Living With Your Brain

Fighting with an ally

"I'm fighting hard on the 6-inch battlefield," he said, pointing across the length of his forehead.

I coach someone who said this to me the other day. It's a sticky, compelling concept, for sure.

If you're reading this, chances are your life is pretty great. You have a roof over your head, you know where your next meal is coming from.

You probably have the capacity to spend time thinking about living a purpose-driven life doing work that matters to you. It's a pretty good spot.

There's a dark side to it sometimes, when you're fighting. Fighting to stay positive, fighting to think of good solutions, fighting to stay relevant, fighting for more certainty, fighting to catch up, fighting to keep up, fighting to get ahead, fighting for peace and quiet.

The frame of "6-inch battlefield" puts us in opposition to the mind, which is arguably our greatest asset in navigating life.

Maybe it's time to stop fighting with the best friend and ally we've got.

Time to update your belief system

You have in your bag or pocket... the internet. It gets beamed into a device the size of your hand - your smartphone.

Your smartphone has an operating system (OS). It is continuously, obsessively checking for errors, which are then fixed by handsomely paid engineers.

Your phone regularly prompts you to update your OS, but how often do we update our belief systems? Every day, we make statements and decisions based on beliefs that are either beneficial or detrimental to us. Some of these beliefs might be 5, 10, 20 years old -- simply put: outdated OS.

You have to be your own engineer, manually and regularly update your own OS. 

This can look like:

  1. Set aside time to regularly observe your current belief system.
  2. Test beliefs to see if they still ring true and are beneficial to your life.
  3. Find and flag beliefs that are detrimental and no longer serve you.
  4. Dig deep in the "coding" of detrimental beliefs and analyze.
  5. Re-write them as new, beneficial beliefs that move your life forward.

Your inner critic can keep its "gifts"

buddha return gift.jpg

My friend and soul sister Allison recently shared with me this story:

When Buddha's teachings were starting to gain traction in different lands, religious leaders began to get angry. One day, the Buddha visited a small village. A priest came running toward him, spewing insults and vitriol.
The Buddha looked at him calmly and kindly and said, "You're a priest. You must receive many visitors to your home."
"Yes, of course," said the priest.
"Do they also come bearing gifts?" the Buddha continued.
"Yes, of course. Every week," said the priest.
"What do you say to them when you do not want the gift?" Buddha asked.
"That has never happened, but if it did, I would just tell them to take it back," said the priest.
"I see. Just now, you were giving me a lot of gifts that I do not want. Please keep them," replied Buddha.

When your inner critic is making a ruckus and pitching insults at you and your work, wouldn't we all be better off telling it to keep its unwanted gifts?

Be a placenta face mask

placenta mask.jpg

My most memorable roommate is an incredible woman named Anka. She is in her 60s but possesses a vibrancy of someone a sliver of her age. 

Why is she memorable? She's crystal clear on who she is, how she lives, what she likes, and what she dislikes. She unapologetically demands what she wants from life. Because she takes a stand, others adjust their stance to her needs.

She has no interest in being normal, and for that reason she's remarkable. Nay, she's unforgettable.

Anka is the reason I stopped apologizing for the way I am.

In the grand scheme of things, we want to be remembered.

Our physical and digital lives are hectic; it's harder to remember things than ever, because we have more to remember than ever. We're evolutionarily wired to want to "fit in" with others, to be accepted as "like them". The problem? The human brain doesn't remember "like them". It remembers purple cows, dangerously unqualified candidates for president, skincare made out of pig placentas, and people like Anka.

You guys, boldly ignore the urge to blend in. The part of your brain responsible for manufacturing that urge is clueless about how life works in the digital age. It hasn't evolved to catch up with our current world: a world that forgets you unless you're unique.

If you want your work to be seen, do it in the way only you can.

Yoyuu: the space between

Don't worry, I'm not going to sing Dave Matthews.

In East Asian culture, there is a beautiful concept called yoyuu: it means the easeful space between one thing and the next.

My mom would observe me jam-packing my schedule with todos and advise "Schedule things with some yoyuu."

I don't know about you, but the phrase "slow down" has lost meaning for me. When I'm go-go-go, it can be a pointless advisement, and downright annoying.

Yoyuu, on the other hand, is an exquisitely fresh concept. It's that pause before a gymnast launches into a floor routine. Adding a 30-min cushion between one meeting and another. Feeling gratitude between mindful bites of food. $10,000 in a rainy day fund. The moment right before a baby is born. The moment right before a loved one dies. Thinking for a few beats before speaking. A beach vacation before an starting a new job.

Just as there is beauty and magic in starting something, there is strength and clarity in quiet space.

Your brain as a pet

You are not your thoughts.

Adam and I are thinking of adopting a pet. Last weekend, I fell halfway in love with both a white bunny and black cat at the San Francisco SPCA. Of course, I've been obsessively researching and swooning over pet videos since. The bummer: I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to cats (full stop) and the hay that makes up 80% of a bunny's diet. So, I'm doing the mental gymnastics required when you want a pet but your immune system casts its vote by way overreacting. 

I know, a compulsive, oxytocin-fueled fact-finding mission. One that led me to an ah-ha moment about the brain.

Think of your brain as a pet.

Anyone who's had a long-term meditation practice will know what I mean. My brain often has a life of its own. Actual things that came up in meditation for me today: word salad like "carte blanche", "rigamarole...blasphemy!", and "What about sous vide tacos?". Overall, it tends to: loop over the same event obsessively; get on a soapbox about something, rehearse sentences that I might use later, judge myself, plan ahead, and want to jump up and do something that very second ("doing mode").

It bears repeating: You are not your thoughts.

Your thoughts come from your pet brain. It's spastic and not always irrational. You don't give your pet whatever it wants (right?) and you don't think of your pet as "who you are" (right??) and yet we do this with our brains.

Love it like you'd love a pet, just for a day. You'll be so tickled you might start sneezing.