The War In Your Head

We all have those moments where it feels like there’s a battle going on inside of us – those moments of intense internal conflict in which we are consumed by the very dichotomy that exists in our heads. But who are we arguing with? Which side should be believe? Which impulse should be acted upon? Should we trust our gut, our emotions, or our logic? How can all these different points of view co-exist within us, and what’s the best way to effectively manage the battle to produce the best outcome?

Anyone who has started on the path towards an increased state of self-awareness will be familiar with these questions, and will ask them of themselves more and more frequently the more self-aware they become. But what’s the answer? Are there several versions of you living inside your head? Or are you just crazy arguing with yourself?

The quality of our lives is directly related to the quality of our actions, and the quality of our actions is directly related to the quality of the decisions we make – the quality of the decisions we make is equally directly related to our ability to manage and navigate the war in our heads on a daily basis.

So, is this pseudo science, spirituality or biology? Or maybe a mix of all three?

There is a deep relationship between the different voices in our heads, and our biology which I will explain shortly, but first let’s look at who these different versions of ourselves are, how they manifest themselves in our minds and in our lives, and how those different versions of you make their decisions.

The logical you is the version of yourself who takes the time to think through the facts of a situation, circumstance or experience, look at them in an unemotional and unbiased way, and derive the answer that makes the most sense in accordance with the facts. For example, the water is cold, the water is dirty – I will not swim in the water. It is cold, it is calculating, and it is unaffected by the shroud of emotion that often taints our perspective. The logical mind cares not for impulse or speculation – it feeds on cold hard facts, and leads to decisions that are almost computer like in their nature.

The emotional you is the part of you that thinks kinaesthetically – it is the powerful voice of our thoughts expressed as feelings. This version of you is much less rational, and much more likely to make rash decisions in the heat of the moment that aren’t always in the best interests of the whole. These are decisions that are made quickly and in the moment, with a blind lack of consideration for how that decision, and eventual action will play out consequentially in your life. This voice can be a great deceiver, can tint your view of reality, and distort your perception of life in the moment – a perception that often changes in the light of the logical mind, with the holes in the logic becoming painfully apparent with each moment that passes following a decision based solely in emotion.

The instinctual you is your sub-conscious mind. This version of you is the ultimate driver of your life, and is the essence that sits behind both your logical and emotional personas. This version of you is all seeing and all knowing – it is always there, but never visible – always working in the background to manage the war between the emotional and logical voices in your head. When you speak to yourself in your mind, it is your subconscious – your soul – that is listening. Have you ever thought about that? When you’re turning words over in your head, who is actually listening? That is the all pervasive subconscious, the bridge between the two waring parts of what makes you human.

We’re going to be looking in more depth at the emotional you and the logical you, the biological drivers behind them, and how to manage them in a way that utilises the positive qualities of both whilst keeping each in check to produce outstanding results in your life.

It’s important to understand that each of these two versions of you live in different parts of your brain – the logical you lives in your neocortex, the newest addition to the lump of matter in your head. The neocortex is the grey wrinkly part that you see and think of when you talk about a brain. It is the part that you would see if you opened up the skull and took a look under the hood. This is the newest part of our brain, and is the part that allows us to be self-aware and to ultimately have some control over our actions in a logical way rather than allowing our actions to be driven solely by our primal instincts and emotions. This part of our brain is responsible for looking at the facts of the situation, examining the quality of the information available, and making a decision without emotion.

The other version of you – the emotional you – lives in the oldest part of the brain called the amygdala at the base of the brain and the top of the spine. This is the part of your brain that has existed for millions of years, and it’s purpose is to keep you alive. Not to make you happy, not to navigate complex social situations, not to deliver decisions that lead to actions that produce a life of fulfilment and satisfaction. It’s there to keep you alive, that’s it. In ancient times, this is the part of the brain that would automatically kick start the systems that deliver the ‘fight or flight’ response, allowing you to fight your way out of death, or run like hell. This part of your brain has no time for logic or a thorough examination of the facts – stay in your head, your dead; take even a moment to consider the facts of the situation when there’s a hungry lion standing in front of you and you were unlikely to live to see another day. This version of you acts quickly, and often at a base level of primal survival instincts. Can you see how this may not be the best way to make a decision in the modern world?

The thing is, we have advance so quickly in terms of our technological and societal evolution that our biology has had a hard time keeping up. In reality, we’re not much different biologically to how we were when lions and other large animals were a real threat to our existence on a daily basis. Really, our technological capabilities have developed at an exponential rate in the last 100 years, going from using candles to light our way, to putting a command centre in orbit around the Earth and driving around in electric cars. Simply, our biology can’t keep up, and so we are now finding ourselves having to deal with parts of the brain which see modern day challenges are life or death situations when they’re anything but.

It’s precisely this that causes so many of us problems in our decision making in everyday life – our ancient brains are much stronger than the more recently developed neocortex, and are often able to overpower our thought processes which leads to decisions made by the wrong version of ourselves for a given situation. When you have a conflict with someone at work, which do you think would be best suited to formulating a solution to the problem – your amygdala or your neocortex? Well, actually – both.

I would weight the decision making in favour of the neocortex, using this as the main driver behind the decision making process. This is because it’s extremely important to weigh the facts of a situation in an unemotional way in order to remove (or at least deaden the effects) the many filters that we accumulate through the course of our lives. These filters are comprised of our many and varied experiences through our years of existence, and they colour the way we see EVERYTHING. The key to making quality decisions that really serve us in a positive way is to remove as many of these filters as possible throughout the decision making process, as this is the only way we can hope to see something for what it really is. The danger of making decisions based on a coloured view of the situation is that we’re making a decision that is at odds with the facts, because the facts we allow ourselves to see are distorted and not based in the reality of the situation.

A great example of this in my life is when I lose a fight. I beat myself up something chronic when I don’t perform at my best in a Tae Kwon Do competition, and this is both unhealthy when taken to extremes, and extremely motivating when I find the balance in my thinking. On the one hand, a certain amount of self-deprecation helps fuel the fire in my belly to ferociously get back to training so I can make the improvements I need to make to improve my performance for next time around – in this sense, it provides motivation like nothing else. However, too much of this and it would paralyse me into inaction – too much, and I might be inclined to throw in the towel for good; to give up. I balance my beating myself up with the logic in knowing that no one can all the time, and challenges and failures help us to grow, develop and improve. This is my formula for success – too much of one or the other, and I either give up and stop trying (the definition of true failure) or I lack the fire, determination and tenacity to do what it takes to achieve my goals.

It’s important to remember this, and to respect the power of our ancient brains – fail to do so at your peril. A simple and objective look at the results you have achieved and are achieving in your life will tell you where you tend to make most of your decisions from. If you consistently fail to get the results you want from life, then there’s a good chance your decision making process is too heavy driven by the emotional you, and this is almost always a recipe for disaster. Increasing your self-awareness will allow you to identify the filters that are colouring your interpretation of the facts, and thus allow you to see the facts as they are rather than as you think they should be – there’s a massive difference and this simple shift in your thinking has the power to significantly shift your results.

That said, the emotional and instinctual part of ourselves has an extremely important part to play – it does keep us alive after all. To think like a computer in a completely emotionless way all of the time may produce quality decisions based solely on the facts of the situation, but it’s not human. Our emotions, for all the faults they can manifest in us, are a key part of what makes us the dynamic, compassionate beings we are so proud to be, and so the importance of achieving a healthy level of balance between the two cannot be understated. Achieving this balance is a constant and never-ending battle, and one that each and every one of us is striving to win each day of our lives. When we win, we find the balance that delivers quality choices, quality actions and quality results. When we lose, we tend to act irrationally which leads to poor quality choices, poor quality actions, and – yes, you guessed it – poor results.

The key to success here is to be mindful and aware of your thoughts, and more importantly where those thoughts are coming from – the ancient you or the new you? Even getting to stage stage is a long difficult process for most people – I know it was for me – but is equally well worth the effort. To be self–aware enough to acknowledge and thoroughly examine the thoughts you think in real time will serve you unmeasurably as you walk through life, and will allow you to strengthen the muscle that is the new you – your neocortex. Try and think of this process like weight lifting at the gym – the more you use and challenge the muscles (brain – neocortex), the stronger that muscle will become. Your mind (brain) is no different – if you are consistently making your decisions from your reptile brain then this is the path you will strengthen and you will tend to make increasingly more and more decisions from this part of your mind. It’s important to understand that this is your default mode, and so it WILL take work and effort to overcome this and retrain yourself to use a different path instead. If every time you come across a situation you react in an emotional way, then this is the response path you will strengthen, however the more self-aware you are able to become, the more you will strengthen that path, and weaken the other by default.

Often, a lot of the thoughts in our head are not our own, and so building the ability to discern between our own thoughts and the thoughts of others (our social conditioning) is a vital skill to develop in order to have success in life. The best way to do this is best said by T. Harv Eker:

“Don’t believe a thought you think!”

– T. Harv Eker

Try to approach your thoughts as though none of them are yours, as though they are a persistent intruder in your mind that is trying to lead you astray. Retrain yourself to question everything you think, especially in the heat of the moment when you can feel the adrenalin starting to hit your system and your logical mind begin to get lost in the fog. One of the best ways to do this is to give yourself time – particularly in heated and emotionally driven situations, taking some time away from it to allow the emotional you to lose power so you can let the logical you back in on the decision making process is the key to ensuring you’re considering the facts with as few filters as possible, and will drastically increase the quality of the decisions you make, and the results you get in life.

Always try to ask yourself – what else could this mean? Doing so will put you on the path towards a quality life, with quality actions and quality results. So much of the World around us is a projection of our perceptions and interpretations, and so the more we are able to see the set behind the movie, the more we can see things as they really are without the emotional baggage that we all carry with us through our lives.

The greatest thing about this is that it puts us back in the driving seat of our lives – where most people are driven by external forces they have no control over, the stoics among us realise that what we do have complete and total control over is how we interpret those things that life throws at us, the choices we subsequently make, and the lessons inherent in every situation we will ever face. There’s always more to learn, there’s always a deeper level of truth to see – whether or not we choose to open our eyes to see it is up to us, and us alone.

 

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