I don’t know much

As a people, we’re hardwired into seeing things from one point of view and one point of view alone. Evolution hasn’t done a lot to help with the whole flight or fight response we’re ladened with. The part of the brain that forces us into this mode of thinking – the amygdala – sits there waiting for shit to hit the fan. And it’s a bloody good thing to. Well, in this day and age you might question how useful it is to have a physical reaction to something when we don’t know if it is truly a life or death situation.

But let’s think about that. In days gone by, when loincloths were the height of fashion, you needed to know pretty darn quick if that big hairy tusky beast was about to kill you or run away. Fast forward several thousand years, and we certainly don’t face that anymore. But we certainly do face an intriguing array of events that the amygdala forces us to choose one set of actions over the other.

At work, you’re setting about your day to day and get an email from Brian. It’s rather rude, accuses you of some things, has cc’d an array of people and made your name mud. You feel the heat rising in your blood and your anger levels rising? That’s the adrenalin. Caused by the amygdala.

On your commute, you’re idly walking along and not paying attention to the other people walking at speed by you. Someone knocks straight into you who equally was walking idly. That blood rising and making you jump back to your feet finding your solid footing? That’s your amygdala working it’s magic again.

You’re delivering a presentation and start to get challenged by an audience member. You don’t know how to respond to the questions and start to break down and fall apart. You lose your focus, a stutter develops you never knew you had, and you sweat. Pretty interesting what this amydala does to you, eh?

So what can we do about it? Well nothing really. Not initially anyway. What you need to start doing is reading. What you need to start doing is talking to people. You need to go out an experience different situations. You need to listen to different music. You need to try different foods. You need to learn a new skill. You need to be challenged in ways never challenged before. You need to get married. You need to get divorced. You need to experience loss. You need to find love. You need to have sex. You need to sit in silence. You need to stop the amygdala taking over your life.

But don’t think for one moment it’s the amygdala making you react the way you do. By doing the things I’ve just mentioned, they help you overcome the chemical reaction triggered by the amygdala. Once you’re passed that initial reaction, it’s all down to you and what you choose to do. And that is when you start to live.


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Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

3 thoughts on “I don’t know much”

  1. Reading up on Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence helped me understand what this amygdala was all about. It was a mini-revelation. There’s so much more neuroscience to be learnt – neuro plasticity, the fabled only 10% of the brain used, the “we can do 7 things at one time including breathing and blinking” that I don’t know whether half of it is right or not, but I do know that since knowing about the amygdala, I get hijacked for a lot shorter time. Nice post Sukh.

  2. Sukh I think you’ve put the neuroscience into the context it needs to be placed in… here is understanding, live & explore the diversity of life in a full sense, see the truisms, now make informed choices. This takes a curiosity that I think most businesses don’t know how to cultivate. Yet it’s simple really – be curious!

    To add another “Amydala related” reading reference I’d recommend “A General Theory of Love” by Lewis, Amini, Lannon. I suspect some of the neuroscience may have moved on but even so 10 years on why isn’t this mandatory reading for leaders? Curiosity…

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