goes away.

Either way, it stops us from acting ‘logically’ and accessing the part of the brain that considers long term goals and puts us in a happy, stress-free flow state.

The New ‘Meta Goal’

This then leaves us in a position of needing to eliminate threat before being able to access the human brain and really being able to grow, achieve and self-actualise.

It doesn’t matter how many goals you set, how hard you meditate, how many vision boards you do, how many books you read, how many ‘productivity systems’ you put in place…

Because if you continue to ignore these ‘threats’ manifesting in your life then you will continually ‘self-sabotage’ and choose safety over growth.

I’m not saying we consciously choose to self-sabotage. It’s just simply how your brain is wired up!

So the new ‘meta goal’, if you will, that enables us to access the human brain and begin striving and achieving all our other goals, is to identify, understand, minimise or completely eliminate the threats in our lives.

How to Control ‘Threats’

The first step to controlling all these threats in our lives is to understand and be aware of them.

Simply reading this blog or listening to the podcast episode is (hopefully) enough to start your understanding of what’s going on in your brain.

After reading or listening to this you now know that threats are there, what they are, how they work and what it is that you’re looking out for.

So what in your life is acting as the ‘gunman in the room’? The thing that keeps pulling your focus and energy and is stopping you from consistently doing what you know you ‘should’ be doing to achieve what you want to achieve?

Is it a prediction that you’ll blow all your money if you leave your job to start the dream business?

Is it a prediction that you will become isolated from your social circle if you’re required to stop drinking and eating bad food with them in order to take control of your health?

Is it an actual dude with a gun to your head!? (In which case, I give you permission to stop reading and go deal with that J )

Now Respond to Your Predictions!

Whether our threats are real or perceived, we still need an appropriate response in place in order to eliminate the shit storm that comes with them.

So once you’ve explored what’s going on in your own head and what’s pulling you back into your more primitive brains, it’s time to start thinking of some logical responses to your predictions.

This means we can satisfy your reptilian and mammalian brains.

And convince them that what we’re doing (the bigger goal we want to reach) is cool and we won’t be endangering our survival or connection to a tribe if we carry on.

The thought of losing your job or a client, regardless of the state of the economy, is much less daunting and debilitating if you knew for certain you were guaranteed to get a new one.

How else could you cover your bills and prevent losing your house, etc. while still giving you time to work towards your dream?

Can you communicate what you’re trying to do with your ‘tribe’ so they understand and get on board? Or where else can you go to engage with a new tribe?

How can you kick the shit out of that dude with a gun to your head?

And Create AIR with Your Goals

Once you are in the human brain, achieving goals in all areas of our lives becomes so much easier.

Remember that Pre-Frontal Cortex from earlier?

We use our right PFC (commonly referred to as ‘the right brain’) for more creative tasks and dreaming up goals and visions.

While the left PFC then comes along and looks at more logical steps to actually move forward to achieve the goal or vision.

You come up with the goal, work out the steps necessary to achieve it, and, because you’re no longer in threat, you find it easier to actually go and do the shit that you need to do.

Personally, I like to use AIR with goal setting. Or more specifically…

Attention – Intention – Repetition.

Where are you applying your attention? What is the specific goal or task to focus on?

Why are you doing it? What is the reason behind achieving this goal? How will it serve you?

And how can you create repetition of what needs to be done to create habit?

Repetition Stems From Enjoyment

Now I know that repetition and habit building is easier said than done.

So many of us commit to various things that require habit, yet end up falling off the wagon at some point along the way.

Habit creation is done via a part of the brain called the Basal Ganglia (BG).

Once we’ve repeated something enough times it begins getting ingrained into the BG, which means it becomes almost automatic and an automatic response.

This can take a long while.

But there is a way to ‘hack’ (sorry, I hate that word) our ability to store new habits in the BG.

And that’s through enjoyment.

When we actually enjoy a new habit… it sticks.

So rather than trying to use willpower and force yourself to do shit you don’t really want to do because someone told you it’s the ‘best’ way to do it, ask yourself:

How can I make this enjoyable for myself?

Maybe you’ve been told the ‘best’ way to build your business is by using Facebook ads. But if you absolutely hate the thought of messing around with those things and would find more joy doing it a different way, then that is your ‘best’ way.

It works in any area of life – health, nutrition, business, spirituality, relationships, anything!

Because you will never build a life you love by forcing yourself to do things you loathe.

The Take Away

I know this has been a long post.

But I really wanted to get across to you just how powerful this stuff can be for helping you get out of your own way and be successful and happy in your life.

And to be fully honest, it’s very difficult to do this work of threat identification and understanding on yourself.

Because it’s hard to see a threat for what it really is, think logically and truly understand it when our brain is in that fight/flight/freeze mentality.

(By the way, approaching life from a position of threat elimination is an underlying factor throughout my coaching process. It’s always easier to see and think logically about other people’s threats than our own!)

Regardless of all this, the key things I want you to take away from this is that it is extremely difficult (and nigh on impossible) to achieve a long-term goal with our truly desired result while in threat.

So the way to truly living a life on your terms is to understand and process the threats or perceived threats showing up in your life.

And to focus on enjoyment when it comes to building happiness bringing habits in our life.

Take a listen to the podcast episode for this blog post via the player at the top.

Or head over to iTunes and subscribe there for Apple lovers, and over on Stitcher for non-Apple peeps.

Love, Laughter & Light,
Mike

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