Focus On Minimising Change

  • The brain's overarching principle is to minimise danger (away from responses like anxiety, sadness & fear) and to maximise reward (toward responses like curiosity, happiness and contentment)). This is called the limbic response with the "away"response being stronger, faster and longer lasting than the "toward"response. Usually decisions are made before you are aware of them
  • As neuroscience tells us, a threat or fear will dominate our thinking and responses. For example, the anti-immigration fear that was successfully used in the populist politics of Brexit to secure a no vote and Donald Trump's election to the White House (2016). Also, people are looking for quick fixes and solutions like "stop the boats" or "build a wall". (Patrick Durkin, 2016b)
  • Need to reduce threats and increase rewards (interesting, pleasurable, important, etc). Reward response involves increased levels of good neuro-chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin & testosterone that lower stress, etc and reduce bad "ones"like cortisol
  • A primary threat can endanger your life and a primary reward like food, money, sex, etc. helps you survive and thrive.
  • The away response can reduce cognitive activity by making it harder to think about your thinking, making you more defensive and incorrectly classifying certain situations as threats
  • Need to be conscious of things that might increase the limbic system's arousal and find ways to reduce this as soon as possible, such as refocus attention on another stimulus, assigning words to emotional states, etc
  • Once emotional responses are activated, they are hard to suppress; using this makes it worse. Suppressing emotions reduces your memory of events significantly and makes other people feel uncomfortable.
  • Labelling an emotion does not necessarily make you feel better. Symbolic labelling can reduce the limbic system's arousal.
  • Emotional responses to thoughts, objects, people, events, etc are connected to a large brain network called the limbic system (amygdale, hippocampus, cingulated gyrus, orbital frontal cortex and insula; of these the amygdale and hippocampus are the most important; the latter is involved in memory around feelings (not facts) and is linking new experiences with ones from the past. It remembers if the experience was a "towards"or "away"response. The amygdale can be aroused in proportion to the strengths of an emotional response.
  • The limbic system drives your behaviour, often unconsciously. It helps you handle the infinite choices that you face all the time. Furthermore, it is more responsive to an away response like danger or fear than a towards response like lust. We are more likely to have a negative emotional downward spiral than a positive, uplifting spiral when the limbic system is activated.

"...Human beings walk towards, but run away..."

David Rock, 2009

. Everyone has a unique set of hot buttons that can set off a limbic response. Dangers can be real or imagined.

. A limbic response impairs brain functioning. It can give you a false sense of confidence about your ability and decision-making; it favours negative responses to situations.

. Furthermore, if the limbic response is over-aroused, especially the amygdale, it reduces resources (glucose and oxygen) available for the prefrontal cortex so that it does not function properly. It can cause us to make incorrect links, errors and misinterpret incoming data. It can make you us focus inwards unnecessarily.

. Attention blink (there is second to free your mind so that you can think of something new). This is a limitation in information processing.

. If over-arousal goes on too long, allostatic load increases. Thus your levels of cortisol and adrenaline are too high and we experience a permanent sense of threat and a low threshold for additional threats. Research is showing that this can kill existing neurons and restrict development of new ones, especially in the hippocampus which is important in forming memories. Thus you need to be able to regulate your emotions.

. Emotional regulation can be achieved by

- situation selection (you chose the situation)

- situation modification (you modify the situation)

- attention deployment (you decide where you are going to focus your attention)

This needs to be done before emotions kick in. Once emotions kick in, you have 3 options

i. express your emotions (let them come out)

ii. expressive suppression (hold back your feeling)

iii. cognitive change (think about your emotions differently by labeling (you put a label on your emotions) and/or reappraisal (changing the interpretation of an event)

. Generally if you try to suppress your emotions is very hard to disguise and has a negative impact, ie

- it impairs your memory of the event

- uses scarce cognitive resources that could be better used elsewhere

- it makes other people feel uncomfortable

 

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