Do you ever feel a profound inner disquiet—like two powerful forces are locked in bitter combat deep within you? Simple neuroscience can help you to escape this persistent, seemingly unresolvable ache.
There is a strange quirk in the blueprint of our magnificent human brain. We may even consider it a design flaw, because it causes modern humans a great deal of anguish.
I can’t explain why we ended up in this predicament, but I can explain how. It is the consequence of Mother Nature’s iterative design process, otherwise known as evolution.
Her first priority was to protect the beautiful animals she had built. So, she gifted each slithering, sliding, and crawling creature with the ability to defend itself—to survive independently—while she busied herself designing future biological iterations. Natural Brain 1.0 (the reptilian brain) was designed to coordinate three defensive strategies: to run away from danger, to fight off an attacker, and to evade detection.
It worked! Early cold-blooded reptiles escaped danger well enough to dominate planet Earth in their time.
Convinced that she could improve on this primitive design, after several geological eras equating to a couple hundred million modern years, Mother Nature launched Natural Brain 2.0. This upgrade included the capacity for emotion and enabled cold-blooded vertebrates and early mammals to collaborate with each other and to nurture their young.
It took about 150 million more years before Natural Brain 3.0 emerged, with the addition of the magnificent cerebral cortex, which gifted our warm-blooded predecessors with thought and reason. The arrival of this cognitive brain helped to catapult Homo sapiens to world dominance.
But, embedded in this beautiful design, we find the source of much of the psychic pain experienced by modern humans.
You see, your reptilian brain works incessantly to keep you safe both physically and emotionally. Since the reptilian brain has primary responsibility for such essential work, it has a very loud voice and is inclined to hijack and direct your full mental capacity.
While your reptilian brain builds structures that ensure your survival by keeping you safe, your relatively new cognitive brain simultaneously strives for growth and improvement, giving you a deep-seated biological urge to expand beyond those safe castle walls.
Unfortunately, because of this push-and-pull design, you end up feeling trapped within your own safe prison.
Fortunately, you can take several simple steps to manage this painful conflict that is inherent in our natural design.
Insight: When you understand your natural design, you appreciate the source of the tension. You no longer assume that there is something uniquely and embarrassingly wrong with you.
Control: The knowledge that this is self-imprisonment is itself liberating. It means that you hold the keys to the prison. Your future is in your own hands!
Natural Brain 4.0: Happily, Mother Nature has equipped human beings with a supremely powerful prefrontal cortex. This region of your brain, which fills out the backward-sloping forehead of the great apes, gives you awareness of your awareness, also known as metacognition. When you exploit this gift (through meditation, mindfulness, and other neurological practices), you can experience your thoughts and emotions without being controlled by them.
Personal Mastery: Those who invest time and energy into self-optimization know that it is difficult to fully appreciate your own inner workings. It is always helpful to get an outside-in perspective with the help of a coach trained in neuroscience who understands the workings of the human brain. With an expert guide, you will learn to appreciate the opposing desires for safety and expansion and find the road to peace and fulfillment!
So, if you’re troubled by profound inner disquiet—a deep frustration or pain that is difficult to put your finger on—know that it is indeed because there are two powerful forces locked in bitter combat deep within you. Luckily, a little knowledge of our magnificent neurobiology, and a few simple, practical steps can help you to escape this persistent, seemingly unresolvable ache.