Humanity Preprogrammed - The Evolution of our Brains

Upon much research, I realized that since our goal is to move our girls to be the authors of the stories in their lives, the first step of this process should be to go back to the very beginning and see how we come into life pre-programmed... in some very basic ways. We can't write our authentic stories as effectively without knowing how our brains work, and especially where our brains comes from evolutionarily speaking. We are animals, after all, and to really understand and grasp that, it helps to see the story of our human evolution.

So before we even met, everyone watched this amazing 45 minute long video called Mankind Rising, which follows our incredible journey to Homo Sapiens from the first cell on Earth 3.5 billion years ago. 

So for our meeting, I took screen shots from the movie and printed out the different species that we were over our evolution as well as major milestones that we reached - such as leaving the water for land, becoming a mammal, standing up, etc - and we had to put them in proper timeline, from our very beginning to now. I also printed out the pictures of the different challenges that we faced - ice age, meteor, dinosaurs, etc - since they all played very important roles in our journey to becoming Homo Sapiens. 

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Putting our history in order wasn't as easy as we thought, as you can see on the picture. We faced a lot of ups and downs over our evolution, as well as very close calls... 

Step 2 was then to apply this evolution to our brain, since that's our control center for all we do, and for all the life stories we write. In addition, "earlier, simpler brains were not replaced; rather, as the brain’s capacities developed, new brain evolutions wrapped themselves around earlier stages, which continued to function, and learned to interact with them." This quote is from this great overview of the different roles our 3 brains play in our lives.   

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Our brains developed over time from bottom to top, and our brain #1 is our Reptilian brain from our lizard ancestors, and it's all about the physical survival and maintenance of the body. Next up, literally, is our Limbic System or Mammalian brain from when we were cute mouse-like creatures during the age of dinosaurs, and emotions as well as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain developed. The last part, which developed just about 200,000 years ago from our Primate ancestors, is the Neocortex, and this gave us access to language, logic, reasoning, among other things.   

And now comes the really interesting part... Brain 1 and 2, so the reptilian and our limbic system work subconsciously, meaning we are unaware of what's happening there most of the time. Brain 3, however, which is our Neocortex, we use consciously, but conscious thinking takes a lot of fuel to use and is super tiring and slow. Think of when you do math problems, how tired and hungry you feel afterwards. So about 85% of the time it's our subconscious part of our brain that makes quick decisions about our lives, based on past experiences, memories and emotions, all in order to save energy and time.

"The mammalian brain stores our emotional memories. When confronted by a situation, it “searches” its stockpile of past experiences for information on how to react. Going back to the earliest time we experienced a similar situation, it checks what the response was at the time and responds similarly. In other words, our current reaction replicates the response and emotional age of the response triggered by the earlier situation." -From Integrated Wellness

And this works amazing... most of the time.  

But in order to write the authentic stories we want to write with our lives, and not just keep replicating past responses, we need sometimes to override the subconscious, and take a new consciously courageous action.  

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So in order to grasp this concept, we talked through the above image of how our brain is like an iceberg - thank you, Freud, for giving us such a great metaphor. So brains 1 & 2 are the subconscious part of the brain - or the much larger part of the iceberg that we usually cannot see which is under water - and our newest conscious Neocortex brain is the part of the iceberg that is visible. The subconscious part houses our long-term memory storage - from birth to present day - and this churns our memories, beliefs, habits, attitudes, values, cultural norms, experiences and knowledge to give us a quick response to something that's currently happening in our lives. Should I go up to the new girl and introduce myself? Your subconscious will quickly give you a yes or no, in a split second (all based on past experiences, beliefs, or your core values). Your subconscious is a million times faster at making decisions than your conscious brain is, and often you won't even know why it tells you to do what it does.

In order to demonstrate how our subconscious makes these super quick decisions (which obviously most of the time work to our advantage), I read some examples to which the girls had to quickly reply to.

What would you do or how would you feel? 

  • You are walking around your block, and you see a cute friendly dog with it's owner just a few feet ahead of you - what do you do? 
  • Picture you are by the sea, beautiful sunny day, and there is a cliff, 5 meters high. People are jumping off it, and now it’s your turn!
  • Your sibling takes your favorite toy/stuffy
  • Your teacher asked you to sing by yourself in front of the whole class today a song that your whole class has been practicing
  • It’s the weekend - time for church or synagogue, etc. Do you go and how do you feel?
  • We are off to the dentist for your check-up!
  • Someone throws trash on the floor in front of you. How do you feel, do you pick it up? Do you even care?
  • You are in class, and the teacher just asked a hard question. Maybe you know the answer maybe you don’t. Do you raise your hand?
  • It’s time for your annual flu shot! How do you feel? 
  • An older kid who you don’t know was just super mean to your friend and told her that she is stupid…

So in our meeting, the answers came quickly! Yes, I would definitely do it, or no, there is no way I would. It was all very personal, and the girls were very into answering the questions. But then we tried to explore the different reasons why they felt the way they did. It was interesting how long it took to go beneath each question and try and give an answer to "why" they feel the way they do... and some of the answers took a while to come to light, and there were so many reasons to each question. It was never just one. "Well, I like to sing, and I feel like my class has a safe atmosphere so that noone would laugh at me, and my teacher is really friendly and positive, so even if I did make a mistake or sound bad, she wouldn't care. I'm sure I would also have been practicing at home, so I would feel confident I could sing the song..." The conscious mind takes a while to unwrap all the reasons, but the subconscious does it in a split second. Amazing.      

However, the point to all of this is that your subconscious brain will write the stories for you if you let it... it'll help your body keep alive with the help of your Reptilian brain (thank you and keep at it!!!), and it will direct you to respond to situations as your Mammalian brain thinks best, based on past experiences.

But, with 3 things, you can write the stories you actually want to write using your Neocortex and step in if you need to:

1. Awareness - PAUSE. Being aware how your body wants you to respond to something, or how it makes you feel when you already did. (Such as not raise your hand in class; lashing out at your friend/sibling; etc.) Can you figure out why this may be, or what memories this might be based on? What's going on inside of me right now? What's in the undercurrent?

2. Conscious Thought - what would you rather do? How would you rather be?

3. Choose your Action - take any little action you can toward your goal. This is vital. You can't just think it. You have to actually take action towards it, no matter how small it may be. Little actions can add up to ultimately becoming a habit, which then the subconscious can automatically maintain and direct you towards. 

This video by Sentis helped us solidify some of these ideas at the end. 

So your subconscious can be a great force for you, as long as you keep on top of it, and program things in there that are important to you, such as your values, gratitude, courage, etc. The more you understand how it works, the more power you have over it. And while this is obviously a fairly difficult concept to explain to our girls, I do think it's the first step in understanding how they can best write the stories they want to write with their lives. Also, the power of the Courageous Girls Club is that Mom is present in the meeting as well, so you take these concepts home with you where you can revisit it, further explain it or research it, and apply it to your everyday lives together.

Every meeting now ends with the girls writing/drawing the things they found interesting or important into their scrapbooking journals, which has been a huge hit... I guess creativity is stored in the Mammalian brain, so this picture shows their subconscious communicating with their Neocortex, hence the deep in thought nature of the picture.  

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We followed the intense discussion by a light game of Capture the Flag in the woods, with all the Courageous moms and girls. Only one person, my daughter, was a little injured when a branch hit her eye - but luckily one of the moms is an eye doctor, so she was in good hands. However, good to know - the eye usually heals even faster than skin. Thank you, reptilian brain, for healing my daughter. Within a day she was fine! 

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