Whether you’re aware of it or not, your brain is programmed to try to predict the future, and it specializes in pattern detection, threat anticipation, and storytelling. In other words, it’s your brain’s job to steer you in the direction of what it thinks of as safety, which to your brain means: stability, certainty, and consistency. So, it processes information from your past experiences, factoring in your current beliefs, looking to connect the dots to recognize anything that might be viewed as a threat, causing you pain, physical or emotional, discomfort, or hardship.
Now, the patterns and forecasts your brain comes up with can have some truth, of course, but what if it can’t find any? No problem. It just makes them up.
Your brain has a natural compulsion to connect experiences, symbols, images, and ideas to make sense of its environment to ensure the survival of the species. It’s only because your brain is so complex that it can do this and without it, our species would have died off long ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.
In the harsh world of our ancestors, decoding clues quickly and figuring out, for instance, whether the rustling in the bushes was a bird or a big cat, could mean the difference between going home to dinner or being dinner.
Similarly, today your brain is still always trying to figure out someone’s intentions, connect what may be random events, and assign causation. This hardwired tendency has generally served us well, but it also causes a lot of unnecessary pain and anxiety as our brains jump to assumptions, make something out of nothing, and try to find a cause which leads to placing blame.
While this fortune telling skill may make your brain happy, it doesn’t make you happy. So, what can you do about it?
First of all, become aware of your brain’s fortune telling penchant. Then, become aware of your thoughts, any assumptions you may make, and causal relationships you give to events. Practicing mindfulness helps slant your brain back in your favor.
One of the four agreements in Don Miguel’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) is: “Don’t make assumptions.” He believes it is one of the most important basics for finding peace and happiness in life. Remember that when you do make assumptions, you’re seeing things from your subjective frame of reference influenced by your beliefs and brain which may have very little to do with the actual circumstances or other person. (See: How Your Brain Creates Your Reality)
In the book What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo writes:
This is no trivial issue. People spend enormous time and money investing themselves in complex belief systems built on little more than coincidental toothpicks. The key is to value our brains remarkable capacity for pattern detection while exercising vigilance about how we apply this ability in our lives.
DiSalvo cites our brain’s wanting to find meaning and causation as fueling the hugely popular self-help and new age trends especially books like The Secret and The Celestine Prophecy. Their “think yourself rich” mantras capitalize on your brain’s fortune telling tendency.
While he may be right from a neuroscientific stand point and while I don’t believe it’s anywhere near as easy as “thinking yourself rich,” I know for sure that your intentions, beliefs, and perspectives have everything to do with your happiness and outcomes in life.
In the blog, Believe It To see It, I write:
However, let’s assume for a minute that there is some truth to the concept [of “thinking yourself rich”]. If you are constantly thinking about how you don’t have enough money and all the bills piling up, how do you think these thoughts are going to influence your reality if they do even a little bit? If you worry unrelentingly about getting cancer and freak out at every little thing, what kind of energy are these thoughts emitting and subjecting your body to?
Conversely, if money is tight, but you focus on your competence and the abundance that’s present in your life otherwise, how’s this going to influence your reality?
Although I don’t see it doing anyone much good to make a story board with a picture of a convertible BMW and sit around imagining the wind whipping their hair as they drive it, I know that thinking and acting positively make a huge difference towards achieving goals and finding joy. It has worked wonders in my own life. My recommendation here would be to practice mindfulness, detachment, and openness.
You have to become aware of your brain’s biases, your beliefs, and consider the alternate routes and possibilities. Then pair positive thinking with positive doing.
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126429452@N02/