et’s roll the clock back a bit. I was sure I wouldn’t make it out alive when I joined the Army. And if I’m being honest, I took risks that I shouldn’t have. The good news is I was wrong. Not everyone was so lucky.
When I left the Army, I re-entered the civilian world with a different view of death. I had accepted it as inevitable, but not in a positive way. Worse still, there were times that I embraced in an unhealthy way. For those that struggle with depression and think you’re alone, you aren’t.
You see, we are masterful storytellers. We are probably the only species on this planet capable of time travel visiting the future and past with regularity. That allows worry and regret to wander around, spotlighting monsters who lurk in the shadows with names like rejection, loss, loneliness, or failure. We even travel back in time and relive moments that haunt us.
Your Brain, On Fear
There are two ways we categorize things: threat or non-threat. With a perceived threat, your body changes. A small part of your brain, the amygdala, goes to work and takes over. Hormones are released, blood starts flowing, and you prepare for a fight (or flight). You probably know exactly how that feels, and maybe you know the science too.
Let’s pause for a moment, and this is important. We are constantly categorizing threat or non-threat. Once upon a time, it was about saber-tooth tigers. Today it’s your co-worker, a comment from a partner, your latest scroll through comparison world, or the email you just opened at your kid’s soccer game. Okay, back to the science.
As some parts of your brain are gearing up, others are shutting down. The cerebral cortex, the area responsible for reasoning and judgment, becomes impaired. Said another way, you become foggy and start to make poor decisions. You stop being logical, and this takes ugly forms.
Stress, anger, anxiety, frustration, and their accomplices show up. Your aperture closes, your viewpoint narrows, and your perceived alternatives reduce. Since you are focused on survival, you concentrate on the ‘bad’ and let the one thing you can control run wild, your thoughts.
James Allen shares in As A Man Thinketh -
“You cannot directly choose your circumstances, but you can choose your thoughts, and so indirectly, shape your circumstances.”
Your Brain, On Reality
Nothing is permanent. Not you, not me. Nothing. Everything is in a constant state of transformation and at some point, it will be all something else. Not gone, just something else. Why does this matter?
The threat of change is what causes fear. If we get comfortable with the inevitability of change, we can see fear for what it is - a thought that you let become a story.
Truly understanding that fear is a thought you can control is a superpower. This allows you to reset your brain and lean into logic, rather than emotion. If you let your sabertooth tiger emotions possess you, you will react when what you must do is respond.
Your Brain, On Your Thoughts
I haven’t found anything in the world I can control except my thoughts - and even that’s a struggle. Thoughts are what matter because they are what you will become. All you achieve or fail to achieve will be the product of your thoughts - we must think carefully.
James Allen, with a beautiful analogy for the mind.
"Your mind is like a garden. Just as a gardener cultivates their plot, keeping it free from weeds and growing the flowers and fruits they require, they tend the garden of their mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless, and impure thoughts. They cultivate flowers and fruits of right, useful, and pure thoughts. By pursuing this process, they sooner or later discover that they are the master-gardener of their soul, the director of their life. They also reveal how thoughts force the shaping of their character, circumstances, and destiny."
"Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit."
My Brain, On Hope
I’m a bit embarrassed when I reflect on ‘the me’ a decade ago. Actually, I cringe. Fortunately, many things have changed about me over the years. Some good, some bad. I hope those around me would say that the bad gets less bad, and the good gets more good. Ten years from now I hope to reflect on the ‘today me’ and be equally embarrassed. If I’m not, I’m doing it wrong.
And coming back to mortality, today I think about it very differently. I work to make decisions each day to honor that eventual change without fear. I try to do that by loving each moment, even the ‘bad’ ones.
I hope this weekend finds you celebrating with friends and family - celebrating courage, freedom, and who we have, not what we have.
Take care out there 🤟.