Change is hard. As much as we say we want things to be different, it’s literally our instinct as a human species, to fight change. We’re just not programmed for it. And yet, change is literally the thing that makes me feel the most alive and the most scared.
I feel really, really alive right now. I turned my life upside down, unplanned. In a moment, I followed a gut feeling when I resigned early this month from the best job I’ve ever had. I spent the next 3 weeks trying to walk it back, even on my last day.
What I hope to do in this blog post is share how I think that the small changes that we can actually control will ultimately make macro-level change possible. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the brain.
Two human brain functions that shape how we act
I am fascinated by how the human brain works. Particularly the relationship between our prefrontal cortex and amygdala.
Prefrontal cortex: the section of the brain responsible for insight and impulse control, logic and reason, right behind your forehead.
Amygdala: the brain’s fear center or lizard brain. It controls our fight, flight, or freeze response. It’s pretty much smack in the center of your brain.
It takes a lot of energy to keep our prefrontal cortex going. Being insightful and thoughtful is hard because your brain is consuming more calories and working harder to keep you open and fair-minded. So the next time you feel that someone is being super ignorant, offer them a snack.
This is why you will find members of Team Javelina eating and talking about food all day.
The difference between what is real and what we feel
I believe so much of our world and our perception of it is constructed around how we feel. Our feelings are valid. They just may not always be based in reality. That’s because our dear friend, the lizard brain, is always in the middle of things.
The lizard brain will react to something that causes you no real danger as if it is an actual physical threat to your safety. Back in the day when we were all cave people, the lizard brain was very helpful in protecting us from life-threatening wild animals and other such dangers. When our lizard brains were activated we knew to run away to get to a place of safety.
Today, the response is the same. When something happens that makes you feel unsafe – no matter how imagined the danger is – your lizard brain is activated. If something triggers your anger or anxiety, your lizard brain comes to life. Who can think judiciously when the chemicals coursing through your veins are the ones that got your ancestors to run from the saber-tooth tiger?
Why it’s difficult to correct our own misconceptions
You can read more about the backfire effect — how hearing something contradicting to your belief, makes you believe in that thing even more. Fake news much?
Knowing this, you can see how dangerous the lizard brain can be. Not only does it react in irrational ways, it’s pretty stubborn too.
How we can change the world
I try and focus my energy and intention on how I can be a better person, to be the change I want to see in the world. I endeavored to be a good colleague, a fair boss, and a decent human to my Javelina teammates.
I truly believe the formula to make the world a better place looks like this:
The details are still fuzzy on how exactly we get from ☠️ to ❤️. But luckily we know a key piece of information about change.
We all respond the same way to change: we try to avoid it.
Here’s the really important point: we can make change happen faster when we really understand how our brains work. When we don’t get stuck in fear, we can move from our amygdala’s first reaction to using our reasonable prefrontal cortex. We can use it to win races, make compromises, and make good choices.
All we have to do is be mindful and change is possible.
After all this ranting I’ll leave you with a photo of the poem that got me to Javelina (along with an email from my mentor Beth Meyer) and has led me to my next adventure. An adventure I’ve always dreamt of but been too afraid to try. Goodbye, lizard brain. I changed how I think and now I’m off to travel the world and go to grad school.
*The Coupe, in Washington DC. Please go there, I am sure it’s changed since my DC days, and tell me about it.
Be brave my friends. Living in your comfort zone can be pretty awesome. I hope you know comfort because, you know, life is short. But I hope you’re brave and walk away and try something new. Growth is change and it starts with you. Grab a snack, learn something new, and tell your story. Our world needs to hear it.
Also please read this. The Oatmeal tells a much more succinct story about how our brain works.
Ubuntu. Peace. ¡Saludos! Thanks for everything. To be continued.