“We are, every one of us, already creating our lives all the time. The trick is to take the reigns and steer the horse to where we want to go. Your life is a movie written by, directed by, produced by, and starring you. We are all self-made. But only the successful will admit it.” -Earl Nightingale
THE NEOCORTEX AND THE AMYGDALA
As the incredible human beings we are, we can communicate, strategize, empathize, and organize with the part of our brain called the Neocortex. It’s responsible for all sorts of high-level processes you use every day to make the right decisions based on logic.
However, when we are communicated to, from another person or an event that happens in front of us, that bundle of stimuli doesn’t go to your (Pre-frontal) Neocortex first. It starts in your Amygdala. The Amygdala is the leftover part of our brain from our more uncivilized years as hunters and scavengers. It helps us assess threats and protect ourselves from potential danger.
The Amygdala is all about keeping us safe, which is great when we’re in trouble. But the other 99% of the time, the amygdala is reacting to stimulus in our environment that’s much better suited for the neocortex. The amygdala is why you make impulse buying decisions, get into fights, and protect your ego. It’s also why, when you let things cool down (AKA, give your neocortex time to process the information), you make better decisions.
YOUR DEFAULT BEHAVIORS
You may have heard that some humans are “hardwired” for “fight or flight.” We all have default behaviors we fall back on when we’re under stress. Your default behaviors are locked in. They are a combination of both nature and nurture: your genetic code and the environment you were raised in. Because we’re all unique, most people have amazing combinations of helpful and harmful default behaviors.
Here’s the good news. Even though it could be true you can never change your default behaviors, you can place a “short-circuit” in your life, which is a cue to pay attention to what’s going on, that will help you discover something very cool: this present moment.
When you are confronted with a stimulus, you process the information, execute your reaction, and get a result. In between the stimulus and how you begin processing of the information is a moment of time. Inside this moment, you have the opportunity to make a choice between your default negative behavior, or something new.
THIS IS AWARENESS
If you’ve been running harmful programs on autopilot all of your life, this might be a difficult process. Becoming aware of our own thinking and how to change it is no easy task. But it is simple, and it is systematized. It all starts with awareness. We’ve all been fully aware and present in a few key moments of our life: making sure we don’t trip at graduation, giving a wedding toast in front of hundreds of people, or a waterfall view that took our breath away.
When you’re aware, you are consciously processing the information around you. It means you’re functioning at a higher level, and your neocortex is making more of the important decisions. The more awareness you can generate, the faster you can reprogram bad habits, eliminate the disease of negative thinking we call stress, and drastically improve your overall daily contentment. So, how do we build our own awareness?
Do you remember the famous experiment of Pavlov and his dog, who he trained to salivate at the ring of a bell? No? Well, remember when Jim from The Office made Dwight reach his hand out for a mint at the ding of his computer?
Exactly. That’s called a positive reinforcement: rewarding a behavior to encourage more of that behavior. The other option is positive punishment; punishing a behavior to discourage more of it (This is not negative reinforcement, which is removing a positive stimulus as punishment). And because we’re not a bunch of wimps, let’s use positive punishment for our thought-changing experiment.
FOR 7 DAYS, SNAP A RUBBER BAND ON YOUR WRIST (HARD!) EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU COMPLAIN.
We have this default behavior that almost every human being has been blessed with since Adam wasn’t cool with hanging out with animals and a naked chick for the rest of his life: he had to complain that he couldn’t have an apple. The infectious complaint is everywhere. You hear it on Mondays the most, but even the luckiest and most well-off people can complain the weekend away just as easily.
The complaint is the anti-awareness. When you complain, you are comparing something that is right now to how you feel it should be in your imagination. What a strange habit. Instead, why don’t you just enjoy that amazing thing right then and there? Feel the sunshine, listen to the conversation, taste the food. Practice simple awareness. Because with awareness, comes the ability to choose.
Complaining can be pretty comprehensive. This means no gossiping, or saying “the thing about him is…” No more grumbling about the weather, and absolutely no fussing about first world problems like the wifi signal strength. Instead of complaining, just keep your mouth shut and get to work either fixing the problem or accepting the situation.
No complaining for 7 days. When you complain, snap your band. Make it hurt.
Plus, you must announce what you are grateful for instead of your complaint.
Get at least three friends involved, and snap their bands when they complain. Start a war.
This is not as easy as you think. At first, it’s going to be a challenge to even notice when you are complaining. That’s why it’s great to take this up with a friend. But once your wrist starts to sting all day long, something pretty awesome is going to happen. Both your neocortex and your amygdala are going to sync up. One part knows you shouldn’t complain to be a happy person, and the part other just doesn’t want to get hurt any more.
If you’re going to take The 7-Day No Complaints Challenge, leave a comment with the selected level you’ve chosen to tackle! Oh, and you realize you can’t complain about it hurting right? Also, you can’t complain about others complaining! Good luck out there 😉
Share this movement with the world. Let’s remove complaints from our personal vocabularies forever. Each time you get a glimpse of your rubber band, take a moment to look around at your surroundings and breathe deeply. Complain less. Enjoy more. Be aware.