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Overcoming the Amygdala Part 85

Learning how to think isn’t easy.

That’s because what we call ‘thinking’ is probably our oldest and most ‘trained in’ activity as human beings. We absorb our surroundings as young children, and come to conclusions about them in often the most brutal way — by bumping into things, scratching ourselves on things, burning ourselves and so on, not to mention all our emotional encounters with the world around us. Before we are very old, we think we know enough to be getting on with — but by then the long-term damage has probably been done, as we have picked up ways of ‘thinking’ which don’t help us at all and which end up placing us in all kinds of situations from which the amygdala thinks it has to rescue us.

One of the most serious errors in the usual approach has been mentioned earlier: the attitude of ‘fixing departures as they arise’. We think we see something wrong, something that doesn’t fit, something that conflicts with a notion we have, and so we set about ‘fixing’ it in isolation from everything else. No sooner have we done so — or even before we have finished — we see something else that needs ‘fixing’, and so we go off to fix that.

Many people’s lives consist of nothing else than this endless chain of ‘fixings’. Many jobs are comprised of no more than this — fix one thing, then move on to fix the next, and so on forever.

One of the hardest concepts to communicate is not that of departures — we see them all around us all the time. It’s the idea of ideals — the things which we project onto our environments. Only when we fully grasp what ideals we are projecting can we see, as clearly as the shadows cast when we shine a light, what the departures are. And only when we realise that we can adjust what we project do we begin to perceive the correct departures.

As a quick example, look around the room which you currently occupy. Project onto that room an ideal scenario of some kind — the ‘perfect room’, if you like. Note that you would first have to swiftly determine the purpose of the room before you could decide what would make it perfect or not — but having done that, and having beamed out that ideal onto the space around you, you should now immediately see where the departures from that ideal are. Perhaps the room is cluttered and untidy; or perhaps, conversely, it’s too bare and sparse. Perhaps there are numerous other things which you can now see don’t ‘fit’. The departures you see depend directly upon whatever you projected onto it, don’t they?

Keep doing this until you get the concept of ideals and departures and can project an ideal scenario easily and rapidly onto a range of environments.

But now we come to the next hardest thing to get across…

The Biggest Departure

Once you learn to spot a departure in relation to an exact ideal, rather than just as a vague ‘something wrong’, you are faced with an extraordinary task: you have to start counting and analysing those departures if you want to get off the endless ‘departure fixing’ treadmill.

That means not reacting to them.

This is easier said than done — but unless you can get beyond your reactions, you might not be able to analyse calmly and correctly.

For some, small errors are large departures: a piece of burnt toast, a hair out of place, a bus that is one minute late, all send some people berserk. These are tiny irritations which are indeed departures but which, if fixed individually, will probably lead to nothing being permanently handled. The people who go crazy at the slightest departure are the ones most trapped on the ‘departure fixing’ wheel.

To use data correctly, to get off the reaction wheel, one must grasp the idea of magnitude of departures.

To set about finding the Biggest Departure, one has to count all the departures one can detect.

Maybe the burnt toast was a one-off; maybe it occurs only when a particular person operates the toaster; maybe the burnt toast only comes from one particular toaster. Only by observing and counting departures can one find the trail leading to a proper solution.

Maybe the hair out of place is just a hair out of place; maybe it’s an indicator of something else. You couldn’t tell without looking and calmly assessing.

A bus is late by one minute — are all the buses late? By one minute each time? Or was just that one bus late by one minute? No one would know unless they had sat back and observed.

But instead of stepping back and coolly observing, most people just react.

Most people immediately go into ‘fixing’ mode and lose the plot.

It’s that plot, though, which can lead to the ultimate resolution, getting rid of swathes of departures all at once by finding the Biggest Departure which is the source of most of them.

Stories do this all the time: it's part of their power.

The Biggest Departure means that wide and significant or dangerous or potentially damaging state of affairs which means that a correct ideal has been departed from to the extent that the ideal may have vanished from view altogether. It's that thing which, if fixed, will lead to the scene leaping towards its ideal in one huge bound, as opposed to lots of tiny 'fixings' which can lead nowhere.


One has to work out or know what an ideal would be for anything in order to know that a departure existed from it.

Finding the Biggest Departure boils down to the following steps.

1. Observe. Don’t react, just observe. 2. Notice a departure of some kind (or perhaps the fact that there are no departures). 3. Work out what would be the ideal environment for what is being observed. 4. Tally up the departures now apparent (still not reacting to them.)

5. The Biggest Departure will be the largest gap between what you’ve observed and the ideal.


Two siblings are constantly upset with each other.

1. You observe. Don’t react or get upset with either of them or both, just observe. 2. Notice a departure of some kind — they share a room, but the floor is littered with toys and food wrappings. 3. Work out what would be the ideal environment for what is being observed, which in this case would be a reasonably clean and tidy space — it’s a children’s bedroom so it needs to be comfortable and clean, but not as spotless or organised as a medical laboratory. 4. Tally up the departures now apparent. From what you can see, it’s the food wrappings which are creating the most mess. You notice that it is one child who eats a particular food; you observe that this child leaves the wrappers everywhere which drives the other child, who plays with his toys all over the floor, crazy. Arguments ensue — but by observing rather than reacting, you can see that the problems begin with the food wrappings. The eating child then fault-finds in order to deflect blame, accusing the other child of leaving his toys everywhere. Things degenerate from there.

5. The Biggest Departure will be the largest gap between what you’ve observed and the ideal — in this case, it’s the improperly disposed of wrappings. By focusing on that over the next few days, making sure that Child A puts the wrappings in the bin rather than just dropping them on the floor, you notice that the tone between the two children picks up and there are less arguments.

That’s a tiny, easy example — but the same principle applies to larger fields, to organisations, groups, nations. International relations would be greatly improved if the steps above were applied to aggression between countries.

Two countries are on the verge of armed conflict.

1. Observe. Don’t react, just observe. 2. Notice a departure of some kind. You note that skirmishes are prevalent all along the border between the two nations — i.e. there does not appear to be any territorial legitimacy to the claims and counter-claims. Conclusion: something else is going on. 3. Work out what would be the ideal environment for what is being observed. You project that better trade arrangements between the two countries would boom both of their economies, but that neither has taken these possibilities seriously, focusing instead on 'point-scoring'. 4. Tally up the departures now apparent. The lack of communication between the two nations highlights that neither possesses an official department for foreign affairs. Relations between them depend upon personalities which change as the internal politics of both countries shift.

5. The Biggest Departure will be the largest gap between what you’ve observed and the ideal, which in this case is an absence of continuity of relations due to the lack of organised civil services independent of political change.

This gives you the one area which, if concentrated upon, would resolve 90% of the departures. An effort to establish diplomatic relations between civil authorities, taking the squabbling out of the hands of egotistical leaders, would calm things down tremendously.

It’s a completely different approach to that which is normally taken — namely the ‘react and try to fix departures one at a time’ method which results in exhaustion, ongoing conflict and hopelessness.

Why doesn’t this happen?

We can clearly see that current international relations are the way they are precisely because these steps aren’t normally done. Unfortunately, the bulk of resources is usually spent on the ‘fix departures’ approach as there are all kind of hidden agendas at work — the subject of an entirely different evaluation, equally open to being assessed using the steps above.

Sorting Out the Biggest Departure

Often, the solution starts small even when the departure is huge.

The tide of the Second World War turned because Nazi Germany lost the Battle of Britain and Hitler decided to invade Russia instead, thus dooming the German nation to defeat as it could not match the tremendous labour resources of the Soviet Union. But the Battle of Britain was lost not because Britain had access to huge armies, air forces or other military resources — it’s possible to argue that things changed precisely because of the effect of two relatively small but very significant inventions: ground to air radio, and radar. Radar meant that invading German planes could be picked up early on screens; ground to air radio meant that the extremely limited airborne squadrons could be sent rapidly by a coordinating authority to the right places to defend the country. The result was the impression that Britain’s defences were in much better shape than they were — an impression that led the Fuhrer to alter his military plans immensely, changing the course of the whole war.

The Biggest Departure is often so big and so overwhelming that one can feel incapable of dealing with it. But when one realises that the way of overcoming it might depend upon small, relatively invisible things rather than large resources, then light begins to dawn.

The most important thing is not to react, then to calmly observe and then follow through the rest of the steps above.

Stay tuned.


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