The human brain is complex.

What part of your brain are you listening to these days?

The last few weeks have been rough on some people, while others seem to be taking it stride. For every person that is reasonably keeping a social distance, wearing a mask while out in public, or having their groceries delivered, there’s another person flouting the guidelines and loudly complaining that they can’t go out to eat wherever and whenever they want. For every person that has yet to even get their home office set up, much less gotten that report finished, there is another that continues to increase their productivity daily.

If you have ever wondered why some people fall apart at the slightest provocation when others seem to roll with the punches, well, it simply might be how their brain is wired. Or at least what part of the brain they are listening to.

While I am certainly not a neurologist, I’ve always been intrigued by how the brain works. From what I have learned, there seem to be two sections of the brain that seem to control how we act in certain situations. Which part seems to currently have a stronger influence over you can be determined by asking a few simple questions:

Are you an anxious mess of emotions, caught in an endless loop of trying to decide what to do?

Does every decision you do make feel like a knee-jerk reaction to bad news? Are you worried about your job, but unwilling to change out of your work pajamas? Do you still answer every call, no matter what time it is, just in case it could be your boss? Then you might be relying on your amygdala a bit too much lately. 

Your amygdala is part of the limbic system (emotion, learning, memory) in your brain, which is located right around the top of your brain stem and spinal column.

Amygdalae actually come in two parts, each about the size of an almond and stuck in the middle of each temporal lobe on the lower sides of your brain. Those two nut-sized clusters tend to work together to process and perceive emotions, feeding our anxieties and fears, and the need to take action. That is why it is sometimes considered to be part of your “primitive” brain that helps with survival, especially flight-or-fight decisions.

(Sidenote: There does seem to be a difference between the two sides and how each sex uses them. The left amygdala is considered to be better at recalling details, resulting in a more thoughtful reaction to stress, while the right amygdala is linked to both negative emotions and taking action. Not surprisingly, women seem to use their left amygdala more, while men use their right.)

Do you seem to be handling things okay, weighing options and making decisions that need to be made?

Then you may be using your prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that is directly behind your forehead, and is primarily responsible for carrying out executive functions (decision making, planning, and determining between good and bad, better and best, same and different.) It is also highly interconnected with most of the rest of the areas of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex is what allows you to create a “mental sketch pad” that pulls in, filters, and composites information in order to guide thoughts and actions. It helps you work toward a defined goal, sets expectations, and encourages positive outcomes.

You get the idea. This is the part of your brain that gets things done. The part of your brain that you should be listening to right now.

The human brain is complex. Your decision to follow one part or the other doesn’t have to be.

While your amygdala may keep you alive, it may also be overriding your chances of getting anything accomplished. Don’t let fear or emotions control your actions. Especially when something has happened that you didn’t see coming.

Now is the time to gather your thoughts, consult with resources, absorb and filter ideas, imagine and build for the future. So pick up that mental sketch pad and get busy.

Because what you create today will make tomorrow that much better.

Kent Dicken

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