Without us realizing it, there is a part in us that works against our very own success. In this episode, Patrick Veroneau explores that by diving deeper into the reptilian part of your brain, the amygdala. He talks about how it can inhibit your success and impact your goal-setting, relationship building, and unconscious biases. Learn how you can take care of yourself and remove the blocks to your success by getting to know your brain more. Tune into this discussion to find out.
Listen to the podcast here:
How Our Amygdala Can Inhibit Our Success In 2021
In this episode, I want to talk about the amygdala specifically how the amygdala can work against us as it relates to building relationships, setting goals, and our own personal health. Let’s get into it. We’re still in the first month of 2021. I thought it’d be interesting to take a little look at this part of our brain called the amygdala and how it impacts our ability to, first, set goals. Two, how might it play into relationships or biases? Lastly, how overactivation of our amygdala as it relates to threat responses can impact our health? All things that are important as we come into 2021.
We’ll start off with goals. Many people start the year with the best of intentions of setting goals. The problem is that, oftentimes, this part of our brain, the amygdala, which is a reptilian part of our brain is all about perceived threats. It doesn’t know the difference between a real threat and a perceived threat. It responds the same way. When we’re setting goals, there may be an opportunity where we’ve set a lofty goal and our brain is looking at this and saying, “This is risky.” This person wants to change careers, wants to start a business, whatever it might be, the brain says, “You don’t do that. That’s too risky. Play it safe. Do what you’re doing now.”
That is that part of our brain that is trying to protect us. Oftentimes, if we’re not strong enough in terms of the goals we have set, those specific, emotional, and time-bound goals will talk us out of whatever that goal might be. We’ll dumb it down. We’ll do something else. Again, it’s our brain trying to protect ourselves. As soon as we change, the brain is like, “Good thing I helped them through that. We risked. We avoided the catastrophe. They were going to start a business. That would have been terrible for us. We did our job.”
Next, we can look at the standpoint of relationships. There was an interesting article in the mind episode of Scientific American. The title of the article was What Neuroimaging Can Tell Us about Our Unconscious Biases. What was interesting about this article is it talked about how our amygdala can create unconscious biases. What it does is it looks for familiarity. When it senses that it is unfamiliar with something around it, it immediately perceives this potentially as a threat. This can happen in regards to how we interact with other people, especially people we don’t know that we’re looking for similarities. The amygdala part of our brain is looking at this individual, saying, “Is this a threat or not a threat?” Especially in the environment that we’re in right now. We hear so much around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our amygdala, and certainly the research in this article would suggest that it plays into our self-protection in a way that creates biases.
The only way that we can prevent that is first to recognize the power that our amygdala has. Once we do that, it allows us to slow things down. I’ll use this as an opportunity to talk about smoke detectors in our house. I think there’s a strong similarity here. If we can think about a smoke detector in our house and food burning on the stove, as long as there’s not a fire but the food burned, but nothing else is burning. The smoke detector still goes off. What do we do? We go over and wave something in front of it so that the smoke detector goes off or we have to unplug it. I don’t think anybody reading would say that they would run out into the street as soon as they heard the smoke detector go off knowing that it was just burnt food on the stove. You wouldn’t do that. Our amygdala doesn’t know the difference.
Every time there is a threat, somebody says something to us that may seem offensive, threatening, or we start to question ourselves on certain things, the amygdala part of our brain is in protection mode or self-preservation mode. It’s trying to do what it can to protect us. It’s either going to fight, flight, or freeze. It’s not until we take a step back and say, “This is not a real emergency. This is just burnt food on the stove. I don’t need to call the fire department. We’re going to be all set.” We need to be able to do that in our minds to slow things down and take a moment to say, “Is this a threat? Is this something that I can’t do or is it my mind trying to protect me from the risk of failing?” It’s not a real threat. I need to be able to take a step back and look at this more objectively to pause. That’s the biggest thing here. That’s why we talk a lot about things around mindfulness and emotional intelligence. We’re developing those areas so that we’re able to slow things down and not react as much as we’re able to take in everything that’s going on and then respond.
The last part that is important as it relates to our health is that we know that the more we activate the amygdala, the fight, flight, or freeze part of our brain, we also activate what’s called the HPA axis. What that does is it releases cortisol in our system. When we release cortisol in our system, what it does is takes blood away from many of our organs and puts them into our extremities so that we’re ready to take action. It draws it out of our brains as well. If you think we don’t make decisions as well when we’re under stress or where that fight, flight, or fright is activated, because we’re like, “Let’s get out of here.”
This was an analogy that I was once told. Imagine a hunter back in primitive times. If they were to see a saber-toothed tiger and have an infection simultaneously, what would happen is the blood in the area working on the immune system and taking care of that bacteria left that area and went to our extremities. It said, “If we don’t make it past this tiger, we don’t even have to be concerned about the bacteria because you won’t be around to recover from it anyway. Let’s take care of the thing that’s in front of us first and that’s this tiger. After that, we’ll come back and work on our immune system again.”
If you think about that and if we think that our immune system or our amygdala works the same way as it did when it was with the saber-toothed tiger, then what’s happening is that we’re over-activating the system all the time. It’s too much of the time in a fight, flight, or freeze mode by the environment around us. If we don’t control that, then that’s less time than it has to build up our own immune system. That’s why in the environment that we’re in right now, where more people are worried about catching a virus, their anxiety around catching the virus could be working against them in harming their own immune system. They’re not allowing it to have the adequate resources that it needs to do its job when it’s under a stressful situation.Recognize the power that your amygdala has. Once you do that, it allows you to slow things down. Click To Tweet
We can see here where our amygdala and a smoke detector are very similar when it comes to perceiving threats. It’s our job to take a moment, step back, and say, “This isn’t a real emergency,” and to recalculate how we’re going to respond going forward. It’s not until we do that, that we’re able to truly make sure that we adequately address our goals, our relationships, and our own personal health. I hope you found this short episode helpful in regards to thinking about your amygdala in a different way in terms of how it may be working against you. Once you do that, you’ll be in a better position to, as always, rise above your best. Peace.