5 Easy Ways to Ensure Your Brain Isn’t Pulling One Over On You

Brain and Narrative Short cuts

You’re sitting there in your yoga pants sipping your favorite hot beverage and reading a Reddit article on your phone. Seems pretty mellow right? For the most part it is. But on a sensory level, your brain isn’t resting. There are still tons of pieces of information your brain is processing and staying on top of. Now picture all the information that your brain takes in as you ride down the busy escalator to the packed subway on your way to work. No doubt your brain is working double-time!

Fortunately, your brain is expertly equipped for both situations, and all situations in between. 

So let’s pause a moment and give your brain the props it deserves. Nice work brain, keep it up!

Thank goodness too, that your brain isn’t the complaining type. From a cognitive perspective, information is costly to take in, store, manipulate and retrieve. The more information it is presented with, like the subway station during rush hour, the more taxing. Don’t be fooled just because your brain makes it look easy. It’s not.

The way your brain is able to function efficiently during even the most stimulation-dense situations is through various short-cut systems it has at its’ disposal. One of the most common is the use of narrative. 

Narrative, or the way you explain things to yourself, fill in the blanks when you don’t have facts, and the stories you tell yourself, creates patterns. Patterns are easier for your brain to recognize and manage than tons of disparate bits of information or things that don’t make sense. 

There are many types of patterns your brain relies on. 

Causality, that is logically progressing from cause to effect, makes for an efficient narrative and is a common ‘go-to’ pattern for our brains. A story that progresses logically in this manner is easier to neatly package than one that takes wild twists and turns and may not wrap up nicely. It’s no surprise that an overworked brain likes causality. And no surprise then, that we quickly come up with answers for everything, explain anything that comes across our paths and try to avoid uncertainty at all cost!

We feel better when we know the why of things and when things ‘make sense’ to us. We even feel better when we totally make things up that fit that bill. We end up telling ourselves a lot of stories that increase our impression of understanding, without needing them to be based on reality. 

Your brain’s ‘Causality Narrative’ pattern building is essential for continuing to function at the high level you do. But in order to make sure this short-cut is helpful and doesn’t lead you astray, it’s important to do these 5 things:

  • Become aware of the cause-and-effect stories you tell yourself
  • Become aware of the ways you fill-in-the-blanks when you don’t know the facts
  • Become aware of the ways your wishful thinking or pessimistic thinking influences that way you explain things
  • Become aware of how your stories fail to respect the facts that you actually know
  • Increase your comfort level with uncertainty so you don’t automatically explain things you don’t know.

The more you understand how your brain works and practice fine tuning it, the higher performing your brain will become without negatively effecting its’ efficiency.

Social Anxiety? We're Social Beings!!!

Social Anxiety

Why Do We Have Social Anxiety?

Humans are inherently social creatures and yet many suffer from anxiety that makes being social difficult, if not downright painful. How and why does this happen?

The short answer is that scientists and doctors don’t entirely know. Understanding anxiety, in all its forms, is in its’ infancy despite affecting millions of people worldwide. The most widely suggested contributors to the cause of social anxiety include inherited traits and family background, life experiences and environment, and brain structure.

The Brain

Regarding the role one’s brain structure may play, researchers are making great strides thanks to advanced neuroimaging technology. Scientists are gaining insight into social anxiety and social anxiety disorder in ways that were previously only subject to speculation. Of particular promise are studies that show increased activity in the brain’s amygdala in people with social anxiety compared to those without. The amygdala regulates emotions, survival instincts and memory.

Some of the findings in these studies, although not totally conclusive, suggest that people with social anxiety may have an increased tendency or bias toward ways of processing information in the brain that may contribute to their anxiety. These include a higher tendency to respond more negatively or fearful to social signals, people’s facial expressions and eye contact. Also, those with social anxiety showed more of a tendency to selectively remember the negative information about oneself and one’s social performances instead of the positive or neutral memories. Those with social anxiety showed a bias toward making negative evaluations about past events and negative predictions about their future performance. Lastly, participants showed a tendency toward spending more time processing threat-related information than those without social anxiety.

Does that happen to describe you too? Do you tend to respond in a fearful way in social situations? Do you think predict your presentation will be a flop and that you’ll embarrass yourself at the annual manager’s meeting? Do you already dread that happy hour you said you’d attend? Do you play over and over in your mind how awful it was to go into the grocery store or to your child’s school?

What You Can Do

If you do, no problem! Although we don’t yet know the evolutionary function of this brain structure, we do have many strategies to help compensate for it. The words “tendency” and “bias” give us clues as to where you start. They illustrate a way your brain may be “neurologically leaning” but your brain isn’t set in stone.

In order to stop these leanings from causing your social anxiety, you can increase your awareness toward them and remind yourself these are just your biases talking. Look at the situation again, but this time from the perspective of someone without these biases. For example, “If I didn’t have this worst-case-scenario bias, I’d look at the company’s upcoming happy hours as an opportunity to get to know more people from the office.”