Overcoming the Amygdala Part 89


Having established an ideal for a situation, activity, person or whatever, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether one is approaching that ideal or moving away from it.

Let’s say that you have established that the ideal for your home life is ‘A quiet, peaceful space in which I can get on with constructive things without interruption or drama over the next few years.’ This ideal seems achievable within the resources you have available. Naming out the ideal has in all likelihood revealed immediately to you the major departures from it: the disruptive room-mates, the constant interruptions, the ongoing distractions. But at least now you can begin to categorise these departures and track down the biggest one. Address that, and 90% of your problems will disappear, boosting you towards your ideal.

However, in the confusion of the existing scene, you may not be able to clearly spot whether or not your ideal is actually being attained. What you need is some kind of independent measure, not opinion, which empowers you to actually tell what’s happening.

Measurement usually involves numbers, and this is in fact the clue to how to proceed: if you can’t clearly perceive what’s happening, you need to be able to numerically measure things.

In the case of the above ideal, ‘A quiet, peaceful space in which I can get on with constructive things without interruption or drama over the next few years’, you need to quantify its parts: what exactly are you going to call an ‘interruption’ and a ‘drama’, and how many of them are occurring on, say, a daily basis? Conversely, how many hours of peace and quiet have you experienced? This means actual numbers of times and actual hours — not vague guesses or hearsay.

This can be extremely eye-opening.

If you were to do nothing more than keep a little log book for two or three days, in dealing with the above, you would probably find it very enlightening. After one day, you might note that you only managed an hour and a half of ‘quiet time’ out of an available 15 waking hours; defined interruptions numbered 17; dramas numbered three.

After another day, you see that you managed to get up to two hours of quietness, but with another 10 interruptions and five more dramas.

Your log book is now a handy instrument: you can tell immediately, once you begin analysing things, where most of the interruptions and dramas are coming from, and exactly how they are cutting across your times of peace. Perhaps you discover that one of your room-mates in particular seems to be prone to stirring up the trouble. You zoom in on that person, get to the bottom of his or her problems, introduce some schedules into the life of the house, and things settle down immediately. Yes, there are still some interruptions and an occasional drama, but by analysing what has actually been happening, quantifying it, categorising it and addressing its causes, you find that you have dramatically approached your ideal of a quiet home life.

What would normally have happened?

You might have reacted to every interruption and drama, lost your cool, tried to introduce a draconian schedule designed to enforce your wishes over the top of it all (a strategy doomed to fail as it doesn’t address the problems’ root causes) and then shut yourself way in your room fuming at your failures.

Your amygdala would have been going wild.

Instead, taking an analytical approach, using some unusual but completely common-sensical tools, you have taken your home life to a new level of serenity.


Concentrating on Quantity

Probably the most interesting and useful aspect of this is not coming up with the ideal in the first place, but working out how to break it down and quantify it.

It’s possible to get it wrong, of course. If you were running a business with the ideal of ‘getting rich’, you might be tempted to quantify things purely in terms of money. ‘More money in,’ you might argue, ‘means that the ideal is being approached.’ But if you were to neglect such things as the quality of whatever it was you were producing, or the facets of customer service which had to come into play to ensure that money continued to come in, you would probably find that your business venture was short-lived.

On the other hand, a fairly accurate and realistic quantification of an ideal would almost tell you the whole tale of the ideal and where its biggest departure was coming from. If you were able to measure the quality of your product and customer satisfaction with it, these would give you clear indicators of what was happening in terms of approaching or departing from an ideal. If the quality was falling, so too would your income eventually; if the customer service was skyrocketing, by actual survey rather than just guesses or opinions, then chances are that income would rise in time, all else being in place.

But the important point is that quantification cuts out opinion or hearsay or guessing.

Opinion, reports not based on statistics, ‘trusted viewpoints’, emotional hunches and so forth — these can all lead you away from actual causes and into the mire.

You will never find the reason why something is going wrong — and never be able to quieten your amygdala — unless you work analytically with quantifiable factors.

This takes practice and some skill — but unless you engage with that practice and learn those skills, you leave yourself at the mercy of reaction and the parasympathetic system, which simply tells you ‘Fight or get out now!’ It’s primitive and direct and effective in the sense that you feel the force of it — but it’s far from comfortable or rational, as you probably know.

We’ll learn some more of these skills shortly.

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