Is Your Brain Working For You or Against You?

Last weekend we went on an absolutely perfect hike. Some thunderstorms came through earlier that day which intensified that fresh mountain smell and made everything look vivid. The temperature was perfect, not cold but not hot. The trail went right through the forest so we were utterly surrounded by green. The landscape was breathtaking. The trail wasn’t difficult so we got to move our bodies without being exhausted. Everything about this experience was perfect.

I have a son who hates hiking. When I told him we were going he acted like I was taking him to the ninth circle of Hell. Seriously. For whatever reason, he hates every single thing about hiking. He didn’t notice the beautiful landscape. He didn’t notice the smell. He didn’t notice the temperature. He didn’t notice how good it felt to get out and move his body. He missed all of it.

First of all, this is a great example of how circumstances are neutral. Hiking isn’t positive or negative until we have a thought about it. My thoughts about hiking are very different from my son’s thoughts about hiking. So even though we went on the same hike, we had very different experiences.

Your brain is always scanning. It’s your brain’s job to protect you. So the first thing it scans for is danger. The natural consequence of constantly looking for danger is seeing the negative side of everything. Look how this could be a problem. We better stay away from that. If you don’t supervise your brain it’s very easy to get yourself into a negative spin.

The second thing your brain is always scanning for is evidence that what you believe is true. Your brain needs to be right. I love hiking. When I’m hiking my brain is scanning for evidence to support my love of hiking. No doubt there were things that could have made my experience less than perfect, but they weren’t on my radar because my brain wasn’t scanning for them.

My son’s brain was scanning for evidence to support his belief that hiking is the worse activity that ever existed. He didn’t see, hear, or smell all the amazing things I did because his brain wasn’t scanning for them. While I saw the rain as something that made the green greener and the smells richer, he only saw mud on the trail which could result in a slip/fall and dirty shoes.

Most of us spend our lives letting our brains decide on their own what to scan for. We develop belief systems not because we decided to, but because our brain has been scanning for and building up evidence of those things. How would your life be different if you told your brain what to scan for?

We ran into this fancy skittle machine on our way to Disneyland and my kids were so excited you’d think we were already at Disneyland. I knew they would be outrageously overpriced but I just couldn’t refuse after seeing the looks on their faces. They pulled out their little bucket of skittles and each picked a color to try. Apparently they were the best skittles on the planet. They were more “fresh” than regular skittles. They had more flavor, They were more plump. “Mom, you have to try one!”

Of course I thought this was ridiculous. They are just skittles. But then I thought, why not? Why can’t they be the best skittles ever? Which of these thoughts will serve me? I decided, on purpose, in that moment, that these would be the best skittles ever. I popped one into my mouth and immediately agreed with my kids. They were way better than normal skittles. Definitely more fresh. My kids accused me of being sarcastic. I told them I was completely serious. It took a little convincing but once they finally believed me, I told them it must be because we were on a magical trip and everything about our trip was going to be magical, starting with these skittles.

After that, our mundane road trip became magical. We went to the best Costco ever. We had the best hot dogs ever. We got a flat tire but got to eat at their favorite restaurant while we got it patched up. We found amazing skateboards to try out while we waiting as well. We hit traffic at the perfect time when the internet was the best it had ever been and they could play their games. We found the softest pillows in the world that completely rocked my son’s world.

I planted the seed that everything about our trip was going to be magical. They believed me. And their brains started scanning. Their brains started searching for evidence that everything was magical. And they found it. Rather than focusing on the negative (car trouble, California traffic, being in the car for hours and hours, etc) they told their brains to look for something else.

Simply telling your brain what to scan for can drastically change your life.

Are you letting your brain run around unsupervised? Or are you telling it what to scan for? How would your life change if you told your brain what to focus on?

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