July 3, 2021

Forward Steps Back

I was thinking about a situation that happened a couple of years ago that sucked. Life moved on but I still think about it. I've asked numerous people if they have events they relive in their heads over and over again. The answer is almost always yes because most of us do. But why is that?

I'm not suggesting we don't relive happy memories, but the challenges seem to cut deeper for some reason. Is it perhaps because we are still learning a lesson? I know this, the more we try and not think about those events, the more we think about them. If I was to ask you to not think about an orange elephant riding a motorcycle  good luck getting that image out of your head!

Beware of the Lizard Brain

I'd consider myself a fairly smart dude, so why can't I just tell myself to stop letting something that has already happened, which I cannot change, continue to bug me? It has to do with the part of the limbic system in our brains that is in charge of fight, flight, feed, fear, or freeze. It is our survival mechanism which decides what we do next if we are experiencing stress. It's why we can't seem to get started on the project even though we know the deadline looms.

If we have a situation, current or past, real or imagined, it will react immediately. If we are experiencing or have experienced pain, it will focus solely on that moment. When I think of that event, it's as if I am reliving it over and over again. 

Negative vs Positive

Perhaps this is more prevalent in Western culture, but we seem to do it more often when remembering negative situations over joyous ones. Do we think we don't deserve joy and need to pay for pain? I'm obviously not a psychologist but I think there's something to that. Our frontal lobe is in charge of reasoning, motor skills, higher level cognition, and expressive language. So our complicated brain starts to fight with itself. 

I've started an exercise and like most when you begin, I'm terrible at it, but I'm trying to think of five positive things in my life or events that have happened whenever a negative thought or memory crosses my mind. When I can do it successfully, it actually works. So perhaps you can try it if you can't seem to get past a negative event in your past.

I wonder how the elephant balances on that motorcycle? 

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