Overcoming the Amygdala Part 104


You may have many problems or issues in your life — health, relationships, career, social, environmental, mental, physical, and so on. We sort of get used to being surrounded by these things as human beings. The degree to which any of them bug us is a direct index of the activity of our amygdalas.

So let’s use what we have learned so far to try to dismantle at least some of them — or certainly the mythology around them.

‘My problems and issues are caused by external factors outside my control’ is probably the biggest myth.

Of course, if you have a serious health issue which arises from a biological condition, this one will be hard to deny. If that’s the case, it might be helpful to focus on your response to the condition, rather than the condition itself.

Just about every other problem or issue there could be can be demonstrated to have had its origin with you, rather than elsewhere.

If that seems like an outrageous statement, you might have difficulty reading on. To help you to do so, I’m going to try to break things down:

If you have a ‘problem’ or ‘issue’, how are you aware of it exactly? How do you define what is a ‘problem’?

In order to have a distinct idea of a problem, you must be comparing it to something. That ‘something’ is the ideal which you are projecting onto the scene.

Example: you are unhappy at work. The parameters of your unhappiness are precisely defined by what you consider to be ‘happiness at work’.

Example: you are unhappy with your physical health. What determines your exact degree of unhappiness is the ideal you have in mind of your health.

Example: you are unhappy in your marriage. The degree to which your marriage seems unsatisfactory is the exact degree to which you are comparing it to what you would prefer in a marriage.

This might seem to suggest that the way to deal with unhappiness is to drop your ideals, to reduce your desires, to abandon the idea of having anything better. You might be thinking ‘Oh, so to be happy at work, I have to give up any idea of things being better than they are now?’ or ‘To feel healthy, I just have to stop imagining that I can feel better than I already do?’ or ‘So I can rescue my marriage just by accepting it for what it is?’ There are philosophies and approaches which suggest these as ways forward, for sure, but this is not what this is about. All these examples are meant to point out is the simple mental mechanism by which you are arriving at what is a ‘problem’ for you. Anything which you consider to be a problem is actually a departure from your own projected ideal.

You can lower or adjust your ideals to have less problems, but a better way is to analyse the departure and get at its cause.

Spotting that your problems and issues are defined in this way is the first step in dismantling the myth that problems arise externally. Sure, things happen outside of you and arrive with you — that’s part of life. But whether you define them as ‘problems' is entirely up to your projection of ideals onto them.

What is certainly true is that we are surrounded by departures. Our usual response is to label these as 'problems', assign their cause as distant from or mysterious to us, and then moan and complain about them ad infinitum.

No wonder that they don’t go away.

Instead, we should be analysing them.

In such analyses, we are looking for the underlying reason why the departure exists.

This is new thinking; it’s correct thinking. It’s sanity.

But it’s so easy to get this wrong.

Human beings so easily accept explanations as reasons why.

‘I have pain daily because I have a genetic health condition’; ‘My job environment is unpleasant because of the other people who work there’; ‘I married the wrong person and just have to tolerate being sad.’ These are explanations. They satisfactorily explain why the person is in the situation he or she is in. Having arrived at them, most people stop analysing because it seems that they can’t go any further.

But the real reason is always, always, always something that the individual can do something about. That’s not dogma, it’s just the definition of a real reason.

A real reason leads to the improvement of an existing situation within your own resources — it never ‘fails to change anything’ or depends upon resources outside your zone. If you come up with a ‘real reason’ which fails to improve things or which depends upon things outside your control, you simply haven’t got the real reason, simple as that. You must look further and deeper until you find the thing that will change things for the better and which is within your power to control.

You may well have a genetic condition which gives you pain.

The other employees at your workplace may well be unpleasant.

Your marriage partner may well seem like the wrong person.

But if you can find the real reason for these departures, you will unlock the door to improvement in each situation.

A real reason is not just a ‘good idea’ or a fixed notion in which one must ‘believe’.

Wrong reasons — or explanations — will cost time and money, effort and strain, and, because they are ignoring the real reason, will make things worse if acted upon.

Fads are common. I once went to an alternative health practitioner to try to find the reason for a recurring physical condition. He did his standard thorough examination and suggested that I had a particular bacterial infection for which he recommended expensive treatment. I was entranced enough to go along with this for a while, until I realised that the treatment was ineffective. A little later, I found from a series of the practitioner’s other patients that they had all been given the exact same diagnosis and recommended treatment. For a couple of them, the treatment had worked — which no doubt encouraged the practitioner to continue to give the same lazy diagnosis to everyone. A later, accurate diagnosis from someone else found the real reason and I got better.

I once worked in a group in which the recommended remedy for everything was simply ‘work harder, cut down time off and extend the hours of work’. Statistics continued to struggle for years with no improvement whatsoever — in fact, high staff turnover led to a slow worsening of the overall scene over time. A proper evaluation showed that the group was structured wrongly organisationally and could never hope to flourish unless a proper structure was implemented.

I once watched a marriage collapse because one partner insisted that the other partner had problems and needed continual counselling. I observed them talking with each other from time to time — and each time the talk degenerated into fiery arguments. They were simply unable (it seemed) to communicate sanely with each other at all. Simple training in communication basics would have saved the relationship, not one partner getting perpetual counselling.

The real reason opens the door to improvement.

Take a look at your own problems.

Firstly, see if you can define them in terms of departures: how is what you are enduring different from what you would like to be the case? That ‘gap’ is the departure from the ideal.

Now look for your ‘explanations’. What ‘reasons’ do you have for each one of these things persisting in your life?

‘I’m just a sickly person’; ‘I was born into a nasty family’; ‘I’m no good at making money’; ‘I live in the wrong country’; ‘Fate is against me’. All these and many more are explanations which people buy into on some level. They stop thinking, stop observing, and start grumbling.

Finding that you have bought into some ‘explanations’ is the beginning of finding out real reasons which open doors to improved scenes.

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