Tag Archives: Wisdom

Listen to Your Amazing Brain

Sometimes when you come across something new, some of us can have a tendency to compare it to things that you imagine that it is similar to, even though you haven’t decided to spend a lot of time investigating this. Neuro- scientists believe that because of the way the brain categorizes things fairly quickly, sometimes we put things into categories that they don’t really belong to. They tell us that this unconscious behavior is a leftover from evolution, and that while it served us well for hundreds and thousands of years it can give us trouble in modern society.

There is much disagreement on how “blank” of a slate we start out in life. There are the scientists that believe we are completely blank, and everything is culturally programmed into us. Then there are those that believe we start out with some kind of a filing system already in place, but it is completely empty. So that when we grow and move through life and experience new things, this pre-formatted filing system is filled up.

Whether we start completely blank, or start with a pre formatted filing system, most agree that we end up with some kind of system where we have categories our minds that things we experience gets put into. One of the fascinating aspects of this is that most of the time, our pre conscious processor takes the external stimulation, and decides on what category it belongs to (whatever it is!) before we are even consciously aware of what is going on. This is where those uncomfortable emotions come from when they seemingly come out of nowhere. Our brain sees something in the outside world, and decides it belongs in a category of danger or trauma, and that touches of a cascade of emotions. This is what people mean sometimes when they say they are “blindsided.”

For example, lets say you used to be in a relationship with somebody. It was going really well, and then suddenly it ended, to much emotional pain. That was years ago. You’ve completely forgotten about it (or so you think!) and you’re out walking around. You see somebody that doesn’t even remind you of them, so you don’t consciously think of them, but they happen to have the same kind of poodle that your ex had. The important thing to remember is you don’t realize any of this consciously. Your pre conscious processor sees the person, their clothes, and the poodle, and it searches your memory for similar items. It comes up with the poodle, and the corresponding feelings that the poodle unconsciously reminds you of. It’s important to keep in mind that the actual memories don’t necessarily come up, but the transient emotions do. So all of a sudden you’ll be feeling kind of icky for no good reason.

The brain is amazing this way. Sometimes stray thoughts will pop up out of nowhere, thoughts you haven’t had in many years. And although you realize you are thinking those old thoughts, you can’t put your finger on what triggered them. Your brain is always sorting through everything that comes in through your five senses, and comparing it to everything that’s ever happened to you, to decide where to put the information in your brain, and whether or not to bring it to your conscious awareness. It does this in a fraction of a second. So when you have those stray thoughts, something you saw, heard, smelled, or physically felt or tasted somehow reminded of you of some aspect of it. And our incredibly fast and incredibly smart brain has decided that there is some reason it’s given you the memory.

So what do you do? What do you do when you are eating chocolate ice cream and suddenly you have a childhood memory that has nothing whatsoever to do with ice cream? Simply accept the memory, and ask yourself if you have any unfinished business regarding that memory. Do you need to forgive somebody? Do you need to release some emotion so you can get on with your life? Do you need to remember to do something? Sometimes those memories are a warning of something that is coming up that you need to be careful about.

Once I was having a recurring memory of Magic Johnson when he pulled his hamstrings in the NBA finals several years ago. I had no idea why, but it flashed in my mind a few times over the course of several days. Later that week, I was in a situation where running outside was an appropriate behavior. When the time came for me to run, I took off sprinting. Within a few strides, I felt a sharp pull in my hamstring.

Had I been paying attention, I would have realized that my brain was looking into the future (I already knew I would be in the running situation) and warning me to stretch, or be careful, or go slow. Because I ignored the warning, I suffered the consequences.

The brain is a wonderful tool designed by our creator, or millions of years of evolution, or Mother Nature, whichever you choose to believe. Scientists are only beginning to understand how it operates. But that doesn’t mean you can use those seemingly random thoughts you get from time to time. You brain is trying to tell you something. See what happens when you listen to your own wisdom.

The I-Have-No-Clue Method of Increasing Wisdom and Happiness

One of the best ways to find a good place to eat is ask local people. I’ve found more really good restaurants by asking locals and ignoring guidebooks and restaurant review guides than anything else. There are some interesting reasons why this is so. One of the main thoughts is to consider why the person is reviewing the particular restaurant. Some restaurant reviewers are concerned solely with reporting the quality of the food and the service as accurately as possible. Others seem to want to promote their own article writing skills, or their own culinary expertise. Of course, if that kind of thing is important to you, eating in a restaurant that has been compared with many other well-known and famous restaurants, then by all means. And I mean that sincerely, without any sarcasm.

My favorite kind of food is cheap and good. I am not a big fan of ambiance, or presentation, or the view from my table. I’m not even that concerned with the cleanliness of the restaurant. Some of my all time favorite meals have been eaten for less than a few dollars from street vendors of questionable sanitation.
Tacos in Mexico, Grilled chicken in Thailand, who knows what in Taiwan. It’s all cheap, and it’s all good.

I guess the difference is asking somebody who really knows, versus asking somebody who wants to pretend that they know, or is afraid of admitting that they don’t know. Sometimes one is a cover up for the other, and vice versa. Here in Japan it is considered socially rude to say, “I don’t know” to a customer. I learned that the hard way when I went looking for a specific map. I went to three bookstores before I realized that they didn’t have the map I was looking for. But because of social rules and constraints, they could only tell me to try and search in another bookstore, even though in hindsight I suspect that they knew I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for.

Sometimes it’s hard to admit that you don’t know. Maybe it’s because when we were kids and you did something wrong, and your parents would say, “Why did you do that!” When our best response was “I don’t know,” we got into more trouble. Maybe because every time in school when teacher asked us a question, and we said “I don’t know, ” we felt foolish and the teacher gave us a dirty look. (Or maybe this only happened to me!)

Whatever the reason, as adults it can be really hard for us to say, “I don’t know,” when somebody asks us a direct question. I was talking to this guy the other day, and he was telling me about his two neighbors that were talking once, and he overheard one of them explaining what his uncle told him when he was a kid:

An admission of not knowing is the starting point for all knowledge. When you allow yourself to admit to somebody, or even yourself, that you have no clue, that opens up space in your brain for more information and experience. When you pretend you know, and you really don’t, you are actually closing yourself to from these things.

Which is I guess why a lot of business management and sales books advise to answer with “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” and then to actually go and find out, and report back to the person in a timely manner. That will show you are honest, resourceful, and dependable, AND they will have the answer to their question. For many people though, this can be hard to do, as it sometimes feels dangerous to the ego. The secret of the ego is that most of the things that it is scared of are actually the opposite of what will really make you happy. When your ego thinks it is keeping you safe, it is actually keeping you from experiencing more success. But you don’t know that until you take a tiny leap of faith. I guess that’s why so many people live the way they do, behind the protective wall of imagined comfort.

But you’re not like that, right? Because you are reading this, and because you’ve had those experiences in your life, you can naturally take that tiny step beyond imaginary fear and experience life the way it was meant to be experienced. One of the greatest things about stepping beyond the imagined limits of the ego is that because so few people are willing to do that, you will be seen as some kind of super human demi-god. Or at least most people will look up to you. Which, paradoxically, will get you all those things you thought you were preserving, but didn’t really have, behind that protective wall of ego safety.