Congratulations, you did it. At this point, you should be able to quickly move from a state of suffering to feeling safe and secure, to the beginnings of what it means to thrive. With what you’ve learned to this point, you should be feeling significantly better about your life than you did when we began. However, if you’re still struggling or not getting the results you hoped to get, be sure to connect with us. Maybe there’s a way we can tweak your practices to help you get the results you deserve.
If you don’t feel confident in your ability to control your chemistry, it doesn’t hurt to go through this course a time or two. The better you are at activating your prefrontal cortex, the more natural Phase Three practices will be.
Wherever you find yourself, remember; nothing you do is ever a failure. You are living the best life possible from what you know today. It can take years or even decades to gain complete mastery of your chemistry, or it can take just a few short months. We’re all individuals. We’ve been through different levels of suffering and handed different bodies to deal with them. Each journey is unique, and all of them are beautiful. So, please be willing to travel yours patiently.
The third state of consciousness we will consider in this book is the thriving state of human homeostasis. While humans, by nature, are a social species, we are not bound to the typical survival mechanisms of most primates. To maintain healthy human homeostasis, we must eventually eliminate patterns of fight-or-flight and rest-and-digest and move into the more mindful states of the prefrontal cortex.
We are no longer adept in the fight-or-flight mechanisms of our distant ancestors. We are no longer fast enough or strong enough to utilize the benefits fight-or-flight might provide another species. Imagine yourself experiencing a legitimate threat, like coming across a bear in the woods. If you try to confront the bear (fight), you will likely lose. If you run (flight), you will probably fail here as well. Your only real chance against the bear is to outthink the bear. The inherent issue here is that—unless the bear is not a new situation for you—your ability to adapt resides in your frontal lobe, an integral part of the brain disengaged during a fight-or-flight response.
It is commonly known. When the amygdala triggers, the prefrontal cortex shuts down. This inherently puts us at greater risk of being harmed by the bear. So, this once powerful mechanism our ancestors used is now becoming our most significant limitation.
There are a lot of opportunities to challenge the confirmation biases of our survival mechanisms. Pharmaceuticals, therapeutic treatment, alternative healing options, and a plethora of other opportunities too numerous to mention are all available to help us break our patterns. However, using the body’s natural brain function is the most powerful and available tool for creating real and lasting change in our lives.
The most crucial issue here is in our approach. To approach the external condition or even the consciousness itself is to yield minimal results. The quickest, most efficient way to change the chemicals in your brain is to change the functions firing them. The observational practice of the prefrontal cortex puts us into a state of being fully present. The prefrontal cortex offers us abundant opportunities to experience powerfully human experiences that far exceed anything possible as a primate.
The first of these opportunities comes in the prefrontal cortex itself. Mindful living creates more presence, better learning capabilities, and a more steady life experience. Proper mindfulness practices also shrink the enlarged amygdala present in a traditionally primal brain. Neuroscientific research has proven just five weeks of the right kind of practice visibly shrinks the size of the amygdala, creating a less reactive, less emotionally charged, less triggered experience of life.
When the frontal lobe of the brain is activated, we experience natural states of creativity. This is where all our creative juices flow; innovation and the infinite potential of possibility live here. It is the part of our brain where we obtain new knowledge and form new ideas.
Dopamine is not the ‘feel-good’ chemical it’s portrayed to be. The thoughts, feelings, and emotions which are byproducts of dopamine include pleasure, confidence, centeredness, peace of mind, etc. Still, we must remember, we don’t induce these feelings to increase dopamine production. They are the inherent byproduct of dopamine stimulating the frontal lobe of our brain.
The more accurate way to think of dopamine is as a success chemical. When we are safe and well and thriving, dopamine is active. Think of a healthy three-year-old. They are all these things, by nature. So, this is where we begin, feeling confident, creative, and inherently safe. The next natural question would then be; what occurs to alter this inherent state of well-being?
As a natural part of our homeostatic state, dopamine is converted to norepinephrine and stored in the synaptic vesicles, for release in a fight-or-flight scenario. This trigger is a function of DNA passed down generation after generation. It is the rule of memory and the early training of the brain to keep us safe. An enlarged amygdala is not a failure of the brain. It is a condition of training, thousands upon thousands of years of it.
There is sure to be a point in time where these mechanisms are no longer inherent to our make-up, but we aren’t there yet. So it is now our opportunity, maybe even our responsibility, to alter the function, if not for improving our existence, at least then for improving our progeny.
There is something essential to understand as we discuss the DNA of our ancestors. It is not our design to live in the heightened states of fight-or-flight we are experiencing today. This chemical should only trigger as a reaction to an imminent threat of death. However, our growth as a species has created the imbalance we are experiencing. There are too many of us to sustain the conditions of primal survival.
Thriving is now fundamental. It is our natural state of being. Contrary to popular opinion, death is not a natural cycle of life. Death is the ending of life. Our natural, homeostatic state is one of regeneration. I’m here to impart the critical nature brain chemistry plays in our ability to maintain this healthy, thriving state.
The natural state of the human species is a state of creativity and innovative thought. When we are triggered, these are deactivated. It is often said we only use ten percent of our brains. This is not entirely accurate. For the most part, we are all capable of using one hundred percent of our brains. However, we can only use approximately ten percent of it at a time. Humans are electrical beings, but our bodies only produce enough electricity to fire about ten percent of our brain at any given moment. Which ten percent we are firing becomes the opportunity we are here to create.
As we’ve grown, many of us have lost our connection to the intuitive, innovative frontal lobe of our brain and sometimes even the reasonable, logical functions activated by serotonin and norepinephrine. Fight-or-flight conditions reduce us to the base instinct of reactive behavior.
Imagine now, experiencing your brain in a homeostatic state, really connect to what happens at this moment. You feel positive, healthy, happy, and safe. Everything is comfortable in life. The world is full of curious excitement. Most of us experience some level of this in our lives. Even if it is for brief moments, we experience the body in its natural centered state.
The consciousness of most Millenials is precisely the direction our mind is going. Do what you love. Serve humanity. Be aware of yourself as human, not as a pack, but as a species. The world is my tribe. Seek out change. Don’t fear it.
We see even further growth with the Z generation, where individuality says, ‘I am so unique. I am such an individual; you can no longer tell me what gender I am. I am unique and powerful and valuable being me. I am whole and complete without your approval, without your team, without the need for externalized value. I don’t need your success to be whole. I am inherently successful.’ This is dopamine.
I will remind you here; generations are not age-based limitations. They are the newest consciousnesses becoming available to anyone within the species. Of course, they will be prevalent in children raised during the prevailing consciousness, but they are not bound to those children. We all have the opportunity to live in the genius of the time, to feel relevant to the world the way it is now. However, we are still housing DNA trained to react to it. This is our struggle. It is also our opportunity.
In her book, Dreamers Discoverers and Dynamos, Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D. explains, A neurotransmitter is a brain chemical that is both the cause and the result of a particular behavior pattern. The neurotransmitter, dopamine, mediates goal achievement. When you succeed, you boost your dopamine and that dopamine drives you further.
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter of security and well-being.
As we begin associating with the pain of disappointment; as we feel insecure and embarrassed by failure, we begin to be driven by a divergent brain chemical called norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter of stress. Norepinephrine triggers fight-or-flight behavior. We begin to be either defiant (fight) or avoidant (flight).
We can force a child to perform, but this will not change his brain chemistry or lead to self-motivation. A monkey will perform a task whether they are rewarded with fruit juice or punished by noxious puffs of air in their faces. However, only the reward increases the dopamine in the brain. To act as self-motivated students, our students need to be driven by dopamine and serotonin, not norepinephrine.
When we commit to a strength-centered approach, we raise our children to be the heroes, not the victims of their lives.
In her explanation, we can see how fight-or-flight is directly connected to the value state created in children. When we have low value, we equate ourselves to being powerless. Being powerless is a naturally vulnerable position, and a fight-or-flight response would be the organic outcome.
Success and not reward is the stronger sensory stimuli when triggering dopamine. This is why we do practices that challenge the brain. We are both stimulating learning cycles and connecting with the natural motivation for success. Like the millennial movement itself, we are a species that must feel successful and contribute. We no longer care about reward base models. Working hard to collect houses and cars is not enough for us anymore. Reward is not what drives us. Humans want to be successful and contribute.
When we are able to sustain our natural, homeostatic state of perceiving ourselves as a successful contributor to the species or even to our own life, we are in a thriving state and life is beautiful. We are grounded and confident. We feel successful, and we are motivated to produce more success.
New approaches in the treatment of PTSD and addiction in both returning military and those involved in the space program are no longer approaching PTSD due to trauma. Instead, they recognize it as the symptom of going from a high purpose position to a life of lower purpose. We’ve seen it for years; men dying after only six months of retirement; mothers struggling with empty nest syndrome; people living homeless or in addiction after high-yield positions, even going as far as taking their own lives during a stock market crash.
As I mentioned in the previous chapters, primal survival mechanisms have set up the hazardous conditions of social survival in our species. We now must have the right house, the right car, the right clothes, the right kind of relationships, etc., etc., to avoid risking exclusion. With the high expectations our society can hold, we are subject to almost continually triggered states, all subject to the external values of whatever peer group we call our tribe.
Making decisions based on an already-existing external experience makes us vulnerable to the conditions of that experience. Trying to create environments in our life where nothing changes and no one ever leaves is impossible. New ideas and experiences inspire humans. The desire to learn new things, travel to new places and have new adventures is what makes us uniquely human, but it creates conflict in what once made us primates. Following neural patterns developed by a parent raised two decades ago, or the ever-changing climates of our cultural expectations cannot be applicable to confident, stable homeostasis.
The same is true for our children. There is a point where we must find faith in our ability to acquire the information we will need as we go. If we don’t, we are stuck in the cyclic death of being irrelevant.
The simple changing of our survival mechanisms from primal safety in familiarity to a more advanced safety in adaptability is enough to not only shift our experience of life but to possibly save it.