But there are parts of the human brain that make it difficult to create change on our terms. It often leaves us feeling swept away in the tidal wave of change that can't be held back. The major part of the brain responsible for this action is a small structure tucked deep inside the core of the brain called the Amygdala.
The amygdala's role in our world is to color our memories with the paintbrush of emotion. Whenever you notice a feeling of warmth and love around the memory of a grandparent or a sense of fear and anxiety around a spider in your home, you're getting a glimpse of the Amygdala at work. And really, we're glad for this activity. It can serve as a protective mechanism helping us recall dangerous situations and urging us to avoid them further. Smelling fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and remembering a joyful childhood afternoon with your friends are both served by this powerful structure. Whether we judge it as "good" or "bad", the amygdala serves us well.
Yet there are times when this emotional memory can act as a hindrance. During those times when you attempt to create positive change in some aspect of your life but are struck with fear, doubt, confusion, and anxiety it is most likely the amygdala stirring this response. Each movement towards something new and different sparks a cascade of memories about similar experiences from your past. Each one is met with the activation of the amygdala relaying a detailed emotional recall of how you felt before, during, and after those changes. If previous attempts towards change have been met with failure, disappointment, guilt, and shame (you can tell my personal favorites), stepping out to achieve that change can be extremely difficult while the amygdala is chattering endless warnings in your ear.
Consider this example. You want to lose weight. Another New Year's is coming and with it a fresh batch of resolutions. Most likely among them is the desire to drop a few pounds. You've read some books, created your grocery list, and are ready to go. But as the day approaches you feel apprehension amidst the excitement. You begin to worry that this year will be like all those before with initial gains outweighed by eventual demise. The sheer emotional frustration of it all has you unsure of how you'll succeed this time. What will be different? And what will happen to your confidence if you fail again? Maybe it isn't worth it. Maybe you should just learn to be happy where you are. Maybe everyone else is right and living "just ain't worth it" if you can't have your cake and actually eat it too.
All of these thoughts are messages from the amygdala. It questions and consults previous experiences and then portrays possible outcomes. Unfortunately, most of them are protective and negative. It's not very often that it shows us the upside of stepping outside our comfort zone. So what do you do?
Follow the ABCs. 1. Awareness 2. Breathe 3. Confront and Create.
With awareness you notice where in your body the memory or thoughts are coming from. Does it cause a tightness in your throat or knotting in your gut? Are you writing a story that seeks out all the potential hazards and things that might go wrong? Just notice. Once you do, move to Breathing.
Breathe with your belly. Inhale with the belly pushing out and exhale sucking the belly back in. Doing this immediately shifts the physiology from stressed to relaxed. It provides the brain and every other cell with high levels of oxygen that allow for clear thought and better decision making. Do 10 breaths in this manner and then move to part three.
Confront and Create. Confront the feelings or thoughts by determining if they're real or just a series of mind chatter. Then create the feelings and thoughts that provide the change and outcome you desire. Take the time to really feel the happiness, joy, and pride of your achieved goal in the very cells and tissues of the body. This creates a new circuitry for the amygdala to support and the body to achieve.
Your body and brain are built for change. Use the power of the mind and human form to step into a life that brings healing and harmony to you and your world.