With our meetings 2 and 3 (which were 3 weeks apart,) the goal was to set the foundation for understanding that while we might think that we are writing our authentic stories, we have been pre-programmed in some very deep ways. And understanding how our brains work can give us control over how we write the stories we want to write in our lives.
So we started our meeting with recapping our previous meeting of how our brains evolved - from our Reptilian brain that still has the job of keeping our bodies alive, then came our Mammalian brain which gave us more complex emotions, and a memory storage for our experiences, attitudes, habits, from which it makes quick decisions for us.
This quick decision making process is one of the most important aspects of understanding how our brains work, and how our brains can automatically write the different stories in our lives, most often just repeating past responses.
We usually cruise along our days with our Reptilian and Mammalian brains doing our work for us subconsciously around 85% of the time. However, with the help of our newest brain, our Neocortex, we have access to conscious thought, logic and decision making, and the capability to overwrite our Mammalian brain's automatic responses. So the power is in our own hands.
But, there is another way that we have been pre-programmed. For 90% of the time that we have been Homo Sapiens, our ancestors lived as Hunter Gatherers, from around 200,000 years ago, to 10,000 years ago. And while it may seem like a long time ago, it's really only a blip in our human timeline. So our brains are still wired to solve the problems that our Hunter Gatherer ancestors faced.
So what are those problems? We focused on 3.
1. Scanning for Danger + Negativity bias
"Our ancestors survived by approaching pleasant stimuli, like a carrot, and avoiding unpleasant stimuli, like an incoming stick. They eventually began to discern that avoiding a stick, and subsequent injury or death, was far more important than picking a carrot. As this bias for negative stimuli developed, our brain structure slowly adapted and eventually, we became wired to pay more attention to negative information." -Positive Psychology Program
In short, a hundred things might be going right in our lives, but that 1 criticism we received we cannot let go of. Thank your ancestors for that.
2. Fitting in - comparing/judging
Our Hunter Gatherer ancestors lived in small groups, between 25-100 people, for their whole lives. Getting along was not optional, as your life or death literally depended on it. If you were kicked out of the group, joining another one wasn't really an option, and living in the wild alone was very dangerous. Therefore, fitting in, getting along, comparing yourself to others to make sure you measure up with how much you are contributing, are very important traits to have for your survival. Also, since your life depended on everyone else working just as hard as you at getting food, helping with the babies, etc, judging others who might be contributing less was important in order to remove them from your group if they were weighing you down.
3. Need more / better
Yes, the latest iPhone is already out, and once again, your Hunter Gatherer ancestors are the ones to be thanked for wanting it. Or a second helping at dinner. Or a new toy, when you already have a 100. Need more, need better. Why? Because the more food they had, the longer they could survive. The food gave them energy to walk, hunt, gather, and defend themselves, as well as improve on their weapons, shelter, and hunting practices. The better those developed, the better chances they had of surviving from the elements, predators, and finally, to reproduce!
Here is a wonderful 3-minute video overview of these concepts, by Dr. Russ Harris.
Next up, in order to experience what it must have been like to live as Hunter Gatherers and get a better insight into how our brains are programmed, we actually went to the woods...
We had to hunt, and work together to build shelter. (Note to self, in the future we could also learn to make weapons, learn about edible plants to survive on, etc.)
So we went hunting with our phones, and had to take as close a picture of a wild animal as possible (mainly squirrels.) The closer we got to them, the more it meant that if we really were hunting, we could have actually caught one. However, none of us got very close... and no, we could not use zoom. See the squirrel in this picture below? It's the best one we've got... I'm not sure how long our group would've survived.
However, our approach was, that if we can't catch an animal to eat, then at least don't get eaten. So next up came building a shelter in order to survive the roaming tigers and wild animals in our neck of the woods. All the while constantly scanning our surroundings for predators - we took a stuffed unicorn dressed up as a tiger who would periodically come around (held by someone in our group) - in order to keep us on our toes. It really was interesting how the shelter, and everyone working together did give the sense that together we could actually survive an attack. When the "tiger" came around, we were all on top of our shelter, working together, making ourselves look bigger with our sticks, and it reminded me of us becoming a 9-headed dragon. We did seem intimidating - although I don't have the picture to prove it. I was too busy fighting off the predators to take pictures, but here is us from right before the attack...
After all of the hard work came a very modern ending of walking home for snacks and scrapbook journaling about our experiences... which on second thought, should've probably been carved into stone instead.
Hmm, maybe next time.
However, our last discussion around the table involved the same conclusion as at our last meeting: our conscious Prefrontal Cortex can override any subconscious programming, as long as we use awareness in our day-to-day interactions, and learn to pause. What's going on inside of me right now? What's beneath my reaction? No need to judge ourselves, just investigate, learn from it, and take the next best step.
One step at a time.