Overcoming the Amygdala Part 43
We’re looking at the findings of neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who performed several experiments and studies and revealed six emotional styles which refer to a person’s consistent responses to life:
Sensitivity to Context
Here are the last three:
Outlook refers to how long you can sustain a projection of positive emotion. If you can maintain a high level of energy even during anxious times, you are in the positive end of Outlook. This means that you probably have a high level of activity in those parts of the brain which process the sense of reward. Moving to the positive side of Outlook involves planning. This includes resisting temptation. For example, if you need to finish something but distractions are enticing you away with promises of immediate rewards, combat that temptation.
Identify a greater reward. Whatever it is that is tempting you has a certain level of reward, for sure, otherwise it wouldn’t grab your attention — so work out a reward which grabs much more of your attention. Finishing your work, perhaps, leads to greater things — make sure that, after finishing your task, you really reward yourself. Train your brain to believe that your imagined future will eventually arrive, and reward yourself noticeably and genuinely for staying on the path to it.
This ties in with thinking ahead and knowing where you want to go and how you want to apply your values in Life, as covered earlier. If you can work out a plan that covers a year, five years, ten years, and so on, and then make tangible progress towards each target on that plan, you will find that temptation loses its power. Some years ago, I worked out a Forty-Year Plan — and looking at it now, I can see that to a surprising extent, it’s come true year by year, with some things being achieved ahead of target. Having the plan helped me stay focused and clear of distractions and temptations (for the most part).
Temptation, by its nature, offers short-term pleasure or the promise of pleasure at the cost of longer-term satisfaction. Rob it of its power over you by developing exciting and positive agendas which pull you forward and overwhelm the amygdala along the way.
Sensitivity to Context refers to how you regulate the way you handle Life based on the situations in which you find yourself. High sensitivity to context means that you change the way you act based on where you are. Consequently, you run the risk of losing track of your genuine self because you’re always altering your behaviour. Imagine what that does to the amygdala…
Keep adjusting your behaviour and it can become confusing. So what should you do?
Minimise the different contexts you are in.
Many people do this instinctively, and develop ‘introverted’ lifestyles in which they avoid going out altogether or experience only a limited number of scenarios. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you’re also working on the other aspects of this so as to progressively ‘defuse’ your amygdala. Once you get to a certain point of relative peace and calm, you can test out some new experiences and acclimatise your amygdala to slightly different contexts.
Attention in this sense is all about focus. Being too focused when doing something can lead to people complaining that you are shutting them out; being unfocused means that you can’t help jumping from one task to another without finishing anything.
If you are too focused, your prefrontal and parietal cortex (according to Davidson’s studies) are forming a circuit for selective attention: the parietal cortex points you at a specific target while the prefrontal cortex maintains your gaze. Obviously, weakness in that circuit leads to attention being pointed all over the place and nothing gets done.
To improve your focus, minimise the distractions so that you can attend to important things. If you find that you’re always checking your phone, set it aside until you finish what you’re supposed to do.
If you are too focused, play some music in the background or position yourself near a window to remind you that there are other things going on aside from what you are currently focusing on. Break up your day into periods to give your concentration a rest and force yourself to check what happens around you.
I use this one to my advantage: I am pretty focused, and use this to get a lot of work done, but when I reach natural breaks in the work, shift my focus to another piece of focused work, which also needs to get done — so I walk a line between focusing and distraction, where the ‘distraction’ becomes another accomplishment. This gives me a blend of variety during the day, while also encouraging a high level of production, leading to rewards.
What’s your Emotional Style?
Look over the six aspects and see if you can figure out roughly where you stand on each one:
Sensitivity to Context
Not very Resilient? Keep a Positivity Journal.
Lacking Social Intuition? Spend some time people watching.
Too Self Aware? Try meditating with some mantras that focus on personal responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings.
Outlook suffering? Identify and plan greater rewards.
Too Sensitive to Context? Reduce the number of scenarios you expose yourself to until you feel stronger.
Too Focused or Not Focused Enough? Break up your day or minimise distractions.
How can you adjust your life so as to moderate it and take advantage of it?
By being aware of your emotional style, you can create a lifestyle and working environment that supports it — you can accept who you are or make some necessary changes. Training your brain in ways that will support your emotional style can lead to a huge shift in amygdala activity and finally give you some peace and quiet.