In the previous chapter, we took a look at the triune brain model, which consists of 3 kinds of brains: reptilian, mammalian, and primate. Now let’s take a closer look at some of the external events (a.k.a. triggers) that can cause the reptilian brain to take over our decision making.
Essentially anything that has to do with survival of the species, such as sex, power, self image and food, will trigger a reptilian brain response.
The easiest example of the reptilian brain response that most of us can relate to is getting cut off in traffic. The person who cuts us off is invading our personal space, and we immediately respond with an act of aggression – yelling at the other driver or honking our horn. Only after some time are we able to return to our “normal selves” and consciously reassess what had just happened.
Also note that the reptilian brain is motivated by visual images, sounds, touch, smell, and taste, but it is not motivated by language (thinking) unless the language helps us to create a vivid mental image.
The visual stimulation is the strongest, since we process about 80% of our daily informational intake through our eyes.
Additionally, it is important to note that our reptilian brains are not able to tell the difference between a fake image and a real life occurrence.
That is why we get hungry when we look at a picture of a juicy burger, even though we know the burger is not real.
That is also why we get scared when we watch a horror movie even though we understand that it is just a movie.
Speaking of horror movies, try to remember the first time you saw something scary on TV. I remember my first time was a movie about some man who got his face burned in an accident. After I saw his face, I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I (and my parents) stayed up for the rest of the night, because I kept having nightmares.
It took a few years before I could watch a horror movie and go straight to bed. My brain eventually got used to those scary images and no longer reacted in the way that it originally did. Now I would have to see something really scary on TV for it to have a similar effect as that first movie did.
Pornography works in a similar way. Vivid images that we see and sounds that we hear get a quick pleasurable response from our reptilian brain. Most of us have these experiences when we are very young, and know very little of our inner workings. All we can tell is that it feels good, and we make sure to come back for more.
Over time, our brains become accustomed to the images that we see, and we are forced to seek stronger stimulation in order to receive a similar pleasurable response from our reptilian brain.
All marketers, including pornographers, are very well aware of the inner workings of our brains. In a constant battle for our attention, they are doing their best to create a message that would have as much effect on our reptilian brain as possible.
One of the tricks that they use is a combination of sex, power, self-image, and food to create as strong a message as possible. Additionally, they are constantly trying to push the boundary of socially accepted norm, making sure that their messages are modest enough to avoid legal trouble, but wrong enough to get the strongest response possible from our reptilian brain.
This stuff is very powerful. If you think about it, all of the behavioral addictions, such as gambling, overeating, compulsive shopping, sex and pornography addictions are motivated by one or combinations of the desire for sex, power (social status), self-image or food.
We are literally in competition with various forms of media for our own minds. Therefore, it becomes very crucial for us to firstly become aware of what is going on around us, and secondly learn to “get our minds” back whenever we are triggered by an external event.
We are going to talk a lot more about different tools we can use to get and keep our lives back, but now I want to point out one very quick, but very powerful tip.
Remember how I said in the previous chapter that the reptilian brain controls all of our automated bodily functions, such as blood pressure, heartbeat, and breathing? Well, turns out one of these functions is not completely automated.
We have an ability to control our breath. By taking slow deep breaths, we are able to convey a message to our reptilian brain that everything is OK, causing it to release the control back to our thinking brain.
Next time you feel triggered by any external event, try to take 10 slow and deep breaths. Count to 10 when you inhale, hold your breath for 10 seconds, and count to 10 on your way out. You will notice a great sense of peace and calmness return!
In the next chapter, we are going to take a quick look at our emotional brain.